Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The 'Steward of the Land', part 1


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Just before I turned in for the night, I skimmed this AP article I found on YahooNews:

Rocket Fuel Chemical Found in Organic Milk
Tue Nov 30, 11:41 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The government has found traces of a rocket fuel chemical in organic milk in Maryland, green leaf lettuce grown in Arizona and bottled spring water from Texas and California. What's not clear is the significance of the data, collected by the Food and Drug Administration through Aug. 19.

Sufficient amounts of perchlorate can affect the thyroid, potentially causing delayed development and other problems.

But Environmental Protection Agency official Kevin Mayer called for calm, saying in an interview Tuesday: "Alarm is not warranted. That is clear."

"I think that it is important that EPA and FDA and other agencies come to some resolution about the toxicity of this chemical," Mayer said. "That has been, frankly, a struggle for the last few years."

The FDA found that of the various food items it tested, iceberg lettuce grown in Belle Glade, Fla., had the highest concentrations of perchlorate. The greens had 71.6 parts per billion of the compound, the primary ingredient in solid rocket propellent. Red leaf lettuce grown in El Centro, Calif., had 52 ppb of perchlorate. Most of the purified, distilled and spring bottled water tested around the nation tested had no detectable amount of perchlorate.

Whole organic milk in Maryland, however, had 11.3 ppb of perchlorate.

Asked whether that level of chemical in milk was worrisome, Mayer, the EPA's regional perchlorate coordinator for Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada, said, "The answer is, we don't know yet."

The FDA said in a statement that consumers should not change their eating habits in response to the test results, posted on the agency's Web site Friday.

I knew just by the title the report was on perchlorate, a salt used in the production of rocket fuels. See, back in April, 2003, I wrote on percholate contamination in lettuce grown in Southern California and the lower Colorado River basin.

At that time, my main interest was on the physical effects of perchlorate, which has shown to impact the thyroid and neurological development in lab rats, even in small doses. But this time, with all the hullabaloo over the FDA's handling of Vioxx et al., that the assurances of the FDA not to keep eating what could be dangerous food made me just a tad more dubious. AP reporter indicated that the EPA had issued a "draft" recommendation of less than 10ppb, so I wanted to know more about the EPA's justification for such a recommendation. Not surprisingly, they even have a detailed website on the subject.

The draft assessment, entitled, "Perchlorate Environmental Contamination: Toxicological Review and Risk Characterization" is purportedly available on the website. I was able to access it earlier this morning, but in the past hour, clicking on the link only provides the message, "This record is unavailable at this time." Update: page again available, as of 9:45am EST.

However, on the front page, the EPA purportedly summarizes the findings:

The EPA draft assessment concludes that the potential human health risks of perchlorate exposures include effects on the developing nervous system and thyroid tumors. The draft assessment includes a draft reference dose (RfD) that is intended to be protective for both types of effects. It is based on early events that could potentially result in these effects, and factors to account for sensitive populations, the nature of the effects, and data gaps were used. The draft RfD is 0.00003 milligrams per kilogram per day (mg/kg/day). The RfD is defined as an estimate, with uncertainty spanning perhaps an order of magnitude, of a daily exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse effects over a lifetime. As with any EPA draft assessment document containing a quantitative risk value, that risk value is also draft and should not at that stage be construed to represent EPA policy. Thus, the draft RfD for perchlorate is still undergoing science review and deliberations both by the external scientific community and within the Agency.

The EPA released the draft assessment for public comment in early 2002. A number of groups responded, including ASCH, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). ASCH is views itself as a watchdog against the tyranny of consumer protection organizations, and is heavily funded by multinational corporations. ASCH has denigrated concerns over a variety of health issues such as saccharine, global warning, Love Canal, cholesterol and alar (the pesticide found to be a carcinogen when used on processed apples.)

After the review process, which was to close in the Spring, 2002, peer and independent reviews were to assess the EPA's recommendations. While the EPA website was purportedly last updated in August, 2004, no information on the draft assessment is documented beyond 2002.

Thus, despite the warnings issued by consumer groups 18 months ago, the EPA and FDA have apparently done nothing to further discern the dangers of perchlorate. But they ask American consumers to keep eating that lettuce, drinking that milk, while they get back to us with some answers.

Trust us.

9:14 PM  

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