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What the Hell is Going On Here? Why the Rush to Contaminate Croton's Water Supply?

September 30, 2007

This was originally intended to be a traditional satirical report on the most recent Village Board meeting. Instead of something humorous, what Crotonblog witnessed was old-fashioned skullduggery at the crossroads. Imagine our surprise to learn that an informal proposal by an engineering firm suggesting that Croton consider altering the composition of Croton’s water by injecting it with a foreign substance has morphed in the space 14 days into a resolution to be offered at the Oct. 1, 2007 meeting. It would authorize an engineering study by the same firm without any preliminary citizen input.

As someone who has witnessed many a crooked three-card monte game, Crotonblog gets the feeling that Mayor Schmidt is moving the cards too fast for the eye to follow. Readers who are concerned about the speed with which this revolutionary proposal is being railroaded through are urged to make their feelings known at the Oct. 1st meeting. If you value the purity of Croton’s special water, turn out at this meeting and tell the village to slow down in its mad rush to despoil this remarkable natural resource.

Everyone, it seems, is familiar with the joke that begins: “Two men knocked on the door to a home and announced to the homeowner, ‘We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.’” Croton experienced something like that on Sept. 17, when two representatives of The Chazen Companies made a sales pitch to the village to consider adding a foreign substance to Croton’s highly praised and envied water for the purpose of corrosion control.

Complete with charts and statistics, the sales pitch—and that is exactly the proper phrase to describe it—was smooth and impressive, and obviously successful to judge from the number of surrounding communities that may have succumbed to similar pitches.

This sales pitch was prompted by the village manager and village department heads who see The Chazen Companies’ planned offer of services as a solution to the longstanding problem of a Croton water distribution system nagged by so-called brown water as a result of corrosion of cast iron pipes.

The substance, zinc orthophosphate, created by the addition of phosphoric acid and zinc oxide to the water system, will literally “coat the pipes” and so represents a form of corrosion control within the village’s water distribution system. What was not discussed was the effect of this additive on—and in—the human body, not to mention its effect on pets and who knows what else. Will it also “coat our bodies’ pipes”?

What we witnessed was a blatant attempt to scare Croton residents about the quality of their water, reminiscent of the “weapons of mass destruction” ruse that panicked the country into the Iraq war. Under the guise of the village acting proactively, Mayor Schmidt assured watchers that nothing had been decided, the presentation was merely informational. He was aided and abetted by Trustees Tom Brennan and Charley Kane, who rushed to sound warnings about the dangers of lead in water when they should have known better.

What all parties should know (or should learn quickly) are the facts: Most cases of lead poisoning are from contact with peeling lead paint, lead paint dust, and lead paint on cribs and toys that children are likely to chew on—as the Mattel disaster has shown us. Lead in tap water is rarely the single cause of lead poisoning, although it can increase a person’s total lead exposure, particularly in infants who drink baby formula or concentrated juices that are mixed with water. But there is no lead in Croton’s water as it comes from village wells and there are no lead pipes in Croton’s own distribution system. What lead may exist at faucets in kitchens and bathrooms in Croton is picked up after it leaves the village’s distribution system.

Lead causes health effects if ingested, not by skin contact through bathing. You can avoid lead by using only cold water for cooking, drinking, and mixing baby formula, and by running the water and flushing the pipe before using the water. If you wish to remove all risk, you can purchase an inexpensive lead reduction system that mounts under your kitchen sink.

Crotonblog was left with a number of troubling, unanswered questions and concerns, as were other residents. We enumerate ours here:

  1. The village is now engaged in a program of water-pipe replacement “as funding is available.” If the village had not spent so much money on foolish litigation over the years and on its new folly, purchasing real estate parcels to inhibit development, how much of the defective water distribution system could have been replaced? Much more of it, we surmise.

  2. In the sales pitch much was made of the fact that many surrounding communities do in fact add this substance to their water. But the salient difference that was not strongly emphasized is that Croton’s water is unique, coming as it does from deep wells on the downstream side of the New Croton Dam and is water that has been naturally filtered through sands and gravels that would make it a prime candidate for bottling. With the proposed additives in it, Croton can kiss goodbye any likelihood of seeing Croton Water as a product on grocery shelves across the country. This eventuality is not unexpected; our current Mayor Schmidt has shown no interest in exploring income-producing uses for Croton water.

  3. Although much emphasis in the sales pitch was about lead and copper pipes, lead-solder joints, and brass fittings in local homes, running a cold water faucet for anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute (or until the water runs cold) will remove any contamination from these sources. You should not drink or cook with water from the hot water tap. Homeowners who are concerned about lead and copper contamination of the tap water in their homes, can have their water tested to ascertain whether such contamination exists. It is Crotonblog’s considered feeling that any lead contamination of a home’s water by pipes within the home should be an individual homeowner’s responsibility, and so should correction of the problem. The Mayor calls the proposal “proactive.” Crotonblog calls it “gratuitous and unnecessary interference.” The village can correct its water distribution system’s problems without affecting the composition of its unique and precious water with potentially dangerous additives.

  4. Much was also made in the sales pitch that many surrounding communities also add zinc orthophosphate to their water. What was not stressed is that every one of these communities uses water brought to them from the Catskills by the Catskill Aqueduct system and is different in composition and source from Croton’s unequaled deep-well water. Crotonblog would point out that comparisons in such sales pitches are totally invalid and should be pegged as phony and unrelated to Croton’s problem.

  5. Thirty years ago, Croton defeated an attempt to fluoridate Croton’s water, creating great unhappiness in Croton dentists who endorsed the plan. The principal factor that caused that plan to be defeated was the possibility of an accidental malfunctioning of the metering system used to inject the additives. That same concern should persist in the case of this proposal.

  6. It is curious that encouragement to make this sales pitch originated with non-elected department heads who are also not residents of the village. Residents, on the other hand, would have to drink additive-laden water 24 hours a day.

  7. The argument was made that zinc orthophosphate is a “food additive” and innocuous. Oh, yes? Innocuous? See the immediately following Appendix 1 to this report for startling new information on food additives and their potential for causing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

  8. Just how safe is zinc orthophosphate? It has been known to cause eczematous dermatitis, sensitization of the skin, burning sensations of the skin, respiratory tract irritation or burns to the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach if swallowed, and respiratory tract irritation if it is inhaled as a mist. The effects on the skin and eyes are dependent on the duration of exposure, ensuring that the longer a person bathes in treated water, the greater the risk. Primary routes of entry for zinc orthophosphate include eye and skin contact, ingestion, and inhalation. Target organs are eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Zinc orthophosphate can easily get into the eyes when showering. Paradoxically, the recommended remedy for these symptoms is to immediately flush with water. A person experiencing sensitivity to treated water obviously cannot seek relief by flushing with water containing zinc orthophosphate.

  9. On June 1, 2001, the Department of Water Supply of the island of Maui in Hawaii began adding zinc orthophosphate to the island’s water supply. So many residents reported that they were being made ill by the treated water that on June 28, 2004, treatment of Maui’s water with zinc orthophosphate was stopped.

  10. Crotonblog’s view is that it is foolish to rush to contaminate Croton’s rare and precious water with additives when other solutions to existing problems are available. It is much easier to remove lead from the water being contaminated in our homes by outmoded piping than it is to remove zinc orthophosphate.

Crotonblog suggests that the following program would make good sense:

First, hard water itself tends to coat pipes with a thin carbonate coating, thus reducing contamination. Homeowners who suspect that they have lead piping, soldered joints or brass or bronze fixtures should be encouraged to have the water in their homes tested for lead. If high levels are found, incentives should be created for the county or village to encourage and assist those in need of financial assistance in replacing them. A lead-free house will be easier to sell.

Second, increase public education about the danger of lead and ways to avoid it, including flushing your tap, using only cold water for cooking, purchasing filtration equipment, or replacing lead pipes and fixtures containing lead.

Finally, after testing, many Croton homes will be shown not to have lead. The village should not force anyone to ingest or bathe in zinc orthophosphate in order to remedy the village’s problem—an antiquated and obsolete water distribution system. Punishment should not be visited on the many for the sins of the few.

APPENDIX 1: Surprising New Research on Food Additives and ADHD

The issue of whether food additives can affect children’s behavior has been controversial for decades. You’ve probably never heard of pediatric allergist Dr. Benjamin Feingold. Allergist Dr. Benjamin Feingold has written books arguing that artificial colors, flavors and preservatives affect children/ More than three decades ago, Dr. Feingold tested an experimental diet free of food additives, including artificial colors, flavors, and certain preservatives, to treat some childhood allergies.

To his surprise, some children placed on the diet displayed a striking change in behavior. Not long before, these same children had presented problems: dreaminess, lack of focus, or hyperactivity—all the traits of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After the experiment, some children showed a remarkable decrease in these behaviors. Understandably, their parents became enthusiastic champions of Dr. Feingold’s treatment.

Unfortunately, the results were not uniform. When other doctors attempted to replicate Dr. Feingold’s results, they were unsuccessful. Many health professionals became skeptical. Additional studies were conducted in an attempt to establish the validity of Feingold’s theory that food additives caused ADHD. These experimental studies were often poorly formulated, and their results were conflicting and unimpressive. Sometimes, there would be encouraging glimmers of Dr. Feingold’s results but nothing that could be said to be conclusive proof.

Early in September of 2007, the results of a scientifically rigorous study of the idea that food additives might contribute to ADHD were released. Professors Jim Stevenson, Donna McCann, and a number of their colleagues, mostly at the School of Psychology of the University of Southampton in England, conducted a community-based, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Stevenson’s team, which has been studying the effects of food additives in children for years, made up drinks to test in a group of three-year-olds and a second group of children aged 8 and 9. Children received ordinary fruit juice (a placebo or dummy drink) or a drink identical in look and taste but containing common commercial additives.

They tested a total of nearly 300 children divided into two groups: one set of 153 three-year-olds and another set of 144 eight- to nine-year-olds, all living in a small English city and using current average daily consumption of food additives by these age groups. The children’s behavior was closely observed while they drank either plain dark-colored fruit juice (the placebo) or the same juice containing one of two food-coloring mixes also incorporating the common preservative sodium benzoate. The drinks, plain and with additives, looked and tasted the same.

At intervals, the children switched back and forth between the plain juice and the spiked juice without anyone knowing which was which. Their behavior was scored using a global hyperactivity aggregate (GHA) based on ratings by teachers and parents plus a computerized test for attention in the 8/9-year-old children.

Tests on the nearly 300 children showed significant differences in their behavior when they drank fruit drinks spiked with a mixture of food colorings and preservatives. Certain artificial food colorings and other additives can worsen hyperactive behaviors in children aged 3 to 9, the British researchers report. Writing in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal, Professor Stevenson and his colleagues said, “These findings show that adverse effects are not just seen in children with extreme hyperactivity (such as ADHD) but can also be seen in the general population and across the range of severities of hyperactivity.”

Parents, teachers and the researchers then assessed the children’s behavior using a range of tests. Both mixtures significantly affected the older children, when compared with the placebo dummy drink. The three-year-olds were most affected by the mixture that closely resembled the average intake for children that age, Stevenson’s team reported. “Although the use of artificial coloring in food manufacture might seem superfluous, the same cannot be said for sodium benzoate, which has an important preservative function,” the researchers write.” The implications of these results for the regulation of food additive use could be substantial.”

As hoped, there was, on average, a clear increase in hyperactive behavior from the scores measured when the children took the additive-laden juice to the scores when the same children took the plain juice. And, to confirm the observations of rheumatologists, some children were strongly affected and others were not affected. Whether the change in behavior was caused by a true allergy as Dr. Feingold had guessed or by an effect on the chemistry of the brain was unclear.

In this latest study, children in the general community varied in their responses but in general reacted poorly to the cocktails. “We have found an adverse effect of food additives on the hyperactive behavior of 3 year old and 8/9 year old children,” the researchers write. Stevenson has this message for parents: “Parents should not think that simply taking these additives out of food will prevent all hyperactive disorders. We know that many other influences are at work, but this at least is one a child can avoid,” he said.

Dr. Sue Baic, a registered dietitian at the University of Bristol, says that the study is well designed and “potentially very important.” “It supports what dietitians have known for a long time.” Until we have answers to questions about the safety of food additives, we should exercise care in choosing the additives we put in the foods and drinks—and water—especially anything that will be eaten or drunk by our children. Crotonblog has gone into detail about this research because it has potential interest to every reader—not just parents.

On October 1, 2007 10:54 PM, Just The Facts said:

Every day the Schmidt administration is reminding me more and more of the Bush administration. Its truly dispicable. Where is the open and accessible government we were promissed? Oh yeah, that only happens (or is proclaimed) in the spring election cycle.

Who votes for these people? Really, I mean I am serious. I am still waiting to hear from anyone who can defend the Schmidt Administration (or the Bush administration. Where as the Bushies waste money in Iraq, the Schmities waste money on the Metro Enviro site.

THis is beyond ridiculous.

On October 1, 2007 5:58 PM, TeaDrinker said:

What’s going on in Croton-on-Hudson? It would seem from the shenanigans taking place now there’s a nefarious plot under way to destroy Croton water’s matchless purity and natural freshness with unnecessary additives. This plot’s sole purpose is to prolong the life of the village’s deteriorating water pipes by adding a substance so poisonous in bulk, special handling rules are necessary. Any other community would have replaced its ailing pipes instead of adulterating its water supply.

Who runs Croton-on-Hudson? Certainly not the people of the village, a populace so trusting it doesn’t even attend meetings at which it is being sold down the river. No, Croton is run by non-elected public officials who are paid astronomically high salaries. The supreme insult is they do not even live in the village, yet it is they who get to decide the fate of lethargic village residents too busy with their own narrow interests to recognize what is being done to them. For less than coolie wages but robing themselves in the cloak of volunteerism, village trustees alternately play cheering section and eager rubber stampers of the decisions of the high salaried employees who control everyone’s fate.

It is no exaggeration to say the plan to adulterate Croton’s water is a more serious threat to Croton’s health, safety and future than Metro Enviro ever presented. Where are the rabble-rousers who tarred and feathered Metro Enviro and ran it out of town on a rail? They pretended to care about Croton, but where are they now? Maybe it’s time to break out the pitchforks and torches and take the village back from the out-of-town usurpers. In the old days there was an organization here called the Croton Homeowners Protective Association (CHOPA) who would never countenance such violence against Croton’s natural resource, its pristine water. Maybe the time has come to reorganize CHOPA and take Croton back from the carpetbaggers to whom we have foolishly entrusted it.

On October 1, 2007 4:38 PM, TeaDrinker said:

Tell the truth, Greg Schmidt, tell the truth. It’s a new low when the mayor of a village resorts to lies. Transcribed by my wife, a former court reporter, here’s the lying statement made by Mayor Gregory Schmidt at the Sept. 17, 2007, Village Board meeting:

Consumer Reports is coming out with a big article on lead, and they are looking at the implications not only for children but for adults and for many of us who are sitting around in this room are products of the days when the lead concentration was even higher, they are beginning to look at this and seeing what it is doing to our bodies right now so this is an important consideration for every age level at this time and it’s something that we take very seriously so (addressing the people at the microphone) I want to thank you two for your work and for our staff here. (nervous laugh) I think we have a few people in the audience who want to ask a few questions at this time.

I happen to know an editor at Consumer Reports and called him to verify the truth of what the Mayor said. I was assured that there is no truth in the Schmidt statement. Consumer Reports has no plans for a major or even a minor article on lead in the near or distant future. The Mayor’s lying statement is obviously part of the scare campaign he is using to frighten the people of the village into approving a plan to pollute Croton’s drinking water. I’ll bet they’ll next want to add Drano to the water to clean the village’s deteriorating pipes.


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