Congress’ latest outrage: toxic chemical safe levels decided not by science, but by lobbyists


There are certain people we entrust with certain decisions. You have a financial advisor for your money questions. You wouldn’t ask the guy pumping your gas for stock tips.

And when it comes to our health and physical well-being, most of us would probably agree that our questions are best answered by scientists and doctors.

Apparently not when it comes to arsenic, however. That sort of thing is best left up to…


In 2008, the EPA had completed a draft assessment estimating that arsenic is much more dangerous than it had previously been understood to be. Particularly for women, arsenic has been judged to be 17 times more potent a carcinogen than is currently reported. The EPA calculated that if 100,000 women were to consume the current legal limit for arsenic on a daily basis, 730 of them would end up with bladder or lung cancer due to their exposure.

So by 2012 the EPA was prepared to publish its findings as official. Once that was done, the agency could go back and review water safety standards and adjust them accordingly.

There was one problem though: pesticide companies that use arsenic in their formulas were not happy with the results of the EPA’s decade of work on the problem. Two pesticide companies, Drexel Chemical and Luxembourg-Pamol hired a group of lobbyists who, according to research by the Center for Public Integrity, met with Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho.

And that was all she wrote for much-needed arsenic regulatory reform. All it was about $8,000 and Simpson was all too happy to slip a single paragraph into a 221-page spending bill that effectively derailed the EPA’s draft assessment from becoming official.

The assessment was sent back to the National Academy of Sciences for review, where it languishes to this day. Industry scientists present their views to the Academy, often without disclosing their financial ties. And so we are left with drinking water that continues to be much higher in arsenic–legally so–than a decade of scientific study says it should be.

But these sorts of shenanigans occur with frequency in Congress. A solitary Senator can anonymously put a hold on a bill, effectively blocking it. Committee members can and do cut and paste lobbyists’ language directly into pending legislation, sometimes into massive bills just before critical votes, leaving legislators no time to properly review it.

And that’s just talking about legislation covering substances we know are toxic and dangerous. What’s especially terrifying is that there are over 80,000 industrial chemicals available for public use that aren’t even regulated or tested by the government. Companies aren’t required to submit them to be tested.

So an toothless EPA hamstrung by a paid-off Congress might just be tip of the iceberg.

Does anyone else ever wonder who these lobbyists are who believe that sneaking poisons into our air food and water is a good idea? If people put one-tenth of the effort into cleaning up the planet as we put into devising clever ways to befoul it, this would be a paradise.


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