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The Environmental Protection Agency Puts a Top Children's Health Official on Leave

The Environmental Protection Agency has put the head of its Office of Children's Health Protection on leave, the New York Times reports, leaving researchers worried that the agency plans to reduce the office's influence, or shutter it altogether.

In fact, the put-on-leave official, Ruth Etzel, seems to believe the latter. BuzzFeed obtained an email in which she wrote: "I appear to be the 'fall guy' for their plan to 'disappear' the office of children's health." An EPA spokesman emailed statements to the Times and BuzzFeed saying the Trump administration isn't trying to minimize children's health programs.

Children's health is a subspecialty in the study of how the environment affects people because children are often more susceptible to environmental toxins than adults. Take lead, for instance: Children's bodies tend to absorb more of it, per pound of body weight, than adults'. Exposure to lead puts children at risk for cognitive impairment, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics; even "commonly encountered blood lead levels" can affect children's hearing and sense of balance. Among other ways, children may be exposed to lead through the drinking water at their schools, where weekends and school breaks create the opportunity for lead from the pipes to leach into the water standing in them, as one recent Government Accountability Office report found.

The Office of Children's Health Protection supports a network of children's-health specialists and publishes reports about the average levels of toxins, such as lead and mercury, found in children in America.

Is the EPA doing a good job already of protecting American children from lead exposure? The recent Government Accountability Office report on lead in school water suggested the agency should do more to promote lead testing at schools—which isn't mandated, in most states, but which the agency "strongly recommends." Last year, the GAO recommended the EPA require states to report how much lead water piping they have. The EPA said that it would consider the requirement in its update of the Lead and Copper Rule, which it said it would complete in 2020, according to the GAO.

Meanwhile, 12 states—which together are estimated to have more than half of the nation's lead water service lines—have policies encouraging communities to replace those pipes with something safer, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.