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The Gowanus Canal, a designated federal Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s task force that oversees the cleanup of some of the country's most contaminated sites, will be led by a former lawyer for a plastics and chemicals company, the AP reports.

Why it matters: Steven Cook, the new chair of the Superfund Task Force, has reportedly worked more than 20 years as a corporate counsel for LyondellBasell Industries — one of the country’s largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies that the EPA has suspected of polluting some three dozen sites.

The details: The task force is overseeing the cleanups of more than 1,300 toxic sites. The AP reports that Cook signed a memo in April recusing himself from regulatory matters involving LyondellBasell. But he’s allowed to participate in matters involving the company if the decision would also affect five or more other companies.

  • Cook joined the agency in February as deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management.

What they're saying: Agency spokesman Lincoln Ferguson told the AP: "All EPA employees receive ethics briefings when they start and continually work with our ethics office regarding any potential conflicts they may encounter while employed here. Steven Cook is no different."

  • Pattie Shieh-Lance, a LyondellBasell spokeswoman, told the AP the company has "resolved its Superfund obligations nearly a decade ago" and it "does not currently have any such obligations."

The bigger picture: An AP analysis found that nearly half the EPA's political appointees under the current administration have close industry ties. Of the more than 60 hires tracked last year, the publication said about one-third worked as registered lobbyists or attorneys for chemical companies, fossil fuel manufacturers or other EPA-regulated companies.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
7 hours ago - Science

China makes history with successful Mars landing

A model of the Tianwen-1 Mars rover is displayed during an exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing. Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

A Chinese lander carrying a rover successfully touched down on Mars for the first time, state media reports.

Why it matters: This is the first time China has landed a spacecraft on another planet, and it launches the nation into an elite club of only a few space agencies to successfully make it to the Martian surface.

8 hours ago - World

UN: 10,000 Palestinians displaced in Gaza as Israel-Hamas fighting escalates

A Palestinian woman walks after she collects her belongings inside her damaged house following an Israeli air in the northern Gaza Strip. Photo: Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The United Nations warned Friday that ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas "has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis," in not only the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, but "the region as a whole."

The big picture: More than 125 Palestinians, including 31 children have been killed in Gaza since fighting began Monday, per the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Eight people, including two children, have been killed in Israel, Reuters reported, citing Israeli authorities.