Open Comment Letter to California Water Board – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System

I’m planning to send this letter to California’s State Water Resources Control Board in regard to the Bloomingcamp Ranch water system. I invite anyone interested to do the same. You are welcome to borrow what you wish in order to write to the Water Board. Comments must be received by the Water Board by noon on June 22, 2020.
For more on the plight of Bloomingcamp Ranch see here and here.

Division of Drinking Water
State Water Resources Control Board
Attn: Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the Board
P.O. Box 100
Sacramento, CA 95812-2000

Re: Comment Letter – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System

I propose the California Water Board accept the Bloomingcamp proposal to use bottled water. No one will become ill from drinking Bloomingcamp’s water (more on that later), or the proposed bottled water, and there is no reason bottled cannot be a long-term solution.

“Of all tyrannies,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”

During the summer of 2010, a “lady with a clipboard” approached Julie Murphy who was operating a lemonade stand at the monthly art fair in Northeast Portland and asked to see the city issued restaurant license. Julie didn’t know she needed one and was threatened with a $500 fine. Seven-year-old Julie Murphy then burst into tears. Rules are rules. “Our role is to protect the public,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department.

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was confronted by a New York city plainclothes police officer who accused Garner of selling “loosies,” single cigarettes, an illegal activity in the city. He did not wish to be hassled but the six officers surrounding him did not leave. Instead, one of the officers placed Garner in a choke hold. Garner complained but eventually lost consciousness. An ambulance was called and Garner was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

The officers in both cases were enforcing rules ostensibly for the health of the public. Yet the actions by the officers, most observers would admit, were far beyond necessary. “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce,” Yale Law School’s Stephen L. Carter wrote in 2014 after New York City officers killed Eric Garner.

“Government, at its core,” J.D. Tuccille wrote, “is force. The more it does to shape the world around it, the more it needs enforcers to make sure officials’ wills are done.” The draft order regarding Bloomingcamp Ranch’s water system is, by all indications, another case of the enforcers of a rule going beyond good judgment in the application of the law by people who mean well.

The State claims nitrate in Bloomingcamp water endangers children

On May 4, 2018, the county of Stanislaus issued Compliance Order No. DER-18-R-008 (Compliance Order) to Bloomingcamp Ranch, a bakery and produce stand east of Modesto, which serves, according to California’s records, “6 residents, 4 employees, and 25 or more customers at least 60 days out of the year,” for violation of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate found in the California Code of Regulations, title 22, § 64431. Among other things, the Compliance Order required Bloomingcamp to submit a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) “identifying improvements to the water system designed to correct the water quality problem,” (a violation of the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for nitrate and “ensure that Bloomingcamp delivers water to consumers that meets primary drinking water standards.” The Compliance Order also notified Bloomingcamp that the County was authorized to issue a monetary penalty of up to $1000 per day if Bloomingcamp failed to correct the violation.

Bloomingcamp Ranch’s water contains slightly less than 2.5 times the MCL of nitrate (23.9 mg/liter versus the MCL of 10 mg/liter). And for this, the Stanislaus County health department plans will no doubt force Bloomingcamp into bankruptcy. Apparently, the ranch has offered to serve bottled water to its guests, but the State says “Bloomingcamp’s permanent or long-term reliance on bottled water is an inadequate means to comply with the California Safe Drinking Water Act,” which is no doubt true, but also tone deaf.

The state claims, “there are public health reasons for addressing a worsening problem with nitrate water contamination in wells. Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the state board, is quoted in a Modesto Bee article. He says the state’s vigilance regarding nitrates is because they can cause harm to infants with limited exposure, and nitrates are a cause of “blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia) by interfering with the process of carrying oxygen in the bloodstream.

Do vegetables, meat, and our own bodies endanger us?

It is odd that Mr. Polhemus and the State of California not also recommend that the public avoid leafy green vegetables, since roughly 80 percent of the nitrates we consume come from vegetables and leafy green vegetables are higher in nitrates. Surely, I must have simply overlooked the warnings from the State of California?

Nonetheless, I invite the state of California’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW), Stanislaus County, or United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cite at least two scientific peer reviewed papers, or medical or toxicology journals dated later than 1980, to shore up the assertion that Bloomingcamp’s nitrate numbers constitute an elevated risk to infants. I have found many that counter the State’s claim.

“Experts have questioned the veracity of the evidence supporting the hypothesis that nitrates and nitrites are toxic for healthy adolescent and adult populations. It appears that the biologically plausible hypothesis of nitrite toxicity (eg, methemoglobinemia) has essentially transformed a plausible hypothesis into sacrosanct dogma, despite the lack of proof.” (Source: Norman G Hord, Yaoping Tang, Nathan S Bryan, Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 1–10, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131)

It appears that the EPA pulled the nitrate/nitrite numbers out of their collective rear-ends, or more precisely, bovine butts. To call blue baby syndrome’s link to nitrate/nitrite levels speculative is giving it far too much credence (I use nitrates/nitrites since they are interconvertible in the body). Research provided in peer-reviewed journals indicates this idea to be simple manure. Literally manure.

The nitrate hypothesis became sacrosanct dogma, despite lack of proof

The hypothesis of a linkage between Blue Baby and nitrate/nitrite began in the 1950s after infants fed formula made with contaminated well water showed signs of blue baby. The effect was ascribed to the high nitrate content of these wells. Research has since pointed to fecal contamination of the well as the cause and not nitrate/nitrite. In an experiment in 1948, in which infants who were fed 100 mg did not develop methemoglobinemia. When fed bacteria from contaminated wells, methemoglobinemia did develop. (Source: Martijn B Katan, Nitrate in foods: harmful or healthy?, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 11–12, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28014)

There is the scant linkage of a hypothesis that nitrate causes methemoglobinemia and ample evidence it was due to bacterially contaminated wells. Again, “It appears that the biologically plausible hypothesis of nitrite toxicity (eg, methemoglobinemia) has essentially transformed a plausible hypothesis into sacrosanct dogma, despite the lack of proof.” There is also ample evidence that nitrates are quite necessary.

“Normal functioning of human vasculature requires both the presence of nitrite and nitric oxide…” and “Approximately 80% of dietary nitrates are derived from vegetable consumption; sources of nitrites include vegetables, fruit, and processed meats. Nitrites are produced endogenously through the oxidation of nitric oxide and through a reduction of nitrate by commensal bacteria in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. As such, the dietary provision of nitrates and nitrites from vegetables and fruit may contribute to the blood pressure–lowering effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.” (Source: Norman G Hord, Yaoping Tang, Nathan S Bryan, Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 1–10, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131)

It is not important whether the nitrate comes from the water, vegetables, or meat: the chemical is the same. And the European Food Safety Administration notes, “Nitrate per se is relatively non-toxic…[and] recent researchindicates that nitrite participates in host defence having antimicrobial activity, and other nitrate metabolites e.g. nitric oxide, have important physiological roles such as vasoregulation. Despite being a major source of nitrate, increased consumption of vegetables is widely recommended because of their generally agreed beneficial effects for health.” (Source: Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food chain on a request from the European Commission to perform a scientific risk assessment on nitrate in vegetables, The EFSA Journal(2008) Journal number, 689, 1-79)

Below are the amounts of nitrate found in common vegetables:

Vegetable Nitrate concentration (mg/kg) Nitrate concentration (mg/oz)
Asparagus 209 6
Broccoli 279 8
Leek 345 10
Radicchio 355 10
Escarole 523 15
Curly kale 537 15
Dandelion 605 17
Iceberg lettuce 875 25
Kohlrabi 987 28
Fennel 1024 29
Celery 1103 31
Romaine lettuce 1105 31
Lettuce 1324 37
Belgian endive 1465 41
Oak-leaf lettuce 1534 43
Curled lettuce 1601 45
Swiss chard 1690 47
Beet 1852 52
Butterhead lettuce 2026 57
Mixed lettuce 2062 58
Lamb’s lettuce 2104 59
Amaranth 2167 61
Rhubarb 2943 82
Arrugula 4677 131

Source: Nitrate in vegetables.  The EFSA Journal (2008) 689, 1-79  doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2008.689

As a friend of mine who has a PhD and has a background in chemistry, biochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology, told me, “[T]he ranch water could be used to wash the vegetable nitrate and salivary nitrate out of one’s mouth after they eat a cucumber.” He says, “fruits and vegetables contain far more nitrite than meats, but both are swamped by endogenous production [meaning what our bodies produce] of nitrite which is a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.” Again, nitrite and nitrate interconvertible in the body.

Dose makes the poison

Every substance we interact with, no matter how dangerous, has a level at which it is benign; and every substance, no matter how benign, has a level at which it is toxic. Or as Paracelsus (1493-1541) put it, “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.”

As an example: Which of these substances is the least toxic: arsenic, cyanide or vitamin D?

Answer: Of the three, arsenic is the least toxic. Vitamin D and cyanide have identical lethality of dose to body weight (LD50=10 mg/kg). Arsenic has an LD50 of 15 mg/kg. (source: Cornell. National Science Teachers Association. 2016. Assessing Toxic Risk: Student Edition.)

Dose-Response

Since dose determines risk, the Dose-Response of the body is of utmost importance. “Mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with increased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk,” the American Council on Science and Health emphasized in a peer-reviewed paper on perchlorate (the principle will be the same with nitrates and nitrites).

As Frank Schnell, board-certified, PhD toxicologist (retired) explains Dose-Response, “Most biological effects, whether adverse or not, are the consequence of a cascade of biochemical reactions initiated when chemical agents (referred to by pharmacologists and toxicologists generically as “effectors,” “agonists” or “ligands”) bind to effect-specific macromolecular receptors usually distributed on cell surfaces. It is of supreme indifference to the receptor whether the chemical binding to it is of natural, synthetic, endogenous, or exogenous origin. As long as the ligand fits into the receptor’s active site, the former will produce the effect mediated by that receptor.

“This receptor-mediated mechanism of action accounts for the existence of thresholds of effect and for the S-shaped Dose-Response (D-R) Curve that typically results when the strength of the effect (from zero- to 100%-response) is plotted on the ordinate (y-axis) against the logarithm of the dose on the abscissa (x-axis).

Dose-Response Sigmoid Curve

Now, here’s the kicker, Schnell writes that “A sub-threshold concentration of the effector will not activate enough receptors to produce in the cell a significant effect. (If this were not the case, the effective regulation of normal metabolic processes would not be possible.)” (emphasis added)

To reiterate, despite what we eat or drink, our bodies biosynthesize nitrates/nitrites in greater quantities than they get from ingesting foods and we get many of those from eating vegetables and, to a lesser extent, meat. This production of nitrite by our bodies provides a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.

But what about the law? The law, after all, is the law.

Under California’s progressive system, the responsible regulatory agency writes regulations to flesh out legislation. These regulations then become the law. The regulatory agency then acts as cop, judge, jury, and jailer for the laws they have written. Officers have discretion. Prosecutors have discretion. Juries have discretion. Jury trials were so important to this country’s founders it is listed in our Constitution three times.

Granted, the needlessly low MCL for nitrate is a federal requirement that is beyond the Board’s purview. Yet in its draft “Order Denying Petitions For Reconsideration” the water board uses their rules, regulations, and administrative jargon as a shield from seeing and treating Bloomingcamp Ranch as people and thus treating the ranch’s proposals as rational, and since it will provide safe drinking water to guests. Common sense should prevail. Your hands are not tied.

Henry David Thoreau believed that a person must disobey bad laws as a matter of conscience. Was it justice for the law to return escaped slaves to their masters? After all, slaves were property. “Must the citizen ever for a moment,” Thoreau pondered, “or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?”

It is up to you to do the right thing.

Possible courses of action:

  • Bloomingcamp Ranch could do a “jingle key drop” and turn the running of the system to the State of California. Of course, the authorities would put a lien on the property, but there is little beyond that they should do.
  • Water Board passes an order to force Bloomingcamp Ranch spend a shit ton of money to fix “problem”
  • Water Board accepts Bloomingcamp Ranch proposal to use bottled water at the bakery and place “Non-Potable Water” signs at faucets.

My recommended action:

Water Board accept Bloomingcamp Ranch proposal to use bottled water at the bakery. No one will become ill from drinking bottled water (and, face it, without the bakery, the water system can be classed as private and it’s none of the Water Board’s business). Or, at long last, does no sense of decency remain in your souls?

To sign an online petition supporting Bloomingcamp Ranch follow this hyperlink: https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/affordable-water-solutions-for-bloomingcamp-water-system.html<

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