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:
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:

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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