Rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies © Robert Sommers 2017

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Over persistent three eyed frogs and geologic time.

Sound the alarms! The chemical companies are coming! The chemical companies are coming!

The Huffington Post and various other websites ran an article last week that looked something like this:
You can link to it here. But first a few excerpts:
In 1961, a DuPont toxicologist warned colleagues that exposure to their company's increasingly popular Teflon chemicals enlarged the livers of rats and rabbits. Studies over the following decades found no safe level of exposure in animals and determined that humans, too, got sick when exposed to the chemicals -- which were also seen to build up in the body and resist breakdown in the environment.
Nonstick, it turned out, tends to stick around.
By the end of 2015, some of these most notorious polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, will be fully phased out of use in the U.S. But emerging in their place, warn environmental health experts, are another group of PFASs that share many of the same concerning characteristics.
"We know these substitutes are equally persistent. They don't break down for geologic time," said Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute.
On Friday, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a document known as the Madrid Statement, signed by more than 200 scientists from 38 countries. The statement highlights the potential harm of both old and new PFAS chemicals. You may know them best as the stuff that protects your carpet from stains, keeps your food from sticking to packaging or pans, repels rain from your coat and prevents mascara from running down your cheeks. If you got a pastry with your coffee this morning, a PFAS substance probably even lined the waxy paper it was served on.
"It's a very serious decision to make chemicals that last that long, and putting them into consumer products with high levels of human exposure is a worrisome thing," said Blum, who was also the lead author on the statement.
Nothing sticks to happy pan!
So now we have to worry about pizza boxes, mascara, carpet, cookware, a whole host of common household items that we have been long assured were safe.  So what do the chemical companies do? They play a little game of bait and switch and introduce a similar compound that hasn't been scrutinized yet, like bisphenol b for bisphenol a.

Linda Birnbaum, head of the national toxicology program for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Philippe Grandjean, chair of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark put out the following editorial accompanying the Madrid Statement. It's long, I'm sorry, feel free to skip forward:
Poly- and perfluoroalkyl acids (PFASs) are ubiquitous in our lives. These chemicals are used as surfactants and as water and oil repellents in a variety of consumer products such as cosmetics, food packaging, furnishings, and clothing. Since their initial marketing more than 60 years ago, extensive research has demonstrated that the long-chain PFASs are highly persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (Buck et al. 2011). As a result, they are being phased out in many countries. However, controversy has emerged regarding the safety of the most common alternatives, the short-chain PFASs.
In the Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs), Blum et al. (2015) question the use of the entire class of PFASs, including short-chain fluorinated alternatives. Authored by 14 experts on the health effects, environmental fate, and policy issues concerning PFASs, the Madrid Statement documents the scientific consensus about the extreme environmental persistence, bioaccumulation, and potential toxicity of the overall class of PFASs (Blum et al. 2015). The statement defines a roadmap for scientists, governments, product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, and consumers to work together to limit the production and use of PFASs globally and to develop safer alternatives. Since it was presented at the 34th International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants, held 31 August–5 September 2014 in Madrid, Spain, 206 scientists and professionals from 40 countries have signed the Statement (Blum et al. 2015).
In a response to the Madrid Statement in this issue of EHP, the FluoroCouncil, which represents the world’s leading fluorotechnology companies, agrees that it “could support many of these policy recommendations if they were limited to long-chain PFASs” (Bowman 2015). The FluoroCouncil supports the call to action from the scientific and professional community to limit the production and environmental release of long-chain PFASs but states that “the short-chain PFAS substances studied to date are not expected to harm human health or the environment,” as they “are eliminated more rapidly from the body and are less toxic than long-chain substances” (Bowman 2015).
Although there is agreement regarding the shorter human half-lives of short-chain PFASs, the Helsingør Statement on PFASs (Scheringer et al. 2014) and other recent publications (Gomis et al. 2015; Wang et al. 2013, 2015) expressed concerns that fluorinated replacements are similar to the PFASs they replaced in terms of their chemical structure, environmental persistence, and hazardous potential for both the environment and humans. Given the fact that research raised concern about the long-chain PFASs for many years before action was taken and that global contamination and toxicity have been documented in the general population (Grandjean and Clapp 2014), potential risks of the short-chain PFASs should be taken into account when choosing replacements for the longer-chain compounds.
There are numerous similar examples of replacements for other chemical classes, in which banned or phased-out chemicals have been replaced with structurally similar chemicals. For example, polychlorinated biphenyls were replaced with chlorinated paraffins (National Toxicology Program 2014), polybrominated diphenyl ethers were replaced with other halogenated flame retardants (Birnbaum and Staskal 2004), and bisphenol A has been replaced with bisphenol S, at least in some applications (Rochester and Bolden 2015). Such straightforward replacement strategies may be cost effective in the short term. However, manufacturers may yet incur costs if the closely related alternative is later found to be as toxic as its predecessor. In fact, there are now multi-stakeholder efforts to improve the choice of alternatives to chemicals of concern (Birnbaum 2013; National Research Council 2014).
It has been difficult to find substitutes that match the function and performance level of PFASs. The chemical and thermal stability of PFASs as well as their hydrophobic and oleophobic properties provide unique material benefits (Buck et al. 2011). Significant innovation is thus required to find functional nonfluorinated alternatives to PFASs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently recognized such innovation by awarding its 2014 Designing Greener Chemicals Award to a halogen-free firefighting foam (U.S. EPA 2014).
The growing global field of chemical alternatives assessment (CAA) provides tools and strategies for identifying compounds, materials, or product designs to substitute for the use of hazardous chemicals (Lavoie et al. 2010). For example, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control is using CAA in its Safer Consumer Products Program, whose objective is to remove toxic chemicals from products (California Department of Toxic Substances Control 2010). Many CAAs have already been conducted, and many more are in progress (e.g., Substitution in Practice of Prioritized Fluorinated Chemicals to Eliminate Diffuse Sources 2015). Conducting CAAs may prove valuable in clarifying the state of the science among potential alternatives to PFASs and providing guidance for future research and innovation. Nevertheless, finding an optimal alternative substance or technology is not straightforward, and CAAs may not always offer solutions. For instance, suitable nonfluorinated alternatives for certain functions of PFASs, such as stain resistance, appear to be lacking or underdeveloped.
Research is needed to understand the potential for adverse health effects from exposure to the short-chain PFASs, especially regarding low-dose endocrine disruption and immunotoxicity. In parallel, research is needed to find safe alternatives for all current uses of PFASs. The question is, should these chemicals continue to be used in consumer products in the meantime, given their persistence in the environment? And, in the absence of indisputably safe alternatives, are consumers willing to give up certain product functionalities, such as stain resistance, to protect themselves against potential health risks? These conundrums cannot be resolved by science alone but need to be considered in an open discussion informed by the scientific evidence.

This whole topic interested me and I decided to try to ascertain the chemical industry's point of view. Jessica S. Bowman wrote the following counterpoint to the Madrid Statement, Fluorotechnology Is Critical to Modern Life: The FluoroCouncil Counterpoint to the Madrid Statement. Ms. Bowman is employed by the American Chemistry Council and manages the FluoroCouncil.
The Madrid Statement (Blum et al. 2015) is a listing of policy recommendations that its authors would apply to a broad universe of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). The FluoroCouncil could support many of these policy recommendations if they were limited to long-chain PFASs. However, the application of these recommendations to a broad universe of PFASs simply cannot be supported.
The core weakness of the document is the absence of a compelling rationale for the sweeping scope of those recommendations. Specifically, the Madrid Statement fails as a policy statement in the following areas:
It does not acknowledge the fact that fluorotechnology is essential technology for many aspects of modern life, a critical consideration for adoption of any social policy on PFASs.It ignores a large body of scientific information demonstrating important differences between the health and environmental impacts of long-chain and short-chain PFASs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulators have approved numerous short-chain alternatives to replace long-chain PFASs. Data in non-human primates indicate shorter-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs) are less toxic than long-chain PFCAs and have substantially shorter half-lives than perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in particular (U.S. EPA 2015a).It does not recognize the substantial and continuing efforts by industry and governments to replace long-chain substances with alternatives that limit environmental impacts while continuing to provide the unique benefits of PFAS chemistry. These efforts continue, but more work is needed by all parties to complete this transition.In our daily life we rely on fluorotechnology, mostly without noticing, because it uniquely enhances the functionality and durability of things we take for granted, such as airplanes, automobiles, and cell phones. PFASs are designed for specific end uses, and therefore all PFAS chemistry is not the same. In fact, the term “PFAS” describes a large class of chemistries. Although FluoroCouncil member companies do not participate in all these chemistries, we have expertise in two types of chemistries that are important to everyday life: fluoropolymers and fluorotelomers.
Fluoropolymers have unmatched thermal and chemical stability, providing strength, resilience, and durability for the reliable function of a variety of products and industries. Chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers rely on this technology in linings for pipes, valves, and tanks to allow safe and clean production of products we use and consume every day. Aircraft, trucks, buses, and cars utilize high-reliability, durable, lightweight tubing and hoses made from fluoropolymers that reduce overall weight and prevent evaporation of fuel vapors, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing fuel efficiency. In addition, fluoropolymers exhibit unique dielectric properties that enable high-speed data transfer for wireless communications in smart phones and other devices.
Fluorotelomer-based polymers provide protective surface finishes for textiles such as surgical gowns and drapes that shield against fluid-borne pathogens, protecting patients and health care workers. These products are also used on uniforms to protect chemical workers, military personnel, and firefighters, as well as on outerwear and gear for outdoor enthusiasts, so that all can return home safely. The unique property of water and oil repellency is also utilized in specialized paper and paperboard applications to prevent burns from hot oil in food preparation and to protect food from spoilage. One key use for fluorotelomer-based surfactants is in firefighting foams. These foams extinguish aircraft and oilfield fires faster and provide more protection from reignition than any other medium, saving lives of first responders, military personnel, and others while also protecting property. More information on the uses and benefits of fluorotechnology is available on the FluoroCouncil website (http://www.fluorocouncil.org).
Given this range of important societal benefits offered by fluorotechnology, policy measures on PFASs need to be strongly supported by rigorous risk assessment based on all relevant data.
In response to public concerns that arose over PFOA and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) more than a decade ago, the FluoroCouncil member companies developed new products, including PFASs based on short chains, which provide comparable properties and benefits to long-chain products, often at similar concentrations, with improved health and environmental profiles.
For the past several years, FluoroCouncil member companies have engaged in an ambitious program to develop robust scientific data on these alternative products, the raw materials used to produce them, and their degradation products. Although a broad scientific discussion continues regarding how much science is needed to assess these short-chain products, significant toxicity and environmental data have been provided to regulators globally for systematic chemical review processes. Some of these data have been published in the scientific literature.
We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the broader community to establish a publicly accessible website housing the available scientific literature references on short-chain PFASs. Our efforts in international fora to create a public reference database for this literature have not yet been successful. However, these products have undergone rigorous review in the registration processes of multiple government agencies and are approved for use. Any claim that there are minimal data publicly available on the hazards and risks of these substances is simply incorrect.
This robust set of published data as well as data submitted to regulatory authorities support the conclusion that the short-chain PFASs studied to date are not expected to harm human health or the environment. Although the structures of short-chain PFASs may be similar to their long-chain equivalents, data show the short-chain chemistry in general is very different from the long-chain chemistry. For example, short-chain substances are eliminated more rapidly from the body and are less toxic than long-chain substances (Borg et al. 2013; ENVIRON International Corp. 2014; Gannon et al. 2011; Han et al. 2012; Iwai and Hoberman 2014; Martin et al. 2003a, 2003b; Russell et al. 2013).
Any assessment of the alternatives to long-chain PFASs must be based on all the relevant factors that have historically guided risk assessment, including the cornerstone considerations of a substance’s hazard and exposure potential. Some critiques of PFASs have relied solely on the fact that these substances are persistent in the environment, a feature that is often closely related to their technological strengths as durable materials. Decisions on the societal acceptability of strategic materials such as PFASs cannot be wisely made on a single attribute such as persistence.
If the Madrid Statement had been directed at long-chain PFASs rather than the larger universe of substances it addresses, the FluoroCouncil would have been supportive of many of the policy measures described. Nearly a decade ago, in response to questions about the presence of long-chain PFCAs and their precursors in the environment and in living systems, FluoroCouncil members were among the industry leaders that took action. In 2006 the FluoroCouncil member companies voluntarily committed to a global phaseout of long-chain products and related plant emissions by the end of 2015. This program, known as the U.S. EPA 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program, has resulted in dramatic reductions in environmental emissions from manufacturing and products, concurrent with development and introduction of short-chain alternatives (U.S. EPA 2015b). A similar program was successfully implemented in cooperation with Environment Canada and Health Canada (Environment Canada 2013). Demonstrable success of these programs has been shown in the reduction of measurable levels of long-chain PFCAs in the environment and in living systems (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2014; Health Canada 2013). This was achieved well ahead of regulation.
The global elimination of long-chain PFASs should be a common goal shared by the FluoroCouncil members, governments, and a wide range of other stakeholders. The FluoroCouncil has strongly advocated for science-based regulation of long-chain PFASs. To truly address these priority chemicals, it is critical that regulatory authorities and other stakeholders focus on eliminating the production and use of products and articles made from or containing long-chain PFASs. Completing that transition should be the centerpiece of policy on PFASs.
The members of the FluoroCouncil have engaged in stewardship activities for several years and recognize the value of continually enhancing their chemistries and products while being mindful of the environment, health, and safety. We remain ready to engage with governments and other stakeholders in refining our approach. We believe there may be opportunities for constructive dialogue in the following areas:
Strategies to complete the transition away from long-chain PFASs, a clear area of common ground.Identification of areas that warrant further information development and risk assessment.Actions that can foster additional stewardship activities within the supply chain, such as the guidance document on best environmental practices in textile manufacturing recently issued by the FluoroCouncil (FluoroCouncil 2014).Best methods for sharing with all stakeholders, including the scientific community, information on PFASs that is relevant to the health and environmental impact of fluorotechnology.In pursuing these or any other topics of mutual interest, it will be important that all stakeholders recognize that policy on PFASs must necessarily consider the importance of fluorotechnology in many areas of society. Any policy discussion should be based on well-established risk assessment principles that weigh the hazard and exposure potential of specific substances and should include the implementation of best practices to reduce the potential for exposure while preserving the essential societal benefits of fluorotechnology.
I'm sorry - this stuff is pretty long winded and technical. But let me summarize; there is a big difference in opinion about the relative safety of short chain polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances between the manufacturers and those responsible for public health.

I'm not a chemist but I am a gambling man and think I may have seen the way this movie ends before, it turns out that the people doing the worrying are usually right and the people making the money off the toxic stuff are usually wrong. In any case, its like Manhattan for a bunch of beads, here are these shiny new products that may end up killing you but by the time you figure it out we will have already cashed the checks and be long gone.

In any case, one of her rebuttals is kind of funny in a sick way, anyway.
"Some critiques of PFASs have relied solely on the fact that these substances are persistent in the environment, a feature that is often closely related to their technological strengths as durable materials. Decisions on the societal acceptability of strategic materials such as PFASs cannot be wisely made on a single attribute such as persistence."
Let me help you break this down - persistence means here forever. In other words of course the stuff never disappears, in geologic time anyway, because it is super stuff, space aged and designed to stick around for infinity or at least until the feeble humans livers and endocrine systems are wrecked. More three eyed frogs and fishes changing sexes. Men look good with boobs. What's so bad about having your own internal teflon coating? Just how long is Geologic time anyway. I know the quaternary period was about 1.8 million years ago. Longer than that?

And mice seem to love the stuff so.
 The level of PFHxA Ammonium Salt was measured in the liver of F0 and F1 mice. At doses of 350 and 500 mg/kg/d maternal mortalities, excess salivation and changes in body weight gains occurred. Pup body weights were reduced on postpartum day (PPD) 0 in all the dosage groups, but persisted only in the 350 and 500 mg/kg/d groups. Additional effects at 300 and 500 mg/kg/d included stillbirths, reductions in viability indices, and delays in physical development. Levels of PFHxA Ammonium Salt in the livers of the 100 mg/kg/d dams were all below the lower limit of quantization (0.02 µg/mL); in the 350 mg/kg/d group, 3 of the 8 samples had quantifiable analytical results. In phase 2 no PFHxA Ammonium Salt was found in the liver. Adverse effects occurred only in the 175 mg/kg/d group and consisted of increased stillborn pups, pups dying on PPD 1, and reduced pup weights on PPD 1. Based on these data, the maternal and reproductive no observable adverse effect level of PFHxA Ammonium Salt is 100 mg/kg/d.

Read Poisoned Legacy by the Environmental Working Group.
In 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined chemical giant DuPont $16.5 million over its decades-long cover-up of the health hazards of a substance known as C8. One of a family of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs[1], C8 was a key ingredient in making Teflon, the non-stick, waterproof, stain-resistant “miracle of modern chemistry” used in thousands of household products.
Internal documents revealed DuPont had long known that C8, also known as PFOA, caused cancer, had poisoned drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley and polluted the blood of people and animals worldwide. But the company never told its workers, local officials and residents, state regulators or the EPA. After the truth came out, research by federal officials and public interest groups, including EWG, found that the blood of almost all Americans was contaminated with PFCs, which passed readily from mothers to unborn babies in the womb. In 2006 the EPA confirmed that PFOA is a likely human carcinogen.
The 2005 fine against DuPont remains the largest ever levied by the EPA. DuPont did not admit guilt but promised to phase out production and use of C8/PFOA by this year – 2015. Also in 2005, DuPont entered into a settlement valued at well over $300 million in a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of approximately 70,000 people living near its Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, W. Va., where it had long made and used C8 and dumped the waste in waterways and landfills. Under the terms of the settlement, DuPont promised to clean up water supplies, fund a panel of scientists to determine what diseases C8 caused and pay to monitor the health of affected residents for the rest of their lives.
The 2005 fine, settlement and phase-out were widely hailed as a public health victory and justice for the victims. But 10 years later, a new EWG investigation shows that it remains uncertain whether Americans are safe from the threat of PFCs and whether justice will be done for the victims.
Production, use and importation of PFOA has ended in the United States, but in its place DuPont and other companies are using similar compounds that may not be much – if at all – safer. These next-generation PFCs are used in greaseproof food wrappers, waterproof clothing and other products. Few have been tested for safety, and the names, composition and health effects of most are hidden as trade secrets. With the new PFCs’ potential for harm, continued global production, the chemicals’ persistence in the environment and presence in drinking water in at least 29 states, we’re a long way from the day when PFCs will be no cause for concern.
In a just-published paper, 14 international scientists have sounded the alarm, calling for tighter controls on all PFCs lest the tragic history of C8 repeat itself. Writing in Environmental Health Perspectives, they likened the new PFCs (which they refer to as PFASs[2]) to the chemicals that replaced another group of fluorine-based substances found in the 1980s to be depleting Earth’s protective ozone layer. Although those chemicals were banned worldwide under a 1987 treaty, the scientists wrote, the alternatives are also harmful:
Global action through the Montreal Protocol successfully reduced the use of the highly persistent ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), thus allowing for the recovery of the ozone layer. However, many of the organofluorine replacements for CFCs are still of concern due to their high global warming potential. It is essential to learn from such past efforts and take measures at the international level to reduce the use of PFASs in products and prevent their replacement with fluorinated alternatives in order to avoid long-term harm to human health and the environment. (Blum et al 2014)
Even as the threat from the new generation of PFCs grows, DuPont is trying to skirt the consequences of its toxic irresponsibility.
The company has ducked a commitment to treat the water supply in Parkersburg, the largest affected water system in the mid-Ohio Valley, on the grounds that levels of C8 in the water were originally lower – by a tiny amount – than the 2005 settlement’s cleanup threshold. More recent tests found the chemical at levels above the threshold. (Jeffersonian 2006) DuPont has also fought the cleanup claims of another water district across the river in Little Hocking, Ohio. (U.S. District Court 2015a)

DuPont forced out a trusted local health services company that was initially hired to run the medical monitoring program in West Virginia and Ohio, replacing it with a New York law firm notorious for helping corporate polluters lowball their liability payouts. Invoices released by a local citizens’ group show the firm was paid $9 million through January 2015 but has paid out only about $50,000 to residents. (Saulton 2015)
In July 2015, DuPont will spin off its Specialty Chemicals unit, which made C8/PFOA and now makes the replacement chemicals for Teflon and other products, to a new corporation called Chemours. Securities and Exchange Commission filings indicate that this may transfer DuPont’s legal liability for damage from C8 to Chemours. This could shield DuPont from full liability and allow the smaller company to claim that it has insufficient assets to pay compensation for the damage done in the mid-Ohio Valley and other places where C8 was made or used. (U.S. District Court 2015b)
In September 2015, a trial is scheduled in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ohio, consolidating personal injury claims against DuPont by more than 2,500 residents of the mid-Ohio Valley. In pre-trial maneuvering, DuPont tried to renege on a key promise it made in the 2005 settlement: that in the case of any resident who drank contaminated water and sued over a disease the science panel determined has a probable link to C8 exposure, DuPont would concede that C8 could cause the disease in that group of people. The trial judge ruled against DuPont, but the gambit showed that the company is still seeking to shortchange its victims. (U.S. District Court 2014)
Even as DuPont maneuvers to minimize its responsibility for letting a known hazardous compound contaminate the homes, water and bodies of all Americans, the public remains vulnerable to future disasters because of the gaping holes in the nation’s chemical safety net.
Under the broken 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, EPA has managed to limit or ban only five dangerous chemicals over nearly 40 years. (GAO 2013) The lack of teeth in the law allowed DuPont to phase out C8 over 10 years while the company continued to reap profits and prevented EPA from punishing DuPont more severely. Meanwhile the law has allowed DuPont and other companies to rush next-generation PFCs to market without first proving they’re safe.
Now the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying arm of the chemical industry, and its allies in Congress are pushing a sham “reform” bill to replace the Toxic Substances Control Act. The industry-friendly “reforms” in the legislation drafted by the trade group (McCumber 2015) would continue to hobble EPA’s ability to protect the public from untested and unsafe chemicals and prevent states from taking more protective action on their own.
None of this is acceptable. DuPont must be held to its promises to clean up the mid-Ohio Valley and compensate those who were harmed. The EPA and governments worldwide must act swiftly to thoroughly assess and control the hazards of next-generation PFCs. Most importantly, Congress must learn from the tragedy of C8 and enact an effective chemical safety law that protects public health, not the industry’s profits.
[1] Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. Among scientists this more precise term and acronym are commonly used, but this report will use ‘PFCs,” as the chemicals have been known for most of their history.
[2] The term PFCs refers to both per- and polyfluorinated chemicals in which all or many of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by fluorine. In the environment, polyfluorinated chemicals can break down to perfluorinated chemicals. 
Some of us Cassandras still harbor occasional doubts about the good intentions of our fellow man in these types of matters. I certainly have trust issues. I don't care about the neat space age benefits, I have already had enough cancer tumors operated on and removed, thank you. It will be tough but we will just have to get by without them. The trade off ain't worth it.

Oral History of Teflon.

On another environmental front, a Judge in Billings, Montana has ruled that the long awaited EPA cleanup of the asbestos mining towns of Libby and Troy can leave the toxic material in place in the town's homes and structures.
It's been more than 15 years since media reports revealed widespread illness caused by asbestos dust from a W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine outside Libby, about 50 miles south of the Canada border. Health workers have estimated as many as 400 people have died and almost 3,000 have been sickened from exposure to the contamination.
"We've left a lot of this behind in these houses, and you always have the potential of people opening up that wall and running into it," said Mike Noble, who worked for 21 years for Grace in Libby as an electrician and suffers from a lung disease caused by asbestos. "The EPA is unwilling to address that because the EPA is saying it's safe as long as nobody touches it."
State regulators aired similar concerns in an April 2 letter to the EPA obtained by The Associated Press.
Montana Department of Environmental Quality Division Administrator Jenny Chambers said it was unclear how the remaining contamination would be monitored or what would happen when "currently inaccessible waste becomes accessible."
Vermiculite from the Grace mine was used as insulation in millions of houses across the U.S. In the Libby area, asbestos-tainted mine waste unwittingly was used as a garden-soil additive by residents and as fill for the local construction industry.
The government so far has spent $540 million removing more than a million cubic yards of dirt and contaminated building materials from more than 2,000 properties in Libby and Troy.
Just how much remains is uncertain: Agency officials have never fully documented how many homes and businesses were left with vermiculite in their walls after cleanup work was completed.
EPA officials say the towns' health risks have decreased considerably, with airborne asbestos concentrations now comparable to levels in other cities.
For that progress to last, enough money must be available in future years for local officials to provide the proper assistance to homeowners, contractors and others who might encounter vermiculite, said Noble, chairman of an EPA advisory group in Libby.
An EPA research panel concluded last year that breathing in even a tiny amount of asbestos from Libby can scar lungs and cause other health problems.
The agency's proposal includes a number of "institutional controls" to manage the remaining asbestos. They include zoning restrictions that outline which activities are allowed on contaminated property; permit requirements for the disturbance of contaminated soil or building materials; and advisories for firefighters and others who might inadvertently encounter asbestos on the job.
lung cancer from asbestos inhalation - http://asbestosvictimadvice.com/lung-cancer/
Missoulian published a pretty strong editorial arguing against the proposed plan. Once again, in all of these cases, we see the ravages of dangerous and unregulated technology, how easy company scientists can be bought off, the amazing way corporations steamroll the will of the people when it comes to things like herbicides and GMO's. Companies play dumb, run off with the loot and then guess who gets to come in and clean up the mess. That is, if it can be cleaned up in, say, geologic time.


I bag on the San Diego Union Tribune a lot but they actually wrote a ballsy editorial yesterday, PUC as cozy as ever with utilities it regulates, criticizing the sweetheart relationship between the PUC and the power companies. The whole secret Warsaw meetings mess has made for riveting reading, the listen only meetings, the notes scrawled on hotel pads arranging the backroom deals. Good for the UT. This 70% passthrough to ratepayers is criminal and the heads of both Edison and the PUC should be criminally prosecuted.

Abbie Hoffman once gave a talk on the inherent danger of people responsible for regulating getting co-opted. This one is textbook.
The California Public Utilities Commission scandal keeps growing. The U-T Watchdog report about then-President Michael Peevey pressing Southern California Edison last year to make a $25 million grant to a UCLA think tank and linking the grant to whether the utility would get a favorable settlement on the $4.7 billion cost of shuttering the San Onofre nuclear plant is one more sign of the PUC’s corrupt culture.
UCLA’s refusal to fully answer questions about its role in this power play reflects horribly on the institution, and amounts to a scandal all its own; the fact that Peevey was appointed to the board of advisers for a UCLA innovation program makes this a three-way you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours scenario.
But in the big picture, the focus must be on the PUC, and this central question: How many times did Peevey or other PUC officials link regulatory actions to favors? The casualness with which Peevey used his government power over ministerial decisions to get his way makes it seem likely that there are plenty more examples besides the ones already documented with Edison and with Pacific Gas & Electric, which he pressured to give millions of dollars to fight a 2010 ballot measure as the PUC considered a variety of decisions affecting PG&E’s future.
We need the document dump of all document dumps – a look at all Peevey’s communications with the utilities he regulated except for a very narrow range of documents that might compromise trade secrets or put utilities at an unfair disadvantage. We need Peevey’s replacement, Michael Picker, to make a series of public declarations about a new era going forward in which the PUC will never clandestinely seek favors from the billion-dollar corporate utilities it regulates. We need Picker to make it clear that anyone with the Peevey mindset still with the PUC will be shown the door. That’s what would begin to help restore trust in the PUC.
Unfortunately, Picker acts more like a damage-control fixer trying to keep a lid on new scandals than the leader of an embattled government agency that needs a dramatic break with its ugly history.
Meanwhile, new PUC actions raise fresh questions about how close it is to the utilities it regulates. Last month, PG&E announced it would not contest a $1.6 billion PUC fine over the 2010 San Bruno disaster, in which a poorly maintained natural gas pipeline exploded, killing eight people and wiping out a neighborhood in the San Francisco suburb.
But there’s a sneaky twist here: More than half the fine isn’t a fine at all. It’s a requirement that PG&E spend $850 million to upgrade its natural gas transmission system – an upgrade the utility had already acknowledged was necessary.
How tidy: The PUC depicts the cost of PG&E’s pending infrastructure improvements as a fine. Michael Peevey would be proud of Michael Picker.
Interesting article today about what happens when the climate change deniers start running the Senate and House committees. Guess? 
WASHINGTON -- Scientists are balking at major cuts to NASA's budget that the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology approved last week, cuts that critics say will imperil climate change research in the U.S.
The committee-approved 2016 and 2017 NASA budgets would cut the agency's earth science funding by at least $323 million. Climate is a major part of the agency's earth science work, and NASA plays an important role among government agencies in helping to develop our scientific understanding of how the planet works.
The supposed rationale for the committee's cuts is that the members believe NASA should be focusing on space, not on earth science. Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) argued that the budget will "restore balance" and "ensure the U.S. continues to lead in space for the next 50 years." The budget does allocate more funding to other areas of research.
But it's also no secret that Smith is not into climate change. Smith has referred to environmentalists and others who worry about climate change as "global warming alarmists" and criticized the media for not airing enough "dissenting opinions" on the subject. He recently penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that decried "the climate-change religion."
"Instead of letting political ideology or climate 'religion' guide government policy, we should focus on good science," Smith wrote. "The facts alone should determine what climate policy options the U.S. considers."
But in practice, funding decisions such as the one regarding NASA's earth science budget actually help ensure that government scientists are unable to discern new facts about the planet. That's what scores of earth scientists have been reiterating since the cuts were proposed.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement that the budget "guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate, and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events."
“NASA leads the world in the exploration of and study of planets, and none is more important than the one on which we live," Bolden said.

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