Commentary: Drinking poison

Op-ed by Richard Hyman. Published May 18, 2017 in The Weston Forum.

What if you couldn’t drink your well water because a business upstream dumped toxic chemicals into the aquifer? Or an aircraft negligently sprayed pesticides into your water supply?

For years now, pesticide manufacturers have lobbied Congress to eliminate Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Industry groups throw around words like “burdensome” and “duplicative” when describing the application process for applying pesticides near and around our rivers, lakes and streams. The culmination of that effort came to a head on Wednesday, May 24, when the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a bill to gut Clean Water Act protections — the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act — to the U.S. Senate for further consideration.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with registering all pesticides that are used and sold in the United States. But FIFRA failed to account for the fact that when, where, and how pesticides are applied matters. Applying a pesticide to cropland has a dramatically different consequence to the environment than when it is sprayed directly into bodies of water. That’s why the EPA stepped in to require Pesticide General Permits (PGPs).

Cutting red tape makes for a great talking point, but never at the expense of ensuring clean water or protecting our public health. Passage of the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act would eliminate the Pesticide General Permit, effectively giving carte blanche to industries to dump chemicals into our water supply.

As a member of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee, Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-5th Dist.) offered an amendment on the House floor to the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act. She urged her colleagues to support the amendment because all industries should be held accountable for dumping toxic chemicals, such as turpentine, sulfuric acid, copper, propane, chlorine, chlordane, benzene, toluene, and vinyl chloride, into our nation’s waterways. Unfortunately, her amendment failed by a vote of 229 to 191.

I thought our representatives’ responsibilities included enacting laws to protect our nation’s water supply and public health.

I guess they think that water stops flowing at district and state lines.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, pesticide contamination in residential drinking water has been a statewide problem for some time now.

Some residents have gone years living with stomach pain, hair loss, body numbness, and skin rashes, not knowing the cause of their ailments. They spent thousands of dollars on biopsies, CAT scans, blood tests, and even brain scans to figure out what was wrong. Test results revealed that pesticides were often the cause of their pain and suffering.

And here in Connecticut our waters flow to Long Island Sound, Connecticut’s largest and most important natural resource. Boating, fishing, tourism, swimming, and other activities that take place on and along the Sound enhance our quality of life and contribute $17 billion to the regional economy.

Clean drinking water is essential for life and health. It’s in our best interest to ensure water quality and the ecological integrity of our unique, precious bodies of water, both above and below the ground.

Drink up! And write, call or visit Congress. Did your representative support HR 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act? Did he or she support Rep. Esty’s amendment? Now it’s on to the Senate! Contact your senators.

Richard Hyman is a Weston businessman, author and conservation leader.

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