December 25, 2010

On the wings of angels

Seem to be in a bit of an environmental mood tonight -- something about good will and actually doing good work and saving the planet the right way and all that... There was this little blip on Monday, December 13th that I saw but didn't really note. From the Los Angeles Times:
Fewer cancers found in Hinkley than expected
A state survey has not found a disproportionately high number of cancers in Hinkley, a high-desert community that has become the symbol of public fears about exposure to groundwater tainted with carcinogenic chromium 6.

From 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley � a slightly lower number than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics, said epidemiologist John Morgan, who conducted the California Cancer Registry survey.

The survey did not attempt to explain why any individual in Hinkley contracted cancer, nor did it diminish the importance of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. cleaning up a plume of groundwater with elevated levels of chromium 6, Morgan said.

"In this preliminary assessment we only looked at cancer outcomes, not specific types of cancer," Morgan said. "However, we did look at a dozen cancer types in earlier surveys of the same census tract for the years between 1988 and 1998. Overall, the results of those surveys were almost identical to the new findings, and none of the cancers represented a statistical excess."

The findings come as some residents are pushing PG&E to purchase their properties, after tests showed that chromium-tainted groundwater was migrating toward them. That miles-long plume, the result of decades of dumping water tainted with chromium compounds into local waste ponds, was at the center of a $333-million settlement over illnesses and cancers made famous by the movie "Erin Brockovich."
What is interesting is that now, Brockovich is back in Hinkley cranking up the shake-down machine and reports of "elevated values" of hexavalent chromium. From National Public Radio:
Erin Brockovich II? Activist Returns To Aid Town
Erin Brockovich is back.

Brockovich famously took on utility Pacific Gas & Electric over contamination of drinking water in Hinkley, Calif., a saga chronicled in a movie that won actress Julia Roberts an Oscar in 2001. Thanks to Brockovich's efforts, in the 1990s PG&E settled a multimillion-dollar lawsuit with hundreds of residents and pledged to clean up the contamination.

But it appears the plume of contaminated groundwater is spreading. And Brockovich finds herself again in Hinkley, fighting for residents who say the toxic chemical chromium 6 is still in their water supply.

Roberta Walker is one of Hinkley's concerned residents. She used to live about 4 miles away from where she lives now. Back in 1993, PG&E bought her old house after discovering high levels of chromium 6 contamination in the water wells. PG&E used the toxic chemical in the 1950s and '60s to clean equipment at its local station.

Walker wanted to stay in Hinkley, so she picked a 7-acre lot of dry brushland to build a home for herself and one for her daughter's family. She says she was told the plume of contaminated groundwater would never migrate this far.

"They were taking care of it, they were containing it," she says. "I thought I was safe. Why would I think differently? Why would I bring my kids here if I was not safe?"

But this summer, tests on Walker's wells showed they were contaminated with chromium 6. Walker, who has had numerous tumors and cysts removed, as well as a hysterectomy, said she was stunned.
With all due respect to the Walkers, how do you know that your problems come from exposure to Hexavalent Chromium? Look at Hinkley on the map and you will see that it is surrounded by military bases. Edwards about 20 miles to the West, China Lake about 80 to the N.N.W., Fort Irwin about 30 miles to the North and Twenty Nine Palms about 80 miles to the South East. What if something is leaking from there? What if there was a spill from an experimental aircraft. What if someone got a bad batch of insecticide -- something 1,000 times more concentrated than what they were expecting or applying for. A single chemical generally causes a single set of pathologies -- in Hinkley, we are seeing all sorts of pathologies, very few of them related. As for the reports of "elevated values" of hexavalent chromium", check out this from the Environmental Working Group:
Chromium-6 Is Widespread in US Tap Water
Laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) have detected hexavalent chromium, the carcinogenic �Erin Brockovich chemical,� in tap water from 31 of 35 American cities. The highest levels were in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, Calif. In all, water samples from 25 cities contained the toxic metal at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators.

The National Toxicology Program has concluded that hexavalent chromium (also called chromium-6) in drinking water shows �clear evidence of carcinogenic activity� in laboratory animals, increasing the risk of gastrointestinal tumors. In September 2010, a draft toxicological review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) similarly found that hexavalent chromium in tap water is �likely to be carcinogenic to humans.�

In 2009, California officials proposed setting a �public health goal� for hexavalent chromium in drinking water of 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) to reduce cancer risk. This was the first step toward establishing a statewide enforceable limit. Despite mounting evidence of its toxic effects, the EPA has not set a legal limit for hexavalent chromium in tap water nationally and does not require water utilities to test for it. In 25 cities where EWG�s testing detected chromium-6 � in the first publicly available national survey for the contaminant � it was found in concentrations exceeding California�s proposed maximum, in one case at a level more than 200 times higher.

At least 74 million Americans in 42 states drink chromium-polluted tap water, much of it likely in the cancer-causing hexavalent form. Given the scope of exposure and the magnitude of the potential risk, EWG believes the EPA should move expeditiously to establish a legal limit for chromium-6 and require public water suppliers to test for it.
These nanny staters want to control everything for our own good of course. Only problem is that 0.06 parts per billion is vanishingly small. If I was in the business of providing purified and distilled water, I would find it hard to eliminate 0,06 ppb of anything let alone one common ore. Yes, Chromium ore is found in many forms and I am willing to bet that the minuscule contamination is from groundwater acting on natural ore deposits. One of the really significant problems is that sure, Chrome-6 can cause stomach cancer but only above a certain exposure level. Below this, the incidence of cancer drops off significantly. Our problem is that to test for parts per thousand used to be an arduous few days in a chem lab. To test for parts per million was bordering on impossibility except for a few chemicals. Now, parts per billion is a matter of $70 worth of reagents and a few hours time -- we are now finding all sorts of crap in water we once thought was pristine. The hordes of zombie rent-seeking lawyers are shuffling forward with each advance in analytical science and extending their palms to be covered in gold. The EPA was a big assed mistake. Giving Governmental powers (making laws is the most egregious) to an unelected non-Governmental body so violates the Constitution that our Founding Fathers could be hooked to dynamos and our energy problems would be solved, they are spinning so fast... I used to be an environmentalist. I still am but I focus on the real science and not the politics. Again, the current group of environmentalists in power are actually causing great damage to this Earth and to our livelihoods -- it is possible for these two to be complimentary. The idiots in power (and power is the key word here) are so tone deaf to reality it makes my head spin. 0.06ppb? Let's leave this post with a look at 0.06 Parts Per Billion. Imagine that the National Debt is Ten Trillion Dollars (oh wait... crap...) 0.06ppb of that would give you $60 -- a nice dinner for two. Imagine one Century -- 100 years, 36,525 days, 876,600 hours, 52,596,000 minutes and 3,155,760,000 seconds. 1.0ppb would represent 3.155 seconds and 0.06ppb would represent 0.189 seconds. So these political hacks are taking our tax dollars and ruining our economy over something that trivial? Morons... Posted by DaveH at December 25, 2010 6:29 PM
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