The search is on

Copyright 1998 Richmond Times-Dispatch
September 9, 1998

The New York Times headline says it all: "EPA to Hunt Danger in Everyday Products." Not "EPA Responds to New Environmental Threat" or "EPA Reduces Risk From Known Toxin." No. The EPA plans to spend $ 100 million testing 15,000 chemicals for ill effects currently undetectable - perhaps non-existent.

As we argued in this space August 31 [editorial, "Clean It Up"], the EPA having largely succeeded in its mission of implementing environmental protections - now has become an expensive, colossal nuisance. This most recent exercise in EPA bureaucrats justifying their continued existence involves (according to The Times) survey[ing] the entire chemical landscape looking for what molecular biologists call endocrine disrupters: substances that can mimic or interfere with the body's hormones and cause problems with reproduction, development, and behavior.

How long before the first murderer, drunk driver, child molester, or thief claims to be a victim of chemical-induced endocrine disruption? There is virtually no chance researchers will come up empty; remember, the EPA determines acceptable levels of risk. It has banned products (the pesticide Alar, for instance) that were less carcinogenic than tap water. But even if scientists are unable to ferret out any potential hazards for humans, the EPA still wants to know if the endocrine systems of wildlife are at risk. (That should present an interesting dilemma for animal-rights activists. Researchers will administer chemical overdoses to laboratory birds, amphibians, and fish.)

Lamentably, lawmakers can't be called on for help: This time, it was their idea. Two years ago Congress ordered the EPA to launch a search for endocrine disrupters. And you wonder why there is little progress on campaign finance reform.*.*.*. But politicians always will be more eager to spend money than to write laws constraining its collection. Nor is it surprising that the EPA would want to maintain its big budget and big payroll. But it continues to surprise that Washington is so brazen about manufacturing crises to justify both.

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