Press Releases

Carper, Duckworth and Durbin Request Immediate Investigation into Allegations of Misconduct at EPA

Senators ask for independent investigation into allegations that EPA senior political appointees ordered staff to not inspect facilities that release cancer-causing emissions of ethylene oxide

Jan 18 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) to immediately launch an independent investigation into a serious allegation that the Trump EPA is failing to protect the American public from cancer-causing emissions of Ethylene Oxide (EtO). Senator Duckworth’s staff received information this week alleging that EPA senior political appointees instructed career civil servants to avoid conducting inspections of facilities that emit EtO, a known carcinogen.

On November 25, 2018, a gasket failure at the Croda chemical plant in New Castle, Delaware caused a leak of EtO, releasing approximately 2,700 pounds of the material and causing a shutdown of the Delaware Memorial Bridge for several hours.

“We urge the EPA OIG to swiftly begin a thorough independent investigation into allegations that senior EPA political appointees instructed or impeded investigations of facilities that emit EtO,” the senators wrote. “Americans rely on EPA to protect them from public threats posed by contaminated air and water. The allegation that EPA may be preventing its personnel from carrying out this critical mission as a result of politically-motivated interference is disturbing and must be investigated to determine the truth.”

Duckworth, the top Democrat on the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Waters and Wildlife, questioned EPA Administrator nominee Andrew Wheeler during his Senate confirmation hearing this week over this report – and to answer for why no EPA staff are currently inspecting any facilities that emit ethylene oxide in EPA Region 5 or across the country. Video of Duckworth and Wheeler’s exchange at the committee hearing is available here.

A PDF of the letter can be found HERE, and the full text of the letter is below:

Dear Acting Inspector General Sheehan:

We write to request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) immediately initiate an independent investigation into a serious allegation of misconduct involving failure to protect public health. Senator Duckworth’s staff recently received information alleging that EPA senior political appointees instructed career civil servants to avoid conducting inspections in Region 5 of facilities that emit Ethylene Oxide (EtO), a known carcinogen.

A review of public source reporting from EPA’s official website appears to confirm EPA has failed to conduct inspections of EtO emitting facilities over the past six months across Region 5 and the Country, despite recent incidents involving dangerous exposure to this carcinogenic chemical. This fact pattern is concerning in and of itself. However, if the lax inspection and enforcement activity is a result of politically-motivated interference overriding recommendations of career staff, that would elevate our concerns from simple poor performance to potential outright misconduct by political appointees.

Accordingly, we urge the EPA OIG to swiftly begin a thorough independent investigation into allegations that senior EPA political appointees instructed or impeded investigations of facilities that emit EtO. Americans rely on EPA to protect them from public threats posed by contaminated air and water. The allegation that EPA may be preventing its personnel from carrying out this critical mission is disturbing and must be investigated to determine the truth, and if necessary, identify corrective actions.

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