Still President Bush still wants to kill us all using his proxies in the EPA to gut any and all regulatory restrictions on polluting. Rebecca Clarren has written a compelling overview of the problem in Salon.
the story of the hundreds of sick people who live near the former Kelly Air Force Base illuminates an entirely new manner in which the Bush administration has diluted science and put public health at risk. This year, largely in obeisance to the Pentagon, the nation’s biggest polluter, the White House diminished a little-known but critical process at the Environmental Protection Agency for assessing toxic chemicals that impacts thousands of Americans.
As a coalition of more than 40 national and local environmental organizations put it in a letter to EPA administrators [4 page PDF] this past April: “EPA, under pressure from the Bush White House, has given the foxes the keys to the environmental protection henhouse.”
Mechanics at the former Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio used a toxic chemical called tetrachloroethylene (or PCE for short) to degrease parts on the various airplanes serviced at the base. The chemical was discarded haphazardly, and seeped into the ground and water everywhere.
Although it has conducted limited testing, the EPA acknowledges that it’s possible for PCE vapor to rise from groundwater into people’s living rooms and kitchens. Yet it says the Alvarados and their neighbors have nothing to fear. Based on EPA air quality tests inside five area homes, the nation’s environmental guardian claims that it’s safe for residents to live above the plume for the next 40 to 100 years, or the amount of time it will take for the chemicals to naturally dissipate.
The fact is, EPA scientists haven’t completed an updated scientific assessment of PCE, including its health risks, for a decade. Worse, a comprehensive review of the carcinogenic chemical may never be coming. Anti-regulatory crusaders inside the Bush White House have peopled the EPA with top officials apparently more concerned with limiting government spending than public health. According to critics within and outside the EPA, the agency has stifled independent research and compromised scientific assessments of all manner of toxins and carcinogens that Americans breathe, drink and touch.
“It feels like Stalin-era Russia, like the administration set themselves up to decide what’s allowable science and what isn’t,” says a high-ranking staff scientist at the EPA, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Until the recent economic crash, this has been such an anti-regulatory administration. One of the ways to undermine regulations is to undermine the science behind them. It’s absolutely shocking what’s going on.”
Public health officials say this attempt to derail the scientific evaluation of toxins is one of the most damning legacies of the Bush administration. In late September, the Government Accountability Office issued a scathing critique of the EPA’s new toxic-assessment procedures. It concluded that the secretive procedures compromise scientific credibility and sacrifice the public’s trust in government. Despite such hefty criticism, public officials fear that because the new procedures have been instituted at the EPA so far below the public radar, their harmful impact will survive long after Bush leaves office. It will take a bold and expedient move by Barack Obama or the next Congress to curtail the influence of the Pentagon and other government agencies on the EPA.
There is also the national scourge of perchlorate, an ingredient of rocket fuel that has been found in the water supply of most states.
Since the early 1990s, the EPA has been conducting a toxic assessment of perchlorate, a major component in rocket fuel, used by the military and its contractors in bases throughout the country.
The chemical is incredibly widespread. It shows up in the groundwater of 35 states from New England to California; it has contaminated 153 public water systems in 26 states. Between 17 million and 40 million Americans are exposed to perchlorate at a level many scientists consider unsafe. According to a 2006 CDC study, 36 percent of American women are iodine deficient, putting them at risk for perchlorate-related thyroid problems. Due in part to perchlorate-contaminated irrigation water, most Americans who eat lettuce in the winter ingest the chemical. It has also appeared in melons, spinach and milk, according to 2005 and 2006 studies by the Food and Drug Administration.
A 2002 IRIS assessment led the EPA to call for a safe exposure dose of one part per billion — roughly the equivalent of a drop of water in a home swimming pool. That finding was expected to propel a stringent cleanup policy, one that could cost the Department of Defense billions of dollars.
That did not happen because the Pentagon has an ally in the EPA, an ally that decided that the budget of the Department of Defense was much more important than the health and safety of the nation.
In 2005, the EPA distributed a proposal to revise the chemical assessment process; officials at the Office of Management and Budget sat down with the IRIS blueprint and pulled out a red pen.
The plan that emerged calls for expanding the role of other federal agencies in determining which chemicals are assessed each year. It allows agencies like the Pentagon, Department of Energy and NASA to identify “mission critical” chemicals to the agency’s operations.
Significantly, the new process affords OMB more oversight and involvement in what critics say should be a purely scientific assessment. Now OMB and other non-health agencies have three additional opportunities to comment. Such comments are off-limits to public scrutiny and not available to congressional review unless subpoenaed. If OMB doesn’t agree with certain scientific findings, it can effectively block EPA from moving forward with the assessment.
Obama’s administration could reverse this crap, if they wanted. The question is, do they want to?
With a flick of a pen, Obama could reinstate the old IRIS process. Whether this will happen remains to be seen. His transition office didn’t return calls and e-mails asking if it would be likely to reverse the Bush administration changes to the IRIS process.
“If the Obama administration is serious about protecting poisoned communities, fixing the IRIS program is the place to start,” says Jennifer Sass, a toxicologist at Natural Resources Defense Council. “This should be the top priority at EPA. It’s really fundamental.”
Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Committee on Science and Technology, has taken matters into his own hands. In September, he introduced legislation that would make EPA solely responsible for the IRIS process. The agency would be barred from consulting with any agency, including OMB, that had a conflict of interest in the scientific review.
Read the entire article here.