The Week That Was
March 23, 2002

1. Green elitists are raising fears about chlorination of drinking water. "Let them drink Perrier"

2. EPA Concurs with CDC Recommendation that Chlorine Bleach Effectively Destroys Anthrax:

3. Chemical Industry Urges White House to Seek Quick Approval by Congress of POP Treaty on persistent organic pollutants

4. Activists and news stories raise fears about the vulnerability of chemical plants to terrorist attacks

5. EPA must choose five currently unregulated contaminants in drinking water for regulation

6. The Federal Drug Administration goes after biologically active trace pollutants in waterways

7. House of Lords has doubts about European Union schemes for chemical regulation

8. Robert Park reports on superstitious medicine in What's New:


On March 4, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the emergency use of chlorine bleach for anthrax decontamination. The EPA determination that chlorine bleach can effectively treat anthrax spores complements a previous recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that bleach can be used for this purpose. Common household bleach, which contains sodium hypochlorite, has been a registered anti-microbial pesticide since 1957, and has been approved for use against a range of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Under the terms of a special crisis exemption to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), registered bleach products may be sold or distributed to employees of EPA, other federal, state, or local government agencies, and the U.S. Postal Service for use in anthrax decontamination.



Industry group is urging the United States to be among the first 50 countries to ratify the UNEP treaty on persistent organic pollutants, calling on the Bush administration to quickly seek congressional approval of legislation to implement the treaty, without controversial provisions for adding new chemicals to the list of 12 that will be banned under the current treaty. The latest implementation proposal, which would essentially require a change to U.S. pesticide and toxic laws each time a chemical is added, is strongly opposed by the EPA. According to Chemical Policy Alert, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has expressed concern that some of the proposed statutory changes would undercut the ability of farmers to adequately protect their crops by limiting access to certain products.


4. CHEMICAL PLANT RISK IN DOUBT: While recent activist reports and news stories have raised questions about the vulnerability of chemical plants to terrorist attacks, officials in Charleston, West Virginia note that area chemical plants have already carried out the risk-reduction methods advocated by the reports. In an article in the Charleston Daily Mail, Mark Scott, president of the National Institute for Chemical Studies, said that most plants have already taken steps to reduce the risk of chemical leaks. "Improving safety isn't just a matter of following the checklists offered by the two groups" (PIRG and Safe Hometowns), he said. Scott noted that reducing chemical stockpiles would mean more frequent shipments, which could have the unintended consequence of increasing a community's exposure to potential leaks. Bill White, emergency services director for Kanawha County agreed, saying "I would rather have two barge loads a month than 25 tank cars a week."


EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) is recommending that the agency adhere to a more detailed set of criteria for choosing which new drinking water contaminants to regulate. The panel's recommendations focus on EPA's research method for selecting new drinking water pollutants to regulate. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to pursue regulations for at least five unregulated contaminants from the contaminant candidate list (CCL) every five years. The EPA is currently in the process of selecting at least five contaminants from a CCL developed in 1998. According to Inside EPA, the contaminants under consideration are acanthamoeba, aldrin, dieldrin, hexachlorobutadiene, manganese, metrinaphthalene, sodium, and sulfate. EPA must select at least five of the eight proposed chemicals for new regulations.



The New York Times reports that the FDA will re-evaluate the environmental side of the drug-approval process in light of a federal survey of streams, conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS), that found traces of a host of human and veterinary medications that were not captured by sewage treatment plants. The USGS survey provided the first comprehensive set of concrete data on levels of antibiotics, hormones and other drugs in American waterways. Many of the substances researchers found are not defined as pollution under clean-water laws, and are not checked for environmental effects by the FDA. Tracing the effects of the presence of these substances is difficult as these materials are also naturally produced by people, wild animals, and some plants. More information about the survey is available at


7. CRITICISM SURROUNDS EU PROPOSAL FOR CHEMICAL REGULATION: A British House of Lords committee cited unrealistic deadlines and overly complicated schemes as it called an EU proposal to establish a single regulatory framework for chemicals that are most harmful "unrealistically overambitious." The proposed mechanism for assessing both existing and new chemicals is known as the REACH (registration, evaluation, and authorization) system. Under the proposed plan, producers will be responsible for supplying data about the chemicals they produce. Authorities will then decide on substance-tailored testing programs following industry proposals. Adhering to the precautionary principle, chemicals believed to pose a threat to human health will not be approved, even when a cause-and-effect relationship is not fully established.


By Robert Park

In the waning months of his administration, while pardoning felons and bestowing various favors on supporters, Bill Clinton rewarded loyal Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), an ardent believer in superstitious medicine, with an executive order creating a 20-member White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. It was to last two years and submit a report to the President on how to spread the benefits of magic medicine. James Gordon, a leading "mind-body" proponent, was picked to head the commission, and he proceeded to select a "balanced" collection of true believers in acupuncture, Reiki, homeopathy, herbs, native American cures, quack diets and "energy" medicine of every sort. There are no legitimate scientific researchers on the Commission. Gordon himself has an interesting background, having been an ardent follower of the late Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, he of the 35 Rolls Royces. The Bhagwan was deported after it was learned that his followers had deliberately poisoned some 700 residents of Antelope, Oregon with salmonella to keep them from the polls in a local election.

The Commission officially terminated yesterday, and delivered its report to the White House. The report, which will not be made public for at least a month, is expected to call for legislation that would require insurance providers to cover the witch doctor of your choice. Since the Commission was created under the Clinton administration, it is hoped that the Bush White House will name a panel of medical experts to review the report.



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