Roundup: Don’t Drink the Water, or Milk?

This post is a little behind, but last Saturday I read two separate articles in the Washington Post that I found to be quite astonishing (and not in a good way) as well as a bit revealing when it comes to U.S. policies related to protecting public health. Maybe you’ll see the same connections that I did.

  • The first article, located on page A3, was on the Bush Administration’s decision not to set a safety standard for perchlorate in drinking-water.  For those of you that don’t know, perchlorate is a chemical commonly found in rocket fuel. As they normally do with not-so-popular decisions, the EPA quietly announced their decision with a basic press release late Friday afternoon (just in case no one was paying attention, which I guess worked since I’m just writing about it now). Why in the world would we not want to prevent rocket fuel from getting into our drinking-water?  Oh, apparently the Department of Defense and a bunch of big military contractors didn’t like the idea. Interesting.
  • The second article was located just two pages later (A5 for those of you counting) and covered the FDA’s decision to set a safety threshold for melamine, the contaminant that has been found in milk and a number of other foods from China and “has sickened over 54,000 infants.” While it’s good to see the FDA responding to a public health threat, what was most concerning about about the decision was the fact that they set a standard that still allows this harmful contaminant to find it’s way into our food supplies.  And in setting a standard, the FDA claimed that consuming a small amount of melamine posed no serious health risk, yet it seems quite clear that repeated or increased exposure does pose a threat. So instead of instituting an outright ban, which countless European countries have done, the FDA decided that it’s okay for us to be exposed to this harmful chemical, but only if we don’t have too much of it.  It’s kinda like telling people that Big Macs are good for you as long as you only eat one a day.
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