29 April 2003
Poison of Ignorance
* Government should determine whether there's a threat in our foods
from a rocket-fuel chemical.
years ago, after scientists found potentially toxic levels of the
chemical perchlorate in two missile manufacturing plants in Utah
and in several water wells in California, Agriculture Department
officials proposed conducting a $215,000 study to investigate whether
the Pentagon's use of the chemical in manufacturing rocket fuel
during the Cold War could have caused the pollution. The Pentagon
refused to pony up the money, less than one-quarter of the cost
of a single cruise missile.
efforts to study the extent of perchlorate contamination remain
mired in politics, even as new research suggests that such ignorance
may be putting the public's health at risk.
study published Monday by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group
tested 22 types of lettuce purchased at California supermarkets
this year and found that at least four were contaminated with levels
of perchlorate that might be high enough to cause thyroid dysfunction.
month, the White House Office of Management and Budget barred any
federal regulation on perchlorate until the National Academy of
Sciences reviewed the existing scientific evidence. That could take
up to a year and a half. And since the Pentagon has failed to provide
the money for large-scale studies, there's not much for the academy
to look at anyway.
reduce the chance that the academy will reach a frustratingly inconclusive
conclusion, the Bush administration should, as Sen. Barbara Boxer
(D-Calif.) proposed Monday, ask the Food and Drug Administration
to begin an "immediate investigation" to determine the
extent of the lettuce contamination problem.
nothing else, the Environmental Working Group study should slow
a pending proposal by the administration to exempt military bases
from environmental laws that would require them to clean up perchlorate
and other toxic substances associated with munitions and explosives.
a campaign speech in April 2000, President Bush said "the biggest
polluter in America is the federal government." With perchlorate
studies bolstering that charge, it makes no sense to absolve the
military of its cleanup responsibilities.