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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Governor Inslee Is Weighing The Acceptable Cancer Rate Against Business Concerns

Posted by on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 12:47 PM

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Washington State has two choices: a ten times higher rate of cancer among its population, particularly those who eat a lot of fish, or a bedraggled economy. That's the takeaway from Robert McClure and InvestigateWest's new story—assuming you believe the big business side of the argument.

You should go read the whole thing, but the bottom line is there are plenty of toxic chemicals—things like PCBs, arsenic and mercury—that run off from our streets into our waters and into the bodies of fish. The presence of those pollutants puts anyone who eats fish, especially Native American tribes, fishers, and others who do so in especially large quantities, at risk of cancer.

The state, then, uses an assumed fish consumption rate to determine how great the cancer risks to the population are. Currently, the rate is based on 1970s era studies, but it's probably much higher. Oregon bumped up its estimate in 2011 to reflect current data. Now, it's up to Governor Inslee and the Department of Ecology to make that call.

But Boeing and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce are against raising the figure, which would prompt stronger water pollution regulations. When the state was on the verge of making the change in 2010, Christine Gregoire torpedoed the move after a last-minute meeting with a Boeing executive. And those business interests are pressuring Inslee against the change now. Why? Because, they say, raising the fish consumption rate would "kill the economy,” as a former Department of Ecology director told InvestigateWest.

Which sounds an awful lot like the sky-is-falling predictions we've heard from Seattle businesses against raising the minimum wage. Is there any regulation in the public interest that big business doesn't cry wolf on?

Governor Inslee wrote a book about climate change, earned an A+ endorsement from the Sierra Club, and ran on his environmental record. But he just hired a major coal lobbyist as his policy chief. As McClure explains, these new rules could mean dozens of lives lost or saved:

One thing to consider is that the measure of increased cancer risk is based on 70 years of exposure to a given pollutant. Also keep in mind that Washington’s population is about 6.9 million people. So if the allowable cancer rate were to be set at one in 100,000 people instead of one in 1 million people, the difference would be roughly 62 extra cases of cancer over 70 years—if the assumptions are right. It could be more or it could be fewer.

One of Inslee’s advisers is Seattle attorney Rod Brown.

“What’s your social judgment about how much risk is acceptable for a carcinogen?” Brown asks. “It sounds like math, but it’s also a social judgment.”

Posing that question assumes there's a compelling reason to allow for higher risks, but that's only true if you take the industry argument at face value. Inslee is "on the verge" of directing the Department of Ecology on how to go forward, according to the story.

 

Comments (15) RSS

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Chef Thunder 1
We need a SLOG poll.
Posted by Chef Thunder on April 17, 2014 at 1:12 PM · Report this
CC-Rob 2
Start singing: "Whatever Boeing wants, Boeing gets"

To the music from the classic song, "Whatever Lola Wants" from "Damn Yankees."
Posted by CC-Rob on April 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM · Report this
treacle 3
Well, considering that major international, military-connected corporations and corporate advocates always have citizens' health and welfare foremost in mind, because that's what profit dictates, and considering that we're an oligarchy and the people don't actually have any real say in the matter, then I think we should just do whatever they want.

It'll just make it easier on everyone involved.

I wish you'd stop reporting on this sort of stuff Ansel, it only makes the citizens confused and uncertain.
Posted by treacle on April 17, 2014 at 1:45 PM · Report this
fletc3her 4
I eat a LOT more fish than I used to! Am I going to die?!
Posted by fletc3her on April 17, 2014 at 1:57 PM · Report this
spaceapple 5
This totally bums me out. I live on fish.
Posted by spaceapple on April 17, 2014 at 2:12 PM · Report this
6
Well, as long as it isn't pee, I suppose its ok.
Posted by screed on April 17, 2014 at 3:32 PM · Report this
7
I'd like to see actual costs on this increase, rather than "kill the economy". They have them, so tell us how much those 62 lives are worth. There is an actual right answer, where the increased economic activity can save MORE lives, let's discuss this.

Also, 62 cancer cases over 70 years doesn't sound like a lot. Let's get air pollution numbers down to that.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on April 17, 2014 at 3:55 PM · Report this
delirian 8
This is what is known as risk management. There is nothing wrong with this.

If you cut the allowed arsenic or mercury concentration in half, you will save lives. If you cut it down tenfold, you will save lives. If you cut it down a billion-fold, you will save lives. Here's the thing: people's lives don't have an infinite value. So you determine an acceptable risk and implement it. You would put everyone in the entire State out of work if you decided that mercury concentrations should be cut by a billion. If you decided to cut them in half, you would put some people out of work. If you raised them, you might allow some people to work. So where is the middle ground?

Is this such a crazy idea or is The Stranger being disingenuous again?
Posted by delirian on April 17, 2014 at 11:36 PM · Report this
9
#8 how about zero tolerance for releasing toxins into our environment? Your assertion that eliminating mercury pollution would "put everyone in the entire State out of work" is bullshit, plain and simple. How about using all that can-do American ingenuity and cleverness to actually find a real solution instead of taking the easy way out and insist that some percent of people get sick and die so some executive asshole can meet his bonus target. Fuck you.
Posted by screed on April 18, 2014 at 12:49 AM · Report this
delirian 10
@9: You've clearly never worked in science or engineering. There is no such thing as zero when you are talking about setting a pollution standard. But tell me, how do you plan to measure and enforce your "zero tolerance" plan. I'd love to hear it. Me, I'd set a reasonable threshold in parts per million or parts per billions based on an acceptable risk. Easy to measure, easy to test. No magic required.
Posted by delirian on April 18, 2014 at 2:30 AM · Report this
11
deliran, You've drunk the koolaid and bought the whole package. (I worked 30 years in hazardous waste and cleanup, all of that with risk analysis. So I know the mind set.) Risk analysis frequently fails to ask the important underlying question. So we accept a one in a million rate of death for the red dye in hot dogs. (That's a real figure by the way - the Delaney rule.) But no one asks why we should tolerate that any deaths for a redder hot dog. Or if there's a lower risk alternative. The sickest I saw this in my career was when industry came in and asked EPA to revisit arsenic exposure. The principle risk of arsenic is its contribution to causing skin cancer. Industry came in to note science had gotten better at detecting skin cancer and curing it. Therefore they argued they should get to increase the exposure limit for arsenic to get back to the "speed limit" of 1 in a million. So they wanted to give more people skin cancer and put more people into treatment so they could dump more arsenic into our environment. And you and yours are okay with that because 0 risk is unachievable and everything has a price. This is the kind of thinking that puts models above morals and people.
Posted by retrogrouch on April 19, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Report this
12
It seems the underlying question here - not well stated in the article- is its not about shifting from 1 in a million to 1 in a 100,000 risk factor - but instead that the underlying estimate about how much fish people eat has changed dramatically since 1970. The rule should reflect the reality of consumption today.
Posted by retrogrouch on April 19, 2014 at 12:49 PM · Report this
13
Gotta jump in and agree with delirian here. I am an environmental professional. It is not just big executives trying to line their pocketbooks when it comes to these standards. They are so low that current technologies cannot meet them, and are unlikely to in the foreseeable future. A lot of small businesses will simply be in violation 100% of the time, not just Boeing. Does that mean we should forsake all industry in the state? It is a worthy goal to decrease the environmental impact of industry as much as possible, but there do need to be trade-offs. Yes, @11, there are those that will try to take advantage. That's why we have to institute technologically and economically feasible standards and enforce them.

Additionally, the studies used to determine likelihood of causing cancer, for example, are highly uncertain and extremely conservative. While chemicals like arsenic and mercury are well understood and there are human studies to understand toxicity, the majority of chemicals are not like this and it is important to recognize this uncertainty, not just cue the hysteria.
Posted by ithappenedtome on April 19, 2014 at 2:40 PM · Report this
Baconcat 14
That 70 year exposure rate, when combined with extremely conservative fish consumption rates, sounds like local natives were not considered very well in this whole thing. Even a slight increase in allowable carcinogens would have a huge impact on local tribes when you consider fish consumption rates in their communities. If this is an acceptable or negligible risk to any policy then that policy is thoroughly racist.
Posted by Baconcat on April 19, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Report this
delirian 15
@14: Just a heads up. Using the term conservative when talking about risk management means less risk, not more. A conservative consumption rate would offer greater protection. Don't confuse the political meaning with the technical meaning. A conservatively designed system is something that is designed beyond the basic requirements.
Posted by delirian on April 20, 2014 at 1:56 AM · Report this

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