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Democrats demand to know why EPA children's health official was abruptly put on leave

Outrage after EPA official put on leave
Democrats demand to know why EPA children's health official was put on leave 03:14

A number of Democratic senators are demanding an explanation from the EPA about why it put a leading children's health expert on paid leave without warning. The director of EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection, Dr. Ruth Etzel, spoke out only on "CBS This Morning" on Monday. At least eight U.S. senators sent letters criticizing the EPA's move and said it raises serious concerns about the agency's commitment to children's health.

Since our interview with Etzel, many people have spoken out to support her, some calling her a hero for going public with her concerns about what's happening at the Office of Children's Health, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.

"It's absolutely outrageous what's happening to Dr. Etzel," Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said. "Here is somebody who's been the champion for children at the EPA, who all of a sudden without any notice, is put on administrative leave."

EPA expert on children's health sidelined, claims agency failing kids 05:40

Etzel is a top expert whose job is to advise the EPA on how its regulations might affect children but says in the current administration "our message is no longer welcome."
Over three weeks ago, EPA officials put her on paid leave, she said, without explanation.

"It's about silencing me because I know how to protect children and I've got a track record of doing it for the last 35 years," Etzel said.

EPA later said in a statement that there were "serious reports made against her by staff regarding her ability to effectively lead." But one former EPA regional administrator doesn't buy it.
"She was widely respected as a competent leader within the Environmental Protection Agency," said Judith Enck, who said she worked closely with Etzel during the Obama administration. "Everyone who has a child or grandchild in the United States should be concerned about this move," Enck said.

In a response to senators, the EPA did not give further explanation for its actions regarding Etzel.  But Van Hollen said, "What's happened to Dr. Etzel is unfortunately a part of a much larger story of what's happening at EPA, which is an attack on scientists and an attack on science."

The EPA also told the senators there are no plans to cut funding or resources from the children's health office, but these Democratic senators tell us they are not comfortable with what they see happening at the EPA.

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