Dear Aggie

Providing answers to the questions you didn't know you wanted to ask

In contrast to the usually more sober contributors to the Agrichemical and Environmental News, Dear Aggie deals light-heartedly with the peculiarities that cross our paths and helps decipher the enigmatic and clarify the obscure. Questions may be E-mailed to Dear Aggie at Opinions are Aggie's and do not reflect those of WSU.

So how much does it cost anyway to have EPA process a tolerance-related petition?

As of June 26, 1998, it will cost $65,600 to have EPA process a petition for a new or higher tolerance (for up to 9 raw agricultural commodities). Each additional commodity is another $1,600. To lower a tolerance or to add a tolerance for a new commodity (at the same level as one that already exists) EPA charges $15,000 plus $1,000 for each individual commodity. To request an exemption, plan on spending $12,000. It will cost $26,200 for a temporary tolerance or temporary exemption. To either extend or renew a temporary tolerance, it now costs $3,725. To obtain a temporary tolerance, where one already exists for other uses at the same level or higher, plan on spending $13,050 plus $1,000 for each commodity. Finally, if you want to repeal a tolerance, it will cost $8,200. These costs are refigured every year, increasing by the same percentage as DC-area federal employee pay is raised. These 1998 charges reflect approximately an 8.5% increase over the same charges in June of 1995. (May 27, 1998 Federal Register, page 28909)

Do Women Cause More Pollution Than Men?

At the risk of offending the better half of our readers, it seems that natural estrogen hormones are found in sewage treatment effluents that dump into rivers. A woman can excrete about 16 micrograms of total estrogens per day, and given the number of people concentrated in cities, that's a lot of hormones. The hormones can be broken down by bacteria in a sewage treatment plant, but some end up in the river. Scientists in England recently reported that sewage effluents can cause physiological reactions identified as endocrine disruption in tests with cell cultures and live fish. The identity of the chemicals was pinpointed primarily to the natural estrogens and to a lesser extent to the synthetic estrogen in birth control pills. The waters collected for the study were strictly influenced by domestic sewage treatment, rather than by industry or agriculture. Lately, regulators have been pressured to restrict pesticides possessing the ability to mimic hormones. One can only wonder what new rules will be imposed on consumers to control their emissions of the natural "pollutants" discovered in British waters. (Source: Environmental Science & Technology, 1998, vol. 32, pp. 1549-1565.)

The organic agriculture industry lobbied for the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, and last winter the USDA proposed National Organic Program Rules under mandate of the Act. But now the organic agriculture industry is very upset. What's going on?

Several provisions in the proposed rules (see AENews issue no. 142) have upset the organic agriculture industry because the USDA did not follow the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Specifically, the proposed rules did not prohibit the use of digested municipal sewage sludge (biosolids), food irradiation, and genetically engineered organisms (GEOs). The organics industry expressed its ire in over 200,000 comments received on the USDA web site and at public meetings around the U.S. Reading the comments on the Web from the public meetings, Aggie formed the distinct impression that lifestyles and philosophies are at stake. The screams rang bells in D.C., because on May 8, 1998, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced that food produced or processed with sludge, irradiation, or GEOs cannot be labeled organic. Other issues of concern were a perception that proposed rules would essentially muddy the meaning of organic by allowing mixing with non-organically produced foods and use of materials or practices not explicitly approved by the NOSB. Seems as though muck is great for growing vegetables, but not when it comes from the Feds. (see for the proposed rules, comments, and news releases).

Have dioxins recently found in fertilizers contaminated our agricultural soils?

If recent studies of archived agricultural soil samples collected in England are any indication, all soils where burning has occurred are already contaminated, regardless of fertilizer input. Researchers at Lancaster University in England obtained an unopened bottle of soil that was collected in 1881 from a controlled long-term agricultural experiment at Rothamsted Experimental Station. At the time of soil collection, the chlorine industry had not been developed. Using great care not to contaminate the soil with modern day dust, the researchers analyzed for different forms of dioxin, including the most toxic form, TCDD. TCDD is a by-product produced during synthesis of certain chlorinated organic chemicals, chlorine bleaching of paper, and burning of chlorine-containing plastics. All dioxin forms were found in the old soil at low levels. The researchers were not surprised, because, at the time of soil collection, coal and wood were combusted for energy, and metal smelting was widespread. Other researchers have noted that dioxins occur in lake sediments representing deposition during the 17th century. Forest fires are also thought to produce dioxins. These findings of dioxin produced long before modern industry are more than just a passing curiosity. Washington state is poised to spend several hundred thousand dollars looking for dioxins in agricultural soil. Sounds like a lot of money to find dioxins that have probably always been there. (Source: Environmental Science & Technology, 1998, vol. 32, pp. 1580-1587)

Can fresh fruit protect against heart attacks?

Fruit, grains, and coffee produce compounds called hydroxycinnamic acids. Researchers recently extracted these acids from unripe grapes. The acids helped prevent biochemical reactions making plaque, the coronary heart disease-causing substance that builds up in arteries. Aggie can now see the headline Eat Washington State Fruit For A Heart-Felt Experience. (Source: J. Agric. Food Chem., 1998, vol. 46, pp. 1783-1787)

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