PRESS RELEASE

EPA Scientist Wins Award Amid Fight To Win Her Job Back  

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For immediate release: Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

EPA Scientist Wins Award amid Fight To Win Her Job Back

 

Dr. Etzel Seeks Return to Helm of Office of Children’s Health Protection

Washington, DC — The expert the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recruited in 2015 to enhance protection of children’s health has won a national award even as she fights to return to her position, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Trump administration removed Dr. Ruth Etzel as Director of its Office of Children’s Health Protection in 2019 after she repeatedly spoke out about EPA’s failure to protect children’s health from lead and other environmental pollutants.

Dr. Etzel, both a pediatrician and an epidemiologist, is an internationally recognized expert on child health and the environment.  This past week, the Academic Pediatric Association named her as the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Public Policy and Advocacy Award.  The award recognizes “a health care professional whose public policy advocacy efforts … have improved the health and well-being of infants, children, and/or adolescents.”

Unfortunately, her current EPA assignment is as a biologist in EPA’s Office of Water where she has no contact with children’s health and is not allowed to work on prevention of lead poisoning.

Through PEER, she has filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB is the federal civil service court) contending that her reassignment in 2019 was illegal retaliation for urging adoption of stronger lead protections.  Her case is slated for hearing next month, starting May 19th. An MSPB judge has already ruled that her claims are covered by the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.

“EPA cast one of the world’s leading experts on protecting children’s health into a bureaucratic purgatory for the sin of championing strong public health safeguards,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who is leading Dr. Etzel’s legal team. “Repairing damage done within EPA during the prior administration requires bringing some of its best and brightest out of exile.”

Dr. Etzel is the founding editor of Pediatric Environmental Health, a book used by pediatricians throughout the world.  The popular book is now in its 4th edition.  She also is editor-in-chief of the new parent book, Protecting Your Child’s Health: Expert Answers to Urgent Environmental Questions, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2021.

Although she is the EPA’s only board-certified specialist in preventive medicine and public health, her talents were neglected in responding to COVID-19.  Despite several requests, the Trump administration refused to utilize her skills in combatting the pandemic.

“The treatment of Dr. Etzel poses a litmus test for the Biden-run EPA,” added PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins.  “Restoring professionals like Dr. Etzel who are passionate defenders of their agency’s mission is exactly what the Biden administration has pledged to do to begin to repair the damage inflicted during Trump’s tenure.”

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View the  Academic Pediatric Association award letter

Find out about the award and past winners

Read MSPB ruling confirming her whistleblower status 

Look at the weak lead strategy EPA ultimately adopted