The chemicals within us

JenniferSitting before a Senate subcommittee is a young mother. She is slim, pretty, intelligent . . . and full of dangerous chemicals.

Molly Jones Gray of Seattle testified this week in Washington, D.C., regarding human exposure to toxic chemicals.  After participating in a study conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition, a pregnant Gray was horrified to learn that her body contained a variety of dangerous chemicals. Gray said she was testifying not only on her own behalf, but also for her 7-month-old son Paxton. She told the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health:

On behalf of my son Paxton and all other children, I am asking for your help to lower our body burdens of chemicals that come between us and our health.

The Toxics Coalition conducted a study testing nine pregnant women from Washington, Oregon, and California for five groups of chemicals: phthalates, mercury, so-called “Teflon” chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A, and the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A.

The study, entitled Earliest Exposures, examined the blood and urine of the nine women in their second trimester.

Carol Smith's picture

Dust Bowl redux, the Snake Valley edition

A plan, hatched largely beyond the public eye, to divvy up water in an already arid Utah desert and send it to Las Vegas has drawn the ire of citizens, conservationists, and elected officials. The controversial Snake Valley water deal is now the subject of a series of citizen meetings as critics try to learn why details of the four-year negotiations that led to the water deal remain secret,  reports Patty Henetz of the Salt Lake Tribune.

 The plan would divide water in the aquifer that runs under Utah and Nevada, and use it to feed growth in Las Vegas. "We don't have any surplus water in Snake Valley. For goodness' sake, we're the epicenter of the drought," rancher Cecil Garland said during a citizens meeting this week.

 Critics warn that a drop in the water table could kick up giant toxic dust storms. The soils that would blow away could contain mercury, deadly fungal spores, and radioactive particles, yet another legacy of nuclear tests in Nevada.

 The current recession has already forced many to revisit their history texts for information about the Great Depression and how we got there. Maybe it's time to re-read the chapter on the Dust Bowl.

MoJo reveals silencing of scientist who uncovered toxic mercury in corn syrup

Another day, and we once again feel compelled to praise independent news media. To wit: Freelancer Melinda Wenner is out with a story in Mother Jones that says the federal government tried to obscure the findings of a federal scientist who found traces of toxic mercury in high fructose corn syrup.

HFCS is, of course, the sweetener that has replaced sugar in a bunch of processed foods made by the likes of Smucker's, Quaker, Hershey's and Kraft, as well as lesser-known food producers.

mojo-logo1The researcher, Renee Dufault of the Food and Drug Administration, had common food products tested for mercury. She was suspicious because she had learned that mercury is used in some plants that produce lye, which in turn is used to separate corn starch from the kernel in the process of making corn syrup.

Sure enough, the tests showed mercury in the food. Dufault, though, was told in no uncertain terms not to pursue this line of inquiry. FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek justified the agency's decision to halt the research by saying agency officals doubted "that there was any evidence of a risk."

The MoJo article describes what happened next:

At first, Dufault was reluctant to pursue the matter. But eventually, she became frustrated enough to try to publish the findings herself. She had her 20 original samples retested; mercury was found in nearly half of them.

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Mercury a threat to Hanford cleanup

The state of Washington is concerned about the possible impacts on the environmental cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation if the federal Department of Energy picks Hanford for long-term storage of the nation's mercury, the Tri-City Herald reports today. A state official made the comments at a public hearing Tuesday held by the federal agency, which is considering Hanford and six other sites to store up to 11,000 tons of mercury from private sources over 40 years, and possibly 1,300 tons of mercury left from the nuclear weapons program. A federal law passed last year prohibits the export of mercury beginning in 2013 and requires DOE to have facilities to manage and store mercury by that date.

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States wrestle with issue of mercury control and storage

Monsanto has formed an unlikely alliance with the Idaho Board of Environmental Quality to call for more regulation of mercury pollution. The global chemical giant is Idaho's largest source of mercury, but agrees with the need to hold down overall mercury pollution, reports Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. Monsanto has petitioned other industry leaders to follow suit, and the Idaho Association of Industry and Commerce, a powerful business lobby, expects to decide where it falls on the issue this month.

The issue of what to do with mercury remains a vexing problem for Western States. Gary Harmon of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has a roundup of state reactions to disposal sites. Colorado, so far, has not taken a position on whether to allow storage of the element at its Grand Junction Disposal site. That site is close to where the Dept. of Energy has buried 4.4 million cubic yards of uranium mill tailings. To date, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has opposed mercury storage at the Idaho National Laboratory, and Kansas City, Mo., doesn't want it either. Nevada, which already stores about half the nation's mercury, has raised concerns about storage at the Hawthorne Army Depot southeast of Reno. The Dept. of Energy estimates it will need to find places to store 10,000 or more additional metric tons of mercury over the next four decades.

Feds looking to dump thousands of tons of mercury

More than half the sites being considered for long-term storage of thousands of tons of toxic mercury are in the West. A story by Annette Carey in Washington’s Tri City Herald naturally focused on the site closest to her readers: Hanford Nuclear Reservation, already a candidate for the worst-polluted piece of ground in the nation. (Did you realize that Hanford’s annual cleanup budget is larger than that of the entire Superfund program?) Carey’s story says up to 11,000 tons of the toxic metal need to be stored for up to 40 years because of the Mercury Export Ban of 2008. It turns out mercury is a commodity, traded worldwide, and Congress wants to reduce its availability. (Which will, of course, enrich further whoever is still selling it on the open market, but that’s another story.)  The other six sites under consideration by the Department of Energy are the Grand Junction Disposal Site in Colorado; the Idaho National Laboratory; Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada; Kansas City Plant in Missouri; the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.