Saturday, March 5, 2016

Conflicting regulations on contamination endanger public health

Since the country has been made aware of the poisoning of the Flint Michigan water supply with lead from corroded pipes, stories about lead contamination have been popping up everywhere. The danger with this is that the public becomes numb to the consequences of water contamination and the problem seems too big to solve. We throw up our hands and check off another reason to distrust government solutions to big problems.

The fact is that the old lead pipes in Flint can be replaced and should be, starting now. It will be a long and expensive slog to correct the problem and there may not be any way to make the children exposed to lead poisoning completely whole again, but we have to start somewhere. Despair is not a solution.

An op-ed in the New York Times, “Blame HUD for America’s Lead Epidemic” by Emily Benfer, 3/4/16, exposes conflicting federal regulations that have resulted in the acceptance of high levels of lead exposure for residents of public housing.

According to Benfer, the standards for public housing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets the level that defines lead poisoning three to four times higher than that set by the Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention (CDC): “While the C.D.C. recommends intervention for lead poisoning at 5 micrograms per deciliter, HUD regulations do not call for action until after a child’s blood lead level is 20 micrograms per deciliter, or 15 to 19 micrograms per deciliter over three months — levels that cause severe and permanent brain damage.”

She continues: “These regulations are the most egregious contributors to the epidemic of lead poisoning in public and low-income housing. I have spent six years working with Loyola University Chicago law students, the Erie Family Health Center and civil legal aid organizations on cases involving low-income families living in unhealthy housing. We have seen firsthand how chipping, cracking lead paint creates toxic living conditions.”

The solution to this problems is within reach of us mere mortals by getting Congress and federal regulatory agencies to bring standards into alignment and start correcting the problem that causes children to suffer from our neglect. 

In another regulatory mismatch much closer to home, the conflict between standards for dioxane contamination in groundwater between the State of Michigan and the federal Environmental Protection Agency has resulted in children and their families being exposed to unacceptably high levels of a carcinogen because the state failed to correct its standards for groundwater contamination to conform with the EPA. 

An article in the Ann Arbor News, “Family with poisoned well finally getting municipal water services”, by Ryan Stanton, 3/4/16, describes the plight of a family that has been using contaminated well water for over two years because they were assured by the Pall Corp. that took over ownership of the company that originally caused the contamination,  that “the water was safe to drink with dioxane concentrations at 17 parts per billion because it's below the state's 85 ppb standard.” They were not told, however, that the federal EPA standard shows that dioxane at 3.5 ppb in drinking water poses a 1 in 100,000 cancer risk, the standard that the state sets at 85 ppb. 

According to the article, “local officials have been fighting for years to convince the state to move to a stricter standard to reflect the latest findings about dioxane published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. The DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] was required by law to update the standards by December 2013, but Lansing politics and technical problems have been blamed for repeated delays and missed deadlines.”

State officials acknowledge the problem and “the Michigan Department Environmental Quality is proposing to move to a single-digit standard sometime this year.”

The Pate family that has been living with dioxane-contaminated well water has retained an attorney.

Heather Pate is quoted in the article: "Too many times politicians get away with stuff… They're not going to get away with this one. We're not going to let it happen. And we're not doing this for money. I want them in prison. I want them doing time."

This sounds about right to me.

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