Knowledge of chemicals is limited
By Joel Achenbach
THE WASHINGTON POST
WASHINGTON — There are more than 80,000 chemicals in the United States cataloged by government regulators, and the health risks of most of them are unknown.
This became glaringly obvious when, on Jan. 9, a clear, licorice-smelling chemical leaked from an old storage tank into the Elk River in West Virginia, contaminating the drinking water for a big chunk of the state, including the capital, Charleston, before making its way down the Ohio River.
What made the spill alarming was not only the reports of rashes, stomachaches and other ailments, but also the paucity of solid information about the potential toxicity of Crude MCHM, which is primarily composed of a chemical named 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.
The 15-page Material Safety Data Sheet for the chemical, which is manufactured by the Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical Co., uses the phrase “No data available” 152 times.
Repeated dose toxicity: “No data available.”
Carcinogenicity: “No data available.”
Reproductive toxicity: “No data available.”
Specific target organ toxicity, repeated exposure: “No data available.”
So sketchy is the public-health system’s understanding of the chemical’s toxicity that officials wound up backtracking on whether it was safe for everyone to start drinking the water again after the do-not-use order was lifted last week. (Jan ’14)
At first, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the water would be safe if it had less than 1 part per million of Crude MCHM. But then on Wednesday, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, after consulting with the CDC, said pregnant women shouldn’t drink the water until officials declare it free of any trace of the chemical.
“There are extraordinary gaps in knowledge,” said Daniel Horowitz, head of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency that investigates industrial accidents.
- Chemicals in the United States generally are treated as innocent until proven guilty. A company does not have to prove that a chemical poses no health hazard in order to introduce it into the commercial market.
Maranda Demuth, a spokeswoman for Eastman Chemical, said the company “goes to great lengths to ensure our commercial products and facilities meet or exceed regulatory standards.”
She said that, although U.S. law did not require Eastman to test Crude MCHM, the company voluntarily conducted
18 toxicity tests on the product and its major component. She played down the significance of the “No data available” entries, noting that nine of 152 such entries refer to water, which is harmless.
She said the company abides by the European Union’s strict requirements for toxicity disclosure, and that, had the company followed the U.S. standard, it wouldn’t have included the “no data” entries at all.
- It has been 38 years since Congress passed a major piece of legislation regulating toxic chemicals. No one on any side of the debate over chemicals disputes that the Toxic Substances Control Act is outdated.
Two senators, the late Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced an industry-friendly bill last year called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. The bill is mired in a committee; in the House, a subcommittee has held hearings on chemical safety and is crafting a bill similar to the Senate’s.
Several Democrats in the Senate, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, announced on Friday that they’re producing a bill to improve inspections of chemical storage sites.
Chemical safety is a national problem, said Devra Davis, a founding member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and now president of an organization called Environmental Health Trust.
“This is a huge threat,” she said. “In a sense, we all live downstream now.”
Actually, I have no comment . . . for there is no one minding the store for us as we gave it all away decades ago. Seems all decisions are now issued from the profit centers of large business interests — the corporate structure which the Supreme Court caters to so well. Who am I to judge?
Have been ranting and raving for years now. . . am all ranted out. It isn’t up to me or others like me who might feel deeply about such things, and try to do something about it. It is a problem which affects us all. So unless the good people of our country come to the conclusion that they aren’t being well served by those they send on their behalf to Washington, . . . and choose to take corrective action. . . Democratic or Republican. . . nothing will change. The beat goes on til we have all become so disparaged that we leap from the cliffs.
How hard can it be to attend our business of being a full-fledged American? We have to show some interest! We have to vote! We must ask lots of questions and in the end — trust your gut. Some will try to tell it like it is, pretty or not and others just lie. That is still wrong and unethical and indeed, muddies the waters. Political bombast almost always comes out of the mouths of liars or just plain ignorant wannabe’s. Promise big gains, but the cost always comes out of the lives or pockets of the little guy. . all one need do is look at what Kasich has done to OHIO. Poverty levels rising, services are down.
Tune in, take some action. . .sign some petitions of the things which matter to you — put your voice with others – it’s more powerful. No need to dwell on all the heavy negatives of our current world, can be an overload and unhealthy. But our country needs all its people so do the right thing, give back a little to this great land.. Jan)