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THE OTHER SIDE: Our alarming airborne PCBs

I want to talk about the failures of government to properly regulate the egregious choices polluters like Monsanto and GE have made as they chose profit over public health and the environment.

When distinguished scientists tell the world that toxic chemicals pose a serious threat to public health and the environment, are they alarmists? When a distinguished scientist demonstrates that toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) vaporize, enter the airstream, and pose a threat to our health and the environment, is he an alarmist?

Unfortunately, these are not trick questions. Rather, they are questions that describe our reality: Monsanto made and General Electric (GE) used PCBs that injure, even kill. And they had to stop manufacturing and using those PCBs only because scientists and environmentalists learned the alarming truth and revealed it to the public. They only stopped when politicians had to take action.

Yes, there has always been conflict between those who maintain that their cars, planes, their chemicals are perfectly safe and those who eventually prove that that really isn’t true. Ford’s Pinto was safe until it was revealed that impact resulted in the explosion of their rear gas tank. Boeing’s 737 Max 9 was safe to fly until Alaska Airlines had a near catastrophic failure when a bolt failed on a door plug.

So, I want to tell you about a distinguished scientist who has often helped us to better understand the threat of PCBs. And it is yet another indication of how crazy our American reality has become that Dr. David Carpenter of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Albany’s School of Public Health has been attacked by both Monsanto and our local Region One of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—attacked by a company that has polluted much of our world and the agency we rely upon to protect ourselves from Monsanto’s toxic chemicals. And they both consider Dr. David Carpenter to be an alarmist.

It is useful to take a look back at one of the best-known examples of a brave American scientist willing to sound the alarm and wage the battle between the profit-driven polluters and science.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 “Silent Spring.”

Rachel Carson was 50 when she began to write “Silent Spring.” Her books about marine biology were successful enough to allow her to write full time, but few magazines were interested in publishing her exposés of the pesticide industry. Already facing cancer, Rachel Carson knew she had to write this book.

In 2012, Frank Graham Jr. wrote a 50-year retrospective: “When Silent Spring was published in 1962, author Rachel Carson was subjected to vicious personal assaults that had nothing do with the science or the merits of pesticide use.” The headline accompanying John H. Lee’s review of Silent Spring in The New York Times read: “Pesticides Industry Up in Arms Over a New Book.” Lee wrote: “The $300,000,000 pesticides industry has been highly irritated by a quiet woman author whose previous works on science have been praised for the beauty and precision of the writing.”

In his “Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a Book that Changed the World,” Mark Stoll reminds us:

Leaders of the chemical industry launched a counterattack on this threat to its commercial interests. Velsicol Corporation, a manufacturer of chlordane, sent a letter to Houghton Mifflin threatening a libel suit if it published the book. The National Agricultural Chemical Association (NACA) funded a public relations campaign with $25,000, a substantial sum in 1962. NACA took out advertisements, sent letters to the editor, published pamphlets and put out a newspaper insert, all touting the safety and necessity of agricultural chemicals.

Add this TV attack from a CBS Reports interview with Robert H. White-Stevens from April 3, 1963: “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”

Her words, so many decades later, remain as powerful as ever:

Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world. During the past quarter-century this power has not only increased to one of disturbing magnitude but it has changed in character. The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible … changing the very nature of the world — the very nature of its life. (Emphasis added.)

Monsanto and General Electric have indeed changed the very nature of our world. They repeatedly lied about the health risks posed by the massive amounts of the highly toxic PCBs that GE allowed to escape from its factories. Multiple routes of exposure have endangered not only the environment but us all. Those with relatives or friends who worked for the power transformer manufacturer or with GE’s capacitors know how many suffered with skin rashes, cancer, or died sooner than their contemporaries. You can see/hear for yourself GE managers and workers talking about how working with PCBs affected them in “Good Things To Life: GE, PCBs and Our Town.”

Thousands of pounds of PCBs made their way into Silver Lake and the Housatonic River. For years, GE burned used PCB-laced oil in its Thermal Oxidizer located in the midst of a residential neighborhood and the Newell Street business community. GE gave PCB-contaminated fill to its employees in Lakewood and dumped PCB-contaminated materials everywhere they could, in the old Pittsfield Landfill and its unlined Hill 78 landfill across from the Allendale Elementary School. And, as Dr. Carpenter reminds us, they are volatilizing. I, for one, am grateful that he is spreading the alarming news that we are, indeed, in danger.

A house with PCB-contaminated fill in its front and back yards in the Lakewood neighborhood in Pittsfield. Still frame courtesy of Mickey Friedman.

The sad reality is that it took so very long for the agencies charged with protecting human health and the environment to truly appreciate the danger of PCBs. And, over too many years, the PCBs spread unimpeded, forming underground plumes, causing Pittsfield to lose its groundwater, and contaminating Silver Lake and the Housatonic River—and, for those of us in Great Barrington, sacrificing Rising Pond.

It is maddening to me that more than 60 years ago, Rachel Carson said all this far better than me:

The most flagrant abuses go unchecked in both state and federal agencies … that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself. Future generations are unlikely to condone our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life … It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth … [And] these chemicals are now stored in the bodies of the vast majority of human beings, regardless of age. They occur in the mother’s milk, and probably in the tissues of the unborn child.

As this 1955 memo from Monsanto’s Dr. J.W. Barrett in London reveals, Monsanto knowingly ignored the illness and death of their workers.

Monsanto memo on Aroclor toxicity, September 20, 1955. (MAC means Maximum Allowable Concentration.) Highlighting added.

It was only when scientists thankfully sounded the alarm that PCBs were killing birds and fish and contaminating our waters that Monsanto’s denials seemed less persuasive. In their November 2018 analysis “Monsanto, PCBs, and the creation of a ‘world-wide ecological problem,’” Gerald Moskowitz and David Rosner detail how Swedish scientists studying the effects of pesticides on wildlife stumbled upon another pollutant, PCBs:

Moskowitz and Rosner’s “Monsanto, PCBs, and the creation of a ‘world-wide ecological problem’” in the Journal of Public Health Policy. Highlighting added.

Science was beginning to catch up with Monsanto. Moskowitz and Rosner continue:

At the end of October 1968, Elmer Wheeler of Monsanto’s Medical Department wrote that a technical paper provided to him by Donald Spencer of the National Agricultural Chemical Association, reported that a researcher ‘has found PCBs along with chlorinated pesticides in a number of species of fish and birds along the California coast as well as in waters off Baja California and Central America’ … The paper by R.W. Risebrough of the Institute of Marine Resources, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of California, Berkeley, was published by the prestigious journal Nature in December 1968 and, according to Monsanto’s W. R. Richard, ‘has attacked chlorinated biphenyls in three ways’ …

First, the article made clear that PCBs were a ‘pollutant’ that was ‘widely spread by air–water’ and was ‘therefore an uncontrollable pollutant.’ Second, it was clearly ‘a toxic substance — with no permissible allowable levels’ and was ‘causing extinction of [the] peregrine falcon by induced hepatic enzymes which degrade steroids upsetting Ca [calcium] metabolism leading to reproductive weakness, presumably through thinner egg shells.’ Finally, PCB was ‘a toxic substance endangering man himself.’

Clearly, Monsanto was in a bind.

Elmer Wheeler’s advice tells you all you need to know about Monsanto’s priorities—and incidentally sets the stage for their attack on Dr. Carpenter:

Elmer Wheeler to W.R Richard, “Polychlorinated biphenyls in the environment,” October 21, 1968. Highlighting added.

But time and again, rather than aggressively warning the regulatory agencies and taking steps to repair the environment, Monsanto and General Electric opted to maintain the impressive profits they were reaping. Here are notes from a 1969 meeting of Monsanto’s PCB Committee:

Notes from an August 25, 1969 meeting of Monsanto’s PCB Committee. Highlighting added.

Two distinct choices: Either go out of the PCB business or sell the hell out of them until stopped. No consideration of doing everything possible to help remove PCBs from the environment. And more than two years later, this internal 1971 confidential legal opinion offered a look at profits, then potential legal liability and PCB incidents:

Monsanto’s confidential legal opinion on PCBs, pending threatened litigation from William A. Blasé, Dec. 6, 1971. Highlighting added.
Monsanto’s confidential legal opinion on PCBs, pending threatened litigation from William A. Blasé, Dec. 6, 1971. Highlighting added.

I want to talk about the failures of government to properly regulate the egregious choices polluters like Monsanto and GE have made as they chose profit over public health and the environment:

EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emegency Response: The Monsanto Investigation, 1994. Highlighting added.

This EPA investigation details the agency’s disastrous miscalculations and the impacts those failures had on so many of the Americans who fought during the Vietnam War. In the same way Monsanto hid its knowledge of the toxic effects of the PCBs, the company knowingly sold the U.S. government toxic Agent Orange, a dioxin-based defoliant. And as a result, we not only poisoned the land and people of Vietnam but our own troops. Sanjour writes:

Since dioxin was known to cause cancer and birth defects in some animals, veterans, who had contracted cancer and who had been in areas sprayed with Agent Orange, attempted to obtain compensation from the Veterans Administration and from the manufacturers of Agent Orange. These manufacturers included Monsanto, Dow, Uniroyal and Diamond Shamrock.

Since the chemical manufacturers were aware of the presence and toxicity of dioxin in Agent Orange and since the presence of dioxin could have been greatly reduced by more careful production techniques, a successful lawsuit by the veterans could have bankrupted some of the world’s largest chemical manufacturing companies … However, the veterans won very little from the Veterans Administration and less from their lawsuits against the manufacturers. Their principal problem was the insufficient scientific data showing that dioxin caused cancer in humans. Even more damaging to their suit was the fact that, of the few studies of human exposure to dioxin in existence at the time, the ones where there were the greatest exposure to dioxin showed no significant increase in cancer. These included Monsanto sponsored studies of Monsanto workers inadvertently exposed to dioxin.

Because of the sparsity of positive human data and the existence of the negative Monsanto data, the veterans, in 1984, had to accept a token ‘nuisance value’ settlement. Eventually, scientific studies came to light which unambiguously identified dioxin as a human carcinogen, but it was too late for the veterans as the courts had closed the door on any further settlements.

In February 1990, Dr. Cate Jenkins, a chemist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, wrote to the EPA Science Advisory Board that there was evidence that the Monsanto studies were fraudulently done and that if the studies had been done correctly, they would have shown the connection between dioxin and cancer in humans. This accusation received considerable press attention. In August, 1990 EPA decided to launch a criminal investigation of Monsanto. Amid a furor of publicity and cries of foul and intensive lobbying by Monsanto the criminal investigation went on for two years. However, despite the government’s assurances that it would ‘investigate any allegations of fraud and, if appropriate, evaluate the full range of enforcement options’ it did nothing of the kind. Instead it investigated and illegally harassed the whistleblower, Cate Jenkins. In August of 1992, EPA quietly closed the criminal investigation without ever determining or even attempting to determine if the Monsanto studies were valid or invalid, let alone fraudulent. However, the investigation itself and the basis for closing the investigation were fraudulent.

Jenkins’ harassment was subsequently halted by order of the Secretary of Labor. The veterans were able to use her report to obtain increased Agent Orange benefits from Congress for Viet Nam cancer victims. Recent EPA reports say that there is now convincing human evidence of the carcinogenicity of dioxin, in contradiction to the Monsanto studies. This investigation has left the unanswered question: did Monsanto manipulate their studies in order to play down the danger of dioxin so as to reduce their liability to the Viet Nam veterans? And it has raised two more questions. Are top EPA officials more concerned with protecting their employment prospects with the industries they regulate than in protecting human health and the environment? And, are EPA law enforcement officials being used as an internal KGB to silence dissent? (Emphasis added.)

I urge you to read the entire memorandum, which details the numerous times Monsanto experienced industrial accidents, their practice of dumping 30 to 40 pounds of dioxin a day into the Mississippi and lying to the EPA about it, hiding the fact that it had autopsied the workers who had died in an accident in its St. Louis plant and found dioxin in every body. On and on.

Somehow, Monsanto had gotten a hold of the February 23, 1990 memorandum Jenkins had sent to the EPA Science Advisory Board entitled “Newly Revealed Fraud by Monsanto in an Epidemiological Study Used by EPA to Assess Human Health Effects from Dioxins.” Not only did Monsanto Vice President James H. Senger complain to the EPA Science Advisory Board that Jenkins’ memo was false, but when the press got the story, Monsanto’s CEO called on EPA Administrator William Reilly “to publicly announce that Jenkins does not speak for EPA.” EPA complied, and in a letter to Monsanto’s CEO, EPA Assistant Administrator Don Clay expressed his regrets for “any problems that Monsanto may have had as a result of the news medias’ use of this memorandum.”

This case is yet another example of how difficult it is to tell science-based truths to corporations who routinely bury facts in favor of profit, and those in environmental agencies who have relationships with those corporations and tend to believe them. Sanjour notes:

Dr. Cate Jenkins has been an environmental scientist with EPA since 1979. Before getting involved with Monsanto and the Kemner brief in 1990, she had, by 1987, already become, a well known whistleblower over what she felt was fraud, waste, or abuse in the agency’s handling of dioxin laden wastes from the wood preserving industry and EPA’s regulatory decisions on the synthetic plant hormone Alar.

Her reward? Her job duties were restricted, then she was reassigned to clerical jobs until she finally resigned.

Ironically, for years I have been urging the EPA to employ the strategy the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) employed with the Government of Vietnam to successfully clean up the dioxin contamination of the Danang Airport. Thermal desorption could certainly work for the Housatonic River.

Dr. David Carpenter. Photo courtesy of the University of Albany.

I don’t wish to embarrass him, but we have been so fortunate to have benefited from Dr. David Carpenter’s expertise the many times he has spoken to audiences throughout the Berkshire County.

 

The University writes:

He has studied rates of hospitalization for these and other diseases in relation to living near to hazardous waste sites, fossil fuel power plants, and other areas of contamination in New York. He has used results of these ecological studies to study specific populations highly exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and persistent pesticides in Native American and Alaskan Native communities and residents of Anniston, Alabama – sites of the Monsanto plant that made PCBs. These studies have confirmed the association between PCBs exposure and rates of hypertension and diabetes that were suggested by the ecologic studies. He has ongoing collaborative studies on air pollution and health in several countries and studies health effects of electromagnetic field exposure. He has more than 450 peer-review publications and has edited six books.

But, recently, Monsanto has tried to silence him. And, sadly, the University of Albany has responded to the pressure from Monsanto. As Spectrum News reported, Monsanto launched a strategic attack on Dr. Carpenter. Dr. Carpenter has over the years successfully served as an expert witness in several cases where juries have penalized Monsanto many hundreds of million dollars. Here is how Spectrum lays out the timeline:

  • Monsanto sent several Freedom of Information Requests (FOIL) to the University at Albany regarding Dr. David Carpenter, a PCB expert
  • UAlbany then launched a disciplinary investigation into Dr. David Carpenter based on those FOIL requests
  • Monsanto reads about UAlbany’s decision to launch a disciplinary investigation into Carpenter
  • Using UAlbany’s investigation as a legal basis, Monsanto seeks the legal right to dig further into Carpenter.

The Albany Times Union of February 12, 2023 reports on the results of Monsanto’s intervention:

David O. Carpenter, the founder and longtime director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the state University at Albany, was quietly placed on ‘alternate assignment’ nine months ago, a status under which he was instructed to not visit any campuses and to perform his duties from home as the school investigated his extensive work testifying as an expert witness in toxic pollution cases.

The ongoing disciplinary investigation was prompted by a Freedom of Information Law request filed a year ago by an attorney with Shook Hardy & Bacon, a Missouri law firm that represents Monsanto Company in toxic pollution cases it has faced across the nation.

Additionally, Albany Times Union elaborated:

Monsanto’s law firm filed its request last year seeking a trove of records related to the 86-year-old public health physician’s research at UAlbany, including information about any compensation or other benefits that he or the university have received from his testimony in toxic pollution cases. With the consent of top university officials, Carpenter has for two decades arranged for the money he has received for testifying as an expert witness (minus travel expenses) to be funneled back to the university to assist his graduate students, staff and research programs.

For most of that time, the money was diverted into a special account at the SUNY Research Foundation, a nonprofit educational corporation that administers grants and other programming for the state university system. But a few years ago, Carpenter said, they discovered Internal Revenue Service regulations prohibited the disbursement of what was considered his personal funds into a research account … They explored diverting the money through the UAlbany Foundation, but it wasn’t an option, and learned that both the university and Carpenter faced potential tax consequences if the payments were made directly to him and then provided to students and research staff. Carpenter said they settled on a plan to have the law firms pay the students and staff directly.

So, there is a very simple reason why Monsanto—and GE, for that matter—might want to discredit Dr. Carpenter: Not only does his research reveal the continuing threat that PCBs present to the environment and public health, but he emphasizes the specific danger that we face from volatilized, evaporating PCBs. Dr. Carpenter has also explained how the higher-chlorinated PCBs, predominately used by GE in Aroclor 1260 and Aroclor 1254, break down over time into lower-chlorinated congeners more likely to evaporate. And other materials that contain PCBs could pose a threat to teachers and students and homeowners, etc.

And here in Berkshire County, despite the extraordinary quantity of PCBs present in the sediments and bank soils of the Housatonic that currently pose a threat, and the significant amount of PCBs that will remain after the cleanup and pose future threats, the dangers to human health of volatilized PCBs are routinely downplayed by Region One.

Dr. David Carpenter’s “Exposure to and Health Effects of Volatile PCBs.” Highlighting added.

In a 2015 article for the Review of Environmental Health, Dr. Carpenter elaborates on the often less-appreciated exposure we face by breathing in toxic PCBs that have volatilized from contaminated bodies of water and landfills.

 

Carpenter and his team studied New York State hospitalization:

We have matched rates of hospitalization for specific diseases to residence in zip codes that either contain or do not contain a hazardous waste site. The Department of Environmental Conservation lists 814 such sites in NYS and identifies those containing PCBs. Our hypothesis behind these studies is that living near a PCB-contaminated site increases exposure, and that such exposure must be primarily by inhalation … (Emphasis added.)

Carpenter found increased risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes among those living in a zip code containing a PCB-hazardous-waste site, either a landfill or a contaminated body of water:

First, these results suggest that living near a PCB-contaminated waste site poses risk to health, and by extrapolation this applies also to attending a school with elevated PCBs in the air due to PCB-containing light ballasts or caulk … working in a contaminated building … working as a fireman around certain house fires … and living downwind of sewage sludge drying plants … Lower chlorinated PCBs are found in current retail paints, and would be expected to volatilize into room air … Urban areas are likely to have more hot spots with higher concentrations than in rural areas, as has been demonstrated in Chicago and … Thus, many people are being unknowingly exposed to these sources via inhalation. Scientists from the USEPA have recently published a report calling for greater evaluation of health risks from inhaled PCBs.

In addition, one of the most significant points Dr. Carpenter makes is that there is absolutely no safe level of PCBs. It is difficult to remember this very frightening reality, given the fact that our environmental agencies attempt to set exposure limits for food we eat, the air that workers breathe, and the soil we encounter. We assume that exposure to these levels is safe, but the reality is these are levels most often extrapolated from tests on animals in laboratories. And the critical reality is that we are still learning about the mechanisms by which human hormones are regulated, and the endocrine system is disrupted by chemicals like PCBs:

Dr. Carpenter’s presentation “PCB Exposure and Human Health.” Highlighting added.

In a paper for Environmental Research and Public Health, “Mixture Effects of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Three Organochlorine Pesticides on Cognitive Function in Mohawk Adults at Akwesasn,” Carpenter’s team found:

Dr. Carpenter’s “Mixture Effects of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Three Organochlorine Pesticides on Cognitive Function in Mohawk Adults at Akwesasn.” Highlighting added.

There are times when we are able to celebrate the essential contribution of scientists and science and their victory over greed and dishonesty. On January 21, 2024, the Times Union reported:

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has reached a confidential settlement with Monsanto in its years-long industrial contamination lawsuit alleging the former chemical giant was responsible for increased risks of cancer and other diseases in tribal members exposed to PCBs. The pollution at the center of the case originated at manufacturing sites adjacent to Akwesasne, the sprawling Mohawk tribal lands that straddle the U.S.-Canadian border in northern New York, where toxic chemicals made by Monsanto were disposed of for years … (Emphasis added.)

On February 3, 2023, Dr. Carpenter submitted an affidavit to the Lee Board of Health, who were investigating the public health implications of the EPA/GE cleanup of the Housatonic River and the decision to site the Upland Disposal Facility, a massive PCB landfill, within the borders of Lee. He wrote:

The Settlement Agreement (“SA”) indicates that the UDF will be located two miles from downtown Main Street in Lee, MA … the SA states that the UDF will have a capacity of 1.3 million cubic yards with a footprint of 20 acres and an elevation of 1,099 feet above mean sea level. Placing a PCB-contaminated disposal facility of this magnitude in a location so close to the heart of the Town of Lee and residential areas is a dangerous plan. It will threaten the health of the residents who live up to a four-mile radius of the PCB landfill. My research team has numerous publications showing that people who live within a four-mile radius of a PCB-contaminated waste site in New York State are more likely to be hospitalized with a number of different diseases (including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, COPD and other diseases) than those who do not. The route of their exposure to PCBs is through the inhalation of vapor-base PCBs coming off the PCB waste site.

Landfills, such as the UDF, do not prevent PCBs from passing through the cover of the landfill and into the air. PCBs will escape into the air from even an enclosed and dormant landfill. The SA states that the soil dredged from the Housatonic River with concentration levels of PCBs between 20 to 25 parts per million and lower will be dumped and stored at the UDF. It leaves open the possibility that GE could dump PCB-contaminated soil with concentration levels of PCBs as high as 25 to 49 parts per million at the UDF. Our studies, referenced in Paragraph 5 above, show that for some diseases, especially diabetes and hypertension, it is the lower-chlorinated PCBs congeners that are more volatile and responsible for the elevated risk of disease.

While there may be good intentions behind the language in the SA promising to only store the PCB-contaminated soil with the lower-concentration levels of PCBs, this does little to control the risk of dangerous exposure to PCBs to those living within a four-mile radius of the UDF. The important distinction lies between lower concentration levels of PCBs verses lower-chlorinated PCBs. The soil with the lower-concentration levels of PCBs between 20 and 25 parts per million will still contain PCBs with fewer chlorines. It is the PCBs with lower amounts of chorine that volatize more quickly into the air and increase the risk of exposure. The SA does not reference this important fact nor does it mention any plan to test for of the PCB-contaminated soil stored at the UPD for its chlorine content which is critical to understanding the likelihood of the risk of exposure to airborne PCBs coming from the UDF. (Emphasis added.)

In a March 17, 2023 letter to Cristobal Bonifaz, attorney for the town of Lee Board of Health, Dean Tagliaferro, EPA project coordinator for the GE-Pittsfield/Housatonic River site and for the Rest of River permit, not only challenges Dr. David Carpenter’s competence but brands him an alarmist.

January 17, 2024 letter from the town of Lee on the GE-Pittsfield/Housatonic River site. Highlighting added.

Dr. Carpenter’s concerns were based on real-life experience dealing with the public health consequences of exposure to PCBs from a variety of pathways, including inhalation. A critical review of the EPA’s track record—beginning with its 1988 Site Assessment, which was completely controlled by GE; the many years the EPA left GE’s grossly incorrect estimate that there were only 39,000 pounds of PCBs in the Housatonic completely unchallenged; the many years GE successful hid from the EPA the reality that it had dumped PCBs throughout Berkshire County; the EPA’s complete reversal of its science-based 2016 mandate that GE transport all Housatonic River contamination to an out-of-state PCB landfill in favor of the recent politically motivated reversal that mandates a massive dump for Lee—makes it hard to accept without serious questions and reservations its absolute assertion that “there is no current human health threat from the volatilization of PCBs in the Housatonic River or floodplain.”

I am going to cite just a few relevant studies conducted by researchers other than Dr. Carpenter that address the exposure risks from inhalation. Wendy J. Heiger-Bernays (et al.) details the health risks experienced by those living by New Bedford Harbor who are exposed to airborne PCBs:

Human health risks due to airborne polychlorinated biphenyls are highest in New Bedford Harbor communities living closest to the harbor. Highlighting added.

Nancy Bettinger, an environmental analyst with the Office of Research and Standards at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, offered this slide in a presentation about what we do and don’t know about the risks presented by endocrine-disrupting toxic chemicals like PCBs in nearby hazardous waste sites:

“Low-Level Site-Related Exposures Could Affect Human Endocrine Systems.”

A post by Inside OSHA referenced Nancy Bettinger’s November 2008 presentation before the Association of State and Territorial Waste Managers and wrote:

A state waste official is questioning whether regulators have adequate tools to address the long-term risks posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals at hazardous waste sites after evidence from numerous studies from around the world has shown the chemicals pose developmental risks even after cleanups are deemed complete.

Bettinger went on to suggest:

Endocrine disrupting chemicals found at waste sites can have effects at environmentally relevant concentrations … Endocrine effects have been reported at concentrations that are: lower than risk-based concentrations and conventionally derived for site management, and/or consistent with ambient air exposures not normally assessed at waste sites.

Another slide asked and then answered the following: “At concentrations/exposures below levels of concern for other effects, could endocrine effects occur in: – Wildlife? Yes – People? Possibly.”

A 2022 study, “Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Pollution in the Air: Where and How Much Are We Exposed to?,” notes that while food contaminated by PCBs was once considered the major pathway of exposure, it is important to consider inhalation:

“Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Pollution in the Air: Where and How Much Are We Exposed to?” Highlighting added.

The experience of Rachel Carson and Dr. Cate Jenkins reveals how both corporations and governmental agencies often don’t welcome the alarming warnings provided by science that chemical contamination is worse than imagined, and that environmental regulators are failing to fully protect the environment and human health.

If you ask me, we need Dr. David Carpenter more than ever.

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