Bloomingcamp Ranch vs California’s Water Board

Bloomingcamp Ranch photo courtesy of Matthew Steinberg

I did more research. More contemplation. I reworked the letter to be less confrontational. More flies with honey than vinegar and all that… By the way should you wish to comment…

SUBMISSION OF WRITTEN COMMENTS. Persons interested in the draft order are encouraged to submit comments electronically. Comment letters must be received by 12:00 noon on June 22, 2020. Unless the State Water Board determines otherwise, comment letters received after the deadline will not be accepted. Send comments to Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the State Water Board, by email at commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov (must be no more than 15 megabytes); fax at (916) 341-5620; or mail or hand delivery at:

Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the Board
State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 100, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000 (mail)
1001 I Street, 24th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814 (hand delivery)

Please indicate in the subject line, “Comment Letter – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System”.

So here is my revised letter to the California Water Resources Control Board:

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

Re: Comment Letter – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System

It’s clear the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) cares very much about providing clean drinking water to the most vulnerable consumers, children.

Yet it seems a grave injustice to fine a family $13,508 (SWRCB 2020b) for water which, contains—in one liter of their water—the same amount of nitrate found in one four ounces [Ed. note: changed from one ounce to four ounces on 6/15/20 since EPA counts/weighs only the NO3 portion of nitrate] of iceberg lettuce. I propose the SWRCB accept the Bloomingcamp proposal to use bottled water. No one will become ill from drinking Bloomingcamp’s water, which I will show later. And their proposed solution to provide bottled water is more than adequate and thus no reason it cannot be a long-term solution.

This letter will discuss:

The SWCRB’s mandate with regard to drinking water

The SWCRB is mandated by California Water Code Section 106.3(a) which states:

  • It is hereby declared to be the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes. [emphasis added]

Section 106.3(b) then says all state agencies are to use this mandate where other state policies are to be considered.

(b) All relevant state agencies, including the department, the state board, and the State Department of Public Health, shall consider this state policy when revising, adopting, or establishing policies, regulations, and grant criteria when those policies, regulations, and criteria are pertinent to the uses of water described in this section.

(c) This section does not expand any obligation of the state to provide water or to require the expenditure of additional resources to develop water infrastructure beyond the obligations that may exist pursuant to subdivision (b).

(d) This section shall not apply to water supplies for new development.

(e) The implementation of this section shall not infringe on the rights or responsibilities of any public water system.

Prosecution of Duties for Public Health

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. Not aware she needed one, Julie was threatened with a $500 fine. The seven-year-old 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, a New York city plainclothes police officer confronted Eric Garner and accused him of selling “loosies” (single cigarettes), an illegal activity in the city. An officer placed Garner in a choke hold. Garner complained he could not breathe, but eventually lost consciousness. An ambulance was called but 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.(Tuccille 2020)

“Of all tyrannies,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive….This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”  

The draft order regarding Bloomingcamp Ranch’s water system is, by all indications, a case of “tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims.” (Lewis 1970)

State Claims Nitrate is a Danger to Humans and Children in Particular

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,” which is a violation of the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for nitrate, and to “ensure that Bloomingcamp delivers water to consumers that meets primary drinking water standards.” 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). (SWRCB 2020a) The Compliance Order also notified Bloomingcamp that the County was authorized to issue a monetary penalty if Bloomingcamp failed to correct the violation. (SWRCB 2020b)

The State claims critical public health reasons for addressing nitrate in water. Darrin Polhemus, a deputy director of the state board quoted in a Modesto Bee article, says the state’s vigilance regarding nitrates is due to the harm they can cause to infants with limited exposure. Specifically, nitrates interfere with the process of carrying oxygen in the bloodstream causing “blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia).(Carlson 2019)

What Are Nitrate And Nitrite?

According to the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), “Nitrate and nitrite are naturally occurring ionic species that are part of the earth’s nitrogen cycle. They typically exist in the environment in highly water-soluble forms, in association with other ionic species such as sodium and potassium. Nitrate and nitrite salts completely dissociate in aqueous environments. Nitrite is readily oxidized (combines with oxygen) to form nitrate. Nitrate is generally stable in the environment; however, it may be reduced to nitrite through biological processes involving plants, microbes, etc.

“In nature, plants utilize nitrate as an essential (key) nutrient.…Sodium nitrite is also being used in medicines and therapeutics; for example, as an antidote for cyanide poisoning and as a treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension.” (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 2015)

The present science literature on nitrates

It is odd that Mr. Polhemus and the State of California have not also prohibited sale of arugula, rhubarb, or vegetable soup since those have vastly higher levels of nitrate than the MCL allowed for water. There is no chemical difference between nitrate found in the water and nitrate found in foods. “Sodium nitrate is sodium nitrate,” says Josh Bloom, PhD, “no matter its source. The chemical is made in factories, in plants (the green kind), and by your body (more on that later) and the three are indistinguishable – identical in every way.”(Bloom 2019)

“The risk of methemoglobinemia among infants depends on many factors other than the ingestion of nitrate in drinking water,” write Ward et. al., in their report, ?Drinking water nitrate and human health. “Some foods and medications contain high levels of nitrate. Enteric infections, potentially caused by fecal bacteria contamination in wells, may lead to the endogenous production of nitrite, as evidenced by numerous published reports of infants with diarrhea and methemoglobinemia but no apparent exposure to exogenous MetHb-forming agents.” (Ward et al. 2005) Nitrates  and nitrites would be “MetHb-forming agents.” In the body, red blood cells use the hemoglobin protein to carry oxygen to the body. Methemoglobin (MetHb) is a form of hemoglobin protein that is not capable of binding oxygen and therefore does not deliver oxygen to the cells.

Furthermore, in a letter to ?Environmental Health Perspectives, Avery wrote, “This emphasis in the [?1949 American Public Health Association] survey and indeed the wide and rapid acceptance by the medical community that nitrates in drinking water are the primary cause of infantile methemoglobinemia have created an inherent bias: any methemoglobinemia case with elevated nitrates in the water is assumed to be caused by the nitrates, even though it is now clear that additional factors are critical for methemoglobinemia to occur. Furthermore, these factors have now been proven to cause severe methemoglobinemia without exposure to exogenous nitrates from water or food. Thus, the available evidence suggests that exogenous nitrates from drinking water have the potential to exacerbate, but not cause, methemoglobinemia.” (Alexander A Avery 2001)

Science as an evolutionary process

Science is not a fixed unyielding set of numbers and facts. It evolves as we learn more about our environment. “Science,” Jonathan Rauch writes, “is an open-ended, decentralized process for legitimizing belief. Much as creatures compete for food, so entrepreneurs compete for business, candidates for votes, and hypotheses for supporters. In biological evolution, no outcome is fixed or final—nor is it in capitalism, democracy, science. There is always another trade, another election, another hypothesis.” (Rauch 1999)

The hypothesis of a linkage between blue baby syndrome and nitrate began seventy years ago, after infants fed formula made with contaminated well water showed signs of methemoglobinemia. The effect was ascribed to the high nitrate content of these wells. This has since been disputed by Avery and others. (Alexander A Avery 2001)(Katan 2009)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), operating on a 1950’s hypothesis and an abundance of caution, set the MCL for nitrate of 44 mg/L (equal to 10 mg nitrate-nitrogen/L or 10 ppm).

Research has since pointed to fecal contamination of the well as the cause and not nitrate. By far, the major pollutant and the largest killer of people is by waterborne diseases. This is why chlorine, a known toxic chemical, is added to disinfect water.

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. (Katan, 2009)

“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.” (Hord, Tang, and Bryan 2009)

It is not important where the nitrate comes from 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.” (European Food Safety Authority, 2008)

It has long been known that methemoglobinemia occurs in infants less than 6 months of age without excessive intake of nitrates. “Protein intolerance accompanied by diarrhea and/or vomiting has also been proven to cause methemoglobinemia in infants less than 6 months of age without excessive intake of nitrates through food and water….Moreover, although over 90% of exogenous nitrate exposure comes from food, the only methemoglobinemia cases linked to food have involved high levels of nitrite contamination….All of these observations strengthen the view that endogenous nitrite production, not exogenous nitrate contamination of drinking water, is the primary cause of methemoglobinemia.” (Alexander Austin Avery 1999)

Nonetheless, the idea of a linkage between nitrate in the water and methemoglobinemia remains. “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.” (Hord, Tang, and Bryan 2009) Or as Mark Twain put it in Life on the Mississippi, “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” (Twain 1883)

Nitrate levels found in food

Below are the amounts of nitrate found in common vegetables:

FoodNitrate concentration (mg/kg)Nitrate concentration (mg/oz)
Arugula4677131
Rhubarb294382
Mixed lettuce 206258
Butterhead lettuce 202657
Beet185252
Swiss chard169047
Curled lettuce 160145
Oak-leaf lettuce 153443
Belgian endive 146541
Lettuce132437
Romaine lettuce110531
Celery 110331
Fennel 102429
Kohlrabi98728
Iceberg lettuce87525
Dandelion 60517
Cole Slaw55916
Curly kale 53715
Radicchio35510
Leek 34510
Broccoli2798
Asparagus 2096
Vegetable Soup2096
Bloomingcamp well water1053
Sources: Nitrate in vegetables.  The EFSA Journal (2008) 689, 1-79  doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2008.689; Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits

As a friend of mine who has a PhD and has a background in chemistry, biochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology, points out, fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nitrate but that is “swamped by endogenous production” (meaning what our bodies produce) which is “a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.” He told me you could use Bloomingcamp’s water to rinse your mouth out after eating a cucumber, if you wanted to lower your nitrate load.

FIGURE 1 A schematic diagram of the physiologic disposition of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide from exogenous (dietary) and endogenous sources. The action of bacterial nitrate reductases on the tongue and mammalian enzymes that have nitrate reductase activity in tissues are noted by the number 1. Bacterial nitrate reductases are noted by the number 2. Mammalian enzymes with nitrite reductase activity are noted by the number 3.

© 2009 American Society for Nutrition

As a friend of mine who has a PhD and has a background in chemistry, biochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology, points out, fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nitrate but that is “swamped by endogenous production” (meaning what our bodies produce) which is “a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.” He told me you could use Bloomingcamp’s water to rinse your mouth out after eating a cucumber, if you wanted to lower your nitrate load.

Figure 1  A schematic diagram of the physiologic disposition of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide from exogenous (dietary) and endogenous sources. The action of bacterial nitrate reductases on the tongue and mammalian enzymes that have nitrate reductase

The importance of dose

As I sit at my laptop composing this letter, I am sipping a phenol-laced liquid containing 826 volatile chemical substances, 16 of which are known by the State of California to cause cancer including: acrylamide, caffeic acid, catechol, furfural, and hydroquinone. (Ames, 1990) I put a little cream in it, since the insecticide in the drink, caffeine, is rather bitter. Caffeine by the way is comparably toxic as another SWRCB concern: chromium-6.

Caffeine’s LOAEL (Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level) of 2.5 mg/kg-day is quite close to that of chromium-6. Toxicologists then calculate a Reference Dose (RfD) from the LOAEL. Dr. Tamara L. Sorell writes, “The final RfD [for caffeine] would be 0.0025 mg/kg-day, a very small dose in the same range as RfDs for known toxicants such as hexavalent chromium [chromium-6] and potassium cyanide.” (Sorell, 2016) A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation says one drop of coffee is roughly 270 times above the “safe” level for consumption. Maybe I should put that drop in a gallon of water to be safe?

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 are identically as lethal. It takes 50 percent more arsenic to kill someone than vitamin D. (National Science Teachers Association n.d.)

The Dose-Response curve

Since dose determines risk, the Dose-Response of the body is critically important. “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). (Daland Juberg and Stier 2002)

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).”

Figure 2 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). In other words, very little does nothing.

The Unbearable Lightness of Wallet

Since SWRCB’s mandate says people must have affordable water—and in the case of Bloomingcamp water company, the operators are also the paying customers—SWRCB must weigh the cost of caution against the safety (usually given as life-years) it provides. This is not a mere academic exercise; capital is limited resource, once spent for one priority it is not available to spend on another. “Policymakers are used to considering the regulatory environment one regulation at a time from the perspective of the regulator and with a parochial view of their agency as the only relevant player in the field,” wrote Boden, et. al., “This perspective too often ignores the viewpoint of a person starting a business, who must comply with regulations at multiple levels of government across overlapping issues. To these entrepreneurs, the regulatory thicket offers negligible benefits when compared to the added compliance burden.” This “regulatory thicket” “imposes real costs on real people.”(Boden et al. 2019) The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, puts the amount of money lost since 1980, due to added federal regulation alone, at $4 trillion; a drag of 25 percent on the economy. “If regulation had been held constant at levels observed in 1980, the US economy would have been about 25 percent larger than it actually was as of 2012….This amounts to a loss of approximately $13,000 per capita, a significant amount of money for most American workers.” (Coffey, 2016)

What is worse, regulations, with health in mind, may increase mortality. “[M]any regulations result in unintended consequences that increase mortality risk in various ways. These adverse repercussions are often the result of regulatory impacts that compete with the intended goal of the regulation, or they are direct behavioral responses to regulation.” (Viscusi, 2017)

Of course, economics alone should not guide us in decision making. But as Bjorn Lomborg reminds us, “[I]gnoring costs doesn’t make difficult choices disappear; it makes them less clear.” (Specter, 2015)

When we spend money on the wrong priorities, that money is not available for things that could truly save lives. As Frank Schnell told me, “In real life, excess conservatism doesn’t just waste money; it also costs lives, i.e., the ones that could have been saved had the wasted money been spent more wisely.” (Schnell, 2016)

Summary of the Science

  • In addition to what we eat or drink, our bodies biosynthesize nitrates and 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 by our bodies provides a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body. (Bloom, 2019)
  • Researchers are quite divided on whether nitrate alone causes methemoglobinemia in infants.
  • Dose makes the poison.
  • Regulations may be a poor way of providing public health.

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

Discretion of officers, prosecutors, judges, and juries in matters of 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. (Leonard, 2015) 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 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.

It is the myopia of adjudicating the infraction and not seeing and treating people as people that harms us all. The State ought to provide clear and convincing evidence of harm, not of an infraction of a rule. Bloomingcamp’s proposals are rational, and since their solution 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? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.” (Thoreau 1848)

It is up to you to do the right thing; Thoreau, no doubt, would.

Potential courses of action

  • Bloomingcamp Ranch could do a “jingle mail drop” and turn the running of the system to the State of California. Of course, the authorities would then operate the Bloomingcamp well and put a lien on the property, but little beyond that.
  • Water Board passes an order to force Bloomingcamp Ranch spend $300,000 to fix the “problem.”
  • Water Board accepts Bloomingcamp Ranch proposal to use bottled water at the bakery and place “Non-Potable Water” signs at faucets. Signs in restrooms, I believe, is what is done at Modesto Airport. Such signs provide the public with information and indicates this has worked in a place with presumably more consumers than a bakery and cider house. It should work at Bloomingcamp too.

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 then none of the Water Board’s business). Or, at long last, does no sense of decency remain in your souls?

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on this important consideration.

Norman Benson

References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 2015. “Toxicological Profile: Nitrate and Nitrite.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/TP.asp?id=1452&tid=258.

Avery, Alexander A. 2001. “Correspondence – Cause of Methemoglobinemia: Illness versus Nitrate Exposure.” Environmental Health Perspectives 109 (1). http://www.nlm.nih.gov.

Avery, Alexander Austin. 1999. “Infantile Methemoglobinemia: Reexamining the Role of Drinking Water Nitrates.” Environmental Health Perspectives 107 (7): 583–86. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.99107583.

Bloom, Josh. 2019. “Whole Foods Sells Both ‘Nitrate-Free Meat’ and Nitrate Supplements. Yup. | American Council on Science and Health.” American Council on Science and Health. 2019. https://www.acsh.org/news/2019/10/16/whole-foods-sells-both-nitrate-free-meat-and-nitrate-supplements-yup-14334.

Boden, Anastasia, Braden Boucek, Paul Larkin, Clark Neily, Jonathan Riches, Lawrence Vandyke, and Luke Wake. 2019. “Managing the Regulatory Thicket: Cumulative Burdens of State and Local Regulation State and Local.” https://regproject.org/wp-content/uploads/RTP-State-and-Local-Working-Group-Paper-Regulatory-Thicket.pdf.

Carlson, Ken. 2019. “Stanislaus County CA Fruit Stand Has Water Problems | Modesto Bee.” Modesto Bee. 2019. https://www.modbee.com/news/business/agriculture/article229379199.html.

Daland Juberg, by R, and Jeff Stier. 2002. “Perchlorate in Drinking Water Scientific Collaboration in Defining Safety.” https://www.acsh.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/20040405_perchlorate2002.pdf.

Hord, Norman G, Yaoping Tang, and Nathan S Bryan. 2009. “Food Sources of Nitrates and Nitrites: The Physiologic Context for Potential Health Benefits.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90 (1): 1–10. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131.

Katan, Martijn B. 2009. “Nitrate in Foods: Harmful or Healthy?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90 (1): 11–12. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28014.

Lewis, C S. 1970. “GOD IN THE DOCK ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS.”

National Science Teachers Association. n.d. “ASSESSING TOXIC RISK: STUDENT EDITION.” In . Accessed September 30, 2016. http://ei.cornell.edu/teacher/pdf/ATR/ATR_Chapter1_X.pdf.

Rauch, Jonathan. 1999. Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition.

SWRCB. 2020a. “CA Drinking Water Watch: NEW WELL 01 (5000435-002).” State Water Resources Control Board. 2020.

SWRCB. 2020b. “D R A F T In the Matter of the Petitions for Reconsideration By.” https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/public_notices/comments/docs/draftorder_bloomingcamp_051820.pdf.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1848. “Civil Disobedience.” Civil Disobedience. https://thoreau.thefreelibrary.com/Civil-Disobedience.

Tuccille, J. D. 2020. “Riots May Be Destructive, but Abusive Policing Is Tyranny – Reason.Com.” Reason.Com. 2020. https://reason.com/2020/06/01/riots-may-be-destructive-but-abusive-policing-is-tyranny/.

Twain, Mark. 1883. Life On The Mississippi. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/245/245-h/245-h.htm.

Ward, Mary H., Theo M. deKok, Patrick Levallois, Jean Brender, Gabriel Gulis, Bernard T. Nolan, and James VanDerslice. 2005. “Workgroup Report: Drinking-Water Nitrate and Health – Recent Findings and Research Needs.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113 (11): 1607–14. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.8043.

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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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Bloomingcamp Ranch vs the State of California, Part 2

There is a whiff of bullshit and boot polish in the air.

Politics, as opposed to science, does not reward the correction of mistakes, given that correcting a mistake also entails admitting to having made one. Worse, the bigger the mistake, the greater the political urgency of defending it at all costs. novelist Lionel Shriver

Source:“This is not a natural disaster, but a manmade one,” SPECTATOR magazine issue: 16 May 2020

As mentioned in the previous post, the state of California is hassling Bloomingcamp Ranch (See short video here: https://www.modbee.com/news/business/agriculture/article229379199.html) over its water system being higher than the regulated limit on nitrate in the water (They had 23.9 and the limit is 10). The Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the state water board, claims the state is vigilant about nitrates because they can cause [note the weasel wording] harm to infants with limited exposure. According to the health authorities, nitrates [Na+NO3-] are a cause of “blue baby” syndrome (methemoglobinemia).

I am skeptical of the science that the bureaucrats of Stanislaus county and now the state of California are citing. As Lionel Shriver notes above, politicians are not eager to be proven wrong. As J. D. Tuccille writes here,

You want a society taxed and regulated toward you

r vision of perfection? It’s going to need enforcers. Those enforcers are going to interact on a daily basis with people who don’t share that vision of perfection, and who resent the constant enforcement attempts.

J.D. Tuccille

He adds later, “Government, at its core, is force. The more it does to shape the world around it, the more it needs enforcers to make sure officials’ wills are done.”

Inquisitions were held for the best of intentions. If people disobeyed the rules, society was at risk. Those who disregarded or flaunted society’s rules required punishment.

Pedro Berruguete, Saint Dominic Guzmán presiding over an Auto da fe (c. 1495).[36] Many artistic representations depict torture and burning at the stake during the auto-da-fé (Portuguese for “Act of Faith”).

So the enforcement of the nitrate rule does not need to make sense for the enforcers. Their job is to enforce the rule. What about the worry of nitrates causing “Blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia)? Tht is not as clear cut as the enforcers wish you to believe.

I’ll end with a bit of the science. I’d like to write more but this seems to be about right.

Methemoglobinemia is believed to be caused by bacteria in the mouth and gut converting nitrate into nitrite. Nitrite then reacts with hemoglobin to produce methemoglobin, which can no longer carry oxygen. (Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 11–12)

To be continued…

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