What a Difference a Year Makes: EPA Does Their Job in East Chicago.

The “bad news” is that just like science would predict, the lead pipes in East Chicago are leaching dangerous levels of lead to water in East Chicago due to a lack of corrosion control.  Thus, the horrible tragedy of childhood lead poisoning in this community is due to water “infrastructure-inequality” from lead plumbing, as well as the previously publicized lead contaminated soils.

The “good news” is that EPA Region 5 is taking a leadership role helping expose this tragedy. What a difference a year makes. Last year under old management, this same office was a world leader in obfuscation, leaving Flint’s kids completely unprotected by Federal law. Maybe it is shame over the Flint fiasco, bad management that has now resigned, or good new management—whatever the reason, let’s give credit where it is due.  Because harm from past lead exposure can never be undone– we can only prevent future harm– by helping to get East Chicago residents lead filters the EPA is doing the right thing.

On the other hand, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) remains incapable of learning from their own past mistakes.  They wrote another “scientifically indefensible” report that caused 5 years of additional harm to East Chicago children by concluding:

Sorry East Chicago kids, but CDC’s “conclusion” was just flat out wrong. You should never have been drinking the water, playing in soil, or breathing the air for that matter.

Incredibly, this flawed East Chicago report was written, just 7 months after CDC/ATSDR was publicly reamed in Congress and in the press, for false statements in 2004 that covered up the D.C. lead in drinking water tragedy.  After they got caught, CDC then attempted to completely excuse themselves by claiming “Looking backward six years, it’s clear that this report could have been written a little better (Tom Sinks, CDC)” or “.. in its urgency to rapidly assess the situation, the CDC communicated scientific results poorly (CDC Director Tom Frieden).” CDC was also quoted in the Washington Post, claiming that kids losing 3-4 IQ points were not a big deal because “at these levels, the effects are subtle” with effects that are “detectable in population studies but generally not in individual children.”

CDC then wrote another falsified report in 2010, which in Orwellian fashion claimed that their actual scientific conclusion in the 2004 report, was the exact opposite of what they actually wrote.  When called out on this falsification, they refused to respond to a letter with 21 signatories (see letter at the end).  CDC refused to retract their outrageous rewrite of history. The exact same Orwellian science stooges are probably trying to rewrite the history of East Chicago as we speak. One can only hope that there will be a change in attitude under a new director.

Of course, we are still waiting for CDC to apologize for their unethical behavior at Tuskeegee, and ignoring Tuskeegee whistleblower Peter Buxtun for 5 years, so do not hold your breath (Figure 1). CDC’s lesson learned in the aftermath of Tuskegee in 1985?  “Do the study at a time when there won’t be a bigot problem (Listen at 32:15 to 33:10).” The lesson CDC learned from D.C. was “We can get away with anything.” They did, so now kids in Flint and East Chicago had to pay a price for their ineptitude.

Figure 1. In the footsteps of Peter Buxtun. Peter and Marc at Virginia Tech December 2016.
Figure 1. In the footsteps of Peter Buxtun. Peter and Marc at Virginia Tech December 2016.

What a legacy.  One group of corrupt CDC pseudo-scientists, with the complete backing of their management, has now played a role in creating public health tragedies that needlessly elevated the blood lead of children in Washington D.C., Flint, and now East Chicago.  Not to mention promoting flawed policies that endangered children all over the U.S. and the world. They attack good actors and defend bad actors– quality science is viewed as an afterthought or an impediment. It makes the great work of some CDC/ATSDR employees who really helped in the Flint Recovery, including the CDC Legionella team and the ATSDR efforts under Dr. Patrick Breysse, all the more remarkable and appreciated.

America’s children cannot afford an untrustworthy and unethical CDC/ATSDR or EPA. Sometimes delivering “bad news” is much better than saying nothing at all– especially when comes in the form of the truth with recommended public health interventions that will protect children. We hope that EPA R5 can keep the “bad news” flowing, in accordance with both ethical science and EPA’s health mission.

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Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

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