RRWPC Comments on Revised Recycled Water Policy Amendment

Sent to State Water Quality Control Board, October 8, 2012

Dear Chairman Hoppin and Board Members:
I wish to express our concerns about the “Revised Recycled Water Policy Amendment” released for comment on September 17, 2012. Our primary message here is to express concerns about the failure of this policy to require monitoring for endocrine disrupting chemicals in tertiary wastewater used for landscape irrigation.

RRWPC submitted extensive comments (with attachments) on the Recycled Water Policy Amendment last July during the formal comment period.  We also fully supported the comments of scientist Laura Vandenberg, PhD, and the study she submitted, of which she was lead author involving twelve key scientists.  The study considered impacts to humans and wildlife of low dose exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals and synthesized findings of over 850 studies on the topic.

(Hormones and endocrine disrupting chemicals: Low dose effects and non-monotonic dose responses, Laura Vandenberg, PhD. et. al. Endocrine Reviews. Online Mar. 14, 2012)

First, do no harm……
On Wednesday, October 3, 2012, we mailed six copies of the June, 2012 edition of San Francisco Medical Society’s San Francisco Medicine: Environmental Health Magazine to the State Water Board (one for each Board member and one for staff). (#1) This issue is filled with informative articles on certain health effects from endocrine disrupting chemical exposures such as: cancer, diabetes, autism, birth defects, and more.

Also included in the magazine is a small pamphlet called, Healthy Aging and the Environment.  It contains a wealth of recommendations on how to minimize exposure risk and also serves as a vehicle to help federal and state agencies assess human and environmental health hazards….and reduce the use of those (chemicals) of greatest concern.  For instance they recommend (page 10), “Prevent harm from new or existing chemicals when credible threats exist, even when some uncertainty remains.”  We interpret this to mean that they support the Precautionary Principal, similar to the physician’s oath to “First, do no harm.”  The assumption that wastewater irrigation is safe, supported by findings of this policy, without proper safeguards and regular monitoring, in our view, contradicts this suggestion.

RRWPC does not have the scientific expertise to formally challenge most findings of the State’s Scientific Panel on CEC’s, but do wish to challenge the finding that monitoring for endocrine disrupting chemicals in tertiary water used to irrigate landscapes is not necessary.

We asked staff person Melenee Emanuel on October 2, 2012 whether she would respond to our July 2, 2012, comments before the meeting?  She said staff was working on responses, but they would not be ready until after the end of the comment period deadline Oct. 9th, causing these comments to be written in a vacuum without knowledge of what the State’s response will be.  The amended policy ignored substantive comments and documents submitted by Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) indicating significant public concern for numerous health impacts to humans and wildlife caused by very low dose exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

RRWPC is based primarily in the lower Russian River, known world wide for its incredible beauty and scenic resources.  People come from all over to recreate in our area every summer. They bring their children, their families and friends. We are concerned that wastewater runoff from irrigation, at a time when flows are extremely low and assimilation capacity poor, will potentially cause human contact with toxic substances.

The Laguna de Santa Rosa, a major tributary that merges with Mark West Creek and then the Russian River just upstream of Forestville, is the receiving water body for wastewater irrigation runoff and for many years has been severely impaired as a result of wastewater discharges, urban runoff, ag irrigation, dairy runoff, etc.  Problems are worse in the summer when flows are low and temperatures are high.  Next year you will consider changes to Decision 1610 to permanently lower minimum flows in the Russian River, thereby exacerbating any harm this irrigation may cause.  We don’t know to what extent toxic chemicals are a problem, because the appropriate studies have not been done (or have not been made available to the public) and monitoring of wastewater for endocrine disrupting chemicals should be designated and required.

Furthermore, the Laguna is impaired for nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), temperature, sediments, mercury, and dissolved oxygen.  Conceivably, irrigation could make it much worse.  The Regional Board will not deal with this through the NPDES process and we are concerned that general permits will not adequately protect our environment from endocrine disrupting chemicals that are applied to landscapes, that may run off during wastewater irrigation.

Harm resulting from low dose exposures is non-controversial……
In the case of the endocrine system, according to Dr. Vandenberg and the Endocrine Society, it is well established that exposure to low doses of E.D.’s is harmful to humans and wildlife.  In fact, the most harmful exposures are usually the smallest ones.  In the San Francisco magazine (#1), Dr. Vandenberg states in her opening paragraph: (page 15) “Virtually all safety standards for chemical exposures are determined through a process that assumes that high-dose testing will reveal relevant risks because “the dose makes the poison.” For many well-studied contaminants this is a reasonable assumption, but for compounds that behave like hormones, it is demonstrably false. The public health implications of this conclusion are enormous, because it means that many—likely dozens, plausibly hundreds, possibly thousands—of today’s chemical safety standards are too weak by orders of magnitude.”

She further explains: “Low doses are often within the range that traditional toxicological testing has determined to be “safe.”

“The question is whether EDCs are safe at the doses the typical person experiences. To determine what doses are safe, regulatory toxicology usually starts by administering large doses of a chemical to animals, identifying the highest dose at which no effect is found, and then extrapolating downward to calculate a safe dose. Those “safe” doses are rarely tested. Yet EDCs, like hormones, defy the toxicological dogma: Low doses can have effects that are not expected from high-dose exposures. In fact, these effects can be observed at doses orders of magnitude beneath the highest dose that produces no effect using traditional approaches. The mechanisms by which chemicals cause high-dose effects usually are completely unrelated to mechanisms that EDC’s employ at low doses, and the effects of high and low doses can be on completely different end points.”

In fact, we can go back 50 years to Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, (#2) when she said, “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 also in living tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world—the very nature of its life.”

While the long established and prestigious Endocrine Society has long recognized that very low dose exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals (sometimes in the parts per billion range) often causes an extensive range of problematic health effects in humans and wildlife, the regulatory community, bent on maintaining conventional risk assessment analysis, usually does not acknowledge this fact.  In regard to this policy, we have repeatedly heard that more study needs to be done, although funding is seldom provided to accomplish it.  The current body of scientific evidence, exemplified by the 80 page study on low dose impacts, already entered into the record on this issue, is perfectly clear.

THERE IS NO SAFE DOSE OF ENDOCRINE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS, MANY OF WHICH HAVE BEEN CLEARLY IDENTIFIED AND (as already mentioned) INCLUDE PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES THAT WILL RUN OFF INTO OUR WATER WAYS IN INCREASED AMOUNTS AS A RESULT OF THIS POLICY.  The monitoring of receiving waters downstream of these irrigation areas is essential to provide the information needed to determine the risk.  And yet no monitoring will occur and, as far as we can tell, no robust scientific rationale has been given.

Furthermore, this amended policy fails to consider the comments of the director of the National Institute of Health and Department of Health and Human Services, Linda S. Birnbaum, who states in Environmental Health Perspectives Online March 14, 2012 (#3): Low internal doses of endocrine disruptors found in typical human populations have been linked to obesity, infertility, neurobehavioral disorders, and immune dysfunction, among others.  She also states the following in a Frontline interview called “Fooling with Nature” in 1998:  “Now, we’ve known that there are naturally occurring plant estrogens that, in fact, can impact reproduction. They can impact development. Farmers have known for years that you don’t yet let the sheep into the clover because it can be a real problem with their ability to reproduce.”  It is pertinent that we have heard Dr. Shane Snyder, one of California’s Scientific Panel members for this policy, talk on several occasions about natural estrogens and the fact that because they cause no harm, we should not be concerned about small amounts of synthetic estrogens in the wastewater.  Based on the study on low dose exposures, Dr. Vandenberg does not agree and obviously, many others do not agree either.

Irrigation runoff almost always occurs……
Originally the State’s Scientific Panel concluded that monitoring these chemicals was unnecessary because they occurred at such low doses as to have no effect. Yet they recently changed their rationale to justify the finding that monitoring was not necessary, based on the assumption that the risk of exposure is so low, as to make monitoring unnecessary, even with the provision of extensive evidence demonstrating that the opposite is true. This assertion is contradictory to the evidence we provided on repeated irrigation overflows we have seen occur, directly contradicting this assumption.

RRWPC has documented recurrent runoff in photos in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park at numerous locations where spray irrigation with water and/or wastewater occurs. Evidence is included with multiple photos over time of a single example of serious ponding from runoff (#4). We have also photographed this runoff repeatedly going into drains leading to creeks.  We expect that drip irrigation that is set back from waterways is far less of a problem, and should be required by the Recycled Water Policy.

When I had reported the irrigation runoff in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa, the Regional Board merely talked to those entities about changing irrigation practices, but we never received any written response as to what had been accomplished. There were never any penalties imposed or hearing about a violation.  We are concerned that the definition of ‘incidental runoff’ may be totally unenforceable and therefore not protective of aquatic life or the environment.  (I still see small amounts of runoff in Santa Rosa and I think they changed their time of irrigation so not much would show up in the morning hours.  I have witnessed the same pond however, every time I go by: picture attached.)

We include the following description of incidental runoff quoted in our complaint, (#5) from the Basin Plan and submitted on Feb. 10, 2012:

The North Coast Basin Plan provides a similar definition (compared to Recycled Water Policy), but also admits:  “Due to the unplanned nature of incidental discharges, this category of non-storm water discharges poses a slightly greater risk to water quality due to the potential for higher levels of pollutants and less opportunity to control the rate, volume, and timing of the discharge.” Yet they don’t describe the additional risk and continue to leave questions about what they are referring to.  Even worse, they don’t explain why this is not a violation of the Clean Water Act, which requires regulation of all waste discharges.

RRWPC and many others had consistently requested that the term “incidental” be numerically defined.  It never was, and is now up for speculation.  Nevertheless, photos taken by RRWPC between December 14, 2011 and January 9, 2012 on five different dates, illustrate the on-going and non-incidental nature of the runoff.

Informal Russian River Study for estrogen indicators…..
About seven years ago, the Regional Board (RB1) contributed to a study to screen several surface waterways for estrogenic endocrine disrupting chemicals and also examine some fish tissue samples for estrogenic effects.  While the study was never published, it clearly stated that natural and synthetic estrogens are the most significant chemical to threaten fish populations, with the most potent E.D. being 17a-ethynlestradiol (EE-2 from female contraceptives) and 17-beta estradiol (E-2).  Under this policy, monitoring for direct application of highly treated wastewater into drinking water supplies will include monitoring for E-2.

Because of the potential exposure of fish to the irrigated runoff water, we strongly recommend that if you monitor nothing else, that these estrogenic chemicals be monitored in the irrigated tertiary wastewater also, since relatively small amounts can seriously affect fish, and people, especially indigent people, eat fish caught in the Laguna.  Has anyone considered what impacts could occur from exposures to fish toxins by the fish eating public?

It’s important to mention a potential remedy to this problem.  Experts have discovered that the longer the wastewater sits in the wastewater storage pond, the more endocrine disrupting chemicals seem to dissipate and become virtually undetectable if held as much as ten days.  I’m fairly certain there have been studies on this.  It would be good to learn about it’s feasibility.

In fact, this policy virtually ignores impacts to the environment.  State and Federal Water Law is extremely weak in protecting aquatic life from chemical alterations in their biological makeup.  In a 1998 Frontline report, (#6) Theo Colborn stated:
Look at the chemicals that EPA has pulled off the market. The only thing they pulled off was DDT, PCBs and a few pesticides. Nothing else has come off the market. I could give you a list that would blow you away of chemicals we know are not safe, but they’re still being released into the environment.”

It is essential to study fish directly for estrogenic activity as a result of exposure to these chemicals.  This has been a finding of biologist John Sumpter as well.  (Our Stolen Future, Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers) pages 131-134) (#7) Dr. Sumpter studied sexually confused fish downstream of wastewater treatment plants.  “….John Sumpter, ….is a biologist from Brunel university in Uxbridge, who has studied the role of hormones is fish reproduction…..Even experienced fishermen could often not tell if a fish was male or female, for they showed male and female sexual characteristics at the same time.”  Dr. Sumpter believed that if there was estrogen in the water, male fish would produce vitellogenin, a special egg yolk protein only produced by females.  Indeed, this proved to be the case.

It seems like it would be relatively simple to test tertiary wastewater that is to be irrigated for estrogenic responses in fish.  Of course, that does not address the likelihood of exposures to all endocrine disrupting chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides that run off the landscapes with the wastewater.  That can be dealt with by best management practices such as requiring set backs from streets and streams, use of drip irrigation, and other safeguards.

The use of spray irrigation not only sends these chemicals through the air, but when runoff occurs, which often happens, it carries with it the herbicides, pesticides, etc. applied to the landscape prior to the wastewater irrigation. At a minimum, estrogen (17-beta estradiol) should be regularly monitored in the wastewater used for irrigation, particularly since summer flows cannot adequately assimilate the toxins at a time when recreational use is high and flows are low.

In our country, the importance of the Precautionary Principle is mostly ignored.  Margaret Kripke wrote the article in the magazine I sent you entitled Reducing Cancer Risks (page 13) (#1) Dr. Kripke is a professor of immunology at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and was one of three scientists who served on the President’s Cancer Panel which produced the report “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks: What We Can Do Now” (2010).

She states, “I always assumed that if something was a known human carcinogen, that it would be regulated.  This is clearly not the case.  There are carcinogens in our environment that have been banned in Europe and Canada but still remain unregulated here. Second, I always assumed that before things were put on the market, they would be tested.  And that, too, is absolutely not the case.  We test very few things for cancer-causing properties.  The United State has not regulated much of anything since the 1990’s.”   Dr. Kripke then goes on to state that of the approximate 80,000 chemicals currently on the market, only about 2% have been tested for cancer causing properties.  In our country, contrary to the Precautionary Principle, we don’t ban anything until it is proved harmful, rather than first proving it safe, as they do in most European and industrialized countries.  What a shame!

Consumer Report’s current issue (Nov., 2012)  has a six-page report on the occurrence of arsenic in rice, especially the so-called healthier brown rice, which has more arsenic than white.  This is often the first solid food fed to infants.  They found that some infant rice had levels of inorganic rice that were sometimes five times more that what was found in oatmeal for infants.  In almost every product tested, they found measurable levels of arsenic and went so far as to advise people to limit their intake of rice.  Studies show that arsenic can cause cancer in humans.

What is important here is not that we are requesting the Water Board to regulate arsenic through this policy, but rather that we have gone so long before discovering this problem because legislators are often adverse to offending the Chemistry Council and, where regulations do exist, regulators are resistant to enforcement, since they are often not funded to do their jobs properly.  Because there is a high likelihood that endocrine disrupting chemicals will end up in our waterways, and, in the case of recreational areas, will potentially expose many people to dangerous toxins, we urge you to implement a monitoring program, TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION,  and assure the public that you have done all you can to protect their health and well being.

We need to also mention the October 6, 2012 New York Times article by Nickolas D. Kristof entitled “The Cancer Lobby”. (#8) You can guess what this is about by just reading the title.  Author Kristof targets formaldehyde here, but similar risks occur with residual chemicals in the wastewater and the herbicides and pesticides running off as a result of careless irrigation applications.  He states, “The American Chemistry Council is working to delay and ultimately destroy the Report on Carcinogens”, the scientists wrote.  And, “The American Chemistry Council is also trying to undermine scientific reviews by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

In expressing concerns about the Recycled Water Project, I don’t know if the American Chemistry Council plays any role in this policy, but WateReuse of California does.  They consist of a group of mostly powerful water purveyors and wastewater utilities that have a stake in avoiding regulation wherever they can.  This group played a lead role in the writing of not only this policy, but also AB 2398, legislation that entirely rewrote water law in regards to recycled water and attempted to get tertiary wastewater declassified as a waste.  That legislation has been killed for this year, but is probably going to be reintroduced next February.

Another important issue that has come up is the need to study the extent to which plants absorb these toxins and end up in the food supply.  I do not think this was addressed in the Recycled Water Policy, at least not in light of the new study on low dose effects.  I’ve run across several small articles stating that this is an issue of concern, but have not had time or expertise to investigate this issue in any detail.  It is one that can have serious ramifications however, and should be addressed before decisions are made to not require monitoring for toxins that will be applied to crops.  I do know that a scientist named Chad Kinney, environmental chemist at Colorado State University has worked extensively on this issue and apparently demonstrated that this is a concern.  I tried to contact him, but he has not responded as yet.  It is critical that this issue be addressed.

We came across an article entitled, “Toxic Irrigation: Major Study Indicts Chemicals Found in Recycled Wastewater Used for Vineyards and Other Crops”, by Lewis Perdue, (#9) where he calls attention to the “low dose” study described extensively above, and expresses concern about the use of wastewater containing these chemicals for irrigation.  He also states, “….the study’s conclusions hold serious consequences for industrial and recreational landscape irrigation as well as the thousands of acres of premium California vineyards currently irrigated with highly treated wastewater.” And, “it is not currently possible, using existing standards and/or regulatory agency risk assessment methodology, to evaluate the endocrine effects of these chemicals, if any, at the low concentrations reported.”

He goes on to say that, “….risk-assessment, regulations and public health decisions are being made without sufficient data.

None of this even begins to consider individual reactions to or cumulative impacts from these many endocrine disrupting toxins that merge in the wastewater treatment process to form a probably toxic soup. That soup may meet all current regulations and be termed “almost drinkable”, but that by no means proves it safe. There is too much that has not been considered, even in terms of what is known, let alone what is not. It is critical that we refrain from letting our human arrogance make allegations of safety when we need to reserve judgment because of the vast amount that is unknown.

Sincerely, Brenda Adelman