The Whistle-blower Express: Calling Lisa Jackson!

October 17th, 2010

Administrator Lisa Jackson is one of the busiest people in America. Her recent appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is of enormous importance to citizens throughout the world. Not since Carol Browner’s tenure in the Clinton White House, have we seen anyone as committed to the reduction of toxic substances in our personal environments reach a position of any significance in the US government. Ms. Jackson should also have greater leeway to act if free to replace some of the ‘old boy’s network’ within her organization. Many reputable officials and scientists were driven to resign—or were fired—under the Bush administration amidst gag orders restricting the publishing and presentation of relevant research by our tax-funded agencies. What remains is a constant stream of conflicting interests which come between the Department of Agriculture and concerns which should rightfully be confined to the Department of Health and Human Services.

I’ve run into those conflicts of interest time and time again as I have evaluated different residential environments, all contaminated with agricultural pesticides known to be harmful to humans and their pets. Testing such places revealed an amazing array of pollutants which cannot be reconciled with the sanctity of ‘hearth and home’. In the USA, our homes are damaging our health as we seal them for energy efficiency, exterminate them, decorate them and attempt effective climate control within them. In some cases where the harm was destined to affect many individuals in the future, I contacted the EPA. In each case I was told nothing could be done or referred to another agency such as the Department of Health or the Department of Agriculture for that particular jurisidiction. In turn, those agencies would tell me that nothing could be done. No one denied the contamination of the areas. They merely pointed out that it was of no concern—to anyone, apparently.

After learning of extensive chlordane contamination in one New England residence, I showed the laboratory evidence to the owner who then admitted his wife had become very ill while living in that house. They moved and began renting it out. It is entirely possible that they continue to do so even knowing of the contamination lurking therein. Perhaps you are living in that home today. Some 70 million Americans are affected by chlordane contamination despite it having been banned back in 1988. People test residences for radon these days but no one considers chlordane, still affecting millions of buildings and wells to this day.

New approaches are needed to fully utilize the body of laws called FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, which serve to oversee the use of pesticide products. These remain a monopoly of agribusiness, when these poisons invented for use in chemical warfare during the 1930s turned out to be efficient tools in killing pests which threatened agriculture. Whether or not you are a fan of conventional agriculture or prefer organic produce, the typical pesticides sold today for use in your home were made for use on farm fields, open to the air and sunlight needed to degrade these chemicals. This is not an issue under consideration in the regulation of pesticide manufacture and use. In fact, chlordane was actually banned for use in farming in 1983 while its use in homes was permitted for another five years, until 1988. The illogic of that delay permitted millions of additional properties to become contaminated with full knowledge of the hazards by authorities. The EPA currently warns us to be careful of these chemicals when dealing with bed bugs since using pesticides intended for outdoor use can render our bedrooms and entire home uninhabitable. That is a high price to pay for failing to research the best and safest methods of relieving such problems.

The Department of Agriculture continues to be largely responsible for the implementation of FIFRA laws governing farm chemicals used in your home, school, office and hospital; your parks and libraries; your day care facilities and your hotel room. The question to ask is why a brand new industry devoted to the research and development of indoor pest control hasn’t risen to the fore. Pest control is a vital service and there is no reason why a divide shouldn’t exist between agribusiness and home health concerns involving pest control given the vast difference between the two types of environments. Our health may well depend upon our breaking up this strange monopoly of agribusiness in the manufacture of such chemicals. Certainly, we need the FIFRA laws to begin differentiating between their uses in outdoor as opposed to indoor settings. However, agribusiness has many ways in which it maintains its monopolies and even restricts research.

There are many things which can be done but for the obstructive nature of individuals committed to keeping the status quo. Having compiled a list of concrete needs for dealing with this aberrant and illegal state of affairs after a decade of study about these issues, I sought to deliver that list directly into Administrator Jackson’s hands and set about attempting to make an appointment for a ten minute phone call. The request was denied. After several exchanges of emails and phone messages with the scheduling office, I was offered contacts with individuals and departments already known to me. I declined to renew those contacts since they’d claimed no authority to act in prior incidents and discussions. Had those individuals been able to utilize the information previously related, I certainly wouldn’t have any need to speak with the head of the EPA. Unfortunately, when one takes over an ineffective system, some degree of ‘micro-management’ is initially required until existing or new personnel can effectively work with novel goals and procedures.

Apparently, my efforts to reach Ms. Jackson will have to begin with this blog. Every day these issues go without resolution, more people end up sick, disabled or dead. What was most interesting is that the scheduling office mentioned that Ms. Jackson lacks the in-depth knowledge of her staff in pesticide toxicology as another reason for my speaking with other staff. While this may indeed be the case, the issues I am raising do not require a degree in biochemistry. They do require familiarity with FIFRA, the EPA bureaucracy and the obstacles standing in the way of implementing FIFRA. Ms. Jackson is indeed well versed in that morass by now. As is Carol Browner, currently involved in the current administration in other capacities. Perhaps the two minds might together address these issues while health costs soar for leaving them unresolved.

I have been asked why I’ve gone beyond the cursory awareness many Americans have from reading headlines or hearing sound bites about such industry giants as Monsanto, Dow Corning, Bayer, Syngenta and other trans-national corporations which all enter our lives in one way or another. It is because I, like many others, ultimately learned something about the manner in which chemicals can both help and harm society. I witnessed damaged children use drugs which controlled seizures and enabled them to function normally, and met patients cured of cancers like Hodgkin’s Disease. I also witnessed years of chemical exposure leading to disease and death in adults working in harmful occupations. Did you know that the list of ‘harmful’ occupations includes teaching? Teachers have high rates of autoimmune disease.

And then I lost a layer of brain cells and some functions I’d taken for granted would always be mine, because I was exposed to pesticides in a school setting. This happened even though I’d taken preventive measures to avoid such an eventuality for the sake of both the students and staff under my supervision. It is literally impossible to do that successfully in our world which takes all personal choice about chemical exposures away from citizens. That is unacceptable and places business interests over and above all other rights in the USA. How is that democracy in action?

We can certainly praise companies for their successes while still holding them accountable for their failures. They don’t get a free ride for causing cancer just because they treat it as well. We can’t sacrifice the water table to carcinogens in order to use pesticides on the land to artificially increase yields for mere, short term gains. Bad practices should not be permitted as the price to be paid for positive outcomes of related commercial enterprises. It can take thirty years to remove a hazardous chemical from the marketplace. The economy can’t withstand the costs of such large-scale harm in terms of lost worker productivity and high health care costs of preventable illnesses.
Consumers were successful in making their desires known to their favorite store chains when it came to marketing genetically modified foods and increasing selections within organic brands. However, typical vendors of food and home/business products such as cleaners and pesticides remain unaffected by the preferences of that sector of consumers. It takes too long to educate the average citizen in the neuro-toxic effects of many chemicals on the market today including their favorite weed and seed lawn products. That is where, however reluctantly, governments have to offer regulatory guidance which can protect citizens from the adverse effects of widely marketed (and deceptively advertised) products. In Canada, such lawn care products will be banned in most of the country within a few years while industry pursues their quarrel with any restraint of trade in the Canadian courts. Canada’s willingness to engage in legal wrangling with mega-corporations selling poisons is based on the fact that it is cheaper than spending tax dollars on the health care consequences of using those products. The same motivation led the US to widely pass bans on smoking in the workplace. This has already had a huge economic benefit to all Americans in reducing heart disease among non-smokers.
Government agencies have become complicit in the less attractive activities of multi-national corporations by acquiescing to their dictates of non-interference. By the time sufficient outrage has been generated by a consumer base to initiate regulation, an extraordinary degree of damage has already been suffered in terms of societal costs. It isn’t only measured in terms of dollars spent on health care. Many children are prevented from reaching their optimal potential for intellectual achievement through contact with lead, mercury and neurologically damaging pesticides.

Technological advances from the private sector will only advance so far as the desire for profit allows. Since industry has refused to diversify their scope of marketing of pesticides in the name of limiting current hazards for future gains – investing in their own consumers – then government must alter the degree to which problem industries can monopolize such markets by removing them from oversight positions and legislative influence. The Constitution of the United States permits regulation of industries where needed unlike NAFTA. Under NAFTA, a chapter eleven provision prohibits governments from restricting trade it considers harmful without making reparations to the industries for any loss of profits. Which provisions should we regard as more important and far-reaching? The U.S. Constitution gets my vote. It is possible to do this if agribusiness is simply declared to be a poor candidate for leadership of non-agricultural activities. We aren’t farmers and can’t tell those who are, how to run their farms other than by deciding what foods we wish to consume. Similarly, why should the Department of Agriculture be responsible for deciding what kinds of chemicals belong in my home or office? Just think of the incredible new industry that could arise if the process of researching and developing pest control products solely for use in occupied buildings were independent of agribusiness! There is no reason for farm chemicals to wind up in schools. Children are not crops.

I hope these six ‘bullet’ points makes sense to the average person who hasn’t actually thought about the influence of farm policies upon their daily lives and futures, beyond issues of food production. As of the present, they actually intrude upon every aspect of your life from the toothbrush you purchase to the paint you buy at Home Depot to your child’s classroom.

I hope the following six areas of concern regarding oversight of FIFRA laws will spur your interest in widening the range of authorities involved. A division between the regulation of pesticide products used in agriculture versus those used in non-agricultural settings is crucial to the health of our citizens today and the potential achievements for future generations.
1. Detection of environmental poisons by odor: The legal use of pesticides and other toxic materials is quite widespread but, in the majority of locales, there are no laws requiring notification before they are used or permission of bystanders who will be inhaling, ingesting and absorbing the chemical drift and residues through their skins and mucous membranes (eyes, throats etc.). In areas where gas fuels are used, an odorant is added to the mixture to identify leaks which would lead to explosions for these highly flammable substances. Without that addition (usually methyl mercaptan), leaks would otherwise go unnoticed by residents and present grave risks for fires/explosions. Unlike our recognition of the dangers from combustion, we cover up the hazards presented by pesticides and many cleaning solvents by adding scents and masking fragrance chemicals. These hide the usual ‘warning’ odor of toxic materials among the many, undisclosed ingredients in these products. That means most individuals exposed to these chemicals remain unaware of their presence. Many who do purchase or contract for their application will assume the lack of odor–or a pleasant odor–means fumes emanating from these chemicals are harmless. It is essential that any chemicals which can harm have a ‘tell-tale’ odorant present. It doesn’t have to be ‘skunk-like’ to repel all comers but should be characteristic (as with gas fuels), so that building occupants and passers-by know of their exposures. It can then be avoided by choice or reported as part of an exposure history to physicians should illness arise. Ignorance of the presence of these chemicals is largely responsible for a lack of test data on their effects upon our population.
2. Registry of pesticide use: There is no reason not to offer a registry of information about the legal applications of pesticides within communities. Even the EPA has no right to inquire of a farm if they have applied non-restricted chemicals freely sold ‘over the counter’, despite their toxicity by inhalation or absorption in the water table. Instead of neighbors becoming aware of choices made by farmers with regard to their chosen chemicals after harm is suspected, it is far better for a town clerk’s office to have a registry of the chemicals in use. This would be accessible by those interested in making decisions about residency in farming communities. Many individuals should not reside close to such entities due to interference of pesticides with various medical conditions and drugs used to manage them. Homes near golf courses require similar disclosures as the advantages must be weighed against the disadvantages—particularly for those about to start families. Some pesticides are known to be disruptive of reproductive health and fetal/child health and individuals require the right of choice when large scale users of such chemicals are present in a community. This is not a punitive effort but one which frees all concerned to act in concert with their needs and preferences.
3. Supervision of pesticide use by community-appropriate officials and agencies: Currently, most decisions made regarding pesticide use in our homes, offices and schools are merely extensions of policies developed for farmland management. People are not crops and the Department of Agriculture is an inappropriate agency to conduct oversight of pesticide use within residential and businesses settings. The sales of pesticides for non-agricultural uses has become hugely profitable and therefore a major conflict of interest. The incredible profits garnered from transferring agricultural chemicals off of the farm and into our urban communities has retarded technological advances in pest control which would increase the safety of humans occupying treated buildings. These chemicals do not act indoors as they do outdoors. The health effects are simply too well documented now to permit any confusion about the science. The School Environment Protection Act has been passed by the Senate yet has never been released from the Agricultural Committee for a vote in the House. One provision calls for the cessation of use for pesticides which damage the central nervous system. Another calls for the least toxic chemicals to be used in all cases. Where health issues require any higher toxicity chemical to be applied, notification of building occupants and signage is required. Why are our schools even asking the Department of Agriculture for permission to stop exposing our children and teachers to chemicals which damage brains because they were designed to do so in insects which eat growing vegetables and fruits? I lost 24 IQ points to exposures to such chemicals in a school setting. What chance do developing minds have to reach their potential when established learning is so easily disrupted as neuronal activity is directly impaired by these chemicals? If the Department of Agriculture ceases to be involved in chemical use within non-agricultural settings, a new industry will come to the fore. Certainly, new methods of assessing efficacy and safety of pesticides for use in and around occupied buildings can be promoted since these issues are in no way similar to the safety issues presented by agricultural uses for pesticides. Secondly, agribusiness will be freed from dependence upon the income generated by the virtual monopoly they hold upon the pesticide industry and concentrate on better methods of increasing cost-effective food production in the various climates and terrains around the world. The EPA will be able to divide its enforcement codes between the two diverse (and presently conflicting) aspects of pesticide use for the benefit of all citizens and consumers.

4. We cannot hope for any enforcement of the FIFRA laws when there is no medical monitoring possible for current-use pesticides. I contacted the CDC and every imaginable source but couldn’t find a single medical laboratory that presently measures blood or urine metabolites of pyrethrin and pyrethroid pesticides. One lab told me they were trying to ‘gear up’ for such testing. In 2002, the CDC found seventy percent of our population (N=3,000) positive for these chemicals when their urine was analyzed. I contacted the researcher herself but was told they don’t do these tests outside of research purposes. It is unconscionable to market chemicals for which exposure analysis can’t be accomplished in order to learn what concentrations are associated with immediate and deferred adverse effects. In a nation which requires consumers to prove harm instead of vendors to prove ‘safety’, this is a violation of our basic civil rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

5. Similarly, exposure is ubiquitous for these chemicals so it becomes even more important to be able to assess specific environments (e.g. a child’s bedroom or classroom) for the amount of such chemicals which are circulating in our air spaces and associated with immediate and deferred adverse effects. We have OSHA and NIOSH rules for exposure limits in workplaces but none for residences or schools/offices where non-employees are to be found without the right to report toxic exposures.. Having tested air purifier filters left running in numerous settings, the findings were shocking with regard to the amount and variety of toxicants found. Laboratory facilities which are consumer friendly for such analyses must be made available. This would indeed be a good subject of investigation for entrepreneurs to undertake at this time.

6.Respect for the toxicity of pesticide products: Pesticides are poisons which means they should only be used by individuals qualified to comprehend the precautions mandated on their labels and to seek help if adverse effects are noted. Purchase and use of these chemicals by minors is something to be avoided just as sales of liquor and cigarettes are prohibited. When sold in stores carrying food and children’s toys, only shrink wrapped cans ought to be sold as cans sometimes leak and buyers sometimes ‘try out’ aerosol cans to ensure they are working. Similarly, poisons can be used as weapons and forensic kits for sampling sites of suspected pesticide applications for malicious purposes are essential. There are many cases in which such actions are suspected yet go without any investigation for lack of training and procedural hurdles on the part of police. Some of those hurdles are voluntary in the refusal to cooperate with other agencies. Not one law enforcement agency I have contacted from the police to the EPA to FEMA and Homeland Security, will actually collect and analyze such samples. The FBI will take a report but not inform those involved of any actions taken which requires the assumption that nothing is being done to protect Americans from chemical threats of an organized or casual nature. Therefore, criminal activity using pesticides and many common chemicals cannot prosecuted. Sarin gas acts as some classes of pesticides still sold in stores—something the average citizen needs to know in selecting such products for their own use. There is no question but that the lack of forensic testing for these chemicals places our population at risk for their use in domestic acts of violence and terrorism.

Additionally, the devices and mechanisms for delivering pesticides such as foggers and hoses originally meant for broadcast spraying of outdoor settings are completely unregulated under FIFRA laws. Therefore, the methods of application can easily result in the introduction of high levels of these poisons which result in acute illnesses and are followed by long term exposures to residues. The fogging of rooms for fleas and the spraying of mattresses for bedbugs may be well intentioned by individuals subjecting their residences to such treatments in desperation for relief from household infestations. However, many people have found themselves and their families with far greater problems than their unwanted insect visitors, once their homes become permeated with levels of hazardous poisons they may neither recognize nor be able to assess and remove.

Pesticide delivery devices should be considered weapons just like any firearm discharging a tool (bullet) which can be used defensively or offensively. Either way, innocent people are routinely hurt if safety considerations aren’t carefully followed. These considerations are poorly publicized and the public lacks understanding of them. A fogger can be considered an ‘ouzi’ in the indiscriminate spraying of liquid poison around a room or yard. In comparison, a layer of diatomaceous earth placed around a foundation is the equivalent of a ‘barbed wire’ fence to keep insects from crawling into openings yet to be caulked.
Barbara Rubin

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