The Hittman Chronicle

Bottom Fishing

I usually make coffee with a French Press. It's a nifty little gadget that appeals to people who like to play with their food. The coffee it makes is excellent, but a little muddy. After a minute or two the mud settles to the bottom, so it's not a problem unless you stir it up. Fortunately, I don't live with anyone from the EPA.

The most surprising thing about the fight over dredging the Hudson River is how many people still consider the EPA a credible organization. In their early days they were instrumental in reversing a lot of dangerous trends and passing some reasonable regulations to get the environment cleaned up. They made some questionable decisions, but it wasn't until Carol Browner became the head of the organization that junk science became their official policy. Her primary motivation seemed to be a deep hatred of successful industries, and she devoted all of her energies to making life miserable for them.

It started with the 1993 report on second hand smoke. The report clamed that SHS was a class A carcinogen that kills 3,000 people a year. They derived this number via meta-analysis, which consists of gathering the data of dozens of studies, tossing them into a blender, pressing puree, and then distilling out whatever numbers the researcher desires. It is the most difficult kind of study to do well, and the easiest kind to manipulate and fake.

The EPA derived their number by ignoring 2/3's of the data, picking 11 out of 31 studies that seemed to support their predetermined conclusion. When that didn't give them the numbers they wanted, they did something that would get any legitimate researcher fired they doubled their margin of error. This gave them 1,500 deaths, which they doubled once more to get their final result.

In 1998, in a ruling that was ignored by the media, federal Judge William Osteen vacated the study. It took him ninety-four pages to outline all the fraud he found, and he quit before reaching the end of the report. He used the term "cherry-picked" several times. Yet this report is still being used by anti-smoking groups to justify smoking bans and harass smokers. Browner wrote off the judges findings of fraud as "procedural concerns regarding technical aspects of EPA's study."

In that same year, the EPA demanded that gasoline additives be used to reduce to reduce the air pollution in 39 cities. Most manufacturers used the EPA approved additive Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE). Although air pollution dropped, the additive seeped from underground gas tanks and ruined water supplies all over the country. Was this an unfortunate, unpredictable accident? Hardly. The EPA's own study, released to the pubic in 1992, showed this was likely. They ignored it, and now tens of thousands of groundwater sites in the US produce bitter, brownish, undrinkable water.

In 1995 Browner's EPA claimed that soot was killing people, and implemented rules that would cost industry sixty billion dollars a year. The claim was based on a study conducted by Dr. Joel Schwartz and others at Harvard University's School of Public Health. It was commissioned by the EPA and funded with tax dollars. Yet, when pressed for the entire study, the EPA refused to release it, insisting that presenting the conclusions was sufficient proof. Congress, unwilling to accept the EPA's "just trust us" policy, passed laws to make the data available. Then the researchers refused to release it. When asked for a copy of the study, Dr. Schwartz said. "I don't know how to find one." Perhaps it's stored away in the same box as his integrity.

Dredging lacks a certain. . ne sais quoi Now this fine, honorable organization wants the Hudson River dredged to remove PCBs because they think they might, maybe, possibly be a probable human carcinogen. The number of studies that show any danger to humans from PCBs is exactly zero. The only studies showing any danger from them are huge dose animal studies. But this is the EPA. We should trust them.

The level of PCBs in the water is 10% of what it was when the pre-Browner EPA declared dredging was unnecessary. Dredging could take as long as twenty years (they claim it will take five) and will stir up not only PCBs, but also lead and cadmium that is in high concentration at some of the sites.

General Electric will be expected to foot the bill, even though all their dumping was done in accordance with government issued permits. They've responded with an unrelenting campaign that is so overpowering even people who agree with their position are getting annoyed with them.

The strongest opposition comes from the people who live along the river. Their lives would be disrupted for years, perhaps a decade or two, by the heavy, noisy, pollution belching equipment that would be used to suck up the river bottom. And nobody wants the sludge processing plants anywhere near their city.

A long awaited study by the National Academy of Science determined that the evidence was inconclusive. There is no way to determine if the half-billion dollar dredging project would clean up the river any sooner than nature would on her own.

Last week a study by Department of Environmental Conservation claimed that levels of PCBs are higher than expected in Otters and Minks, although there's no evidence that it presents any danger to the critters. About the same time, thirty-two members of congress, who feel a natural affinity for weasels, signed a letter urging the current EPA Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, to stick with Browner's recommendation to dig up the river bed.

None of these fine congress critters live anywhere near the dredging sites. They won't have to watch their once clear river turned into a mud hole, listen to the endless roar of bulldozers, backhoes and trucks, or smell the stench of the project, day after day after day after day for years and years and years and years.

That's a significant part of the problem. We'd have more confidence in the decision makers if they had to live with the consequences of their decisions. So lets do that, let's make them live in the affected communities. Every congress weasel who signed that letter should have to buy homes near the first dredging site, and live there for the duration of the project. The EPA decision makers should be there too, including Christine Todd Whitman. Carol Browner, dredging's primary cheerleader, should get the house closest to the site. (As an added bonus, we'd install a little device in her basement that adds a trace of MTBE to her drinking water.) None of them will be allowed to rent, they'll have to buy the homes with their own money so they can enjoy the property value fluctuations themselves. If dredging is the right decision, they'll have nothing to worry about.

I'm willing to contribute towards this. I'll personally send each and every one of them a house warming gift: a French Press, so they can make themselves a great cup of coffee. I'll leave it to them to decide how to deal with the little bit of mud at the bottom of the cup.


Other Links

Here are the details of the EPA second hand smoke report

The Clearwater is a boat that sails the Hudson, fighting pollution by singing folk songs. They support dredging, but unlike the people who live next to the sites, they can sail away from it.

April, 2001


© 2001 Dave Hitt

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