Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Bush Administration's 11th Hour Environmental Shenanigans

As someone who is concerned about the environment, it has been agonizing for me to live through the Bush presidency. Because the current administration (and most conservatives) believe that this country would be better with less regulation, the president has installed pro-industry, anti-regulation fanatics into government agencies so that they can dismantle generations of protections that have been put in place for things like consumers and the environment. Fortunately, the financial crisis has shown that de-regulation can have dangerous consequences. Unfortunately, people have been so concerned about the economy that they have not had time to consider the environment.

I believe that the best thing we can do for this country is to preserve its natural resources for future generations. People should have to pay a heavy cost for damage that they do to what should be all of ours to share and appreciate. Even if that makes it harder for people to make a buck.

I have high hopes that the Obama administration will do what it can to reverse the damage that has been done, but some regulations will be difficult to undo. Congress may have an easier time than the executive branch, due to the Congressional Review Act of 1996, as explained here. Although I was pleased to see a democrat win the election, my enthusiasm has been offset by my dismay at watching government agencies pushing through last minute anti-environmental policies. Since government regulations have a 60-day review period, the various agencies have been rushing to get them done by November 22nd, so that they go into effect just before the inauguration. Examples have abounded in the newspapers in the last few months.

There are many good webpages that spell out some of these new rules.

Propublica article
Propublica Complete List
The New York Times editorial/ overview on all of the regulations
The Washington Post article with list of specific examples
The Guardian
Associated Press story on changes to endangered species regulation
Washington Post on some permanent appointments of previously political appointees to government agencies
The Chicago Tribune on weakening of lead regulations
The Salt Lake Tribune on oil and gas drilling in or near national parks
The New York Times on irradiation of produce
The New York Times on easing of mountaintop removal mining restrictions

There is one regulatory action that is open for public comment until November 28th. The EPA has decided not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water after finding that there are no currently unsafe levels. This is based on their determination that a safe level is anything lower than 24.5 parts per billion (ppb). Some states, however, regulate perchlorate at as low as 1 ppb. This new standard will pre-empt any state regulations. Perchlorate gets into drinking water when rockets, flares, and fireworks are manufactured or exploded. It persists in the environment and eventually ends up in the water. Many scientists disagree about what a safe level is, whether it causes cancer, and what kinds of effects it has on the thyroid. Read this congressional report.Regulation could potentially be very costly for Department of Defense facilities, construction sites, and manufacturers, however the cost is necessary if it is damaging to our health. It seems that more study is needed before concluding that no regulation is necessary. This EPA site provides instructions for making a public comment.

One piece of good news is that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on November 20th that the US Government is required to do a more extensive environmental review before allowing oil drilling in the arctic. This effectively leaves this important issue for the next administration to re-think.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

BPA in Canned Foods

To follow up on the previous post about BPA, I want to warn everyone about canned food. BPA is used to line aluminum cans, and seems to be the source of a major amount that we ingest. According to the Environmental Working Group, no matter what brand you use or where you buy your canned food, the cans are almost certainly lined with an epoxy resin that contains BPA. If they didn't use it, the cans might rust, or you might end up with metal residues in your food. But because of the high temperatures used in the canning process, your potential exposure to BPA from canned food is much higher than your potential exposure from plastic water bottles.

The Toronto Globe and Mail conducted a study in conjunction with a Canadian TV station, and reported the results in an article on Thursday, May 29, 2008.

They found the following results:

Hunt's tomato sauce: 18.21
Allen's apple juice: 17.90
Heinz tomato juice: 14.11
Labatt beer: 9.27
Campbell's chicken noodle soup: 8.61
Molson beer: 8.19
Del Monte peas and carrots: 6.76
Green Giant cream style corn: 6.52
Chef Boyardee mini been ravioli: 6.17
Heinz zoodles: 4.65
Heinz baked beans: 2.88

An article in Chemical and Engineering News reports that the food packaging industry maintains that BPA has done much to improve the health and safety of consumers..."The primary function of the internal coating is to avoid food poisoning," adds John M. Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, an industry group that represents the metal food and beverage packaging industry. Without the coating, Escherichia coli and botulism poisoning would be rampant, he says.

The Environmental Working Group indicates that one manufacturer uses non-BPA lining on some of their food cans, however. Eden Organic Beans are packed in lead free tin covered steel cans coated with a baked on oleoresinous c-enamel lining that does not contain bisphenol A (BPA). (Oleoresin is a natural mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir). These cans cost 13.77 percent more than the industry standard cans that do contain BPA. This costs Eden $300,000 more a year. To our knowledge Eden is the only U.S. company that uses this custom made BPA-free can. Eden's tomato products are still packaged in cans with a BPA-based lining.

For everything else, the safest choice is to use fresh, instead of canned, fruits and vegetables, and to make your soups from scratch. It will taste better and contain more nutrients, too.

Further Reading:
Environmental Working Group: Bisphenol A: Toxic Plastics Chemical in Canned Food
How Cans Are Made (well-illustrated!)