National environmental health website quietly changes language about climate change

An official from the National​ ​Institute​ ​of​ ​Environmental​ ​Health​ ​Sciences explains the reasoning.

Recent changes made to the National​ ​Institute​ ​of​ ​Environmental​ ​Health​ ​Sciences​ ​(NIEHS) website have unnerved health professionals. Although not all mentions of climate change have been scraped from the site, the department has seemingly omitted several references and replaced them with “climate” instead.

References to global warming’s impact on human health have been reduced as well, according to the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), a group that tracks changes to science availability. This would be the first time a website run by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or one of its agencies has revised language since President Trump took office, EDGI told Politico.

NIEHS, a division within the National Institute of Health, is dedicated to studying the environment and its effects on humans. Unlike other federal agencies, the NIEHS did not scrub climate change science from its website altogether.

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Screenshot of NIEHS website on June 2, 2016. Credit: EDGI

The decision to alter existing language was made by Christine Flowers, director of the Office of Communications and Public Liaison at NIEHS, who joined the office in 2004. Flowers told ThinkProgress that the changes were meant to reflect additional materials and resources being added to the site.

Flowers specifically pointed to the new literature on extreme weather. “In addition to the climate change information that is there, we also provide information on how disaster responders can defend their own health after extreme weather,” she said. Scientists have linked extreme weather to climate change, although some claim it’s impossible to say whether climate change “caused” a specific event, due to natural variability.

Looking to quell fears, Flowers added, “We want to share science-based information. …Type ‘climate change’ in the search bar. You’ll get over 200 results.”

Ultimately, she said, controversy over the omission was a good thing, as it increased traffic to the NIEHS website and guided people to explore the Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal, a database of studies pertaining to the health implications of climate change published between 2007 and 2014.

The website “spruce” comes as the Trump administration simultaneously disbands a federal advisory committee on climate change. The decision has prompted climate change activists to expect more instances of suppression moving forward.

Additionally, the Trump administration has repeatedly refused to accept the science of human-caused climate change, and Cabinet officials have even gone so far as to propagate global warming skepticism following Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.