Under President Donald Trump, the health of children appears to have taken a backseat to his environmental deregulation agenda, as evidenced by the experience of Dr. Ruth Etzel, the Environmental Protection Agency’s resident pediatric expert.
Etzel told CBS News that her services are no longer desired under the Trump administration.
> As director of the Office of Children's Health Protection (OCHP), it was her job to determine the impacts of regulations on children.
> "I often think of the Office of Children's Health as the conscience of EPA, because, you know, we're kind of nagging at them: 'Is this okay for children? Are you sure this is okay for children?'" she told correspondent Anna Werner.
> But from the beginning of the Trump administration, Dr. Etzel says it seemed those above her no longer wanted her advice. "Our message is no longer welcome. The message that children are not little adults and they need special protections is not welcome," she said.
Etzel said she had no one-on-one meetings with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt or his successor, Andrew Wheeler.
And national efforts to address lead in children’s environments — inspired by the Flint, Michigan water crisis — have stalled. One administration official told Etzel that anything involving new regulations simply “wouldn’t fly”, she said.
> "My sense is that the government has absolutely no intention of taking any action toward seriously changing lead in children's environments," Dr. Etzel said.
> Werner asked, "What does that mean for the kids?"
> "It basically means that our kids will continue to be poisoned," Dr. Etzel replied. "It basically means that kids are disposable, they don't matter."
> But through it all, she says, she kept pushing, until about three weeks ago, when an official came into her office: "My boss, who's the deputy chief of staff, walked in and handed me a piece of paper and said, 'I'm putting you on administrative leave.' And I almost fell off of my chair. I said, 'What's this about?' And she wouldn't say."
Etzel decided, after three weeks of being placed on leave and having no idea why, that it was time to speak out.
> "This is totally wrong, and the only people that I really report to are mothers and fathers and communities in the United States," Dr. Etzel said. "And if EPA won't let me tell about how children are being poisoned, I'll just tell the mothers and fathers directly. I have that right, whether or not EPA wants me on their staff."
> The EPA referred CBS News to a statement from chief of staff Ryan Jackson, who said that Dr. Etzel "was placed on leave to give the agency the opportunity to review allegations about the director's leadership of the office."
> But Dr. Etzel tells us she has never been made aware of any allegations.