26 August 2003
Keep perchlorate on the front burner
By Tom Mulhern




"Pollution, pollution!
You can use the latest toothpaste,
And then rinse your mouth
With industrial waste."

- from "Pollution" by Tom Lehrer

Back in 1965 when comedian/social critic Tom Lehrer performed a ditty titled "Pollution," he wasn't looking 38 years into the future. The air, water, and general environment of the 1960s were being ravaged at an astonishing rate, if you count things like Lake Erie being declared dead, various rivers catching on fire from all the petroleum effluent in them, and the brown haze that passed for air in places like Los Angeles. By 1970, there was enough public outcry to force the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here in the South Valley, the perchlorate situation continues to percolate, and for some reason a lot of people believe that the EPA will set accurate baselines for what is safe, tell us whether the water is drinkable, let us know if it will cause thyroid problems, and so on. And then enforce them. This EPA? The current EPA? The one that now wants to relax air pollution laws for power plants under the guise of routine maintenance? The one that lied to New Yorkers for two years after September 11 about the health risks of the PCBs, dioxin, and other carcinogens they were inhaling? The EPA that's part of an administration that has done all it can (so far) to gut pollution controls, allow greater leeway for the military to pollute at will (it was already the biggest domestic polluter), and to drill holes anywhere the oil companies want? You can probably tell that I just don't get a warm, fuzzy feeling about the EPA's desire or ability to resolve our perchlorate issue. Heck, they didn't even want to set baselines for
what's an acceptable level of perchlorate contamination, until pushed really hard.

I do, however, have faith in local authorities such as the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Groundwater Resources Association of California, since they're nearer the situation. If it's ultimately established that 4 parts per billion really, truly is the safe exposure level, and if cleaning up the current contamination in the groundwater can reduce that level to the suggested 2 parts per billion (or less), then we can consider ourselves in the clear ... and lucky.

Many parts of Silicon Valley, particularly Mountain View and Sunnyvale, are on the EPA's Superfund list, and remediation of leaks from companies over the past three decades is an ongoing task. Like our neighbors to the north, we will be dealing with the decontamination issue for quite a while.


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