Monday, January 17, 2011


The Environmental Protection Agency has revoked a water permit for a mining project issued in 2007 by the Army Corps of Engineers. It blocks $250 million in investment and costs 250 jobs. It is in the coal-mining area of West Virginia and involves removal of a mountain top. EPA, as is its custom, says science required the revocation.

Other firms wonder if their permits will be revoked. This revocation is in line with EPA’s regulatory excess and its anti-energy bias.

EPA is among the most imperious of the regulatory agencies, arising from the vagueness of Congress’s laws and orders, and Congress’s having abrogated oversight of the regulatory process. But if Congress is reforming, there are ways to rein them in, according to The Wall Street Journal January. 14 editorial. One is to enact the “Executive In Need Of Scrutiny (Reins) Act,” proposed by Senators DeMint and Davis.

Among these unelected agencies, scarcely a week goes by without EPA’s regulatory carcinogen witch-hunt to remove PCBs from schools and hospitals. PCBs (PoliChlorinatedBiphenyls) are a compound uniquely suited for insulating electrical equipment. They are a pollutant that may harm animals but have not been found to hurt human beings, despite numerous epidemiologic surveys of workers occupationally engaged with them.

The latest PCB scare is in two schools on Staten Island. Eight classrooms have been closed down in anticipation of the results of tests taken by EPA for PCB-contamination of the air. While they await the test results to see if the schools or other classrooms must be closed down, EPA is annoyed at the slow pace of New York City. Moreover, fluorescent light fixtures have been suspected of PCB contamination. EPA has warned that absent immediate action by the City, it would act on its own, presumably to close the schools. Deputy Mayor Walcott says closing 800 schools would be prohibitively expensive, costing maybe $1 billion.

PCBs are at the end of a long list of substances that could be hazardous if inhaled or ingested over a lifetime of 70 years. The list was devised by Bruce Ames, world-renown molecular biologist at the University of California at Berkeley.

The items below have been arbitrarily selected from Professor Ames’s long list. The figures represent the risk of the substance compared to the risk of PCBs (and DDT; DDT is included only because it, like PCBs, is at the very bottom of Professor Ames’s list.)

14,000 beer, a 12-ounce can
150 one peanut-butter sandwich a day
30 cooked bacon, 100 grams
10 water, one liter of the worst of Silicon Valley (low-quality) water
5 water, one liter of average U.S. tap water

The following facts are still relevant though gathered ten years ago, when this subject was covered in the pages of this newspaper:

• Animal tests for carcinogenicity are usually terminated after tumors develop; but a 1984 PCB test on rats was continued for the lifespan of the rats and found that rats treated with PCBs lived LONGER than untreated, and that over their lifetime, the treated rats developed FEWER cancers of all types than the untreated. It is difficult to infer harm to humans from a test in which the chemical is beneficial to animals.

• A study of heavy consumers of fish from the Great Lakes, which contain PCBs, found no more illnesses than in the control group. A similar Connecticut State Department of Health study of people who regularly eat fish from the Housatonic River found that they had no more illnesses than the control group.

• The National Institute of Health did four occupational studies. It found that exposed workers had slightly FEWER cancer deaths and no more other illnesses than the general public even though they had higher levels of PCBs in their blood.

• Continued attempts to show PCBs a problem have similarly failed. One, a study of endocrine (hormone) disruption at Tulane University, was publicly withdrawn by its authors because they found that further research could not replicate their result.

• Toxicologist Alice Ottoboni declared it is extremely unlikely that exposure to trace quantities in the environment could cause cancer.

Dr. Renata Kimbrough of the Institute for Evaluating Health Risks did a study of 7,075 workers in the electrical industry whose occupational exposure to PCBs went back 35 years. “We basically didn’t find anything,” she said. “There is no adverse health risk to exposed populations.” Whether workers were exposed heavily or lightly made no difference. The length of exposure made no difference. Even where the PCB blood-levels were 2,530 parts per billion compared to the general population’s of 5 to 7 ppb, there was no difference. Her study was published in the March, 1999, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

By Natalie Sirkin

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