The Whistleblower Solution

Calling Out Lead Corruption & More At EPA

When it comes to those working on solutions, we would be remiss not to talk about the importance of whistleblowers.

What is a whistleblower?

Whistleblowers are people who call out corruption and abuses of power. These folks are vital to cases involving pollution, fraud, worker safety, and more.

According to the National Whistleblower Center, “a whistleblower is someone who reports waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, or dangers to public health and safety to someone who is in the position to rectify the wrongdoing. A whistleblower typically works inside of the organization where the wrongdoing is taking place; however, being an agency or company ‘insider’ is not essential to serving as a whistleblower. What matters is that the individual discloses information about wrongdoing that otherwise would not be known.”  

One recent case is Dr. Ruth Etzel, a pediatrician and epidemiologist, who was the former director of U.S. EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection. Before her time at EPA, she served as a medical epidemiologist at the CDC’s Nation Center for Environmental Health. She’s received multiple national and international awards for scientific integrity. In other words, she’s a smart and respected person with years and years of experience in public health.

Watch Ruth tell her story here in 2018:

She testified last week in a hearing about EPA’s failure to protect children saying that agency silenced and harassed her because of her stance on stronger prevention policies against lead poisoning.

EPA dragging their feet on lead, you don’t say….

Ruth spoke out about agency delays for a lead poisoning prevention program for children, known as the Federal Lead Strategy, and was placed on leave without pay in September 2018.

For all the details, you can read Ruth’s full pre-hearing statement here.

And she’s not the only one describing this kind of behavior at EPA. In Carey Gillam’s recent article she writes, “Separate from Etzel’s allegations, four EPA scientists have recently come forward with allegations that the agency is putting corporate interests ahead of public health protection, allowing dangerous chemicals into the marketplace. The whistleblowers allege the EPA routinely uses intimidation tactics to coerce agency scientists into ignoring data showing risks of harm with certain chemicals, and/or altering assessments to downplay such risks.”

I just want to applaud Ruth’s work and say that women whistleblowers can have a particularly tough time as they are less likely to be believed or get labeled as “crazy” or “troublemakers.” The EPA should be ashamed. She’s brought to light a serious problem—corporate interests ahead of public health concerns at the No. 1 agency for environmental concerns.  

Intimidation tactics against scientists in order to protect industry profits puts everyone at risk, including our children.

Meet One Of My Heroes

Speaking of lead poisoning, I had the great pleasure of writing for Time’s “100 Most Influential People of 2021.”

Phyllis Omido was a single mother with no formal training who discovered a deadly water contamination and took action. Sound familiar? I know this story all too well.

Phyllis was the Africa winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's largest award for grassroots environmental activists.

She worked at a lead-smelting plant in Mombasa, Kenya, and when she learned that her baby boy, like others in her area, had become sick from lead poisoning, she refused to be silenced—despite pressure from both her employer and her government.

She formed the Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action.

Fueled by a fierce desire to protect her son and all of the children in her village, Phyllis quit her job and led community efforts to close the plant. During a 12-year battle, her work led to both the shuttering of the plant in 2014 and, in 2020, a landmark $12 million settlement awarded to lead-poisoning victims in her community.

Read more here.

Sending lots of thanks and respect to all the people willing to speak up in the face of adversity to try to protect more people from harm. Let’s hope both of these stories bring more awareness about lead and more action to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

It’s Solutions September, a series where we talk to real people working for real change to help our environment. In a world with so much going on, it’s hard to know how to help. We’re asking people in many different sectors what inspired them to get involved in the fight to save our planet and how we can all take our anger and turn it into action.

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