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Report: White House, EPA sought to block release of water pollution study

The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency under Scott Pruitt sought earlier this year to stop the publication of a study on toxic chemicals that have contaminated water nationwide, Politico reported Monday, citing emails that were recently disclosed. The effort to block publication came after a Trump administration aide warned the study would spark a "potential public relations nightmare."

"The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge," a White House aide, who was not identified, said in an email, Politico reported.

"The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful," the email reportedly said. "We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be."

ATSDR refers to the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which had been preparing to publish a health study about toxic chemicals that have polluted water supplies near chemical plants and military bases, as well as other locations in the United States.

The study addresses chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS that are contaminating water systems nationwide. Politico reports that, according to the emails, the study would convey that the chemicals pose dangers to health at a much lower level than the EPA previously deemed safe.

Now, three months after the email about the potential impact of the study was forwarded on January 30 by James Herz, who oversees environmental issues at the Office of Management and Budget, the study is still not published, according to Politico.

Ryan Jackson, Pruitt's chief of staff, said the EPA was helping "ensure that the federal government is responding in a uniform way to our local, state, and Congressional constituents and partners." The White House, meanwhile, referred Politico's questions to the Department of Health and Human Services, which confirmed that there is no scheduled publication date for the study.

Pruitt has faced increasing scrutiny in recent months. There are at least 10 formal open investigations related to Pruitt, ranging from his first class travel habits to his round-the-clock security detail to excessive spending, CBS News' Jacqueline Alemany reported earlier this month. He has been criticized for his handling of science and climate issues at the EPA.