by Jan Baughman
(Swans - January 31, 2005) In December of 2004, following Tommy Thompson's resignation as Secretary of Health and Human Services after expressing concern about the vulnerability of the food system to terrorist attacks, President Bush nominated Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Mike Leavitt to the post. Leavitt was easily confirmed by the Senate, and why not? Even Condoleezza Rice was a shoe-in...
The Secretary of Health and Human Services oversees numerous departments, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and... the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. So what talents and environmental successes does this EPA Secretary, former Utah Governor, and former insurance company CEO bring to the health and well being of Americans?
According to departing Thompson, "Governor Leavitt has a compassion for the hopes and health of people, which makes him a strong fit to lead what we call the Department of Compassion. He will be a willing partner with state and local governments to better the lives of our citizens." The former governor brought compassion to the residents of Utah in the form of a 1998 Governor's Commission on Marriage that was "charged with gathering information on best marriage-strengthening practices and will continue to determine public policy initiatives that can be recommended to the governor and first lady." Watch for an increase in faith-based initiatives, funding abstinence, promoting marriage, banning gay marriage and the like.
According to Bush, "[Leavitt] has managed the EPA with skill and with a
focus on results." Utah's environmental record includes US Magnesium,
a magnesium ore plant that is one of the nation's top polluters,
emitting over 42 million tons of chlorine per year -- nine times the
emissions from all other states combined; the largest toxic polluter in
the country, Kennecott copper mine whose emissions include mercury and
other heavy metals and whose mining operations caused major ground
contamination problems; the oxymoronic Envirocare, a commercial
radioactive waste disposal company whose numerous violations required
EPA intervention on the state's regulation of the site; and the spread
of a fatal fish pathogen, which was exacerbated by the Leavitt family's
hatchery's transfer of infected fish. For full details, see:
http://www.ems.org/leavitt/record.pdf (pdf file).
Leavitt brought to the EPA his continued inability and/or disinterest in controlling emissions from power plants. With counties in 22 states flunking air quality standards, per Leavitt, "airborne soot causes 15,000 deaths, 95,000 cases of bronchitis, and thousands of hospital admissions each year." One-third of US lakes and one-quarter of its rivers contain fish that may be contaminated with dioxin, mercury, PCBs and pesticides, and in 2004, 44 states had a fish advisory for mercury. Perchlorate contamination of the Colorado River as a result of Lockheed Martin's rocket and missile fuel has polluted drinking water supplies, numerous crops such as lettuce that are irrigated with the contaminated water, and the milk of those "happy" California cows. Exposure to perchlorate can affect thyroid function, and in fetuses, infants and children, disruptions in thyroid hormone levels can impact cognitive and sensory development. Chemical flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which cause developmental problems in lab animals, are accumulating in farmed salmon and have been detected in human blood and breast milk.
The health effects of exposure to asbestos, from scarring of lung tissue to mesothelioma and lung cancer, are well known. On Monday, January 3, Halliburton announced the final settlement of asbestos claims against it in the amount of $4.17 billion, and the exit of Kellogg Brown & Root from bankruptcy. On January 8, Bush urged legislation to limit the number of asbestos-related lawsuits. "The system isn't fair. It's not fair to those who have been harmed. It's not fair to those who are trying to employ people. It's just not fair." Perhaps Leavitt, with his insurance/polluting/compassionate roots, can help correct the injustices imposed on the Halliburtons of this planet.
With the ever-increasing exposure we face to industrial toxins, contamination of our food and water supplies and the air we breathe, Mike Leavitt's move from EPA to HHS is actually quite a natural transition in the cause-and-effect realm of environment and health. The logical choice for head of the EPA just may come from within the Department of Defense...