Scott Pruitt’s staff at EPA worried about exposure to formaldehyde — but only for their boss

Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency were so worried that a fancy desk that their former boss Scott Pruitt had ordered for his office might contain high levels of a known carcinogen that they arranged to set it up in a warehouse and let it air out for a week.

The problem is that the same officials later blocked the release of a draft report prepared before President Donald Trump took office on the dangers of exposure to the same substance, formaldehyde, to the general public. That report that showed that it can cause diseases including leukemia and nose and throat cancer, and that many Americans are regularly exposed to it, according to government watchdog American Oversight.

The watchdog uncovered a series of emails that showed the staffer’s concerns about their boss apparently did not extend to their fellow citizens. The chemicals industry had lobbied to suppress the report for fear it would lead to restrictions on the chemical or be used in class-action lawsuits.

Last month, Pruitt aides blocked the report from being advanced through internal review steps that were needed for it to be made public, as Politico reported at the time.

“We can add ‘EPA chemical safety science’ to the list of taxpayer-funded benefits that former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt kept for himself,” American Oversight said in a report on its site.

The incident dates back to early 2017, when Pruitt, new to his role as overseer of the EPA, chose a new desk on AmazonAMZN, +0.31%and asked his staff to order it. One employee noticed that the Amazon product page included a California Proposition 65 warning, which aims to alert Californians to risks from chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other harm.

California has the strictest environmental laws in the country, at least in part as consequences of its dense urban centers, enclosed topography and limited public transport, which means most people drive themselves to work. The state was the first to introduce vehicle emissions standards in 1966 to combat smog and other pollutants.

The staffer reached out to the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention in an email asking: “Is it OK to get this desk for the Administrator?”

The office responded by saying the desk likely contained formaldehyde, but that California regulations on wood products meant the exposure was probably limited.

“Formaldehyde will off gas from new furniture and can irritate eyes and throats,” Wendy Clelland-Hamnett, acting assistant administrator, wrote in an email. “So I suggest airing out the components somewhere for a day or two before assembling in the Administrator’s office.”

The email exchange can be seen at the American Oversight site.

Pruitt resigned from his role on July 5, after a series of scandals, from accepting below-market rent from a lobbyist to employing a so-called secret calendar to hide contacts with industry representatives. He was also alleged to have wasted government funds on excessive security arrangements and to have flown first class to avoid verbal attacks from the public.

Also: Scott Pruitt asked Trump to fire Sessions, make him attorney general: report

He ordered government employees to run personal errands for him, such as buying his special moisturizer and picking up his laundry. He ordered one employee to buy a used mattress from a Trump hotel.

Trump stood behind Pruitt as the controversies mounted, including trying to get his wife a $200,000-per-year job and having assistants pay for travel expenses. He wasted government funds on excessive security measures, including a large 24/7 security detail and an expensive high-tech phone booth.

“The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us,” Pruitt said in his resignation letter.

Read on: The EPA’s Pruitt is finally gone, but there’s plenty of rot left

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