RRWPC Newsletter, February 2018

North Coast Regional Board releases study on lower Russian River toxins….

When fish swim in waters tainted with antidepressant drugs, they become anxious, anti-social and sometimes even homicidal.  New research has found that the pharmaceuticals, which are frequently showing up in U.S. streams, can alter genes responsible for building fish brains and controlling their behavior.” (Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, June 12, 2013), and…

Baby mice exposed in the womb to low doses-but not high doses- of bisphenol A (a known endocrine disruptor) were fatter and had metabolic changes linked to obesity and diabetes, according to a new study published Thursday.” (Brian Bienkowski, Enviornmental Health News, July 25, 2013)

The above quotations introduced my comments to the North Coast Regional Board at their meeting on February 8, 2018.  They were part of a packet of articles I submitted, along with our comment letter (see RRWPC website), describing just two of the many potential harmful effects from minute doses of endocrine disrupting chemicals that are ubiquitous in our environment (At least 1400 have thus far been identified, but it is expected that there are far more.).  I was responding to the Regional Board’s recent study indicating they found low levels of various toxins in Russian River water, sediments, and fish.  I was aiming to convince them of the risks of low dose exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

The study had been conducted by staff scientists from the Regional Board, Southern CA Coastal Water Research Project, and San Francisco Estuary Institute. Authors implied that because river toxicity levels were found to be relatively low, they were not nearly as concerning as the higher levels found in San Francisco Bay.  Yet one Board member astutely pointed out that the Russian is a much smaller water body by comparison than the Bay, and therefore river toxicity may be seen as relatively high.  The critical point that we emphasized was that where endocrine disruption occurs, toxins can disrupt normal functioning of cells that control many physical body processes, at very low exposures that can result in major harm.

RRWPC has long history on this issue….In 1994 we saw a two paragraph article noting that male fish swimming downstream of sewage treatment plants showed signs of being feminized, as they contained a substance called vitellogenin, normally only found in female fish.  This extremely interesting idea led us to contact an expert who happened to be speaking at the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory on the topic. It turned out he owned a house near Duncans Mills and was on our mailing list as a supporter of RRWPC.  I asked if he would help us stage a conference on endocrine disrupting chemicals.  He agreed and on May 15, 1995, the all-day event occurred in Santa Rosa with Theo Colborn, Lou Guillette, Howard Bern, and two other experts in the field.

While the event was well received, and most attendees were vitally interested in the topic, we never succeeded in bringing the issue to the forefront in Sonoma County.  At one point in the late 1990’s, our efforts bore fruit when Santa Rosa’s Board of Public Utilities agree to spend $30,000 on a limited vitellogenin study of Laguna fish, but changed their mind two weeks later.  We recently learned that scientific experts in the field have also been having problems getting the federal government to provide support.  In fact, the opposite seems to be happening.  The head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that funds research on the topic was having big problems also.  (See article.)  Last year an updated toxics law was passed by Congress, but with the current EPA Administration, not much has happened so far.  We have heard little but bad news lately about the harm occurring as result of ubiquitous and unregulated toxins in our environment.

In the meantime, the State’s interest in reuse led them to begin the regulatory process to establish rules and guidelines to which we have been submitting comments since 2008.

For the last ten years RRWPC had been providing evidence of low dose impacts to the State Water Board in regards to recycled wastewater and direct potable reuse.  The State Board had established a scientific panel to determine whether most toxins could be removed from the wastewater to make it safe to use with drinking water supplies.  Conventional risk assessment looks at one toxin at a time and assumes that there is a dose to which humans can be exposed and it will be safe.  There is also the issue that most aquatic life would be harmed at the doses considered safe for humans.  Furthermore, the State was looking for representative toxins (surrogates) that can be measured in a way to determine the safety of all toxins in the wastewater.  The big problem is that many non-toxic substances can combine to become toxic and most of these combinations are unknown.  But again, reliance on low level toxins in the highly-treated effluent would be deemed to be safe.  The State has not yet addressed the low dose effect.

We will continue to send comment letters to the State Water Board on this topic.  The local Regional Board has indicated that they will try to expand and extend their toxic monitoring efforts.  They seemed to welcome our input at the recent meeting.  We will keep you informed.

Update on Fish Flow Project….Water Agency staff are still working on responses to comments on the Fish Flow DEIR.  As you may recall, the Regional and State Water Boards’ staffs wrote 77 pages of comments.  The staff of the State Board have been reassigned to other projects, and Water Agency staff has been having difficulties on how they should proceed on some items.  Many of the comments called for studies.  Apparently, a revised schedule will come out later this month.  We were told the final EIR may not be ready until the end of this year. We will keep you informed.

Please join our action email list!  Those who already shared their email addresses with RRWPC are participating in our action list and receive important announcements on issues coming up between mailers, such as sending letters of support when time is short.  We do not share email address lists and use them exclusively for important announcements and calls to action. Please put email address on a donor card if you are sending a contribution, or send email to rrwpc@comcast.net asking to be on list.

We’re switching to first class mail….You might notice there is first class postage on the mailer’s outer envelope.  It turns out that it costs only slightly more than Bulk Mail.  We have had serious problems with the latter lately; letters that we knew had perfectly good addresses on them, came back with notices that they were undeliverable as addressed and we had to pay full price to get them back.

Mea Culpa….Our last mailer included a list of donors for the prior year: Nov. 1, 2016 through Oct. 31, 2017.  While we try to be extremely careful to have the list reflect all donations for the year, occasionally we make mistakes.  The following people gave generous donations and we failed to place them on our donor list. We apologize profusely.  Please let us know if there have been any other omissions.  Steve Jackson and Scott Hemstra (King’s Sport and Tackle), Vesta Copestakes (Sonoma County Gazette), Carol Sklenicka and Rick Ryan.  Thank you again for your support.  Anyone who has donated since Nov.1st, will see their names in our November, 2018, donor list.

RRWPC needs your continuing support!  RRWPC counts on your continued support to sustain our river protection work. About a third of our list has not donated for a year or more.  We would love to hear from you so that we know you continue to be interested in receiving our mailers and supporting our work.  Any sized donation is appreciated. RRWPC relies exclusively on six mailers a year for our entire fiscal support. Please send us an email at rrwpc@comcast.net or note to PO Box 501, Guerneville 95446, if you no longer wish to receive mail from us.