Science vs. Emotions or Politics

I found a very thoughtful opinion piece in my local paper this morning. It is based on science and facts related to a contaminant found in Santa Clarita, as well as many other places around the country. See:

Ask anyone on the street, and — if he or she has any idea what you’re talking about — that person will tell you that drinking water regulations are in place to protect public health. It makes sense to safeguard the quality of a commodity that comes out of the tap so easily in the vast majority of homes in this country. It would be quite dangerous to deliver a potentially harmful substance to so many people. In short, it is sensible public policy to protect drinking water quality.

However, you have heard the old axiom, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” If we aren’t prudent about our application of laws and regulations, we know where those probably-well-intentioned rules will lead us. And today’s opinion piece in The Signal is an illustration of this potential.

There is insufficient oxygen at higher levels of the atmosphere to allow combustion. This means that travel at high altitudes requires not only fuel, but oxygen too. Or at least a chemical that can take the place of oxygen: an oxidizer. The Space Age led to the development of many, including perchlorate — the chemical at issue in today’s article.

(And don’t send me a smart comment that the Saturn V shown in today’s photo didn’t use perchlorate — I know that! It’s just a nice iconic “rocket” photo. The three large stages of the Saturn V all housed liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.)

Perchlorate has shown up in several locations around the country where munitions, rockets, fireworks, and similar substances were stored, tested, manufactured, or discarded. This includes my town of Santa Clarita, California.

Nobody wanted the perchlorate to cause problems, or to show up in small pockets of the local water supply. But here it is. This is not the result of some evil plot or greedy company or lack of government oversight. It just happened. And mostly because it was something new, and we really didn’t know everything about it on day one. But we knew it was a useful product, so the testing, manufacture, and use continued. Unfortunately, the bad side has shown itself in recent years. So now what do we do about it?

Many actions are appropriate in a case such as this. One of those is to determine the real impact of perchlorate on public health. That’s the job of the folks at the EPA and the California Department of Public Health. And if you ask them, they will tell you that don’t have enough information — yet — to establish a valid Primary Drinking Water Standard for the safe level of perchlorate in drinking water. As soon as they do, we will have such a standard.

However, this doesn’t stop people from getting agitated about this chemical. And when folks get agitated, there are two people you can always count on: Barbara Boxer and Henry Waxman. It’s science and facts be damned by both of these elected representatives; emotions and politics are the only things that seem to count to these two.

The next time you hear one of them calling for new regulations — immediately! — determine the facts for yourself; you are unlikely to hear them from these two. Then, if you believe their recommended actions are contrary to the facts and science, make sure you tell them about it! You can find them at the following web sites:

Our government only works when “We The People” work — to guide our government to do the right things and to do them well. If we sit back quietly and do nothing and say nothing, folks like Boxer and Waxman — perhaps with good intentions — may lead us down the wrong road. Let your elected representatives know what you think!

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