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for people who care about the West

EPA’s dirty past


Your story about Anne Gorsuch Burford’s tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency brings back some bad memories, especially for those working in chemical industries in the early 1980s (“Scott Pruitt isn’t the first administrator hostile to the EPA’s mission,” HCN, 3/20/17). The chemical industry was quite successful in getting implementation of new and lower exposure limits for chemicals such as ethylene dibromide and ethylene oxide delayed in the United States, long after their carcinogenic and teratogenic risks were well-documented. Implementation of the ethylene dibromide standards on the original timeline would have interfered with the Reagan administration’s payment-in-kind policy, which compensated farmers for holding their acreage fallow with “surplus” grain from the strategic grain reserves rather than with dollars from the federal Treasury. Trouble was, the grain had been regularly fumigated with ethylene dibromide and wouldn’t have met the recommended standard. So implementation was delayed, and the tainted grain went into the American diet. One wonders what the American public will be fed this time around.

Edward A. Sullivan III
San Francisco, California