Feb. 15, 2017 04:19PM EST
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) once again advised pregnant women to curb consumption of fish in order to limit fetal exposures to neurotoxic mercury. This warning raises the baffling query: How can the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) justify its recommendations that pregnant women get flu shots which are laden with far more mercury than what's found in a can of tuna?
Fatty fish have long-chain omega-3 fatty acids which are good for health.
But some have methylmercury, which is toxic to the developing fetus.
And all have PCBs or other organic compounds that are unlikely to promote health.
The advice? Eat 2 to 3 servings of lower-mercury fish per week for a total of 8-12 ounces.
That's fine, but which fish are low in methylmercury?
For this, the agencies have created an reference chart that sorts 62 types of fish into three categories:
"Best Choices" (eat two to three servings a week)
"Good Choices" (eat one serving a week)
"Fish to Avoid"
Here's where things get tricky.
Good luck telling the difference.
As I've written before (and also see this post and this one about fish politics), if you want to avoid methylmercury during pregnancy, it's best to avoid tuna. Consumer Reports advises pregnant women not to eat tuna at all.
Center for Science in the Public Interest said:
The best advice for pregnant or nursing women and parents of small children is to choose fish that are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and sardines. They should avoid albacore tuna altogether and consume tuna labeled as "light tuna" very sparingly—no more than two ounces per week for women and one ounce per week for kids.
And are PCBs a non-issue? Could fish politics have anything to do with this?
Here are the documents:
Uncovered documents show that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) knew that infant vaccines were exposing American children to mercury far in excess of all federal safety guidelines since 1999. The documents, created by a FDA consulting toxicologist, show how federal regulators concealed the dangerous impacts and lied to the public.
By Ken Kimmell
One well-reported thing about Scott Pruitt, President-elect Trump's nominee for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, is his penchant for filing lawsuits to block the EPA from enforcing clean air, clean water and climate regulations, rather than suing polluters in his own state of Oklahoma.
This alone ought to provide ample grounds for rejecting his nomination. But a closer look at these lawsuits and the legal arguments Pruitt has advanced (or signed onto) tells an even more disturbing story. The legal arguments are disingenuous, often unprincipled and extreme, and display an unfortunate strategy of saying just about anything to win a case.
Consider these three examples.
Pruitt Takes on Climate Scientists: The 2010 Lawsuit Challenging the EPA's "Endangerment" Finding
In 2009, the EPA made a long overdue, and wholly unremarkable finding that greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels may endanger public health and welfare. In this finding, the EPA acknowledged the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community and the multiple lines of independent evidence supporting this conclusion.
While the finding broke no new ground scientifically, it was important legally: when the EPA finds that a pollutant endangers public health or welfare, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate sources of that pollutant. In this case, that meant power plants, cars, trucks and other sources that combust coal, oil and natural gas.
To stop such regulation in its tracks, Scott Pruitt filed a lawsuit to overturn the endangerment finding, which he and his fellow litigants characterized as "arbitrary and capricious." Believe it or not, Pruitt's primary argument was that the EPA should not have relied upon the multiple reports on climate change issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (established by the United Nations which synthesizes the work of thousands of scientists), the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) (a Bush administration body of 13 federal agencies that issued 21 reports on climate change)vand the National Research Council (NRC) (the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences).
Pruitt's legal brief never quite explains what is wrong with relying upon the world's most prominent experts, but it claimed that the EPA in effect wrongly delegated its decision-making to these bodies.
Here are the rather sharp words the court used when it unanimously dismissed this claim:
This argument is little more than a semantic trick. EPA simply did here what it and other decision makers often must do to make a science-based judgment: it sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted. It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence in large part consisted of "syntheses" of individual studies and research. Even individual studies and research papers often synthesize past work in an area and then build upon it. This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question. [Page 27]
Take a moment to digest this: the person nominated to head the EPA sued that agency because it relied upon the work of the world's most knowledgeable scientists when making a finding regarding the most important scientific question of our lifetime—whether humans are causing global warming.
Pruitt's Lawsuits to Block Mercury Reductions Using a Rigged Cost-Benefit Analysis
Peggy Davis / Flickr
Mercury has long been known to be one of the most potent neurotoxins: ingestion of even very small amounts can have devastating effects, particularly on children. Coal and oil-fired power plants are responsible for more than 50 percent of the mercury emissions in the U.S., which travel long distances and deposit in water bodies, leading to ingestion by fish and humans who consume fish. There is effective technology that many power plants use to control mercury and other toxic pollutants, but approximately forty percent of existing power plants do not use it.
In 1990 Congress amended the Clean Air Act to specifically authorize the EPA to address mercury emissions (and other air toxics), but no progress was made due to EPA delays and litigation. In 2011, the Obama Administration issued a rule to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
The rule required approximately 40 percent of existing power plants to install the same proven controls that the other 60 percent had already adopted.
The EPA estimated that it would avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.
Scott Pruitt and others launched a lawsuit to prevent the EPA from cutting mercury and toxic air pollutants from power plants. He scored an initial victory on a technicality—the EPA had failed to consider cost of regulation at the preliminary stage when it was considering whether to regulate mercury. (I call this a technicality, because the EPA did perform a formal cost benefit analysis at the later stage when it issued the regulation).
The EPA subsequently complied with the court order and used an updated analysis to support the rule. The analysis showed "monetized" benefits of between $37-90 billion versus a cost of $9 billion.
Unsatisfied, Pruitt filed a second lawsuit, this time taking aim at the cost benefit analysis. As was the case with the endangerment finding, Pruitt's attack led with an absurd argument—this time about cost benefit analysis.
When the EPA tallied up the costs of the regulation, it included direct costs, like the cost of installing the pollution control, and indirect costs, like higher electricity prices. Similarly, when the EPA calculated the benefits of the regulation, it considered direct benefits, like improved public health from mercury reduction, but also indirect benefits, like reductions in other pollutants such as smog and sulfur dioxide because the pollution control technology used for mercury also reduces these pollutants.
In November 2016, I reported on six studies that found strong relationships between biomarkers for mercury toxicity in children with autism including a direct correlation between the levels of mercury toxicity and the severity of autism symptoms. Those findings are supported by recent research that links industrial exposures of lead, mercury and arsenic to the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
A Nov. 19 study, of 45,231 women, published in JAMA Pediatrics, identified a heightened risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis in the children of mothers who received a flu shot during their first trimester of pregnancy. The study, Association Between Influenza Infection and Vaccination During Pregnancy and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder, was authored by Ousseny Zerbo and his colleagues affiliated with the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente.
Chemical company Dupont Co. will pay Virginia a stunning $50 million to clean up decades of mercury pollution. The proposed settlement is the largest natural resource settlement in the state's history and the eighth largest in the nation, state and federal officials said.
"Today's settlement, the largest of its kind in Virginia history, is the culmination of a coordinated effort by countless partners at both the state and federal level," Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. "Thanks to their hard work, Virginians and the environment will benefit from unprecedented investments in land conservation and habitat restoration. I applaud and appreciate the meticulous monitoring by our state agencies, the thorough analysis of the scientific advisory committee, and DuPont's willingness to come to the table and make this happen."
"[The settlement] ranks 8th in all of time of natural resource damage settlements across the country ... and that includes such big cases like Deep Water Horizon and Exxon Valdez," Paul Phifer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services said, according to the Associated Press.
The case dates back several decades when a former DuPont factory outside the city of Waynesboro leaked mercury—a chemical used for the plant's rayon production—into the South River
from 1929 to 1950. The pollution was finally discovered in the 1970s and DuPont has worked with federal and state officials on cleanup solutions over the years.
Still, the mercury remains persistent and has been difficult to remove. The South River is one of the area's leading tributaries so any contamination eventually flows into the Shenandoah River. According to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, the South River Science Team found that South River and South Fork Shenandoah River fish continue to have elevated mercury concentrations some 60 years later after the DuPont plant ceased production.
Mercury is highly toxic and can travel up the food chain and can have a whole host of terrifying problems for aquatic life and humans alike. Fish consumption advisories in affected areas are in place to this day.
"Over 100 miles of river and thousands of acres of floodplain and riparian habitat were impacted from the mercury," the Department of Justice said in a statement. "Some of the assessed and impacted natural resources include fish, migratory songbirds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Recreational fishing opportunities were also impacted from the mercury."
NBC29 notes that the historic settlement would go towards wildlife habitat restoration, water quality enhancement and improvements to recreational areas.
"DuPont has agreed to provide $42.3 million in support of restoration projects in the South River and South Fork Shenandoah watersheds. The trustees will use these funds for a number of restoration projects to enhance natural resources in the region," Mike Liberati, South River project director for the DuPont Corporate Remediation Group, said in a statement.
"In keeping with its long history of cooperation with, and participation in, government initiatives, and its ongoing support of the local community, DuPont's is committed to a long-term presence in the Waynesboro area and to maintaining transparency with its citizens," Liberati continued.
The trustees, through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Commonwealth of Virginia, invite feedback on actions to restore the river and wildlife habitat and improve public lands and recreational resources. A draft restoration plan and environmental assessment (RP/EA) was also released today for a 45-day public comment period. The plan results from stakeholder meetings beginning in 2008 to determine how best to compensate the public for the injured natural resources and their uses.