Grantee highlight: Government Accountability Project empowers whistleblowers to expose government and corporate wrongdoing

Note from the CREDO Mobile team: This June, Government Accountability Project is among three amazing groups that will receive a share of our monthly grant. Funding from CREDO Mobile will support GAP in its work to litigate whistleblower cases, expose wrongdoing to the public, and promote government and corporate accountability.

 Read this important blog post about GAP’s critical work, then visit and cast your vote to help send funding to the group to assist its efforts — and the efforts of our other outstanding June grantees.

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying more than 1 million pounds of highly toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Much of the lethal freight spilled immediately into the ground, water and air. Tank cars containing 116,000 gallons of vinyl chloride did not rupture but hung in the balance.

To address the threat, railway executives pressured state and local officials to vent and burn the vinyl chloride, while U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials stood idly by. The fire sent up a dioxin-laden black plume that covered the region. Residents were evacuated but not for long. Within days, the EPA pronounced the town safe and sent its lead administrator, Michael Regan, to publicly drink water from an East Palestine tap. The EPA said the monitors on its high-tech surveillance plane showed no lingering toxics.

Then whistleblowers began coming to us. A former lobbyist for the chemical industry told us and Congressional offices that the vinyl chloride fire had not been the clean-and-complete burn that government agencies said it was. He called for the EPA to do widespread independent testing because dioxins and even worse chemicals were a major biproduct of the burn. Instead, the EPA relied on railway contractors to perform the tests.

Another whistleblower client of ours, a skilled technician with decades of experience testing for hazards, visited the city dozens of times to test in homes and throughout the community. He found alarming results. In response, the EPA impugned his professionalism to journalists and others behind closed doors, even though it had previously praised his work.

To verify the concerns of whistleblowers, we filed extensive Freedom of Information Act requests for EPA documents about its test procedures and results. We were surprised when the agency denied our ask to expedite the processing of our requests, forcing us to file a (successful) lawsuit to reverse that denial. The agency even refused to waive its processing fees — the first time in our 47-year history that any state or federal agency had done so.

With our suspicion of corruption growing, we sent our environmental investigator to East Palestine. She met with residents who described strange rashes, feelings of disorientation, dizzy spells, brain fog, severe respiratory episodes, unusual gastrointestinal illnesses and other serious health problems. Residents said even the inspectors testing for contaminants had become ill, although they reported no problems. Two inspectors allegedly told a resident that they were having a difficult time, morally and emotionally, listening to the lies that railway officials were telling residents.

We have now learned from the scientists who conducted the flights in the EPA’s surveillance plane that the EPA purposely waited to begin its monitoring until after the toxic plume had dissipated. They also reported that the EPA turned off the plane’s monitors when over the contaminated creeks and waterways flowing from the accident site and only tested for 7 minutes, when the EPA would usually fly around for hours. With its own results not conclusively showing the area to be safe, the EPA lied to the nation and declared that the results of its aerial testing did show it was safe for residents to return. The whistleblowers further reported that, had the EPA launched the flights immediately after the derailment, the vinyl chloride burn could have been avoided, because in fact the vinyl chloride tankers were not at risk of imminent explosion.

Because these revelations and our complaint to the Office of Inspector General have now made national news, potential whistleblowers are lining up to speak with us. We currently represent nearly 100 whistleblower clients courageous enough to speak the truth. Our mission is to protect them, protect their jobs and ensure that they don’t drown beneath the waves they make. We’re also launching more campaigns like the one in East Palestine, because the better people know us and the more impact we have, the more whistleblowers will come forward.

Over the past 47 years, we’ve developed over 35 federal laws that Congress later enacted. Passage is usually unanimous because there is bipartisan consensus: whistleblowers are society’s most powerful tool to fight illegality, abuses of power, public health dangers, environmental threats, gross waste, politicized science and other wrongdoing. Insider information, effectively investigated, strategically applied and brought to public attention, has the potential to transform government agencies and private companies in profound ways.

Truth-tellers are the antidote to corruption, because they bring sunlight to the dark corners of our society. But they can’t do what they do without organized, experienced, expert help, which is what we provide daily. When whistleblowers stand alone, it’s easy for bureaucracies like the EPA and corporations to identify, harass and ruin them, rather than clean up their act. But as soon as we become involved, we change the narrative, as we have done in East Palestine. We bring the full weight of law enforcement, the news media, other public-interest organizations and citizen groups to bear on the wrongdoers. And we fight to see that truth-tellers are defended and honored for doing what’s fair, just and right.