Scott Pruitt Axed EPA Center That Helps Protect Babies from Arsenic, Pesticides

WASHINGTON – In Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s latest blow to children’s health, the agency is shutting down a vital office that provides funding to scientists studying the impacts of toxic chemicals on kids.

Last night, the EPA confirmed it will close the National Center for Environmental Research, as Pruitt continues dismantling public health programs under the guise of reorganization. The elimination of the center, known as NCER, was first reported by The Hill.

An EPA spokesperson told Think Progress the grants program will continue. But EWG President Ken Cook said the elimination of a dedicated office for the program is another disturbing sign that protecting public health is not Pruitt’s priority.

“No one should be shocked by Administrator Pruitt’s latest attack on science that protects children,” said Cook. “His first major decision was stopping the EPA’s planned ban of a pesticide that can cause brain damage in kids. Closing this office is more indisputable evidence that Scott Pruitt shouldn’t hold any job where safeguarding children’s health is supposed to be a priority.”

For almost three decades, the NCER has provided millions of dollars a year in grants. Its most prominent program is Science To Achieve Results, or STAR, which helps graduate students and academics studying ways to reduce children’s exposures to toxic chemicals and other environmental threats.

A report last year by the National Academy of Sciences applauded the STAR program for its “numerous successes” and urged the agency to “continue to use STAR to respond to the nation’s emerging environmental challenges.” Among the successes cited was research that helped inform two critical federal policies to protect babies and young children from arsenic and pesticides:

In 2016, a research project partially supported by a STAR grant recognized that infants could be exposed to arsenic through rice cereal ... This recognition led the Food and Drug Administration to propose regulations to protect infant health. 

Another example is the discovery by the University of Washington Children’s Center that farmworker children had increased exposure to the pesticide ingredient azinphos-methyl which is a neurotoxicant ... which informed EPA’s decision to phase out the use of azinphos-methyl.

An EPA spokesperson said the NCER’s functions will be folded into two other offices, including the ones that processes Freedom of Information Act requests, agency budgets and record management.

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