Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Many years ago when republicans had an oz. of compassion left for the American people Richard Nixon started the EPA and Superfund. The reason was simple. An old abandoned canal in northern New York state was turned into a dumping ground for a combination of toxic wastes. As the pit eventually became filled it was covered with dirt because we all know the expression 'out of sight out of mind'. Unfortunately since nobody had bothered to line the pit the chemical soup leached into the ground and the ground water. The rest is history with children developing cancers and birth defects at an alarming rate. I went to school with one of these unfortunate fellows. Imagine going through life with hands but no arms. That was the legacy of the Love Canal.
Understand I'm no purest when it comes to chemicals. I realize that we can not live in a totally sterile environment devoid of harmful things but we sure are lacking in common sense sometimes. The problem lies in just how much of the pollution we inflict upon ourselves. It's been know for centuries that asbestos would kill you if breathed or ingested it in large quantities but nobody knows the exact amount that causes harm. I've noticed over two decades of removing the stuff that permitted exposures have gone down. If you think though that you can get away from this stuff by hiding in your home with the windows closed and the hospital HEPA filters cranked up on high think again. At any major intersection of any city or town car brakes are blasting out the toxic dust for all to enjoy.
Dioxin - Many of the chemicals we use in manufacturing are toxic but the worst ones have one characteristic that makes them stand out above the rest. They don't break down in the environment. It's a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it makes things very durable but on the other it tends to poison animals and living things. Makes for great bug killer but comes back to bite us in the rear later when it won't go away.
Dioxin or a form of it was used in Vietnam as a defoliant. Of the tons the military dumped on the country all of it is still there poisoning the soil and ground water. Tests in various animals show toxic effects at a broad range of exposures. Anywhere from 20 ug/kg up to 1000. So exactly where do we set our standards?
The reason I bring this up is that the EPA is about to change the standards for dioxin. Since 1998, the agency has regarded dioxin soil concentrations of less than 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt) as safe for residential areas. For commercial and industrial zones, 5,000 ppt to 20,000 ppt has been considered safe.
The proposed revisions would drop the safe levels to a fraction as much — 72 ppt for residential areas and 950 ppt for commercial and industrial sites.
I used to know the conversion from parts per million and trillion to milligram and micrograms per kilogram but I found it far easier just to read the surveys or lab reports and check them against a material safety data sheet (MSDS).
Unfortunately this issue will once again become a political football with the conservatives and chemical companies screaming about the costs. But I must ask. What are the real costs in terms of human life and health? Like it or not they land up paying in the end for short term profits.