Carcinogens in Our Water … and Florida Underwater

Carcinogens in Our Water … and Florida Underwater

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. While retrieving one of the articles I will soon cite, I also came across another that I thought I was going to have to travel to a distant library to obtain. No, it was right where I thought it was all along, hiding in plain sight. I’ve been wanting to cite that source to counter several op-eds and articles I’ve read in recent months in the Times (there’s another one in this past Sunday’s paper) telling us that things aren’t really so bad; and I will — but I’ll save that for another day.

“Rob Bilott v. DuPont,” by Nathaniel Rich, was The New York Times Magazine’s featured cover story back on January 10, 2016. It tells the tale of how, as the cover page states in big bold print, it took “years of fighting by one lawyer to hold DuPont accountable for exposing thousands of West Virginians to a chemical its scientists knew to be toxic.”

It’s ironic how the case fell into the lap of that one particular attorney — an attorney “whose specialty was defending chemical companies” and who had “even worked on cases with DuPont lawyers.” What piqued Bilott’s interest during that first initial phone call was that the individual on the other end of the line, Wilbur Tennant, had a connection to his grandmother, Alma Holland White. One of Tennant’s neighbors had been friendly with White, and in fact, it was time spent there, on that neighboring farm, that sparked some of Bilott’s “happiest childhood memories.” He rode horses, milked cows and watched on TV as Secretariat won the Triple Crown (pulling ahead by 31 lengths).

This article came back to mind as I read “States Are Doing What Scott Pruitt Won’t,” in yesterday’s New York Times — both articles concern the chemical PFOA, and a related family of chemicals, PFOS. It was written by Sharon Lerner, an environmental reporter for The Intercept, and was reported in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Fund.

Lerner states that even very low level exposures to PFOA have “been linked to certain cancers, thyroid disease, pre-eclampsia and other health problems.” This coincides with the Rich article, which states that according to scientific findings released in 2011, “there was ‘a probable link’ between PFOA and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia and ulcerative colitis.”

Lerner further reports in the piece that late last month, Washington State “passed the first state laws banning firefighting foam and food packaging containing not just PFOA and PFOS, but the entire class of chemicals to which they belong.” Thousands of these chemicals “are in commercial use,” worldwide, according to the article.

The thinking behind the legislation seems logical. “Forgoing the years or perhaps decades of research necessary for the chemicals to be fully understood,” Lerner writes, “they figured it was safest to assume the worst: that since the chemicals all belong to the same class and have similar structures, they are likely to affect people in similar ways.” Isn’t that, after all, what appears to be playing out concerning BPA and its replacer, BPS?

A thought that often comes to mind when reading  articles like this one, is “But there are tens of thousands of chemicals in use — that’s just a tip of the iceburg!”

Another thought, as I was reading Lerner’s article, was this: If Republicans are so concerned about fetuses, why aren’t they concerned about fetuses being exposed to PFOA, PFOS, GenX, BPS, 1,4-dioxane, etc. etc?

Another article worth mentioning, was a Sunday Times cover story (Steve Eder and Hiroko Tabuchi, “E.P.A. Chief’s Ethics Woes Have Echoes in His Past In Pruitt’s Life Before Agency, Fancy Homes, a Shell Company and Rich Friends”) with more very disturbing revelations concerning Pruitt, the man who is trying to eviscerate the EPA.

Finally, one other article published this past Sunday in the Times that I’ll bring to your attention, was “What America Looks Like in 10,000 Years” — by Benjamin Strauss, Peter Clark and Scott Kulp. This article states that  even if the 2015 Paris climate accord’s main target goal was successfully reached (if the world limits global warming to near 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels), then “seas will continue to rise, 80 feet over the next 10,000 years, according to our modeling.” That’s bad enough. But what would happen instead “if the current growth trend in greenhouse gas emissions continues for the rest of this century before reversing?” (We do have a fossil fuel enamored climate change denialist in the White House, after all.)

The answer? The Times asserts that their research conducted with colleagues shows that one resulting consequence would be that the oceans would rise more than 170 feet over the next 10,000 years; and  half of that increase would occur within the next one thousand years.

Additionally, the Times provides readers with an opportunity to test their savvy. It lists all “26 current (and future) coastal states.” Your job is to match ten of those states, with the ten images depicting what those states will look like after the world’s oceans rise more than 170 feet. The answers are included in the print edition (and online too, I imagine). Good luck.

“Note: This analysis does not take into account that warming may cause forests, soils and permafrost to release vast stores of additional carbon into the atmosphere, compounding the problem.” — New York Times