Monday, January 17, 2005

Red States

A Washington Post writer documents his travels through several "red states." There's some purple prose scattered throughout, but on the whole the article is interesting. I was intrigued by this conversation with a Nebraska resident:
"I'm the village water officer," Stuhr explained. "For more than 100 years, we've lived with arsenic in our water. It is a naturally occurring element. It isn't contamination -- it's natural."

During the Clinton administration, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the amount of arsenic allowed in water, from 50 parts-per-billion to 10. "Now all over Nebraska, villages are having to build new water treatment plants to remove a naturally occurring element," Stuhr said, which costs "millions of dollars."

Does Washington pay? I asked.

"They'll loan us the money," Stuhr answered. "And whose money is it to begin with? And once we get the arsenic out, why, then we have a hazardous waste problem, because there is nowhere to dispose of it."

Bush would like to restore the previous standard. You might recall that many Democrats howled that Bush was willing to poison people, but in these parts, Bush's proposal was greeted as simple common sense.
Stuart Buck

15 Comments:

Blogger P. G. said...

So you're saying that arsenic is natural when it's in the drinking water but hazardous waste when it's out of it? Lovely.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Gowder--

Surely you've heard of the idea that the dose makes the poison? Responses are simply not linear to poison dosages. Highly concentrated arsenic filtered out of the water is a danger in a way that very low concentrations in the water aren't. The difference between 40 parts per billion and concentrated arsenic is immense.

Naturally occuring uranium isn't that dangerous, though it is slightly radioactive. Now if you ordered someone to separate all the Uranium-235 (.72% of natural uranium) from the U-238, then you would have a really toxic mess to deal with in the concentrated U-235. Note that uranium is commonly found in rocks, plants, animals, and even humans in small amounts.

9:14 AM  
Blogger P. G. said...

the point -- which may have been inartfully presented -- was that there are any number of "naturally occuring" substances in water which one does not want to consume. Giardia and Cryptosporidium come to mind.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, that point is certainly true. It's pernicious nonsense that merely because something is naturally occuring that it's safe. In this case, arsenic's natural presence in the ore surrounding the water table does mean that it would be quite expensive to remove down at the concentrations we're talking about. (And the benefits, if any, are fairly limited, especially compared to the costs, at that point.)

A related belief, however, is the one that merely because something is bad in larger concentrations, that it must be also bad in smaller concentrations and that we should spare no expense in removing it completely. Often these two flawed beliefs are combined, so that we go to great extents to remove even the last parts per billion of a "unnatural chemical," while ignoring the sometimes greater dangerous of "naturally occurring" substances.

Environmentalists in particular seem to often resort to the "Noble Lie" mentioned before. Often they pretend that environmental quality indicators are actually getting worse, or that suspending a new regulation on arsenic will actually put more arsenic into the water somewhere as industrial pollution, etc.

9:20 AM  
Blogger P. G. said...

Anon: I agree with you completely, except as to paragraph three (which is devoid of evidence). However, assuming everything you say in paragraphs one and two are true, who is best equipped to make the determination as to whether or not the levels of arsenic in question are actually hazardous to health?

I'll give you a clue. It's not the "village water officer."

It's the E.P.A., and/or those advocacy groups populated with scientists trained in the appropriate public health specialties.

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Examples. Well, there's always the famous quote by Stephen Schneider of Stanford University (presented in full to avoid accusations of excerpts):

"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people, we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that, we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

And there's the accusations of Chris Landsea.And there's the dishonest way that people continually referred to this as "increasing the level of arsenic" or "putting arsenic into the water."

Also there's the way that polls asking people about air pollution inevitably find that majorities think that it's getting worse, even though we know for certain that air pollution levels of all sorts have been dropping steadily. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the people most concerned with pollution levels are most likely to think that they're rising.) Here's one article and another discussing this, and it's rather easy to find poll results.

Here's an article by someone on the left talking about how environmentalists intentionally mislead on the Clear Skies proposal and try to make things look worse than they are in order to try to get additional cuts.

The Noble Lie has lots of adherants.

In any case, about the arsenic regulations, it is a little crazy to pretend that the EPA is motivated sheerly by environmental concerns with no political influence. Some things are regulated far more severely than others. (The last-minute timing of the arsenic regulations was suspicious in and of itself as well.)

People are not always rational about environmental concerns. Some will steadfastly oppose meat irradiation, favoring an increased chance of getting the "more natural" E.Coli. Many environmentalists (including Greenpeace International) have advocated eliminating all chlorine from drinking water, apparently preferring cholera outbreaks. The EPA was even somewhat complicit in this, also calling for massive decreases in chlorine usage under Browner-- Peru and other countries listened, and had a massive cholera outbreak, killing 10,000.

In the case of arsenic, in areas where the water table is surrounded by natural arsenides, it can be very expensive to remove it, much more expensive than preventative measures of not letting a pollutant in the water. The cost benefit may not be there for such communities-- paying the cost to remove it may end up killing more lives than are saved, by making things more expensive, causing people to get worse housing, eat a worse diet, and be affected in a variety of ways.

10:00 AM  
Blogger P. G. said...

What you're characterizing as "the noble lie" sounds like nothing more than the ordinary presentation of evidence supporting one's position which the people on both sides of any debate, scientists or otherwise, are wont to do. It's hardly limited to the left, or to environmental advocates. There's a reason every piece of complex litigation has dueling scientific evidence presented by experts, each of whom is being honest while presenting that analysis which supports the conclusions they intend to reach. That's just human nature, it applies to both sides, and the solution is to take both one's own and the opposing side's arguments with a grain of salt. (Though hopefully not a grain of arsenic!)

"[T]he dishonest way that people continually referred to this as 'increasing the level of arsenic' or 'putting arsenic into the water'" -- well, isn't it? I mean, in a very real sense... say you make $1000/week. The government takes $200 of that. You take home $800.00 a week. Now suppose your taxes are cut to $100 a week. That means your paycheck increases to $900 a week. Now, technically, sure, the government didn't "increase the level of your paycheck," or "put money back into your paycheck" (although lord knows the Republicans will say so), they simply stopped reducing it. But in terms of the actual effect on your bank account, it's the same thing.

Ditto with arsenic.

As for polling -- the reality of a social problem is not measured by the number of people who have information about it. Most people, recent polls have shown, actually think that D.C. already has voting representation in Congress. That fact means nothing as to the need, or lack thereof, of a remedy. Hell, there have been polls showing overwhelming belief in the utterly absurd idea that Hussein and al Qaeda were linked. The point is that public misinformation is, again, hardly limited to enviornmental issues, and should hardly be used as an indictment of environmental policies. Besides, air pollution is still a critical problem in many areas. (Houston probably is the worst, because of the huge refinery presence.) Regardless of whether they're getting worse in concrete terms or not, they're still unacceptable. Also, I question whether the articles you referenced are referring to measures of emissions, or current contamination, and thus adequately control for any air contaimination that may remain (I'm not sure of the extent, but e.g. destruction of ozone layer by CFCs) after the emissions that caused the contamination are reduced. If I break two of your limbs on Monday, and only break one of your limbs on Tuesday, the rate of limb-breaking has decreased by 50%, but the number of broken limbs has increased by the same percentaage. (I don't have the time to get into the statistics, especially the claims made by that second article, in more detail.)

That third article you cite, re: the "clean skies" thing, is a trip. It criticizes environmental groups for lying to the public by relying on material which the Bush EPA allegedly produced in order to lie to corporations to get them to swallow clear skies. That's a ridiculous contention on its face. Yea, the Bush EPA is so moronic that they don't know their records are subject to FOIA and are going to understate the impact of their proposed rules.

No comment on the irradiation and chlorine issues: I'm not familiar enough with the policy there. As for the cost-benefit on arsenic removal: that's pretty tangential. Assuming the levels of arsenic in question are actually hazardous (which I'm certainly not qualified to speak directly to, and since you're anonymous, I have no idea if you are), that's a direct harm to be reduced by local expenditures. It's pure speculation to say that this will reduce local expenditures in some other area that will cause a greater public health problem.

3:01 PM  
Blogger P. G. said...

What you're characterizing as "the noble lie" sounds like nothing more than the ordinary presentation of evidence supporting one's position which the people on both sides of any debate, scientists or otherwise, are wont to do. It's hardly limited to the left, or to environmental advocates. There's a reason every piece of complex litigation has dueling scientific evidence presented by experts, each of whom is being honest while presenting that analysis which supports the conclusions they intend to reach. That's just human nature, it applies to both sides, and the solution is to take both one's own and the opposing side's arguments with a grain of salt. (Though hopefully not a grain of arsenic!)

"[T]he dishonest way that people continually referred to this as 'increasing the level of arsenic' or 'putting arsenic into the water'" -- well, isn't it? I mean, in a very real sense... say you make $1000/week. The government takes $200 of that. You take home $800.00 a week. Now suppose your taxes are cut to $100 a week. That means your paycheck increases to $900 a week. Now, technically, sure, the government didn't "increase the level of your paycheck," or "put money back into your paycheck" (although lord knows the Republicans will say so), they simply stopped reducing it. But in terms of the actual effect on your bank account, it's the same thing.

Ditto with arsenic.

As for polling -- the reality of a social problem is not measured by the number of people who have information about it. Most people, recent polls have shown, actually think that D.C. already has voting representation in Congress. That fact means nothing as to the need, or lack thereof, of a remedy. Hell, there have been polls showing overwhelming belief in the utterly absurd idea that Hussein and al Qaeda were linked. The point is that public misinformation is, again, hardly limited to enviornmental issues, and should hardly be used as an indictment of environmental policies. Besides, air pollution is still a critical problem in many areas. (Houston probably is the worst, because of the huge refinery presence.) Regardless of whether they're getting worse in concrete terms or not, they're still unacceptable. Also, I question whether the articles you referenced are referring to measures of emissions, or current contamination, and thus adequately control for any air contaimination that may remain (I'm not sure of the extent, but e.g. destruction of ozone layer by CFCs) after the emissions that caused the contamination are reduced. If I break two of your limbs on Monday, and only break one of your limbs on Tuesday, the rate of limb-breaking has decreased by 50%, but the number of broken limbs has increased by the same percentaage. (I don't have the time to get into the statistics, especially the claims made by that second article, in more detail.)

That third article you cite, re: the "clean skies" thing, is a trip. It criticizes environmental groups for lying to the public by relying on material which the Bush EPA allegedly produced in order to lie to corporations to get them to swallow clear skies. That's a ridiculous contention on its face. Yea, the Bush EPA is so moronic that they don't know their records are subject to FOIA and are going to understate the impact of their proposed rules.

No comment on the irradiation and chlorine issues: I'm not familiar enough with the policy there. As for the cost-benefit on arsenic removal: that's pretty tangential. Assuming the levels of arsenic in question are actually hazardous (which I'm certainly not qualified to speak directly to, and since you're anonymous, I have no idea if you are), that's a direct harm to be reduced by local expenditures. It's pure speculation to say that this will reduce local expenditures in some other area that will cause a greater public health problem.

3:01 PM  
Blogger P. G. said...

whoops, sorry about the double-post.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thought you would like this. earn money

5:33 PM  
Blogger harvir said...

Hi i am totally blown away with the blogs people have created its so much fun to read alot of good info and you have also one of the best blogs !! Have some time check my link to !!Financial freedom home business

7:40 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thought you would like this. work at home make money

8:15 PM  
Blogger Natwho said...

www.nwcleasing.com offers the lowest rate financing on mortgage What ever your financial situation, mortgage can help. We even have a special loan program that can put money in your pocket within 1 hour of applying. Apply online today and see just how quickly we can get you approved regardless of your past credit. Rates start as low as 4%, apply today.

2:37 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I really enjoyed all the great information on your blog.
It reall is about time I started my own. I will be linking
it from my website about make money using the internet Would love to know what you think.

6:07 AM  
Blogger cash at home said...

Hello There, My name is Donald you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you! I have a make money taking survey site. It pretty much covers make money taking survey related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

1:49 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home