California’s Chemophobic Political Science

Without chemicals life would be damned hard.

Greetings from Chemophobifornia

Alcohol is a chemical, for crying out loud, and without it, many of us find life damned hard. Oh sure, there are other important chemicals too, I suppose. Salt is a chemical and sort of important. Water is a chemical; it’s useful in making beer and wine. Oxygen is a chemical; it’s got my vote for breathing. And Adenosine triphosphate is a chemical that, like beer, without it, life would be damned hard (it’s an energy-carrying compound found in the cells of all living things).

Yep, chemicals are the stuff of life. Yet for many the word “chemical” conjures thoughts of meth labs and industrial factories, even the dictionary says so. A chemical is, “a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, especially artificially.” The dictionary’s definition must have been written in Chemophobifornia, Land of Proposition 65.

In 1986, we Chemophobifornians passed Proposition 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,” aka, the Lawyer Full Employment Act. The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) explains what the act was meant to do, “[Proposition 65] was created with the intent of improving public health through reductions in the incidence of cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes that might result from exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals.” ACSH points out the law has not exactly lived up to its purpose, “the law makes no mention of level of exposure, which means that it doesn’t really indicate the level of risk, or indeed if any health risk actually is present from some trace amount of some allegedly toxic chemical.” (italics in original)

Welcome to California, home of chemophobia and flawed risk assessment. Photo source Timberati.com.

It is because of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act that we have Prop 65 signs in every California Starbucks. Lawyers sued to warn customers that coffee beans at Starbucks—and this is true—have been roasted.

Welcome to the Hotel Chemophobifornia

Disneyland Prop 65 Warning

Prop 65 warning in a grocery store. Photo source Timberati.com.

Prop 65 warning on a car window. Photo source Timberati.com.

These signs are—excuse my fucking French—fucking everywhere. Hotels, motels, mini-marts, coffee shops, pit stops, fast food restaurants, slow food restaurants, parking garages, gas stations, grocery stores, amusement parks, car dealerships, car repair shops, nursery and hardware stores, nail care, hair care, beauty parlors, massage parlors (I don’t have firsthand knowledge, so to speak, on that one), etc.

“…it’s largely not because the warnings are necessary or meaningful,” food lawyer Baylen Linnekin wrote in a Reason article, “Eat Food and Die”, “but because the state—or even private individuals or their heroic lawyers—can sue those who fail to display these worthless signs.” If it’s a business big enough to be sued, it has a Prop 65 warning sign. These signs stoke cancer fears from chemicals, especially those that sound odd or unfamiliar and faintly ominous to many.

Into this quagmire of cognitive dissonance, step chemophobic special interest groups, purporting to represent the public while quacking pseudoscience. These activist environmental organizations conflate facts into slogans and sound bites to parade them around proudly as though they were scientific fact. Worst of all, these groups have the ears of politicians and bureaucrats in California. California’s fear of chemicals is their foil. Value signaling is their currency.

One of these groups, the Environmental Working Group (EWG—aka the Environmental Worrying Group), applauds California as leading the way in chemically induced fear.

“An analogy might be helpful here,” says ACSH regarding EWG’s messaging technique. “Domesticated dogs come in a huge range of sizes from tiny Chihuahuas to huge Mastiffs. They also come in a huge variety of personalities, from breeds which you could easily trust with a baby to those which have been bred for aggressiveness and which have been known to maim and kill people.  If anti-dog activists were to propose that any dog should be avoided and that people should move to towns that exclude all dogs, most people would dismiss the idea as ridiculous.” So, when your state is recognized by EWG as being progressive and “good,” that’s bad. It means you have been had. Your wallet will be lighter; you’ll be paying more but getting nothing in return.

Josh Bloom—who holds a Ph.D in organic chemistry and is Senior Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the American Council on Science and Health—has posted the scientific equation that groups such as EWG use:

“Honest discussion of dose = (Less money)2

Be Afraid. Be Very, Very Afraid.

On July 5, 2017 (tomorrow as I write this), California’s State Water Resources Control Board—the California entity that enforces the federal Safe Water Drinking Act (not to be confused with Prop 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,” confused?, that’s exactly what they want you to be)—is scheduled to consider lowering the limit on perchlorate (four oxygen atoms attached to one chlorine atom) because, and this is true, present-day instrumentation is more sensitive. (My open letter to them here)

The ability to detect chemicals at ever lower levels has led to a conflation of hazard and risk. Hazard is the potential thing happening, say water poisoning. Risk is the possibility of this thing happening, you have to drink water (a lot of water).

Here Josh Bloom exposes an exposé on lead levels in baby food by the Environmental Defense Fund:

“EDF‘s analysis of 11 years of FDA data found:

  • Lead was detected in 20% of baby food samples compared to 14% for other foods.
  • Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40% of samples.
  • Baby food versions of apple and grape juices and carrots had more samples with detectable lead than the regular versions.

“Source: ‘Lead in food: A hidden health threat. FDA and industry can and must do better.’

“I’ll take it a step further. If we had analytical instrumentation even more sensitive than the incredibly sensitive detectors that now exist, lead would be detected in 100% of baby food, 100% of other foods, and 100% of all apple and grape juice. It’s a damn good thing that instrumentation isn’t more sensitive. Think of how many children would be in danger then.”

I wonder if California’s State Water Resources Control Board knows that “every person and animal that ever lived has an average of about 20,000,000 plutonium atoms in their bone marrow,” Brian Dunning of Skeptoid points out, “simply because we live on this planet.”?

I am sure with sensitive enough equipment, we could find plutonium, one of the most dangerous substances on earth, in our water; I bet that California’s State Water Resources Control Board would go apeshit.

Part 2 soon: Value Signaling Left Turns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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California bureaucrats consider lowering detection limit for purposes of reporting for perchlorate

This is my response to the State Water Resources Control Board regarding their proposal for lowered detection limit for purposes of reporting for perchlorate. (see the previous post for SWRCB’s announcement).

 

The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) seems to appreciate the Precautionary Principle, which says, “When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

In 1825, one of Britain’s most respected publications, the Quarterly Review wanted something quite similar to the Precautionary Principle invoked over railroads. Unless someone took action, locomotives would careen through the countryside at speeds “twice as fast as stagecoaches.” It was potentially dangerous.

According to experts of the day, locomotives threatened harm to the environment and human health. Some physicians predicted that the incredibly high speeds (nearly 20 miles per hour) could cause psychological harm; people would suffer mental anguish from objects entering and leaving their fields of vision too rapidly. Others predicted that passing trains would cause pregnant mares to spontaneously abort. The Review beseeched, “We trust that Parliament will, in all railways it may sanction, limit the speed to eight or nine miles an hour.”

As we know, the world heeded these foresighted experts invoking precautionary measures, and as a result, no mode of transport exceeds eight or nine miles an hour today. Well no, the world didn’t embrace that, but such is the thinking of the SWRCB with regard to perchlorate, Chromium-6, and other chemicals.

In its background material on perchlorate, the SWRCB conflates its use with toxicity, omits that it occurs naturally in nature and is a byproduct of chlorination, and it disregards “dose makes the poison.”

The SWRCB tells the reader that “Perchlorate and its salts are used in solid propellant for rockets, missiles, and fireworks, and elsewhere (e.g., production of matches, flares, pyrotechnics, ordnance, and explosives).”  The information ominously adds, “Their use can lead to releases of perchlorate into the environment.”

Perhaps it was meant to simplify, but the information is incomplete. It neglects to mention that perchlorate occurs naturally in the environment, and, in certain desert areas, in concentrations higher than those quoted as being found in California. Perchlorate is also a byproduct of water treatment disinfection with sodium hypochlorite.

SWRCB’s information page does note that “Perchlorate’s interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormone, which is needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.” It is exactly for this reason why perchlorate was used to treat hyperthyroidism due to Graves disease and to treat thyroid gland disorders resulting from the accumulation of excess iodine. SWRCB neglects to point out the high dosages needed for these affects. As the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) pointed out, “Clinical use of perchlorate in treating disease involves doses up to 400 milligrams on a daily basis, a level which is thousands of times greater than potential environmental exposures.”

It is this disregard of even the most basic toxicology that is disturbing.

Every compound no matter how dangerous, has a level at which it is benign; and every compound, 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.” Take two aspirin for a headache and it has a therapeutic effect. Take two grains of an aspirin tablet, nothing happens. Take two pounds of aspirin for a headache and the headache will be gone, along with the person who took it.

Dose determines risk. In a peer-reviewed paper on perchlorate, the ACSH emphasized, “it is imperative that this cornerstone principle of toxicology be included in any assessment of perchlorate. 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.” This, the SWRCB has neglected to do. It relies on the new technology to detect lower perchlorate levels without justifying the need using the above criteria.

The Dose-Response of the body is of utmost importance. 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 1 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)

A review of existing research, not innuendo and ill-informed supposition, reveals SWRCB has overstated a need for increased monitoring.

In its discussion of health effects of perchlorates, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) noted:

“In a study of the general population, Li et al. (2001) examined the prevalence of thyroid diseases in Nevada Counties with respect to perchlorate in drinking water. The cohort consisted of all users of the Nevada Medicaid program during the period of January 1, 1997 to December 31, 1998. Disease prevalence in residents from Clark County (Las Vegas), whose drinking water had 4–24 ? g/L of perchlorate (0.0001–0.0007 mg perchlorate/kg/day), were compared with those from another urban area of similar size (Reno, Washoe County), but with no perchlorate in the water, and also with those from all other counties, also with no perchlorate exposure…. Analysis of the data showed no statistically significant period-prevalence rate difference between Clark County and Washoe County. For acquired hypothyroidism, the prevalence was lower in Clark County than in other counties (opposite to what would be expected).”

However, the SWCRB backgrounder worries that infants may be less tolerant of perchlorate exposure: “Perchlorate’s interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormone, which is needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.”

Again, in its discussion of health effects of perchlorates, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found nothing rising to the level of needing more monitoring or regulation on perchlorate:

“Several developmental studies of perchlorate in humans have focused on the evaluation of neonatal thyroid parameters. Lamm and Doemland (1999) examined rates of congenital hypothyroidism in seven counties of Nevada and California with perchlorate contamination in the drinking water (4–16 ?g/L [ppb]) (0.0001–0.0005 mg/kg/day). The investigators analyzed data from the neonatal screening programs of the two states for any increased incidence of congenital hypothyroidism in those counties. The rates for the California births were adjusted for Hispanic ethnicity, which was known to be a risk factor for congenital hypothyroidism. During 1996 and 1997, nearly 700,000 newborns were screened. The risk ratio in the seven counties was 1.0 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.9–1.2) (249 cases observed/243 expected). The risk ratios for the individual counties relative to statewide expected rates ranged from 0.6 to 1.1. While the results showed no increase in rates of congenital hypothyroidism, it is known that congenital hypothyroidism is caused by developmental events that are not suspected of being affected by perchlorate exposure.

“Kelsh et al. (2003) also found no relationship between congenital hypothyroidism and exposure to perchlorate through the drinking water in a study of newborns (n=15,348) whose mothers resided in the community of Redlands, California, during the period 1983 through 1997 and who were screened by the California Newborn Screening Program. Perchlorate was detected in the water system serving the community at a concentration of up to 9 ?g/L (mean, <1 ?g/L).”

“Crump et al. (2000) conducted a study of school-age children from three cities with different concentrations of perchlorate in drinking water in northern Chile. The city with the highest perchlorate concentration was Taltal, 100–120 ?g perchlorate/L (ppb), water from the city of Chañaral had 5–7 ?g/L, and perchlorate was not detected in water from the city of Antofagasta. The study comprised 162 children 6–8 years of age, of which 127 had resided continuously in their respective city since conception. The children underwent examination of the thyroid gland and a blood sample was taken for analysis of TSH, T4, FTI, T3, and antiperoxidase antibody. After adjusting for sex, age, and urinary iodide excretion, the children from Taltal and Chañaral had slightly lower TSH levels than children from Antofagasta (opposite to expected), but the differences were not statistically significant.”

SWRCB’s cherry-picking of information may be charitably viewed as providing a worst-case scenario. While that may be the intent, SWRCB’s background information is rendered biased rather than useful or informative. It is pearl-clutching designed to scare people and thus allow the SWRCB to further ratchet down the already unreasonable EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) of six parts per billion (6 ppb) in drinking water to something so low as to be ludicrous. The NOAEL for perchlorate  translates to a Drinking Water Equivalent Level (DWEL) of 24.5 ppb.

The ignorance and laziness of our public officials to accept the word of activists, such as the Environmental Working Group, over pragmatic scientists hurts people. When we require people to spend money on the wrong priorities, that money is not available for things that could truly save lives. As Schnell told me in an email, “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.”

And this is real money. The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, puts the amount of money lost since 1980 due to added regulation at $4 trillion; a drag of 25 percent on our gross domestic product (GDP). “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.”

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.”

It is disturbing to find the SWRCB more responsive to the environmental lobby than to the scientific communities. SWRCB provides conjecture without any data to support the need for lowered MCL.  As such the legitimate needs of Californians are subsumed by rhetoric. California’s citizens are ill-served if they are made poorer and not safer with ill-considered regulations, abandoning any pretense of scientific objectivity and embracing the paranoid the Precautionary Principle of scaremongering activist environmental NGOs. SWRCB relies on supposition, pearl-clutching, and innuendo rather than science with its messy research. One can only conclude that SWRCB has abandoned basic science for basic fear-mongering.

 

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An Open Letter to California’s State Water Resources Control Board (Draft)

I received this in an email on June 16, 2017 and I’ve been mulling it over since then.

This is a message from the State Water Resources Control Board.

You are receiving this email because you have requested notification from the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water (DDW) regarding important updates on drinking water regulations.  DDW has completed a review of the perchlorate maximum contaminant level (MCL).  DDW will present the findings of the review and recommend investigation of a lowered detection limit for purposes of reporting, or DLR, at the July 5, 2017 Board Meeting in Sacramento.  If the Water Board agrees with the staff recommendation, and directs an investigation into lowering the DLR, the public will have another opportunity to comment on any proposed changes to the regulations during the rulemaking process, which is subject to a 45-day comment period under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The attached document is a summary of the findings and recommendations.  If you would like to make any comments regarding the summary or recommendation, then please submit your comments by June 29 to either:

ddwregunit@waterboards.ca.gov
or
Division of Drinking Water
Attn: David Pimentel
State Water Resources Control Board
1001 I Street, 17th Floor
Sacramento, CA   95814

Opportunity for comment may also be made available during the July 5 Board Hearing.  Additional information regarding the perchlorate MCL, Board Meeting procedures, and the specific time and location of the Board Meeting will be posted soon on DDW’s perchlorate website:

http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/Perchlorate.shtml

Below is my draft response. I welcome your thoughts regarding it.

Re: Perchlorate

The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) seems toappreciate the Precautionary Principle.

The 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says, “When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

In 1825, one of Britain’s most respected publications, the Quarterly Review wanted something quite similar to the Precautionary Principle invoked over railroads. Locomotives could careen through the countryside at speeds “twice as fast as stagecoaches.” It was potentially dangerous.

According to experts of the day, locomotives threatened harm to the environment and human health. Some physicians predicted that the incredibly high speeds (nearly 20 miles per hour) could cause psychological harm; people would suffer mental anguish from objects entering and leaving their fields of vision too rapidly. Others predicted that passing trains would cause pregnant mares to spontaneously abort. The Review beseeched, “We trust that Parliament will, in all railways it may sanction, limit the speed to eight or nine miles an hour.”

As we know, the world heeded these foresighted experts invoking precautionary measures, and as a result, no mode of transport exceeds eight or nine miles an hour today. Well no, the world didn’t embrace that, but such thinking appears to animate SWRCB with regard to perchlorate, Chromium-6, and other chemicals.

In its background material, the SWRCB disregards basic toxicology: every compound no matter how dangerous, has a level at which it is benign; and every compound, 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.” Take two aspirin for a headache and it has a therapeutic effect. Take two grains of an aspirin tablet, nothing happens. Take two pounds of aspirin for a headache and the headache will be gone, along with the person who took it.

Thus, the Dose-Response of the body is of utmost importance. 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).”

Now, Schnell points out the kicker: “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 mine)

SWRCB’s omissions and cherry-picking of information may be charitably viewed as providing a worst-case scenario. While that may be the intent, SWRCB’s background information is rendered biased rather than useful or informative. It evokes emotions to designed scare people and thus allow the SWRCB to further ratchet down the ultra-conservative EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) of six parts per billion (6 ppb) in drinking water to something so low as to be ludicrous.

The ignorance and  laziness of our public officials to apparently accept the word of activists over pragmatic scientists hurts people rather than making them safer. When we require people to spend money on the wrong priorities, that money is not available for things that could truly save lives. As Schnell told me in an email, “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.”

And this is real money. The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, puts the amount of money lost since 1980 due to added regulation at $4 trillion; a drag of 25 percent on our gross domestic product (GDP). “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.”

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.”

It is disturbing to find the SWRCB more responsive to the environmental lobby than to the scientific communities. As such the legitimate needs of Californians are subsumed by rhetoric. California’s citizens are ill-served if they are made poorer and not safer with ill-considered regulations, abandoning any pretense of scientific objectivity and embracing the paranoid the Precautionary Principle of scaremongering activist environmental NGOs.

 

 

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