A former top Environmental Protection Agency official appointed by former President Donald Trump withheld warnings to an Illinois community about a toxic gas linked to several cancers that was being emitted by local plants, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General revealed in a news report.
Bill Wehrum was the assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office for Air and Radiation in 2018 when EPA officials in Illinois became concerned about elevated levels of ethylene oxide at the Sterigenics sterilizing plant in Willowbrook.
The federal government has linked the gas to lymphoma, leukemia, and stomach and breast cancers. The local administrator “wanted to immediately release” air monitoring results to the public by posting them on the agency’s website to “avoid another public health emergency like the Flint, Michigan, drinking water crisis,” according to the IG report, which was released Thursday.
But Wehrum, who had been an attorney for gas, oil and coal companies, ordered officials to “not release monitoring results to the public,” said the investigative report, which was requested by Congress.
When one local EPA official apparently ignored Wehrum’s directive and posted the air quality results online, the website was shut down by another official apparently loyal to Wehrum.
“The fact that senior Trump administration EPA officials impeded the release of information to communities regarding the health risks of ethylene oxide exposure is about as contradictory to the agency’s mission of protecting the public as you can get,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate committee overseeing the EPA, said in a statement.
Wehrum could not immediately be reached for comment.
Wehrum resigned in 2019 amid an ethics investigation. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce had launched a probe just two months earlier into allegations that he and a top deputy used their EPA posts to aid utilities they had previously represented at a law firm.
While at EPA, Wehrum met with a former client, the Utility Air Regulatory Group, an umbrella organization funded by several companies that opposed stricter limits on pollution from coal-fired plants, investigators found.
He also worked on an EPA directive that direct affected DTE Energy, a top utility company his former firm had represented in a case against the agency, according to The Washington Post.
Sterigenics shut down in 2019.