Is the EPA truly working actively to protect the health of American citizens?
By Scott Portman
When it comes to protecting ourselves from environmental health threats, many Americans have put their trust in the Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately, despite the enormous chunk of funding it receives – it requested $10.5 billion dollars in 2010 – the EPA is too often ineffective in its job of safeguarding American citizens because of bureaucratic inefficiency, wastefulness, and finger-pointing.
As of late, the EPA proposed its first ever mercury emissions standards for power plants. At first, this may sound like a positive; however, upon further examination the standards present an economic behemoth to an already fragile economy. Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, has stated that the regulation would cost power industries $10 billion dollars by 2015 and that electric bills would increase for consumers by about $4 dollars a month. Additionally, the standards will put 16,000 jobs at risk.
The proposed standards are just too expensive to “test out” on our nations power supply. With an intangible benefit, the expenses are just not worth it. And with not the cleanest track record, how can we trust the EPA with such enormous sums of federal money?
A pertinent example of the EPA’s failure to regulate environmental toxins can be seen from their response to the aftermath of 9/11. After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the air in lower Manhattan was flooded with toxic materials from the smoke of the many fires and from the materials of the buildings themselves. Despite the fact that data on the safety of the air was incomplete, the EPA rushed to issue statements that claimed there was “no significant threat to human health.” In fact, because of the way the EPA measures particulates in the air over day-long periods rather than in short bursts, official records show that the organizations standards for pollution were never exceeded.
There is obviously something wrong with the EPA’s procedures if the toxic dust that has caused lingering health problems for firefighters and other first responders was not immediately recognized as cause for alarm. Though deadly asbestos fibers were found in a quarter of the air samples, the acting EPA administrator at the time felt it was not important to release this information because “the vast majority of samples we took did not contain it.” Even if only 25% of the rescuers and inhabitants breathed in dangerous levels of asbestos, this entire group is at risk for symptoms of mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer of the lining of the lungs.
Asbestos is not only a problem for New York residents, either – most buildings constructed prior to the 1980s contain at least some asbestos in the insulation or other construction materials. And despite what many believe, the EPA was not successful in banning the dangerous mineral. The 1989 ban was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana in 1991, even though the link between asbestos exposure and diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma has been conclusively proven many times over.
Since mesothelioma symptoms can take between 20 and 50 years after exposure to develop, we may have yet to see the full impact of the EPA’s failure, both in the nation at large and New York City in particular. Ground Zero first responders may pay a dear price for doing their jobs – because the cancer often goes undiagnosed until after it is beyond the reach of standard treatments, mesothelioma life expectancy only averages eight to fourteen months after diagnosis. If the EPA is not actively working to protect the health of American citizens from dangers such as this, what good is it?
Scott Portman is a health, safety, and politics advocate with a passion for economics. He is a recent college graduate with a degree in English and is an aspiring journalist. Scott currently resides in the South Eastern United States.
Image by Yasser Alghofily via Flickr.