Monday, December 16, 2002

Our water supply

I often don't agree with the Opinion page and editorials of The Wall Street Journal, but in its investigative news reporting, the Journal is not afraid to tackle corporate or government malfeasance head on. Today's Page One article (paid subscription required), "Perchlorate Runoff Flows to Water Supply of Millions: A Fuel of Cold War Defenses Now Ignites Health Controversy" by Peter Waldman, is about perchlorate, an ingredient in solid rocket fuel, in water supplies.
In the human body, perchlorate affects production of thyroid hormones -- a phenomenon that the Environmental Protection Agency says can cause thyroid ailments such as Graves' disease and cancer in adults. Fetuses and newborns, the EPA says, are at even greater risk, susceptible to neurological and other developmental damage.

For decades, millions of Americans have been unknowingly exposed to perchlorate through their local water supplies. No one denies that the chemical is toxic. But the level at which it becomes dangerous in drinking water is the subject of a fierce debate that pits the EPA against the Pentagon and its defense-industry allies. As a result, the U.S. is still years away from establishing a nationally enforced standard, and until it does so, a poisonous chemical lingers in the environment in amounts that could still be causing the slow spread of serious disease on a large scale.
Waldman goes on to report:
The EPA wants suspected water supplies tested nationwide for perchlorate, but the Pentagon, which argues perchlorate isn't dangerous in small doses, is resisting in many cases. Instead, the Pentagon has asked Congress for an exemption from environmental laws covering the cleanup of explosive residues at operational sites.
The article investigates in depth the dumping practices of various corporations, including Aerojet, which had a manufacturing plant a few towns to the east of where I live before the company relocated outside of Sacramento, Calif.
The polluting continued for years after evidence began to mount of the dangers of perchlorate. A three-month investigation by The Wall Street Journal has found that even after California regulators tried to control disposal of the chemical in the 1950s, companies dumped it with impunity. It wasn't until the 1970s, after passage of federal clean-water laws, that the defense industry began trying to contain perchlorate waste for treatment. But by then, the chemical had already begun its long, slow seep into water supplies nationwide.

As late as 1976, in fact, Aerojet-General Corp., operator of the missile plant near the Voetsches' home, built a special, 3,500-foot pipeline to dump toxic waste into unlined earthen pits -- directly disobeying a local water-board order issued just months earlier, state documents show. At first, Aerojet told investigators the pipe was just a stopgap measure to bypass a clogged holding pond.
And the article continues. If you don't have an online subscription to the WSJ, pick up a copy of today's paper at a newsstand.

No comments: