[Marxism] EPA permitted carcinogens in water supplies under Pentagon pressure

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 29 06:10:32 MST 2006

(First of a 2-part article, much too long to post in its entirety.)

How Environmentalists Lost the Battle Over TCE
By Ralph Vartabedian, Times Staff Writer
March 29, 2006

After massive underground plumes of an industrial solvent were discovered 
in the nation's water supplies, the Environmental Protection Agency mounted 
a major effort in the 1990s to assess how dangerous the chemical was to 
human health.

Following four years of study, senior EPA scientists came to an alarming 
conclusion: The solvent, trichloroethylene, or TCE, was as much as 40 times 
more likely to cause cancer than the EPA had previously believed.

The preliminary report in 2001 laid the groundwork for tough new standards 
to limit public exposure to TCE. Instead of triggering any action, however, 
the assessment set off a high-stakes battle between the EPA and Defense 
Department, which had more than 1,000 military properties nationwide 
polluted with TCE.

By 2003, after a prolonged challenge orchestrated by the Pentagon, the EPA 
lost control of the issue and its TCE assessment was cast aside. As a 
result, any conclusion about whether millions of Americans were being 
contaminated by TCE was delayed indefinitely.

What happened with TCE is a stark illustration of a power shift that has 
badly damaged the EPA's ability to carry out one of its essential missions: 
assessing the health risks of toxic chemicals.

The agency's authority and its scientific stature have been eroded under a 
withering attack on its technical staff by the military and its 
contractors. Indeed, the Bush administration leadership at the EPA 
ultimately sided with the military.

After years on the defensive, the Pentagon — with help from NASA and the 
Energy Department — is taking a far tougher stand in challenging calls for 
environmental cleanups. It is using its formidable political leverage to 
demand greater proof that industrial substances cause cancer before 
ratcheting up costly cleanups at polluted bases.

The military says it is only striving to make smart decisions based on 
sound science and accuses the EPA of being unduly influenced by 
left-leaning scientists.

But critics say the defense establishment has manufactured unwarranted 
scientific doubt, used its powerful role in the executive branch to cause 
delays and forced a reduction in the margins of protection that 
traditionally guard public health.

If the EPA's 2001 draft risk assessment was correct, then possibly 
thousands of the nation's birth defects and cancers every year are due in 
part to TCE exposure, according to several academic experts.

"It is a World Trade Center in slow motion," said Boston University 
epidemiologist David Ozonoff, a TCE expert. "You would never notice it."

Senior officials in the Defense Department say much remains unknown about TCE.

"We are all forgetting the facts on the table," said Alex A. Beehler, the 
Pentagon's top environmental official. "Meanwhile, we have done everything 
we can to curtail use of TCE."

But in the last four years, the Pentagon, with help from the Energy 
Department and NASA, derailed tough EPA action on such water contaminants 
as the rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate. In response, state regulators in 
California and elsewhere have moved to impose their own rules.

The stakes are even higher with TCE. Half a dozen state, federal and 
international agencies classify TCE as a probable carcinogen.

California EPA regulators consider TCE a known carcinogen and issued their 
own 1999 risk assessment that reached the same conclusion as federal EPA 
regulators: TCE was far more toxic than previous scientific studies indicated.

TCE is the most widespread water contaminant in the nation. Huge swaths of 
California, New York, Texas and Florida, among other states, lie over TCE 
plumes. The solvent has spread under much of the San Gabriel and San 
Fernando valleys, as well as the shuttered El Toro Marine Corps base in 
Orange County.

Developed by chemists in the late 19th century, TCE was widely used to 
degrease metal parts and then dumped into nearby disposal pits at 
industrial plants and military bases, where it seeped into aquifers.

The public is exposed to TCE in several ways, including drinking or 
showering in contaminated water and breathing air in homes where TCE vapors 
have intruded from the soil. Limiting such exposures, even at current 
federal regulatory levels, requires elaborate treatment facilities that 
cost billions of dollars annually. In addition, some cities, notably Los 
Angeles, have high ambient levels of TCE in the air.

An internal Air Force report issued in 2003 warned that the Pentagon alone 
has 1,400 sites contaminated with TCE.




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