When Government Environmental Agencies Go Bad

We rely on the EPA to protect the environment and us. (Photo: Dan Lurie [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr)

It's been a rough week for environmental government agencies.

First West Virginia Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman is being blasted by Doug Wood, a biologist working in the water division's watershed assesment section, who charges Mr. Huffman with lying in his testimony about mountaintop removal mining during a Senate hearing. Mr. Huffman defended mountaintop removal mining as necessary to the future economic development of his state and outright dismissed the fact that blasting a mountain and dumping the rubble in mountains and streams has a negative impact on fish and other forest critters.

You can read the whole story at the Charleston Gazette.

This is pretty galling, and representative of his general testimony:

The greater concern for the Department of Environmental Protection, however, as protector of the state’s water resources, is the unintended consequences of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent actions that have the potential to significantly limit all types of mining.

Maybe he's from the Bizarro World. In his dimension, the Department of Environmental Protection is more concerned about not getting in the way of mining industries who don't hesitate to rip down entire mountains and defile long miles of streams and valleys with the rubble than with protecting the environment. Somehow, a tear in the rift of reality has swapped him and our Mr. Huffman, who is probably having a tough run of it in Bizarro World.

And then...

Over the weekend the Huffington Post broke the news that the EPA withheld results showing the presence of the toxic weed killer atrazine in four agricultural rich states -- Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kansas. More than 40 water systems had levels of atrazine that should have triggered notification of water customers, notifications that were never sent.

It's pretty bad, Danielle Ivory of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund writes:

Asked why the results of the weekly tests had not been published, the EPA's Bradbury said "no data is withheld from the public." Bradbury said the information has been posted on the agency's electronic public docket. In fact, the weekly test results are one of the only items on the docket that are not posted on the site. Instead they are listed as available only through the Freedom of Information Act. In an on-camera interview with the Investigative Fund in June, Bradbury also said that the weekly monitoring had found no spikes in any watershed over 3 ppb. "It's these spikes that we're focusing on," he said. "There have been no exceedances." In fact, the EPA's data recorded more than 130 spikes over 3 ppb during 2008 alone -- not only in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Kansas, but also in Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. Bradbury declined to elaborate on the apparent contradiction.
The EPA does not consider one-time spikes of atrazine to be dangerous, but several peer-reviewed scientific studies suggest that the chemical may be harmful, particularly to developing fetuses, in doses as low as 0.1 ppb. One study, published this year in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica, found that birth defect rates in the United States were highest for women who conceived during months when atrazine levels were spiking.

The European Union banned atrazine when it began to show up in their drinking water. They weren't able to find sufficient evidence that it wasn't dangerous to humans so they banned it. I mean, it's a chemical designed to kill. I know chemists are terrifically clever but there's been too many instances of big industry telling the general public a chemical is perfectly safe, thank you very much, for us to later find out that it actually gave a lot of us cancer.

It's a bizarre, if not Bizarro, world that we live in.