20 Qs to the SWRCB About Proposed Regs

California ‘s State Water Resources Control Board holds ‘workshops’ to give the public a chance to comment on proposed regulations. I have questions.

In February 2020, California’s State Water Resources Control Board issued a ‘white paper’ titled: Economic Feasibility Analysis In Consideration Of A  Hexavalent Chromium MCL

In its introduction, the Water Board states:

On July 1, 2014, a maximum contaminant level (MCL or drinking water standard) of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for hexavalent chromium (CrVI) was approved by the Office of Administrative Law. The MCL was issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) right before its division of drinking water transferred jurisdiction to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board). On May 31, 2017, the Superior Court of Sacramento County issued a judgment invalidating the MCL on the basis that CDPH had not properly considered the economic feasibility of complying with the MCL. As part of the next steps in reissuing an MCL for CrVI, the State Water Board anticipates stakeholder involvement in developing options for evaluating economic feasibility during the MCL process.

Due to the inherent uncertainty of placing economic value on numerous factors necessary for cost-benefit analyses, the MCL set by the State Water Board will be through a policy decision that considers traditional concepts such as treatment costs and number of cancer cases averted, as well as the costs and benefits of the regulation, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, particularly as it relates to non-cancer health impacts on individuals, their families and their communities. This document describes challenges faced by the State Water Board in considering economic feasibility during the development of MCLs and concludes there is no simple formula capable of generating an economically feasible MCL. [emphasis mine]

The State Water Board will hold public workshops to discuss these ideas and hear suggestions by stakeholders and interested persons regarding economic feasibility in the development of drinking water standards. The concepts presented in this document allow stakeholders to engage the MCL development process ahead of the formal public review and comment period required by the Administrative Procedure Act. While this discussion is intended to be specific to the development of an MCL for CrVI, ideas and methodologies arising from the CrVI rulemaking process may be applied in the development of other drinking water standards.

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

My first question, which I will not phrase exactly this way, is “This is all bullshit, isn’t it?”

What I need to remember is they want to do good.

“When you encounter a person with radically different beliefs, you might think they’re ignorant, crazy, or malicious. Resist this inclination and instead consider that they view issues from a different perspective or that they’re acting upon what they think is the best available information. Chances are far better that they mean to help but aren’t great at communicating than that they’re actually ignorant, crazy, or malicious.

“In a disagreement, people frequently assume their partners’ intentions and motivations are worse than they are. Many people, for example, assume conservatives are racist, liberals aren’t patriotic, Republicans don’t care about poor people, or Democrats are weak on national defense. They then go on to assume that these perceived shortcomings motivate beliefs and arguments. This is usually false.”

— How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide by Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay
https://a.co/anL2UmZ

I have doubts that the proposed Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) will, in fact, make the water safer, but I need to ask California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) some questions to get insight. A dialectical process to find the truth.

Below is my list of questions so far. I would love to hear any thoughts you might have.

Questions for the state Waterboard

1. I think white paper states that with our present Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) there are “health impacts on individuals, their families and their communities.” Just so I’m clear, how many lives will be saved or how many years of life extended, if the Water Board’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 ppb for Hexavalent Chromium is adopted?

2. Can the Water Board provide a value of statistical life (VSL), or quality-adjusted life-year (QALY), or any other economic metric used in a standard cost benefit analysis due to Water Board’s MCL of 10 ppb for Hexavalent Chromium being adopted

3. Given that California has nation’s the highest poverty rate according to the census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure, why is a lower CrVI MCL where the Water Board believes water companies should focus their resources?

4. Most water is used for non-drinking water purposes: laundry, cleaning, watering, etc. Would the water board consider point of use appliances, such as reverse osmosis filters, satisfactory to meet the proposed MCL?

5. Am I correct that the white paper for the hexavalent chromium cost analysis indicates that the public health goal takes precedence over the Administrative procedures act, is this correct?

6. Since the administrative procedures act was promulgated prior to the public health goal, does it not take precedence and priority?

7. On page 5, the board states:

“excluding benefits achieved from reduction of these costs skews the cost – benefit analysis toward excessive costs. However, including the economic impact of these costs is not feasible due to the lack of specific information in the PHG report, especially as they relate to liver developmental and how reproductive toxicity‘s manifest themselves in the human population and their subsequent treatment and recovery. Without that information, the state Waterboard is challenged to establish and identify a complete inventory of the benefits…”

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

Has the state Water Board done a review of existing research on such conditions as they relate to hexavalent chromium? If yes, what did the water board find? If not, why not?

8. On page 6, the Waterboard acknowledges that a majority of the systems it covers have less than 100 connections.

“Analysis of the approximately 2950 community water systems shows that the median community system serves 95 service connections. This means more than half of the water systems have fewer than 100 households over which to spread the cost.“

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

The water board also acknowledges the small water systems already struggle with compliance and maintenance issues and or barely surviving. The board then goes on to say

“setting new or revised drinking water standards only to what is economically feasible for the most disadvantaged public water systems will restrict the development of new or more protective standards.”

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

It would seem that the Waterboard then needs to make sure that the standards they put in place are truly protective and backed by science, does it not?

9. Does the Waterboard believe that they know better than the local water company as to the needs of its system?

10. Does the water board believe that a new standard is more important than upgrades in a water provider’s equipment?

11. No doubt I missed this in the report, but where does the water board say how many lives will be saved if the new standard is enacted? And what peer– reviewed research did they use to come up with this conclusion?

11. It is my understanding that the standard metric for assessing the benefits of risk and proposed environmental regulations tradeoff between money and small risks of death is the ‘value of statistical life’ (VSL). Perhaps I missed its use in the White Paper? Why was VSL not employed?

12. The discussion by the state water board revolves around the public health goal that has been established by the state. Did the water board review the underlying research done to establish this public health goal?

13. All of the research that I have found indicates that hexavalent chromium at the levels given for the EPA maximum contamination limit will be ingested and changed to chromium-3 by the body’s functions. CrIII is used by the body for metabolic purposes, and is therefore needed. What may I have missed in the literature that the state of California has access to?

14. I’m sure I’m missing something in the state’s economic analysis, it appears that the state simply says that the costs aren’t very much and therefore because we have such a public health goal, the costs are worth it, and have not evaluated that the public health goal with regard to toxicological science, then of course it’s worth it. Do I have that right?

15. Even if we do say that the public health goal for hexavalent chromium is, theoretically, a good idea, I am having trouble understanding the logic behind the state recommendation. Can you help me out? Let me give you an example:

Why do we not ban all automobiles, trucks, bicycles, etc., to prevent deaths? Let’s say the state of California bans all conveyances that travel faster than a person can run. Bicycles, automobiles, segues, any equipment that moves faster than someone can run is no longer allowed to operate. This will save millions of lives. No one will die in an automobile accident or a bicycle accident. It is unalloyed good, is it not? If we do not include the cost of implementation of such a rule this skews the considerations all to the benefit side, does it not? Cost benefit analysis is the only way that has been shown to help a state government agency determine whether the cost is worth the benefit.

16. How many lives, based on peer – reviewed research, does the state of California project will be saved with this new standard?

17. Can the provide the number of lives saved for each proposed maximum contaminant level for hexavalent chromium?

18. The water company I do contract work for has been working on consolidating with neighboring water companies for over four years, In its analysis the water board says it might provide a variance two small water companies, for how long would they consider applying this variance given that the average time for consolidation is 10–15 years?

19. The state Water Board follows state policy set forth in the California Health and Safety code section 116365 (a); 116270, respectively, which states “reduce to the lowest level feasible all concentrations of toxic chemicals that, when present in drinking water, may cause cancer, birth defects, or other chronic diseases.” I am having trouble understanding how this statute is being interpreted. Does it mean that any chemical which the state of California lists under the propositions 65 code if found in drinking water is to be mitigated? Or does it mean that any chemical on the proposition 65 list that is at a level known to cause cancer needs to be eliminated to below detectable levels? For example, In your favorite bread stuffing (you know the one with onions, celery, black pepper and mushrooms) you’ll find acrylamide, ethyl alcohol, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl carbamate, furan derivatives, furfural, dihydrazines, d-limonene, psoralens, quercetin glycosides and safrole. And, as I write these questions, I have about 20,000,000 plutonium atoms in my bone marrow. But before we break out a Geiger counter to check me, let me explain that every animal now or previously on earth does or did too. This most toxic of substances exists all around us and at the background level.

On page 10 the report states,

“treatment technology has developed to the point that almost any contaminant can be removed from water.“

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

Has not detection technology also developed to the point that almost any contaminant can be detected in water, down to the parts per trillion or parts per quadrillion level? Does the Water Board plan to have all chemicals and compounds listed on the Prop 65 list removed below detectable levels?

21. On page 8 the report states,

“…for these reasons, the statewide increase in costs from a lower MCL is not due to increased treatment costs but rather due to the increased number of systems requiring treatment as the MCL is lowered.“

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

What then is the cost on a per life basis?

22. On page 11 the report states,

“Economic feasibility and affordability will be addressed when considering compliance options such as grants, loans, regionalization and consolidation (both full consolidation and various forms of administrative consolidation) as well as the establishment of lifeline rates.”

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

Does the Water Board see this as a solution that can be implemented quickly enough for the majority of small companies to not violate the new MCLs?

23. As noted previously, the water system I contract for is in its fourth or fifth year of attempting to consolidate with another company–any water company. Like many water companies, we have an aging board and aging operators and will not be able to run the system adequately in 5 to 10 years. We are “one injury or illness away from not being able to operate at all.” Does the state Water Board have any suggestions to help such a water company?

24. In its conclusion on page 11, the Water Board states

“[The California Water Resources Control Board] understands competing needs between protecting public health and keeping water affordable. Water systems struggle to maintain infrastructure and meeting drinking water standards, but assistance is available to offset costs of new regulations (grants, low or no interest loans, point-of-use or point-of-entry treatment, variances, exemptions and consolidations).”

California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020

I agree with the statement’s preamble. As the Water Board has noted, more than half of California’s struggle daily to maintain infrastructure and meet drinking water standards. And as I have noted before, our rates are the highest in the county despite low wages and volunteer help. Will the state water board please explain how a water company might apply to for any or all of these?

25. I may have missed it, are no toxicological reports listed in the White Paper’s references? And if there are none, why did the Water Board choose to disregard them?

26. What research is the Water Board basing its statement that lives will be saved or extended by lowering the State’s MCL?

#END

I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions. Again, I do not want to come off as hostile, but rather as curious into their thoughts. For example, #9 is a bit dickish on my part. Is there a way to fix it?

Science Evolves & Hello 2021

What a year, huh? Everything about 2020 seemed bad. As the prologue to Dave Barry’s year in review, says:

This was a year of nonstop awfulness, a year when we kept saying it couldn’t possibly get worse, and it always did. This was a year in which our only moments of genuine, unadulterated happiness were when we were able to buy toilet paper.

Which is fitting, because 2020 was one long, howling, Category Five crapstorm.

Dave Barry recaps 2020 with annual year in review | Miami Herald

And here we are on the cusp of a new year, 2021. Our knowledge of the world and how it works evolved. We, as a species, know more at this time than we did at this time last year. We know more about covid-19 now than we did last year, as we began hearing stories coming out of mainland China.

We have revolutionary vaccines in record time thanks to gene technology, which Matt Ridley discusses here in a post about the new vaccine.

The first Covid-19 vaccine … is not just a welcome breakthrough against a grim little enemy that has defied every other weapon we have tried, from handwashing to remdesivir and lockdowns. It is also the harbinger of a new approach to medicine altogether. Synthetic messengers that reprogram our cells to mount an immune response to almost any invader, including perhaps cancer, can now be rapidly and cheaply made.

Why mRNA vaccines could revolutionise medicine

Twenty-twenty was a remarkable year. Yes it was “one long, howling, Category Five crapstorm,” and it was one in which we as a species learned, adapted, found new ways to connect, and, for the most part, muddled through.

Cheers.

You can find me tweeting about science, government, and most everything on Twitter at @timberati

Open Letter to California’s Water Board Regarding Perchlorate

Welcome to California

Home of Prop 65

Division of Drinking Water
Attn: Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the Board
State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 100
Sacramento, CA   95812-2000

Re: Comment Letter – SBDDW-20-001: Perchlorate DLR

It’s clear the California State Water Resources Control Board cares very much about providing the cleanest drinking water to the most vulnerable consumers, children. Yet the Water Board’s proposed change does not improve their health and may hurt them by taking necessary resources from the poorest of parents who care for those children.
If the Water Board plans to use force (i.e., statute) to make an essential good more expensive, which will disproportionately affect the poor they claim to want to help, they need better reasons than they have provided. It has been 25 years since perchlorate entered the American vocabulary. Over this time, perchlorate has been investigated and our knowledge of its interactions with our bodies has increased. This lowers the uncertainty that is always built into toxicology models of safety.

The Initial Statement of Reasons is long on statutory authority and nonexistent on need. It lists no technical, theoretical, or empirical studies, reports, or similar documents regarding health or the life-years gained by the imposition of the new proposed regulation. As a peer-reviewed paper notes, “Mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with increased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk.” You cannot shortcut this process. This is what you, the Water Board, are mandated to perform, and a lower Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for an inorganic chemical is not a proxy for “safer”.

Simply put, the Water Board has failed to do its due diligence to research the need for a more restrictive Detection Limit for Purposes of Reporting. (See my comments under section IV, below, with details about relevant empirical studies.)

Below is a discussion on each of the items of the Initial Statement of Reasons provided by the State Water Board.

I. BACKGROUND/AUTHORITY (PROBLEM STATEMENT)

“Health and Safety Code (HSC) section 116270 states California’s legislative intent to establish primary drinking water standards at least as stringent as those under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and to establish a program that is more protective of public health than the minimum federal requirements…. The perchlorate primary drinking water standard is expressed in the form of a maximum contaminant level (MCL) and associated monitoring and reporting requirements as described in HSC 116275, including a Detection Limit for Purposes of Reporting (DLR) as defined in 22 California Code of Regulations (CCR), section 64400.34. The current perchlorate MCL and DLR are 0.006 mg/L and 0.004 mg/L, respectively…. While analytical methods are available to report data at concentrations lower than the current DLR of 0.004 mg/L, many water systems and laboratories quantify reported concentrations only as low as the DLR. The lack of perchlorate occurrence data at concentrations below the current DLR hinders the State Water Board’s ability to evaluate whether technology can achieve a materially greater protection of public health or attainment of the public health goal than the current DLR of 0.004 mg/L, and determine the economic feasibility of lowering the MCL.”

The Water Board’s Problem Statement has a fatal flaw. It fails to demonstrate a need for a lower standard. If this is a health issue, as the Water Board contends, then a problem statement would list how many people are debilitated by the current standard not being stringent enough.

Instead, the Water Board’s Problem Statement is taking it as a given that less of any substance in drinking water that the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has deemed a pollutant provides “materially greater protection of public health.”

This supposition by the Water Board is false and not supported by toxicology, epidemiology, or any other discipline of health science. A toxicologist gave me an analogy on safety: he said if you were to stand at the guard rail at the Grand Canyon, you would be quite safe. Being five feet behind the guard rail may make you slightly safer. Five miles behind the guard rail does not “provide materially greater protection.”

Nowhere is there a statement that, without this new MCL, lives are at risk, because no lives are at risk.

III. BENEFITS

There are no benefits to this new MCL. The Water Board fails to give an estimate of increased Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs are used to measure an individual’s future longevity and the quality of the individual’s health during that time) were their proposal to be enacted. They assume that it will, absent any analysis.

Paying more for water, already safe under current rules, is not a benefit. There is no benefit to public health or safety, or to the people who would pay more for their water, or to the public water systems required to comply.

The supposed benefits rely on a circular argument on the Water Board’s part. The State Water Board simply assumes that a drinking water program that has lower limits would thus be “more protective of public health than the minimum federal requirements” and thus sets a lower public health goal, which then must be met because a drinking water program that has lower contaminant limits is “more protective of public health than the minimum federal requirements.”

For an example of analysis, according to a 1995 peer-reviewed study by Tamms et. al. , the Cost/Life-year for chlorination is $3100/Life-year, the Cost/Life-year for chlorination, filtration, and sedimentation is $4200/Life-year. Whereas tightening trichloroethylene control of 2.7 (versus 11) micrograms/liter is an eye-watering $37,000,000/Life-year.

Again, mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with risk, but has to be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure.

“The repeal of 22 CCR Chapter 12 resulted in the deletion of essential definitions that are referenced in other regulatory sections that were not repealed. Replacing the repealed definitions will clarify the current regulations, which will eliminate confusion by regulated entities.”

Heaven forbid, that you confuse regulated entities! Have you tried reading the bureaucratic argle-bargle you send to regulated entities? It is basically translates to: “we’re going to fine the pants off of you, if you don’t do whatever this says.”

IIII. SUMMARY OF PROPOSAL AND PURPOSE


“The primary purpose of the proposed regulations is to adopt a revised DLR of 0.002 mg/L for perchlorate to allow determination of perchlorate occurrence in drinking water sources at concentrations below the current DLR of 0.004 mg/L. This will allow determination of whether it is possible to amend the MCL for perchlorate, as required by HSC 116365.”

This is essentially a tautological argument for the existence of something unprovable: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” wrapped in the law (i.e., “as required by HSC 116365”). Science concerns itself with epidemiological and empirical evidence. And due to the studies, that have been conducted regarding perchlorate since the mid 1990s, there is less uncertainty that accompanies the establishment of a safe exposure level. Thus, the need for conservatism in the absence of knowledge has been replaced with data and knowledge, and doesn’t necessitate a lower DLR. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that levels found in U.S. drinking water are so much NOT of concern, it has opted to not even set an MCL for perchlorates.

IV. NECESSITY OF PROPOSED REGULATIONS

“HSC subsections 116365(a) and (b) require the State Water Board to adopt primary drinking water standards for contaminants at levels as close as feasible to the corresponding PHGs, placing primary emphasis on the protection of public health, and to the extent that is technologically and economically feasible.” (emphasis mine) …. “The lack of data on perchlorate occurrence at concentrations below the current DLR hinders the State Water Board’s ability to evaluate whether technology achieves a materially greater protection of public health…”

This statement: “The lack of data on perchlorate occurrence at concentrations below the current DLR hinders the State Water Board’s ability to evaluate whether technology achieves a materially greater protection of public health…” is false. The State Water Board does not need that information as to whether such a number “achieves a materially greater protection of public health.” Safety is a matter of dosage. Dose makes the poison. And for perchlorate the RfD (Reference Dose, the safe exposure level for humans) has been studied extensively and is well known with uncertainty for infants accounted for. See Attachment “A” Perchlorate in Drinking Water, pages 22-27 “Assessing the Science Behind the RfD.”

Let me highlight one study in particular: “Crump et al. (2000) conducted a study of newborns (n=9784) and school-age children (n=162) from Chile (a region known for significant levels of perchlorate) to determine the effect of perchlorate in drinking water on thyroid function. …. The authors concluded that perchlorate in drinking water at concentrations as high as 100-120 microgram/L does not suppress thyroid function in newborns or school-age children.” So an amount magnitudes greater than the Water Board’s present MCL has no effect on newborns, yet the Water Board is worried that its present perchlorate MCL is too high and needs to be lowered? Please explain to a layperson, the Water Board’s safety concerns.

Dose determines risk. In the peer-reviewed paper on perchlorate cited above, the authors emphasized, “it is imperative that this cornerstone principle of toxicology be included in any assessment of perchlorate. Mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with increased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk.”

This is not an academic exercise. This is required for you to make an informed decision.
As Frank Schnell, board-certified, PhD toxicologist (retired) explained Dose-Response to me, “Most biological effects, whether adverse or not, are the consequence of a cascade of biochemical reactions initiated when chemical agents (referred to by pharmacologists and toxicologists generically as ‘effectors,’ ‘agonists’ or ‘ligands’) bind to effect-specific macromolecular receptors usually distributed on cell surfaces. It is of supreme indifference to the receptor whether the chemical binding to it is of natural, synthetic, endogenous, or exogenous origin. As long as the ligand fits into the receptor’s active site, the “A sub-threshold concentration of the effector will not activate enough receptors to produce in the cell a significant effect.

“This receptor-mediated mechanism of action accounts for the existence of thresholds of effect and for the S-shaped Dose-Response Curve that typically results when the strength of the effect (from zero- to 100%-response) is plotted on the ordinate (y-axis) against the logarithm of the dose on the abscissa (x-axis).”

Dose-Response curve (log scale)

“A sub-threshold concentration of the effector” such as the dosages that the Water Board proposes “will not activate enough receptors to produce in the cell a significant effect. (If this were not the case, the effective regulation of normal metabolic processes would not be possible.)” In other words, very little does not do very little; it has no effect.

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) agrees. In its discussion of health effects of perchlorates, the ATSDR noted:

“In a study of the general population, Li et al. (2001) examined the prevalence of thyroid diseases in Nevada Counties with respect to perchlorate in drinking water. The cohort consisted of all users of the Nevada Medicaid program during the period of January 1, 1997 to December 31, 1998. Disease prevalence in residents from Clark County (Las Vegas), whose drinking water had 4–24 microgram/L of perchlorate (0.0001–0.0007 mg perchlorate/kg/day), were compared with those from another urban area of similar size (Reno, Washoe County), but with no perchlorate in the water, and also with those from all other counties, also with no perchlorate exposure…. Analysis of the data showed no statistically significant period-prevalence rate difference between Clark County and Washoe County. For acquired hypothyroidism, the prevalence was lower in Clark County than in other counties (opposite to what would be expected).”

“Several developmental studies of perchlorate in humans have focused on the evaluation of neonatal thyroid parameters. Lamm and Doemland (1999) examined rates of congenital hypothyroidism in seven counties of Nevada and California with perchlorate contamination in the drinking water (4–16 microgram /L [ppb]) (0.0001–0.0005 mg/kg/day). The investigators analyzed data from the neonatal screening programs of the two states for any increased incidence of congenital hypothyroidism in those counties. The rates for the California births were adjusted for Hispanic ethnicity, which was known to be a risk factor for congenital hypothyroidism. During 1996 and 1997, nearly 700,000 newborns were screened. The risk ratio in the seven counties was 1.0 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.9–1.2) (249 cases observed/243 expected). The risk ratios for the individual counties relative to statewide expected rates ranged from 0.6 to 1.1. While the results showed no increase in rates of congenital hypothyroidism, it is known that congenital hypothyroidism is caused by developmental events that are not suspected of being affected by perchlorate exposure.

“Kelsh et al. (2003) also found no relationship between congenital hypothyroidism and exposure to perchlorate through the drinking water in a study of newborns (n=15,348) whose mothers resided in the community of Redlands, California, during the period 1983 through 1997 and who were screened by the California Newborn Screening Program. Perchlorate was detected in the water system serving the community at a concentration of up to 9 microgram /L (mean, <1 microgram/L).”

“Crump et al. (2000) conducted a study of school-age children from three cities with different concentrations of perchlorate in drinking water in northern Chile. The city with the highest perchlorate concentration was Taltal, 100–120 microgram perchlorate/L (ppb), water from the city of Chañaral had 5–7 microgram/L, and perchlorate was not detected in water from the city of Antofagasta. The study comprised 162 children 6–8 years of age, of which 127 had resided continuously in their respective city since conception. The children underwent examination of the thyroid gland and a blood sample was taken for analysis of TSH, T4, FTI, T3, and antiperoxidase antibody. After adjusting for sex, age, and urinary iodide excretion, the children from Taltal and Chañaral had slightly lower TSH levels than children from Antofagasta (opposite to expected), but the differences were not statistically significant.”

V. ECONOMIC IMPACT ASSESSMENT / ANALYSIS

“The proposed regulations are expected to benefit the health and welfare of California residents.”
Just as moving back from a guardrail at the Grand Canyon from ten feet to ten miles does not make someone safer, lowering the DLR or MCL for perchlorate does not make the water magically safer. Less of nothing to worry about is still nothing to worry about. Forcing people to spend money on an imagined benefit does make them poorer, and your ability to do that, while statutorily authorized, is theft. Who are you to say that you know better how to keep my customers safe? Yours, gentle members, is the tyranny of good intentions.

“Of all tyrannies,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

My customers own the public water system for which I work as the water master. They are also my friends and neighbors. Our rates are the cost of operation plus 5 percent for capital improvements divided by 24 which is the number of hookups. Despite our frugality and my modest salary, our rates are the highest in the county at $125 per month. This, for many of them, is a hardship. Tacking more onto their bill does not lessen that hardship.

I would rather my customers use their limited resources for their necessities, rather than a quixotic quest on the part of the Water Board.

VI. REASONABLE ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED AND REJECTED

“No less burdensome and equally effective alternative has been proposed to the State Water Board for consideration.”

Let me suggest a less burdensome and equally effective alternative to the State Water Board for consideration: Do nothing. Unless your goal is to waste people’s money, and measure for lower levels of perchlorate simply because you can, then please consider doing nothing.

Another option would be for the Water Board to pay for this monitoring. Certainly, if this is about making people safer, the Water Board would be willing to fund it.

VII. PERFORMANCE STANDARD vs. PRESCRIPTIVE STANDARD

“The proposed regulation would impose a performance standard of 0.002 mg/L for the determination of perchlorate in drinking water.”

VIII. UNNECESSARY DUPLICATION WITH FEDERAL REGULATION

“There is no existing federal regulation addressing perchlorate in drinking water.”

No doubt the latest uproar caused by the Environmental Protection Agency declining to set an MCL for perchlorate has caused some consternation among the Water Board and staff. Yet, the Obama administration also declined to set an MCL. That should indicate to the Water Board and staff that there is no “there” there. We can’t blame the Trump Administration’s anti-environmental stance for failing to set an MCL when the Obama Administration also opted to simply follow the science and decline to make it an issue.

This also means that California has a stricter standard than the Federal one already. I realize that California prides itself on its strict environmental standards, but enough is enough already.

IX. TECHNICAL, THEORETICAL, OR EMPIRICAL STUDIES, REPORTS, OR SIMILAR DOCUMENTS RELIED UPON

The Initial Statement of Reasons lists no technical, theoretical, or empirical studies, reports, or similar documents regarding health or the life-years gained by the imposition of the new regulation.

In summary the Water Board has not done its due diligence to research and explain the need for a more restrictive Detection Limit for Purposes of Reporting (DLR). You must show us the data, research, scientific journal articles, or other scientific peer-reviewed articles that this new standard is “more protective of public health than the minimum federal requirements.” Otherwise you are unjustly requiring my customers to pay more for water that will not be safer or cleaner.

Mere detection of less of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with decreased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk. No shortcuts. No special exemptions. Do the work.

Norman J. Benson, Licensed Water Master

California’s State Water Board is gnawing on the perchlorate bone, again.

Chemaphobia thrives at California’s State Water Board.

California’s State Water Board hasn’t met a chemical it’s not afraid of.

The State Water Resources Control Board is accepting written public comments on proposed changes to the draft Perchlorate Detection Limit for Purposes of Reporting (DLR).
The public comment period ends on 7 August 2020, at 12:00 p.m. (noon).    

The Notice of Public Availability of Changes, proposed regulation text, and addendum to the Initial Statement of Reasons are attached and available at the following link: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/perchlorate2.html
Information on how to submit written comments is available at the following link: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/public_notices/comments/index.shtml
Additional information on perchlorate may be found at: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/Perchlorate.html




Bloomingcamp Ranch vs California’s Water Board

Bloomingcamp Ranch photo courtesy of Matthew Steinberg

I did more research. More contemplation. I reworked the letter to be less confrontational. More flies with honey than vinegar and all that… By the way should you wish to comment…

SUBMISSION OF WRITTEN COMMENTS. Persons interested in the draft order are encouraged to submit comments electronically. Comment letters must be received by 12:00 noon on June 22, 2020. Unless the State Water Board determines otherwise, comment letters received after the deadline will not be accepted. Send comments to Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the State Water Board, by email at commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov (must be no more than 15 megabytes); fax at (916) 341-5620; or mail or hand delivery at:

Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the Board
State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 100, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000 (mail)
1001 I Street, 24th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814 (hand delivery)

Please indicate in the subject line, “Comment Letter – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System”.

So here is my revised letter to the California Water Resources Control Board:

Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the Board
State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 100, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000

Re: Comment Letter – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System

It’s clear the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) cares very much about providing clean drinking water to the most vulnerable consumers, children.

Yet it seems a grave injustice to fine a family $13,508 (SWRCB 2020b) for water which, contains—in one liter of their water—the same amount of nitrate found in one four ounces [Ed. note: changed from one ounce to four ounces on 6/15/20 since EPA counts/weighs only the NO3 portion of nitrate] of iceberg lettuce. I propose the SWRCB accept the Bloomingcamp proposal to use bottled water. No one will become ill from drinking Bloomingcamp’s water, which I will show later. And their proposed solution to provide bottled water is more than adequate and thus no reason it cannot be a long-term solution.

This letter will discuss:

The SWCRB’s mandate with regard to drinking water

The SWCRB is mandated by California Water Code Section 106.3(a) which states:

  • It is hereby declared to be the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes. [emphasis added]

Section 106.3(b) then says all state agencies are to use this mandate where other state policies are to be considered.

(b) All relevant state agencies, including the department, the state board, and the State Department of Public Health, shall consider this state policy when revising, adopting, or establishing policies, regulations, and grant criteria when those policies, regulations, and criteria are pertinent to the uses of water described in this section.

(c) This section does not expand any obligation of the state to provide water or to require the expenditure of additional resources to develop water infrastructure beyond the obligations that may exist pursuant to subdivision (b).

(d) This section shall not apply to water supplies for new development.

(e) The implementation of this section shall not infringe on the rights or responsibilities of any public water system.

Prosecution of Duties for Public Health

During the summer of 2010, a “lady with a clipboard” approached Julie Murphy who was operating a lemonade stand at the monthly art fair in Northeast Portland and asked to see the city-issued restaurant license. Not aware she needed one, Julie was threatened with a $500 fine. The seven-year-old then burst into tears. Rules are rules. “Our role is to protect the public,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department.

On July 17, 2014, a New York city plainclothes police officer confronted Eric Garner and accused him of selling “loosies” (single cigarettes), an illegal activity in the city. An officer placed Garner in a choke hold. Garner complained he could not breathe, but eventually lost consciousness. An ambulance was called but Garner was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

The officers in both cases were enforcing rules ostensibly for the health of the public. Yet the actions by the officers, most observers would admit, were far beyond necessary. “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce,” Yale Law School’s Stephen L. Carter wrote in 2014 after New York City officers killed Eric Garner.(Tuccille 2020)

“Of all tyrannies,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive….This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”  

The draft order regarding Bloomingcamp Ranch’s water system is, by all indications, a case of “tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims.” (Lewis 1970)

State Claims Nitrate is a Danger to Humans and Children in Particular

On May 4, 2018, the County of Stanislaus issued Compliance Order No. DER-18-R-008 (Compliance Order) to Bloomingcamp Ranch, a bakery and produce stand east of Modesto, which serves, according to California’s records, “6 residents, 4 employees, and 25 or more customers at least 60 days out of the year,” for violation of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate found in the California Code of Regulations, Title 22, § 64431.

Among other things, the Compliance Order required Bloomingcamp to submit a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) “identifying improvements to the water system designed to correct the water quality problem,” which is a violation of the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for nitrate, and to “ensure that Bloomingcamp delivers water to consumers that meets primary drinking water standards.” Bloomingcamp Ranch’s water contains slightly less than 2.5 times the MCL of nitrate (23.9 mg/liter versus the MCL of 10 mg/liter). (SWRCB 2020a) The Compliance Order also notified Bloomingcamp that the County was authorized to issue a monetary penalty if Bloomingcamp failed to correct the violation. (SWRCB 2020b)

The State claims critical public health reasons for addressing nitrate in water. Darrin Polhemus, a deputy director of the state board quoted in a Modesto Bee article, says the state’s vigilance regarding nitrates is due to the harm they can cause to infants with limited exposure. Specifically, nitrates interfere with the process of carrying oxygen in the bloodstream causing “blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia).(Carlson 2019)

What Are Nitrate And Nitrite?

According to the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), “Nitrate and nitrite are naturally occurring ionic species that are part of the earth’s nitrogen cycle. They typically exist in the environment in highly water-soluble forms, in association with other ionic species such as sodium and potassium. Nitrate and nitrite salts completely dissociate in aqueous environments. Nitrite is readily oxidized (combines with oxygen) to form nitrate. Nitrate is generally stable in the environment; however, it may be reduced to nitrite through biological processes involving plants, microbes, etc.

“In nature, plants utilize nitrate as an essential (key) nutrient.…Sodium nitrite is also being used in medicines and therapeutics; for example, as an antidote for cyanide poisoning and as a treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension.” (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 2015)

The present science literature on nitrates

It is odd that Mr. Polhemus and the State of California have not also prohibited sale of arugula, rhubarb, or vegetable soup since those have vastly higher levels of nitrate than the MCL allowed for water. There is no chemical difference between nitrate found in the water and nitrate found in foods. “Sodium nitrate is sodium nitrate,” says Josh Bloom, PhD, “no matter its source. The chemical is made in factories, in plants (the green kind), and by your body (more on that later) and the three are indistinguishable – identical in every way.”(Bloom 2019)

“The risk of methemoglobinemia among infants depends on many factors other than the ingestion of nitrate in drinking water,” write Ward et. al., in their report, ?Drinking water nitrate and human health. “Some foods and medications contain high levels of nitrate. Enteric infections, potentially caused by fecal bacteria contamination in wells, may lead to the endogenous production of nitrite, as evidenced by numerous published reports of infants with diarrhea and methemoglobinemia but no apparent exposure to exogenous MetHb-forming agents.” (Ward et al. 2005) Nitrates  and nitrites would be “MetHb-forming agents.” In the body, red blood cells use the hemoglobin protein to carry oxygen to the body. Methemoglobin (MetHb) is a form of hemoglobin protein that is not capable of binding oxygen and therefore does not deliver oxygen to the cells.

Furthermore, in a letter to ?Environmental Health Perspectives, Avery wrote, “This emphasis in the [?1949 American Public Health Association] survey and indeed the wide and rapid acceptance by the medical community that nitrates in drinking water are the primary cause of infantile methemoglobinemia have created an inherent bias: any methemoglobinemia case with elevated nitrates in the water is assumed to be caused by the nitrates, even though it is now clear that additional factors are critical for methemoglobinemia to occur. Furthermore, these factors have now been proven to cause severe methemoglobinemia without exposure to exogenous nitrates from water or food. Thus, the available evidence suggests that exogenous nitrates from drinking water have the potential to exacerbate, but not cause, methemoglobinemia.” (Alexander A Avery 2001)

Science as an evolutionary process

Science is not a fixed unyielding set of numbers and facts. It evolves as we learn more about our environment. “Science,” Jonathan Rauch writes, “is an open-ended, decentralized process for legitimizing belief. Much as creatures compete for food, so entrepreneurs compete for business, candidates for votes, and hypotheses for supporters. In biological evolution, no outcome is fixed or final—nor is it in capitalism, democracy, science. There is always another trade, another election, another hypothesis.” (Rauch 1999)

The hypothesis of a linkage between blue baby syndrome and nitrate began seventy years ago, after infants fed formula made with contaminated well water showed signs of methemoglobinemia. The effect was ascribed to the high nitrate content of these wells. This has since been disputed by Avery and others. (Alexander A Avery 2001)(Katan 2009)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), operating on a 1950’s hypothesis and an abundance of caution, set the MCL for nitrate of 44 mg/L (equal to 10 mg nitrate-nitrogen/L or 10 ppm).

Research has since pointed to fecal contamination of the well as the cause and not nitrate. By far, the major pollutant and the largest killer of people is by waterborne diseases. This is why chlorine, a known toxic chemical, is added to disinfect water.

In an experiment in 1948, in which infants who were fed 100 mg did not develop methemoglobinemia. When fed bacteria from contaminated wells, methemoglobinemia did develop. (Katan, 2009)

“Normal functioning of human vasculature requires both the presence of nitrite and nitric oxide…” and “Approximately 80% of dietary nitrates are derived from vegetable consumption; sources of nitrites include vegetables, fruit, and processed meats. Nitrites are produced endogenously through the oxidation of nitric oxide and through a reduction of nitrate by commensal bacteria in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. As such, the dietary provision of nitrates and nitrites from vegetables and fruit may contribute to the blood pressure–lowering effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.” (Hord, Tang, and Bryan 2009)

It is not important where the nitrate comes from the chemical is the same. And the European Food Safety Administration notes, “Nitrate per se is relatively non-toxic…[and] recent researchindicates that nitrite participates in host defence having antimicrobial activity, and other nitrate metabolites e.g. nitric oxide, have important physiological roles such as vasoregulation. Despite being a major source of nitrate, increased consumption of vegetables is widely recommended because of their generally agreed beneficial effects for health.” (European Food Safety Authority, 2008)

It has long been known that methemoglobinemia occurs in infants less than 6 months of age without excessive intake of nitrates. “Protein intolerance accompanied by diarrhea and/or vomiting has also been proven to cause methemoglobinemia in infants less than 6 months of age without excessive intake of nitrates through food and water….Moreover, although over 90% of exogenous nitrate exposure comes from food, the only methemoglobinemia cases linked to food have involved high levels of nitrite contamination….All of these observations strengthen the view that endogenous nitrite production, not exogenous nitrate contamination of drinking water, is the primary cause of methemoglobinemia.” (Alexander Austin Avery 1999)

Nonetheless, the idea of a linkage between nitrate in the water and methemoglobinemia remains. “It appears that the biologically plausible hypothesis of nitrite toxicity (eg, methemoglobinemia) has essentially transformed a plausible hypothesis into sacrosanct dogma, despite the lack of proof.” (Hord, Tang, and Bryan 2009) Or as Mark Twain put it in Life on the Mississippi, “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” (Twain 1883)

Nitrate levels found in food

Below are the amounts of nitrate found in common vegetables:

FoodNitrate concentration (mg/kg)Nitrate concentration (mg/oz)
Arugula4677131
Rhubarb294382
Mixed lettuce 206258
Butterhead lettuce 202657
Beet185252
Swiss chard169047
Curled lettuce 160145
Oak-leaf lettuce 153443
Belgian endive 146541
Lettuce132437
Romaine lettuce110531
Celery 110331
Fennel 102429
Kohlrabi98728
Iceberg lettuce87525
Dandelion 60517
Cole Slaw55916
Curly kale 53715
Radicchio35510
Leek 34510
Broccoli2798
Asparagus 2096
Vegetable Soup2096
Bloomingcamp well water1053
Sources: Nitrate in vegetables.  The EFSA Journal (2008) 689, 1-79  doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2008.689; Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits

As a friend of mine who has a PhD and has a background in chemistry, biochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology, points out, fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nitrate but that is “swamped by endogenous production” (meaning what our bodies produce) which is “a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.” He told me you could use Bloomingcamp’s water to rinse your mouth out after eating a cucumber, if you wanted to lower your nitrate load.

FIGURE 1 A schematic diagram of the physiologic disposition of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide from exogenous (dietary) and endogenous sources. The action of bacterial nitrate reductases on the tongue and mammalian enzymes that have nitrate reductase activity in tissues are noted by the number 1. Bacterial nitrate reductases are noted by the number 2. Mammalian enzymes with nitrite reductase activity are noted by the number 3.

© 2009 American Society for Nutrition

As a friend of mine who has a PhD and has a background in chemistry, biochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology, points out, fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nitrate but that is “swamped by endogenous production” (meaning what our bodies produce) which is “a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.” He told me you could use Bloomingcamp’s water to rinse your mouth out after eating a cucumber, if you wanted to lower your nitrate load.

Figure 1  A schematic diagram of the physiologic disposition of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide from exogenous (dietary) and endogenous sources. The action of bacterial nitrate reductases on the tongue and mammalian enzymes that have nitrate reductase

The importance of dose

As I sit at my laptop composing this letter, I am sipping a phenol-laced liquid containing 826 volatile chemical substances, 16 of which are known by the State of California to cause cancer including: acrylamide, caffeic acid, catechol, furfural, and hydroquinone. (Ames, 1990) I put a little cream in it, since the insecticide in the drink, caffeine, is rather bitter. Caffeine by the way is comparably toxic as another SWRCB concern: chromium-6.

Caffeine’s LOAEL (Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level) of 2.5 mg/kg-day is quite close to that of chromium-6. Toxicologists then calculate a Reference Dose (RfD) from the LOAEL. Dr. Tamara L. Sorell writes, “The final RfD [for caffeine] would be 0.0025 mg/kg-day, a very small dose in the same range as RfDs for known toxicants such as hexavalent chromium [chromium-6] and potassium cyanide.” (Sorell, 2016) A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation says one drop of coffee is roughly 270 times above the “safe” level for consumption. Maybe I should put that drop in a gallon of water to be safe?

Every substance we interact with, no matter how dangerous, has a level at which it is benign; and every substance, no matter how benign, has a level at which it is toxic. Or as Paracelsus (1493-1541) put it, “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.”

As an example: Which of these substances is the least toxic: arsenic, cyanide or vitamin D?

Answer: Of the three, arsenic is the least toxic. Vitamin D and cyanide are identically as lethal. It takes 50 percent more arsenic to kill someone than vitamin D. (National Science Teachers Association n.d.)

The Dose-Response curve

Since dose determines risk, the Dose-Response of the body is critically important. “Mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with increased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk,” the American Council on Science and Health emphasized in a peer-reviewed paper on perchlorate (the principle will be the same with nitrates and nitrites). (Daland Juberg and Stier 2002)

As Frank Schnell, board-certified, PhD toxicologist (retired) explains Dose-Response, “Most biological effects, whether adverse or not, are the consequence of a cascade of biochemical reactions initiated when chemical agents (referred to by pharmacologists and toxicologists generically as ‘effectors,’ ‘agonists’ or ‘ligands’) bind to effect-specific macromolecular receptors usually distributed on cell surfaces. It is of supreme indifference to the receptor whether the chemical binding to it is of natural, synthetic, endogenous, or exogenous origin. As long as the ligand fits into the receptor’s active site, the former will produce the effect mediated by that receptor.

“This receptor-mediated mechanism of action accounts for the existence of thresholds of effect and for the S-shaped Dose-Response (D-R) Curve that typically results when the strength of the effect (from zero- to 100%-response) is plotted on the ordinate (y-axis) against the logarithm of the dose on the abscissa (x-axis).”

Figure 2 Dose-Response Sigmoid Curve

Now, here’s the kicker, Schnell writes that “A sub-threshold concentration of the effector will not activate enough receptors to produce in the cell a significant effect. (If this were not the case, the effective regulation of normal metabolic processes would not be possible.)” (emphasis added). In other words, very little does nothing.

The Unbearable Lightness of Wallet

Since SWRCB’s mandate says people must have affordable water—and in the case of Bloomingcamp water company, the operators are also the paying customers—SWRCB must weigh the cost of caution against the safety (usually given as life-years) it provides. This is not a mere academic exercise; capital is limited resource, once spent for one priority it is not available to spend on another. “Policymakers are used to considering the regulatory environment one regulation at a time from the perspective of the regulator and with a parochial view of their agency as the only relevant player in the field,” wrote Boden, et. al., “This perspective too often ignores the viewpoint of a person starting a business, who must comply with regulations at multiple levels of government across overlapping issues. To these entrepreneurs, the regulatory thicket offers negligible benefits when compared to the added compliance burden.” This “regulatory thicket” “imposes real costs on real people.”(Boden et al. 2019) The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, puts the amount of money lost since 1980, due to added federal regulation alone, at $4 trillion; a drag of 25 percent on the economy. “If regulation had been held constant at levels observed in 1980, the US economy would have been about 25 percent larger than it actually was as of 2012….This amounts to a loss of approximately $13,000 per capita, a significant amount of money for most American workers.” (Coffey, 2016)

What is worse, regulations, with health in mind, may increase mortality. “[M]any regulations result in unintended consequences that increase mortality risk in various ways. These adverse repercussions are often the result of regulatory impacts that compete with the intended goal of the regulation, or they are direct behavioral responses to regulation.” (Viscusi, 2017)

Of course, economics alone should not guide us in decision making. But as Bjorn Lomborg reminds us, “[I]gnoring costs doesn’t make difficult choices disappear; it makes them less clear.” (Specter, 2015)

When we spend money on the wrong priorities, that money is not available for things that could truly save lives. As Frank Schnell told me, “In real life, excess conservatism doesn’t just waste money; it also costs lives, i.e., the ones that could have been saved had the wasted money been spent more wisely.” (Schnell, 2016)

Summary of the Science

  • In addition to what we eat or drink, our bodies biosynthesize nitrates and nitrites in greater quantities than they get from ingesting foods and we get many of those from eating vegetables and, to a lesser extent, meat. This production by our bodies provides a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body. (Bloom, 2019)
  • Researchers are quite divided on whether nitrate alone causes methemoglobinemia in infants.
  • Dose makes the poison.
  • Regulations may be a poor way of providing public health.

But what about the law? The law, after all, is the law.

Discretion of officers, prosecutors, judges, and juries in matters of law

Under California’s progressive system, the responsible regulatory agency writes regulations to flesh out legislation. These regulations then become the law. The regulatory agency then acts as cop, judge, jury, and jailer for the laws they have written. (Leonard, 2015) Officers have discretion. Prosecutors have discretion. Juries have discretion. Jury trials were so important to this country’s founders it is listed in our Constitution three times.

Granted, the low MCL for nitrate is a federal requirement that is beyond the Board’s purview. Yet in its draft “Order Denying Petitions For Reconsideration” the water board uses their rules, regulations, and administrative jargon as a shield.

It is the myopia of adjudicating the infraction and not seeing and treating people as people that harms us all. The State ought to provide clear and convincing evidence of harm, not of an infraction of a rule. Bloomingcamp’s proposals are rational, and since their solution will provide safe drinking water to guests, common sense should prevail. Your hands are not tied.

Henry David Thoreau believed that a person must disobey bad laws as a matter of conscience. Was it justice for the law to return escaped slaves to their masters? After all, slaves were property. “Must the citizen ever for a moment,” Thoreau pondered, “or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.” (Thoreau 1848)

It is up to you to do the right thing; Thoreau, no doubt, would.

Potential courses of action

  • Bloomingcamp Ranch could do a “jingle mail drop” and turn the running of the system to the State of California. Of course, the authorities would then operate the Bloomingcamp well and put a lien on the property, but little beyond that.
  • Water Board passes an order to force Bloomingcamp Ranch spend $300,000 to fix the “problem.”
  • Water Board accepts Bloomingcamp Ranch proposal to use bottled water at the bakery and place “Non-Potable Water” signs at faucets. Signs in restrooms, I believe, is what is done at Modesto Airport. Such signs provide the public with information and indicates this has worked in a place with presumably more consumers than a bakery and cider house. It should work at Bloomingcamp too.

My recommended action

Water Board accept Bloomingcamp Ranch proposal to use bottled water at the bakery. No one will become ill from drinking bottled water (and, face it, without the bakery, the water system can be classed as private and it’s then none of the Water Board’s business). Or, at long last, does no sense of decency remain in your souls?

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on this important consideration.

Norman Benson

References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 2015. “Toxicological Profile: Nitrate and Nitrite.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/TP.asp?id=1452&tid=258.

Avery, Alexander A. 2001. “Correspondence – Cause of Methemoglobinemia: Illness versus Nitrate Exposure.” Environmental Health Perspectives 109 (1). http://www.nlm.nih.gov.

Avery, Alexander Austin. 1999. “Infantile Methemoglobinemia: Reexamining the Role of Drinking Water Nitrates.” Environmental Health Perspectives 107 (7): 583–86. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.99107583.

Bloom, Josh. 2019. “Whole Foods Sells Both ‘Nitrate-Free Meat’ and Nitrate Supplements. Yup. | American Council on Science and Health.” American Council on Science and Health. 2019. https://www.acsh.org/news/2019/10/16/whole-foods-sells-both-nitrate-free-meat-and-nitrate-supplements-yup-14334.

Boden, Anastasia, Braden Boucek, Paul Larkin, Clark Neily, Jonathan Riches, Lawrence Vandyke, and Luke Wake. 2019. “Managing the Regulatory Thicket: Cumulative Burdens of State and Local Regulation State and Local.” https://regproject.org/wp-content/uploads/RTP-State-and-Local-Working-Group-Paper-Regulatory-Thicket.pdf.

Carlson, Ken. 2019. “Stanislaus County CA Fruit Stand Has Water Problems | Modesto Bee.” Modesto Bee. 2019. https://www.modbee.com/news/business/agriculture/article229379199.html.

Daland Juberg, by R, and Jeff Stier. 2002. “Perchlorate in Drinking Water Scientific Collaboration in Defining Safety.” https://www.acsh.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/20040405_perchlorate2002.pdf.

Hord, Norman G, Yaoping Tang, and Nathan S Bryan. 2009. “Food Sources of Nitrates and Nitrites: The Physiologic Context for Potential Health Benefits.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90 (1): 1–10. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131.

Katan, Martijn B. 2009. “Nitrate in Foods: Harmful or Healthy?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90 (1): 11–12. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28014.

Lewis, C S. 1970. “GOD IN THE DOCK ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS.”

National Science Teachers Association. n.d. “ASSESSING TOXIC RISK: STUDENT EDITION.” In . Accessed September 30, 2016. http://ei.cornell.edu/teacher/pdf/ATR/ATR_Chapter1_X.pdf.

Rauch, Jonathan. 1999. Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition.

SWRCB. 2020a. “CA Drinking Water Watch: NEW WELL 01 (5000435-002).” State Water Resources Control Board. 2020.

SWRCB. 2020b. “D R A F T In the Matter of the Petitions for Reconsideration By.” https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/public_notices/comments/docs/draftorder_bloomingcamp_051820.pdf.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1848. “Civil Disobedience.” Civil Disobedience. https://thoreau.thefreelibrary.com/Civil-Disobedience.

Tuccille, J. D. 2020. “Riots May Be Destructive, but Abusive Policing Is Tyranny – Reason.Com.” Reason.Com. 2020. https://reason.com/2020/06/01/riots-may-be-destructive-but-abusive-policing-is-tyranny/.

Twain, Mark. 1883. Life On The Mississippi. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/245/245-h/245-h.htm.

Ward, Mary H., Theo M. deKok, Patrick Levallois, Jean Brender, Gabriel Gulis, Bernard T. Nolan, and James VanDerslice. 2005. “Workgroup Report: Drinking-Water Nitrate and Health – Recent Findings and Research Needs.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113 (11): 1607–14. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.8043.

Open Comment Letter to California Water Board – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System

I’m planning to send this letter to California’s State Water Resources Control Board in regard to the Bloomingcamp Ranch water system. I invite anyone interested to do the same. You are welcome to borrow what you wish in order to write to the Water Board. Comments must be received by the Water Board by noon on June 22, 2020.
For more on the plight of Bloomingcamp Ranch see here and here.

Division of Drinking Water
State Water Resources Control Board
Attn: Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the Board
P.O. Box 100
Sacramento, CA 95812-2000

Re: Comment Letter – Draft Order Bloomingcamp Water System

I propose the California Water Board accept the Bloomingcamp proposal to use bottled water. No one will become ill from drinking Bloomingcamp’s water (more on that later), or the proposed bottled water, and there is no reason bottled cannot be a long-term solution.

“Of all tyrannies,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”

During the summer of 2010, a “lady with a clipboard” approached Julie Murphy who was operating a lemonade stand at the monthly art fair in Northeast Portland and asked to see the city issued restaurant license. Julie didn’t know she needed one and was threatened with a $500 fine. Seven-year-old Julie Murphy then burst into tears. Rules are rules. “Our role is to protect the public,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department.

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was confronted by a New York city plainclothes police officer who accused Garner of selling “loosies,” single cigarettes, an illegal activity in the city. He did not wish to be hassled but the six officers surrounding him did not leave. Instead, one of the officers placed Garner in a choke hold. Garner complained but eventually lost consciousness. An ambulance was called and Garner was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

The officers in both cases were enforcing rules ostensibly for the health of the public. Yet the actions by the officers, most observers would admit, were far beyond necessary. “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce,” Yale Law School’s Stephen L. Carter wrote in 2014 after New York City officers killed Eric Garner.

“Government, at its core,” J.D. Tuccille wrote, “is force. The more it does to shape the world around it, the more it needs enforcers to make sure officials’ wills are done.” The draft order regarding Bloomingcamp Ranch’s water system is, by all indications, another case of the enforcers of a rule going beyond good judgment in the application of the law by people who mean well.

The State claims nitrate in Bloomingcamp water endangers children

On May 4, 2018, the county of Stanislaus issued Compliance Order No. DER-18-R-008 (Compliance Order) to Bloomingcamp Ranch, a bakery and produce stand east of Modesto, which serves, according to California’s records, “6 residents, 4 employees, and 25 or more customers at least 60 days out of the year,” for violation of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate found in the California Code of Regulations, title 22, § 64431. Among other things, the Compliance Order required Bloomingcamp to submit a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) “identifying improvements to the water system designed to correct the water quality problem,” (a violation of the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for nitrate and “ensure that Bloomingcamp delivers water to consumers that meets primary drinking water standards.” The Compliance Order also notified Bloomingcamp that the County was authorized to issue a monetary penalty of up to $1000 per day if Bloomingcamp failed to correct the violation.

Bloomingcamp Ranch’s water contains slightly less than 2.5 times the MCL of nitrate (23.9 mg/liter versus the MCL of 10 mg/liter). And for this, the Stanislaus County health department plans will no doubt force Bloomingcamp into bankruptcy. Apparently, the ranch has offered to serve bottled water to its guests, but the State says “Bloomingcamp’s permanent or long-term reliance on bottled water is an inadequate means to comply with the California Safe Drinking Water Act,” which is no doubt true, but also tone deaf.

The state claims, “there are public health reasons for addressing a worsening problem with nitrate water contamination in wells. Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the state board, is quoted in a Modesto Bee article. He says the state’s vigilance regarding nitrates is because they can cause harm to infants with limited exposure, and nitrates are a cause of “blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia) by interfering with the process of carrying oxygen in the bloodstream.

Do vegetables, meat, and our own bodies endanger us?

It is odd that Mr. Polhemus and the State of California not also recommend that the public avoid leafy green vegetables, since roughly 80 percent of the nitrates we consume come from vegetables and leafy green vegetables are higher in nitrates. Surely, I must have simply overlooked the warnings from the State of California?

Nonetheless, I invite the state of California’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW), Stanislaus County, or United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cite at least two scientific peer reviewed papers, or medical or toxicology journals dated later than 1980, to shore up the assertion that Bloomingcamp’s nitrate numbers constitute an elevated risk to infants. I have found many that counter the State’s claim.

“Experts have questioned the veracity of the evidence supporting the hypothesis that nitrates and nitrites are toxic for healthy adolescent and adult populations. It appears that the biologically plausible hypothesis of nitrite toxicity (eg, methemoglobinemia) has essentially transformed a plausible hypothesis into sacrosanct dogma, despite the lack of proof.” (Source: Norman G Hord, Yaoping Tang, Nathan S Bryan, Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 1–10, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131)

It appears that the EPA pulled the nitrate/nitrite numbers out of their collective rear-ends, or more precisely, bovine butts. To call blue baby syndrome’s link to nitrate/nitrite levels speculative is giving it far too much credence (I use nitrates/nitrites since they are interconvertible in the body). Research provided in peer-reviewed journals indicates this idea to be simple manure. Literally manure.

The nitrate hypothesis became sacrosanct dogma, despite lack of proof

The hypothesis of a linkage between Blue Baby and nitrate/nitrite began in the 1950s after infants fed formula made with contaminated well water showed signs of blue baby. The effect was ascribed to the high nitrate content of these wells. Research has since pointed to fecal contamination of the well as the cause and not nitrate/nitrite. In an experiment in 1948, in which infants who were fed 100 mg did not develop methemoglobinemia. When fed bacteria from contaminated wells, methemoglobinemia did develop. (Source: Martijn B Katan, Nitrate in foods: harmful or healthy?, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 11–12, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28014)

There is the scant linkage of a hypothesis that nitrate causes methemoglobinemia and ample evidence it was due to bacterially contaminated wells. Again, “It appears that the biologically plausible hypothesis of nitrite toxicity (eg, methemoglobinemia) has essentially transformed a plausible hypothesis into sacrosanct dogma, despite the lack of proof.” There is also ample evidence that nitrates are quite necessary.

“Normal functioning of human vasculature requires both the presence of nitrite and nitric oxide…” and “Approximately 80% of dietary nitrates are derived from vegetable consumption; sources of nitrites include vegetables, fruit, and processed meats. Nitrites are produced endogenously through the oxidation of nitric oxide and through a reduction of nitrate by commensal bacteria in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. As such, the dietary provision of nitrates and nitrites from vegetables and fruit may contribute to the blood pressure–lowering effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.” (Source: Norman G Hord, Yaoping Tang, Nathan S Bryan, Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 1–10, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131)

It is not important whether the nitrate comes from the water, vegetables, or meat: the chemical is the same. And the European Food Safety Administration notes, “Nitrate per se is relatively non-toxic…[and] recent researchindicates that nitrite participates in host defence having antimicrobial activity, and other nitrate metabolites e.g. nitric oxide, have important physiological roles such as vasoregulation. Despite being a major source of nitrate, increased consumption of vegetables is widely recommended because of their generally agreed beneficial effects for health.” (Source: Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food chain on a request from the European Commission to perform a scientific risk assessment on nitrate in vegetables, The EFSA Journal(2008) Journal number, 689, 1-79)

Below are the amounts of nitrate found in common vegetables:

Vegetable Nitrate concentration (mg/kg) Nitrate concentration (mg/oz)
Asparagus 209 6
Broccoli 279 8
Leek 345 10
Radicchio 355 10
Escarole 523 15
Curly kale 537 15
Dandelion 605 17
Iceberg lettuce 875 25
Kohlrabi 987 28
Fennel 1024 29
Celery 1103 31
Romaine lettuce 1105 31
Lettuce 1324 37
Belgian endive 1465 41
Oak-leaf lettuce 1534 43
Curled lettuce 1601 45
Swiss chard 1690 47
Beet 1852 52
Butterhead lettuce 2026 57
Mixed lettuce 2062 58
Lamb’s lettuce 2104 59
Amaranth 2167 61
Rhubarb 2943 82
Arrugula 4677 131

Source: Nitrate in vegetables.  The EFSA Journal (2008) 689, 1-79  doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2008.689

As a friend of mine who has a PhD and has a background in chemistry, biochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology, told me, “[T]he ranch water could be used to wash the vegetable nitrate and salivary nitrate out of one’s mouth after they eat a cucumber.” He says, “fruits and vegetables contain far more nitrite than meats, but both are swamped by endogenous production [meaning what our bodies produce] of nitrite which is a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.” Again, nitrite and nitrate interconvertible in the body.

Dose makes the poison

Every substance we interact with, no matter how dangerous, has a level at which it is benign; and every substance, no matter how benign, has a level at which it is toxic. Or as Paracelsus (1493-1541) put it, “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.”

As an example: Which of these substances is the least toxic: arsenic, cyanide or vitamin D?

Answer: Of the three, arsenic is the least toxic. Vitamin D and cyanide have identical lethality of dose to body weight (LD50=10 mg/kg). Arsenic has an LD50 of 15 mg/kg. (source: Cornell. National Science Teachers Association. 2016. Assessing Toxic Risk: Student Edition.)

Dose-Response

Since dose determines risk, the Dose-Response of the body is of utmost importance. “Mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with increased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk,” the American Council on Science and Health emphasized in a peer-reviewed paper on perchlorate (the principle will be the same with nitrates and nitrites).

As Frank Schnell, board-certified, PhD toxicologist (retired) explains Dose-Response, “Most biological effects, whether adverse or not, are the consequence of a cascade of biochemical reactions initiated when chemical agents (referred to by pharmacologists and toxicologists generically as “effectors,” “agonists” or “ligands”) bind to effect-specific macromolecular receptors usually distributed on cell surfaces. It is of supreme indifference to the receptor whether the chemical binding to it is of natural, synthetic, endogenous, or exogenous origin. As long as the ligand fits into the receptor’s active site, the former will produce the effect mediated by that receptor.

“This receptor-mediated mechanism of action accounts for the existence of thresholds of effect and for the S-shaped Dose-Response (D-R) Curve that typically results when the strength of the effect (from zero- to 100%-response) is plotted on the ordinate (y-axis) against the logarithm of the dose on the abscissa (x-axis).

Dose-Response Sigmoid Curve

Now, here’s the kicker, Schnell writes that “A sub-threshold concentration of the effector will not activate enough receptors to produce in the cell a significant effect. (If this were not the case, the effective regulation of normal metabolic processes would not be possible.)” (emphasis added)

To reiterate, despite what we eat or drink, our bodies biosynthesize nitrates/nitrites in greater quantities than they get from ingesting foods and we get many of those from eating vegetables and, to a lesser extent, meat. This production of nitrite by our bodies provides a source of nitric oxide – a critical signaling biomolecule with multiple functions throughout the body.

But what about the law? The law, after all, is the law.

Under California’s progressive system, the responsible regulatory agency writes regulations to flesh out legislation. These regulations then become the law. The regulatory agency then acts as cop, judge, jury, and jailer for the laws they have written. Officers have discretion. Prosecutors have discretion. Juries have discretion. Jury trials were so important to this country’s founders it is listed in our Constitution three times.

Granted, the needlessly low MCL for nitrate is a federal requirement that is beyond the Board’s purview. Yet in its draft “Order Denying Petitions For Reconsideration” the water board uses their rules, regulations, and administrative jargon as a shield from seeing and treating Bloomingcamp Ranch as people and thus treating the ranch’s proposals as rational, and since it will provide safe drinking water to guests. Common sense should prevail. Your hands are not tied.

Henry David Thoreau believed that a person must disobey bad laws as a matter of conscience. Was it justice for the law to return escaped slaves to their masters? After all, slaves were property. “Must the citizen ever for a moment,” Thoreau pondered, “or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?”

It is up to you to do the right thing.

Possible courses of action:

  • Bloomingcamp Ranch could do a “jingle key drop” and turn the running of the system to the State of California. Of course, the authorities would put a lien on the property, but there is little beyond that they should do.
  • Water Board passes an order to force Bloomingcamp Ranch spend a shit ton of money to fix “problem”
  • Water Board accepts Bloomingcamp Ranch proposal to use bottled water at the bakery and place “Non-Potable Water” signs at faucets.

My recommended action:

Water Board accept Bloomingcamp Ranch proposal to use bottled water at the bakery. No one will become ill from drinking bottled water (and, face it, without the bakery, the water system can be classed as private and it’s none of the Water Board’s business). Or, at long last, does no sense of decency remain in your souls?

To sign an online petition supporting Bloomingcamp Ranch follow this hyperlink: https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/affordable-water-solutions-for-bloomingcamp-water-system.html<

Bloomingcamp Ranch vs the State of California, Part 2

There is a whiff of bullshit and boot polish in the air.

Politics, as opposed to science, does not reward the correction of mistakes, given that correcting a mistake also entails admitting to having made one. Worse, the bigger the mistake, the greater the political urgency of defending it at all costs. novelist Lionel Shriver

Source:“This is not a natural disaster, but a manmade one,” SPECTATOR magazine issue: 16 May 2020

As mentioned in the previous post, the state of California is hassling Bloomingcamp Ranch (See short video here: https://www.modbee.com/news/business/agriculture/article229379199.html) over its water system being higher than the regulated limit on nitrate in the water (They had 23.9 and the limit is 10). The Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the state water board, claims the state is vigilant about nitrates because they can cause [note the weasel wording] harm to infants with limited exposure. According to the health authorities, nitrates [Na+NO3-] are a cause of “blue baby” syndrome (methemoglobinemia).

I am skeptical of the science that the bureaucrats of Stanislaus county and now the state of California are citing. As Lionel Shriver notes above, politicians are not eager to be proven wrong. As J. D. Tuccille writes here,

You want a society taxed and regulated toward you

r vision of perfection? It’s going to need enforcers. Those enforcers are going to interact on a daily basis with people who don’t share that vision of perfection, and who resent the constant enforcement attempts.

J.D. Tuccille

He adds later, “Government, at its core, is force. The more it does to shape the world around it, the more it needs enforcers to make sure officials’ wills are done.”

Inquisitions were held for the best of intentions. If people disobeyed the rules, society was at risk. Those who disregarded or flaunted society’s rules required punishment.

Pedro Berruguete, Saint Dominic Guzmán presiding over an Auto da fe (c. 1495).[36] Many artistic representations depict torture and burning at the stake during the auto-da-fé (Portuguese for “Act of Faith”).

So the enforcement of the nitrate rule does not need to make sense for the enforcers. Their job is to enforce the rule. What about the worry of nitrates causing “Blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia)? Tht is not as clear cut as the enforcers wish you to believe.

I’ll end with a bit of the science. I’d like to write more but this seems to be about right.

Methemoglobinemia is believed to be caused by bacteria in the mouth and gut converting nitrate into nitrite. Nitrite then reacts with hemoglobin to produce methemoglobin, which can no longer carry oxygen. (Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 11–12)

To be continued…

Bloomingcamp Ranch vs the State of California

On May 21, 2020, subscribers to the State Water Resources Control Board listserver received a message from the State Water Resources Control Board:

This is a message from the State Water Resources Control Board.

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) will accept written comments on the draft Order Denying Petitions for Reconsideration by Bloomingcamp Water System of enforcement actions taken by Stanislaus County as local primacy agency under the California Safe Drinking Water Act.

The State Water Board’s draft order is attached to this email and is also available for review at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/public_notices/comments/index.shtml

Comments must be received by noon on June 22, 2020.

More information is available in the attached notice.

Thank you

Ever since receiving this message, I have been detecting the faint whiff of bullshit and boot polish. I’m wrestling with responding to the California State Water Control Board. Their treatment of Bloomingcamp Ranch, a food stand on CA-120 outside of Modesto has been thuggish. (See short video here: https://www.modbee.com/news/business/agriculture/article229379199.html) Bloomingcamp’s water system, which serves, according to state records, “6 residents, 4 employees, and 25 or more customers at least 60 days out of the year,” has tested above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit on nitrate/nitrite in the water (They had 23.9 and the limit is 10). The Modesto Bee article says the State is concerned for public health reasons, “Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the state board, said the state is vigilant about nitrates because they can cause harm to infants with limited exposure. Nitrates are a cause of ‘blue baby’ disease by interfering with the process of carrying oxygen in the bloodstream.”

The assertion that nitrates “can cause harm to infants with limited exposure” is speculative. One of the papers I read called it a transformation from a plausible hypothesis to “sacrosanct dogma.” After going through several scientific papers (which I will cite in another post), I’m getting the feeling that the EPA, and both the county of Stanislaus and the state of California, pulled the nitrate/nitrite numbers out of their asses, or more precisely, some bovine asses, hence the whiff of bullshit.

I am working on a response to the “draft Order Denying Petitions for Reconsideration” and I thought that I would share with you my journey to the science. Science, as I wrote here before, is Latin for “knowledge.” It is an evolutionary process and as long as one is will to have one’s own ideas attacked, poked, prodded, scrutinized, and ridiculed, anyone can participated. Science is not a monolithic structure run by scientists; it is the scrum of ideas, where the most adaptable to the evidence eventually win.

So, I think the authorities are completely wrong (yes they have “the rules” on their side). I invite you to do some research and prove me wrong.



State Water Resources Control Board Considers New Perchlorate Detection Limit for Purposes of Reporting

California’s Division of Drinking Water of the State Water Resources Control Board wishes to change the Detection Limits for Purposes of Reporting (DLRs) for perchlorate from .004 (4 ?g/l ) to 0.002 (2 ?g/l) .

Here is their announcement:

The Division of Drinking Water (DDW), at a July 5, 2017 public hearing, presented to the State Water Board its findings and recommendations related to DDW’s review of the perchlorate maximum contaminant level (MCL). DDW’s recommendations (see the Perchlorate Review Public Document) were to first establish a lower detection limit for purposes of reporting (DLR) to gather additional occurrence data, and then revise the MCL, if the new data support development of a new standard.

The State Water Board approved DDW’s proposal to investigate, develop, and propose revisions to the perchlorate DLR (see Resolution 2017-0041). DDW is proposing to lower the DLR for perchlorate.  Information on the current status of the regulation can be found on the perchlorate regulation webpage.

Further on they note: The current DLR of 4 ?g/l limits DDW’s ability to determine perchlorate in wells at lower concentrations.

Below is my rebuttal to their desire to lower the DLRs for perchlorate from 4 ?g/l to 2 ?g/l.

Division of Drinking Water

State Water Resources Control Board

1001 I Street, 17th Floor

Sacramento, CA   95814

Re: Perchlorate SBDDW-20-001

It’s clear to me the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) cares very much about providing clean drinking water to the most vulnerable consumers of water, children.

It is also mandated to do so by California Water Code Section 106.3(a) which states:

It is hereby declared to be the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.

Section 106.3(b) then says all state agencies are to use this mandate where other state policies are to be considered.

(b) All relevant state agencies, including the department, the state board, and the State Department of Public Health, shall consider this state policy when revising, adopting, or establishing policies, regulations, and grant criteria when those policies, regulations, and criteria are pertinent to the uses of water described in this section.

(c) This section does not expand any obligation of the state to provide water or to require the expenditure of additional resources to develop water infrastructure beyond the obligations that may exist pursuant to subdivision (b).

(d) This section shall not apply to water supplies for new development.

(e) The implementation of this section shall not infringe on the rights or responsibilities of any public water system.

In preparing the proposed regulations, the SWRCB determined the proposed regulations are consistent with this statewide policy. Even though the proposed regulations may result in increased costs to those that are served by PWS (public water systems), it is the SWRCB’s decision that potential cost is outweighed by the benefits of knowing the potential human exposure to perchlorate in drinking water supplies and whether treatment may be needed, and in having an adequate data set to evaluate the technological and economic feasibility of lowering the perchlorate MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level).

As a water master for a tiny rural water company that serves less than 50 households, I too want to provide safe, clean drinking water to my customers, who, are also my friends and neighbors. Clean drinking water is my job and my passion. And, in addition to providing safe drinking water, I am required, by law, to assure that it is as affordable as I can make it. My friends and neighbors pay the highest rates for water in our county, in large part because regulations do not scale down well. So, our key questions for every test, and every tests MCL, ought to be “Is this test necessary, at what dose does this become a poison, and is this an appropriate level?”

The SWRCB information page states that “Perchlorate and its salts are used in solid propellant for rockets, missiles, and fireworks, and elsewhere (e.g., production of matches, flares, pyrotechnics, ordnance, and explosives).”  The information ominously adds, “Their use can lead to releases of perchlorate into the environment.”

Perhaps it was meant to simplify, but the information is incomplete. It neglects to mention that perchlorate occurs naturally in the environment, and, in certain desert areas, in concentrations higher than those quoted as being found in California.

Perchlorate is also a byproduct of water treatment disinfection with sodium hypochlorite.

SWRCB’s information page does note that “Perchlorate’s interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormone, which is needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.” It is exactly for this reason why perchlorate was used to treat hyperthyroidism due to Graves disease and to treat thyroid gland disorders resulting from the accumulation of excess iodine. SWRCB neglects to point out the high dosages needed for these affects. As the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) pointed out, “Clinical use of perchlorate in treating disease involves doses up to 400 milligrams on a daily basis, a level which is thousands of times greater than potential environmental exposures.”

It is this disregard of even the most basic toxicology that is disturbing.

In early 2007, 28-year-old Jennifer Strange, a mother of 3, was found dead Friday in her suburban Rancho Cordova home hours after taking part in the “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest in which KDND 107.9 promised a Nintendo Wii video game system to the person who could drink the most water without urinating. The coroner’s autopsy determined that Ms. Strange had died of water intoxication after drinking nearly two gallons of water. Water intoxication is also known as water poisoning, hyperhydration, overhydration, or water toxemia.

Water is considered non-toxic.

Every compound no matter how dangerous, has a level at which it is benign; and every compound, no matter how benign, has a level at which it is toxic. Or as Paracelsus (1493-1541) put it, “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.”

Dose determines risk. In a peer-reviewed paper on perchlorate, the ACSH emphasized, “it is imperative that this cornerstone principle of toxicology be included in any assessment of perchlorate. Mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with increased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk.” This, the SWRCB has neglected to do. It relies on the new technology to detect lower perchlorate levels without justifying the need using the above criteria.

The Dose-Response of the body is of utmost importance. As Frank Schnell, board-certified, PhD toxicologist (retired) explains Dose-Response, “Most biological effects, whether adverse or not, are the consequence of a cascade of biochemical reactions initiated when chemical agents (referred to by pharmacologists and toxicologists generically as “effectors,” “agonists” or “ligands”) bind to effect-specific macromolecular receptors usually distributed on cell surfaces. It is of supreme indifference to the receptor whether the chemical binding to it is of natural, synthetic, endogenous, or exogenous origin. As long as the ligand fits into the receptor’s active site, the former will produce the effect mediated by that receptor.

“This receptor-mediated mechanism of action accounts for the existence of thresholds of effect and for the S-shaped Dose-Response (D-R) Curve that typically results when the strength of the effect (from zero- to 100%-response) is plotted on the ordinate (y-axis) against the logarithm of the dose on the abscissa (x-axis).”

Figure 1 Dose-Response Sigmoid Curve

A typical Dose/Response sigmoid curve.

What is interesting is that “A sub-threshold concentration of the effector will not activate enough receptors to produce in the cell a significant effect. (If this were not the case, the effective regulation of normal metabolic processes would not be possible.)” (emphasis added)

A review of existing research shows SWRCB has overstated a need for increased monitoring.

In its discussion of health effects of perchlorates, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) noted:

“In a study of the general population, Li et al. (2001) examined the prevalence of thyroid diseases in Nevada Counties with respect to perchlorate in drinking water. The cohort consisted of all users of the Nevada Medicaid program during the period of January 1, 1997 to December 31, 1998. Disease prevalence in residents from Clark County (Las Vegas), whose drinking water had 4–24 ? g/L of perchlorate (0.0001–0.0007 mg perchlorate/kg/day), were compared with those from another urban area of similar size (Reno, Washoe County), but with no perchlorate in the water, and also with those from all other counties, also with no perchlorate exposure…. Analysis of the data showed no statistically significant period-prevalence rate difference between Clark County and Washoe County. For acquired hypothyroidism, the prevalence was lower in Clark County than in other counties (opposite to what would be expected).”

However, the SWCRB backgrounder worries that infants may be less tolerant of perchlorate exposure: “Perchlorate’s interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormone, which is needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.”

Again, in its discussion of health effects of perchlorates, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found nothing rising to the level of needing more regulation on perchlorate:

“Several developmental studies of perchlorate in humans have focused on the evaluation of neonatal thyroid parameters. Lamm and Doemland (1999) examined rates of congenital hypothyroidism in seven counties of Nevada and California with perchlorate contamination in the drinking water (4–16 ?g/L [ppb]) (0.0001–0.0005 mg/kg/day). The investigators analyzed data from the neonatal screening programs of the two states for any increased incidence of congenital hypothyroidism in those counties. The rates for the California births were adjusted for Hispanic ethnicity, which was known to be a risk factor for congenital hypothyroidism. During 1996 and 1997, nearly 700,000 newborns were screened. The risk ratio in the seven counties was 1.0 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.9–1.2) (249 cases observed/243 expected). The risk ratios for the individual counties relative to statewide expected rates ranged from 0.6 to 1.1. While the results showed no increase in rates of congenital hypothyroidism, it is known that congenital hypothyroidism is caused by developmental events that are not suspected of being affected by perchlorate exposure.

“Kelsh et al. (2003) also found no relationship between congenital hypothyroidism and exposure to perchlorate through the drinking water in a study of newborns (n=15,348) whose mothers resided in the community of Redlands, California, during the period 1983 through 1997 and who were screened by the California Newborn Screening Program. Perchlorate was detected in the water system serving the community at a concentration of up to 9 ?g/L (mean, <1 ?g/L).”

“Crump et al. (2000) conducted a study of school-age children from three cities with different concentrations of perchlorate in drinking water in northern Chile. The city with the highest perchlorate concentration was Taltal, 100–120 ?g perchlorate/L (ppb), water from the city of Chañaral had 5–7 ?g/L, and perchlorate was not detected in water from the city of Antofagasta. The study comprised 162 children 6–8 years of age, of which 127 had resided continuously in their respective city since conception. The children underwent examination of the thyroid gland and a blood sample was taken for analysis of TSH, T4, FTI, T3, and antiperoxidase antibody. After adjusting for sex, age, and urinary iodide excretion, the children from Taltal and Chañaral had slightly lower TSH levels than children from Antofagasta (opposite to expected), but the differences were not statistically significant.”

SWRCB’s selection of information may be charitably viewed as providing a worst-case scenario. While that may be the intent, SWRCB’s background information is rendered biased rather than useful or informative. It is pearl-clutching designed to scare people and thus allow the SWRCB to further ratchet down the already unreasonable EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) of six parts per billion (6 ppb) in drinking water to something so low as to be ludicrous.

The ignorance and laziness of our public officials to accept the word of activists, such as the Environmental Working Group, over pragmatic scientists hurts people. When we require people to spend money on the wrong priorities, that money is not available for things that could truly save lives. As Schnell told me in an email, “In real life, excess conservatism doesn’t just waste money; it also costs lives… i.e., the ones that could have been saved had the wasted money been spent more wisely.”

And this is real money. The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, puts the amount of money lost since 1980 due to added regulation at $4 trillion; a drag of 25 percent on our gross domestic product (GDP). “If regulation had been held constant at levels observed in 1980, the US economy would have been about 25 percent larger than it actually was as of 2012….This amounts to a loss of approximately $13,000 per capita, a significant amount of money for most American workers.”

Of course, economics alone should not guide us in decision making. But as Bjorn Lomborg reminds us, “[I]gnoring costs doesn’t make difficult choices disappear; it makes them less clear.”

It is disturbing to find SWRCB providing a hypothesis without any data to support it. The people who depend on us for clean and safe drinking water are ill-served if they are made poorer and not safer with ill-considered regulations. If this new MCL is adopted one can only conclude that SWRCB has abandoned basic science for basic fear-mongering.

­­

How Science Guess Becomes Science Fact

Hello, ideas. Welcome to the Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favor.

Science is under attack. Not breaking news, we can see for ourselves that it is. Right? You have heard, “We don’t have time. The science is settled. We must act now!” yes? If it’s settled, what is it and how does it get ‘settled’?

climate cold road landscape
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

So when we say the “science is settled” what do we mean by ‘science’? Perhaps science is a field of study? After all, we want girls to find careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). It is not, but that may be why science is perceived as a sector, a field, rather than what it partly is: a suite of methods for teasing out how everything around us—and within us—works. So rather than being a field of study, science is a way to study?

Science really is knowledge: How it is obtained and verified. The word ‘Science comes from the Latin word scientia, meaning ‘knowledge.’ So if we say ‘science is under attack,’ that would mean ‘knowledge‘ is under attack. And it is. Knowledge is constantly under attack, and it’s being attacked for the best of intentions: to protect people from being hurt.

I recently listened to Jonathan Rauch’s book, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought.

His book is an apologia for free—no holds barred—speech, and against those who want to prevent such speech from hurting people.

“A liberal society stands on the proposition that we should all take seriously the idea that we might be wrong. That means we must place no one, including ourselves, beyond the reach of criticism (no final say); it means that we must allow people to err, even where the error offends and upsets, as it often will. But we also are not supposed to claim we have knowledge except where belief is checked by no one in particular (no personal authority).”

Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition by Jonathan Rauch http://a.co/j7cmF6C

Rauch argues that “liberal science”—his term for the process of “What do we know, and how do we know it?”—is at stake if free speech is curtailed, often by well-meaning people. “No social principle in the world is more foolish and dangerous than the rapidly rising notion that hurtful words and ideas are a form of violence or torture (e.g., “harassment”),” Rauch says, “and that their perpetrators should be treated accordingly. That notion leads to the criminalization of criticism and the empowerment of authorities to regulate it. The new sensitivity is the old authoritarianism in disguise, and it is just as noxious.” (emphasis is mine)

While free speech is crucial and the threats to it (fundamentalism, egalitarianism, and humanitarianism) are crucial to liberal science, and would not work without the ability to offend, it was Rauch’s discussion of liberal science itself that I found most intriguing.

Knowledge is a product, like the metals we mine and the cars we build. To be more specific, our knowledge is a set of statements which we are satisfied are true—which have been validated, truth tested, in some satisfactory way….

Liberal science is a big and complicated thing. No one could begin to describe it fully. However, with nullius in verba (take no one’s word) and “order without authority” we have the underpinnings of liberal science.

Bertrand Russell once said that “order without authority” might be taken as the motto both of political liberalism and of science. If you had to pick a three-word motto to define the liberal idea, “order without authority” would be pretty good.

Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition by Jonathan Rauch http://a.co/4BiExtr

Who gets to choose what is knowledge? The answer is literally everyone. The competition to stay alive, though, is between ideas, not people.

Like evolutionary ecologies, liberal systems are centerless and self–regulating and allow no higher appeal than that of each to each in an open-ended, competitive public process (a game)….In biological evolution, no outcome is fixed or final—nor is it in capitalism, democracy, [or] science. There is always another trade, another election, another hypothesis….No matter who you are, you must conduct your business in the currency of dollars, votes, or criticism—no special fiat, no personal authority….

Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition by Jonathan Rauch http://a.co/6XYJ3ee

No one gets a pass. “Who you are doesn’t count; the rules apply to everybody, regardless of identity….no matter how stupid and grubby-minded the critic.” If you want your ideas to be encoded in the current book of knowledge, you must submit them for review.

[The] name of the game is to make knowledge and score credit for it, and you get credit only when your conclusions are checked out by others. Others must be able to rely on your conclusions, confirm your results, trace your logic, get hold of your data. So the game of science forces you to build bridges. You must persuade.

Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition by Jonathan Rauch http://a.co/9SJgG3s

So we find that the science never is “settled.” Our knowledge of the world outside and of ourselves shifts, adapts, and evolves as ideas gain or lose credence by how well those ideas perform against all contenders. Welcome to the games, Ideas. May the odds be ever in your favor.