Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The horrible dangers of TCE

Guess who tried to cover them up?
TCE is the most widespread water contaminant in the nation. Huge swaths of California, New York, Texas and Florida, among other states, lie over TCE plumes. The solvent has spread under much of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, as well as the shuttered El Toro Marine Corps base in Orange County.

Developed by chemists in the late 19th century, TCE was widely used to degrease metal parts and then dumped into nearby disposal pits at industrial plants and military bases, where it seeped into aquifers.

The public is exposed to TCE in several ways, including drinking or showering in contaminated water and breathing air in homes where TCE vapors have intruded from the soil. Limiting such exposures, even at current federal regulatory levels, requires elaborate treatment facilities that cost billions of dollars annually. In addition, some cities, notably Los Angeles, have high ambient levels of TCE in the air.

What did our government do about this?
After the EPA issued the draft assessment, the Pentagon, Energy Department and NASA appealed their case directly to the White House. TCE has also contaminated 23 sites in the Energy Department's nuclear weapons complex — including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, and NASA centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

The agencies argued that the EPA had produced junk science, its assumptions were badly flawed and that evidence exonerating TCE was ignored. They argued that the EPA could not be trusted to move ahead on its own and that top leaders in the agency did not have control of their own bureaucracy.

Bush administration appointees in the EPA — notably research director Paul Gilman — sided with the Pentagon and agreed to pull back the risk assessment. The matter was referred for a lengthy study by the National Academy of Sciences, which is due to issue a new report this summer. Any resolution of the cancer risk TCE poses will take years and any new regulation could take even longer.

The delay tactics have angered Republicans and Democrats who represent contaminated communities, where residents in some cases have elevated rates of cancer and birth defects but no direct proof that their illness is tied to TCE.



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