Friday, April 1, 2011

CPSIA - More Good News and Bad News

We trust our government, right?  They really know what they're doing, and we can certainly trust their judgment (not to mention their websites ending in "dot gov").  That goes without saying.  In fact, we need lots more government.  As Ronald Reagan once said, the most encouraging words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help!"  Or did he say they were the most terrifying . . . .  I am probably confused.

Anyhow, one thing we know for sure is that there is no safe level of lead.  NO SAFE LEVEL - get it?!  And money is a petty concern when you are facing a scourge like LEAD.  Money grubbing businessmen!  Ooooh, I really hate people who want to hoard money rather run lots of tests for lead when the risk to CHILDREN is so great.  Arghh, thank heavens for the government - they will save us.  Yes, save us.

We know all this.  It's a given.  But isn't the situation in JAPAN something of a challenge to these bedrock assumptions?  I hold a degree in Chemical Engineering, so I know this-and-that about numbers and science. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing (just look at Congress), so I don't hold myself out as an expert.  Just opinionated.  That said, I can't QUITE square up the government's terror over lead in all manifestations in children's products in light of its calm reassurances about the radioactive material spewing into the environment from Japanese nuclear reactors disabled in the recent tragic earthquake.  I wonder if Jan Schakowsky, Henry Waxman and Dick Durbin know about this.

Lead, bad . . . nuclear material, safe?  I thought radiation was a much more threatening problem for human health, so wouldn't safe radioactive material imply safe lead?  Dumb ole' me . . . .  Here's what the press and our government say:

Huffington Post "Radiation Leaks Into Groundwater Under Japan Nuclear Plant":  Radiation has been detected in Japanese GROUNDWATER now.  Okay, let's get this straight.  Groundwater flows freely, right?  There are giant aquifers that convey water over long distances.  Water also seeps through the ground, pulled by gravity and surface tension.  Groundwater feeds into the drinking water system (Japanese drinking water, in this case) and also into the sea.  Hmmm.  I dimly recall that polluted groundwater is associated with some of the worst environmental disasters in history, like Love Canal.  The groundwater contamination in Japan acknowledged thusfar is said to be "just" iodine-131.  Notably, the authorities have also found plutonium in the soils, but haven't "found it" in the groundwater yet.  They're also not talking about radioactive cesium, either.

Iodine-131 is no problem, it turns out.  Safe, safe, safe:  "The groundwater contamination was found in concentrations 10,000 times higher than the government standard for the plant. The iodine-131, a radioactive substance that decays quickly, was nearly 50 feet (15 meters) below one of the reactors, according to TEPCO spokesman Naoyuki Matsumo.  Seiki Kawagoe, an environmental science professor at Tohoku University, said the radioactive substances were unlikely to affect drinking water, noting that radiation tends to dissipate quickly in the ground, as it does in the ocean."  [Emphasis added]


And don't worry, the cavalry is coming - the government is ON THE CASE!  "The other concern is that contaminated water from the plant could seep into underground waterways and eventually into rivers used for drinking water. Tomohiro Mogamiya, an official with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's water supply division, said that was 'extremely unlikely' since groundwater would flow toward the ocean, and the plant is right on the coast. . . . 'When people return to the area we will test the water to make sure it is safe,' said Masato Ishikawa, an official with the Fukushima prefecture's food and sanitation division."  [Emphasis added]

Sounds like a plan.  What could go wrong?

Here's a small note on iodine-131:  It has a half-life of eight days, so its mass decreases faster than other radioactive materials.  Plutonium decays with a half-life of 24,000 years.  I am feeling so calm about all this. The government has told me not to worry!

At least it's not lead.

UPI "EPA: Radiation levels in U.S. milk 'safe'"  Japanese nuclear meltdown radioactive materials that are uncontrollably spraying into the air, water, soil, food sources and being conveyed all over the world, are now in the United States food chain.  The EPA has detected the presence of Japanese radioactive materials in U.S. milk sources

Who drinks milk anyhow? 

I believe children drink milk.  Not a worry, says the EPA:  "'These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children,' the EPA said on its Web site. A radiation reading from milk in Spokane, Wash., on March 25 was 0.8 picocuries per liter, less than that of a normal banana, which naturally contains radioactive potassium.  'Radiation is all around us in our daily lives, and these findings are a minuscule amount compared to what people experience every day,' FDA senior scientist Patricia Hansen said in a statement." [Emphasis added]

That settles it, right?  The EPA says we're all safe.  Radiation is all around us, in the air, the water, our food.  We get a little bit every second of the day, just like lead.  Lead?  What?! 

I am afraid you just don't get it, so here is ABC News putting it all in perspective:  "A person would have to drink almost 1,500 gallons of milk -- two firetrucks full -- in eight days to reach the conservative safe limit."  [Emphasis added]

Kids sometimes get pretty thirsty . . . .

Where did the radioactive material in milk come from?  The Associated Press discounts gremlins and fairies:  "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week said Japan's radioactive fallout is showing up in milk in Washington and California, most likely after a cow ate tainted grass or drank puddles of rainwater containing it. Iodine-131, the type that was found, is short-lived and decays fairly quickly, becoming harmless." 

This suggests that we should get used to eating Japanese nuclear material.  But it's really safe, so stop your worrying.  It's not lead, after all.

None of this should change anyone's mind on lead.  Lead is a REAL PROBLEM.  There is no safe level for lead.  Radioactive iodine, radioactive cesium, a little bit of plutonium - THAT we can handle, radiation is everywhere, you know.  Lead is a different matter.  There are SOOOO many victims of lead . . . but we can't really identify them.  But they gotta be there, right?  Hmmm. 

Don't forget the children, no safe level of lead, no safe level of lead, no safe level of lead . . . .


L.C. Burgundy said...

You know Rick, I have always followed your blog with a fair amount of interest and think you've been pretty much spot on with your commentary on the CPSIA from the getgo.

That being said, you have really acted in an unbecoming manner about Japan. I can understand your frustration that people seem less upset about radioactivity than lead, but really, be glad that science and dose-response relationships (which, for radiation, are well characterized) are at least ruling the day on that subject. Your postings make it seem like you'd feel happier or vindicated if people were panicking about negligible amounts of radiation in the US? Your whole take on this is very weird. Lead and radioactivity really aren't the same things, and your continued efforts to draw comparisons feel very belabored. Honestly, give it a rest.

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

L.C., thanks for your feedback. I appreciate your POV and have some sympathy with your outlook. It so happens that I am not worried about the trace levels of radiation coming over from Japan. [I also don't think there's much we can do about it anyway.] If you read my musings in that way, I have failed to clearly express myself. These postings are sarcastic.

The point I am trying to make, perhaps ineffectively, is that our regulation of lead is completely out-of-whack. The reaction of our government to the radiation issue is pure hypocrisy. They reassure us that radioactive material in our food and water is not a serious matter - but have built regulatory structures that require companies to prostrate themselves before the CPSC to beg to sell safe products containing inaccessible atoms of lead. They hold hearings to trumpets lies and baloney to stir irrational fears of lead and to promote junk science.

On a good day, it's asinine. And plenty scary.

I know I have made this point repeatedly and perhaps it's too much already. I know well that it may be tiresome, and apologize if that's the effect on you. Still, you're not the problem, and you are not the target that should be stinging. It's Congress and the CPSC which bear responsibility for this mess and for the profoundly irrational rules governing lead in children's products. I can't help them with their phobias, but please, don't devour my business in the process.

I believe Congress and the CPSC should be held accountable for the economic damage they have wrought in pursuit of junk science and animal fears of the unknown. The government's bland reaction to the Japanese radiation problem is a godsend, a perfect juxtaposition with the lead mania. The government is even sloughing off the impact on kids. Come on!

I hope you will join me in pressing Congress to act responsibly and rationally. Thank you again for your feedback.

Geoff Jones said...

I think I found a bit of flawed logic in your hypothesis Rick...

The EPA (unlike the science minded CPSC) has established safe levels of lead in drinking water. Thank goodness that children only drink milk tainted with radioactive iodine, it would be terrifiying to think that they drank water.

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Geoff, I am hereby nominating you as a CPSC Commissioner. Thomas Moore's term is up - you should be next!