Friday, January 14, 2005

When Good Reporters Go Bad: Confusion Reigns About Health Threats

It’s no wonder that most Americans can’t figure out what the hell the Bush administration is doing to the environment and to their health when you get articles like this.

The Washington Post seems to have taken a perfectly good political reporter (Juliet Eilperin) and assigned her to write an article about how the Environmental Protection Agency is addressing community exposure to a potentially toxic chemical.

The result isn't pretty.

I mean, it’s not like there’s a shortage of political news in this town for her to write about, what with the administration trying to destroy Social Security, take away peoples’ right to sue doctors or corporations who harm them, torturers and liars running our Justice and Defense Departments and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door.

A little background. I wrote about this problem here before. In short, the EPA has fined DuPont $340 million for not reporting that their chemical, C-8 (an ingredient in Teflon) was contaminating the drinking water in West Virginia and Ohio. DuPont claimed that they didn’t have to report the release because the law says that they only have to report the release of chemical that harm people, and there’s no proof that C-8 is harmful to humans. EPA is doing a study of the chemical.

Here are some excerpts from the article. See if you can figure it out:

The Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday that low-level exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used to make Teflon, could pose "a potential risk of developmental and other adverse effects" on human health.


The EPA report, which is based on animal studies, said there is some evidence C-8 can cause cancer and immune deficiencies in rats, but it does not conclude whether these problems could surface in workers or those who drink C-8 contaminated water.


The EPA also found that the chemical could boost people's levels of cholesterol and fats called triglycerides, which might increase the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke.

This conclusion mirrors the finding of a study DuPont issued on Tuesday. That study found no health risks associated with C-8 but identified elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels in workers exposed to the chemical.


DuPont welcomed the assessment, saying the company "is committed to continue working with the regulatory and scientific communities and others in industry to gain additional understanding of [perfluorooctanoic acid] to assure protection of public health, safety and the environment."


Kenneth A. Cook, (President of the Environmental Working Group, advocacy organization that first raised questions about possible health risks of C-8] questioned why the agency did not consider whether humans might be at higher risk of testicular, pancreatic and other cancers that have been linked to the chemical in animal studies.

Well that’s perfectly clear, isn’t it.

The get a clearer picture of what’s going on, you’ll have to travel with me to the website of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). To make a confusing story clearer, EWG’s analysis of the EPA’s risk assessment states that
The agency substantially tilts the assessment in DuPont's favor first by summarily discounting and then by outright ignoring significant scientific studies pointing to increased risks for heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, testicular cancer, and numerous other health harms. For some of the most critical health risks, such as those on the immune system, studies have yet to find a safe dose, yet EPA has excluded these effects altogether in this new assessment without explanation.
No wonder DuPont’s happy.

Cook suspects foul play:
"There's a big difference between sound science and tilted science, and at every turn in this important process, EPA officials favored DuPont. We don't know if DuPont lobbyists played a role or if these were just Agency mistakes. But for those who were expecting a thorough and fair review, this is a huge disappointment."
Industry exerting undue influence over EPA? In this administration? I'm shocked, shocked, I say. Shocked! Truly shocked, SHOCKED. Shocked to the nth degree. Yes, shocked.