“It’s impossible to know with no information what level is safe.”

by jim on January 19, 2014

Danger- Chemicals-300x225Some of the very best reporting about the underlying problem that's responsible for the West Virginia water crisis is being done by the local Charleston Gazette.

Following up on their great piece revealing that "MCHM" has exactly one un-reviewed, unpublished 1990 study performed by the chemical manufacturer to say that it's safe to use in the marketplace, on Friday the paper looked closer at the lack of human health effects protocols for chemicals used in the US as a whole.

"They did the best they could with very limited information," said Glenys Webster, an epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University.

But, Webster said, the entire system the U.S. uses to study and regulate toxic chemicals left decision-makers in West Virginia with a huge vacuum of data and analysis they really needed.

'It's impossible to know with no information what level is safe," Webster said. "I don't think we have the information to make a decision that will satisfy the public."

The paper also quotes toxicologists who explain why the Center for Disease Control's "safe" exposure level for MCHM, which is now being used to give the OK to resume use of Elk River water in Charleston, actually results in the most vulnerable sub-populations, infants and young children, ingesting "closer to that maximum level considered safe by the CDC."

The experts noted that the CDC calculation contained a wide variety of uncertainties that could mean the actual "safe" level is far different from what the agency estimated.

"I think the CDC tripped up when they delayed before issuing the pregnant woman warning," said Jennifer Sass, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I would recommend that not only pregnant women, but also infants and children avoid the water as long as the chemical contaminants are detected. And, the public needs to know what the detection limit is, so an informed decision can be made about how long to wait after the chemicals are no longer detected."

Experts pointed to a variety of weaknesses in the CDC's approach. Most importantly, they said, it was based on little data. Also, rat studies based on high doses of chemicals can often mask adverse health effects that occur at lower levels.

"It's a very rough calculation," Webster said. "And each step has uncertainty associated with it. It is not an exact science."

Truer words were never spoken. Which is, in part, why 200 people will be going to the Dallas premiere of filmmaker Ed Brown's "Unacceptable Limits" on the evening of January 30th at the AMC 16 at Valley View. There were only 31 seats left as of Sunday afternoon. There's also a panel discussion at the end of the film that includes Downwinders' Jim Schermbeck, along with fracking activist Sharon Wilson, and Texas Campaign for the Environment's Zac Trahan. So please stop by the film's website and buy a ticket for $11.00 to go see a film demonstrating why, whether you live in Irving, Texas or Charleston, West Virginia, you're being chemically assaulted by the same obsolete regulatory system.

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