Smoldering greed ignited by deregulation has brought our "capitalism on steroids" to the brink of a near-death experience. But this economic formula has worldwide consequences that go far beyond our pocketbooks.
Melamine contamination of Chinese milk products has made more than 50,000 infants ill. Tens of thousands have been hospitalized, including a few that have died. Now all of Asia is in a panic about the safety of its food supply.
Upon reading the news I was more than casually interested, having recently consumed some Chinese dairy products. Like many Americans, my initial reaction was a quick condemnation of the Chinese government for negligence, and "Chinese capitalism" for nurturing such naked greed. I thought, "Thankfully, at least I don't live in a country that allows big-business profiteering to sacrifice the health and future of little children."
Then I turned the next page of the newspaper and read another headline: EPA Ignores Toxic Rocket Fuel Chemical in Drinking Water. My gratitude was short-lived.
Perchlorate is the highly toxic oxidant component of rocket fuel that has been in large-scale production by the military-industrial complex since the 1940s. It has contaminated groundwater, drinking water or soil in 43 states, including Utah. Independent testing of cows' milk and human breast milk nationwide has shown near universal perchlorate contamination, often at concentrations exceeding safe limits.
In 2004 and 2008, the FDA published studies showing contamination of most of the nation's entire food supply. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) randomly sampled almost 3,000 U.S. residents in 2006 and found perchlorate in every single person.
Small children and the unborn are the most vulnerable to perchlorate, which impairs endocrine function by interfering with iodine uptake by the thyroid gland. Perchlorate crosses the placenta and shows up in breast milk, leaving fetuses and nursing infants with even higher blood concentrations than their mothers. In even the most minute concentrations, perchlorate can cause enough thyroid inhibition to impair proper neurologic and brain development in children. The CDC found significant effects at doses five times lower than the EPA's current "safe dose." At least 250,000 1-year-olds are exposed daily to unsafe levels of perchlorate from food. Adding tap water exposures on top of that only increases the health risks these children face.
In the United States, one out of every six children has a learning disability or behavioral disorder severe enough to require therapy. Numerous environmental contaminants could be contributing to this alarming trend: mercury, radioactivity, generic air pollution, and chemicals like Bisphenol A, dioxins, PCBs and certainly perchlorate. You would think that with this scientific information in hand and our children's intellectual and career potential at stake that a democratic government and a society that gives heavy lip service to family values would aggressively intervene. You would be wrong.
Succumbing to pressure from the White House, the Defense Department and industrial heavy hitters like Lockheed Martin, the EPA announced this week that it intended to ignore the obvious danger of widespread perchlorate contamination of our food supply and refuse to require cleanup of the military and industrial sites responsible.
The two-pronged mandate of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts requires the EPA to: 1. Set standards even stricter than the medical data might suggest so that a clear margin of safety for protecting public health would be preserved, and 2. Economic considerations would not be allowed to weaken those standards. So much for lofty intentions.
Those mandates have always been under persistent industry attack, but during the Bush era the EPA and FDA have repeatedly tossed those mandates out the window, and cut and run in any battle over public health. Their rulings on standards for particle air pollution, ozone, mercury, lead, arsenic, Bisphenol A and numerous other chemicals have consistently defied the advice of even their own scientific advisors. Never has this been more true than with their abandonment of our children to the pernicious effects of perchlorate.Thousands of children lie sick in hospital beds throughout China with their short-term futures at risk. Hundreds of thousands of children lie in their own beds throughout the United States, their long-term futures at risk. Add all these innocent children to the mounting casualties within both countries that give primacy to business, profit and greed.
Dr. Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.