Magazine article Insight on the News

Newspaper's Split Personality Evident in Coverage of Arsenic in Drinking Water

Magazine article Insight on the News

Newspaper's Split Personality Evident in Coverage of Arsenic in Drinking Water

Article excerpt

The Wall Street Journal long has suffered from a split personality with its liberally slanted newsroom and its strongly conservative editorial staff. Many conservatives read the Journal mainly because its editorial pages provide valuable factual information spurned by the liberal media, including the Journal's newsrooms. For example, this year's award of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary to Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Journal's editorial staff actually was for her investigative reporting published in her columns on the Journal's editorial pages.

On April 19, the newspaper's schizophrenia dramatically was demonstrated by its publication of a front-page story making the case that the legal limit on arsenic in drinking water must be lowered and a column on the editorial page saying that lowering the present limit of 50 parts per billion (ppb) was unnecessary.

The news story by Peter Waldman reported that "it had taken 17 years, and six intensive weeks at the tail end of the Clinton administration to order sharp reductions of the naturally occurring carcinogen [arsenic] in America's water supply." It said that the move to cut the allowable upper limit for arsenic in drinking water from 50 ppb to 10 ppb had been thoroughly studied for more than 30 years, citing six reports by "the prestigious National Research Council." It said "they struggled to balance the health risks of arsenic with the huge costs of extracting the metal from drinking water."

Waldman said that, in Taiwan and Chile, epidemiological studies had "proven" arsenic causes cancer. People there are exposed to much higher levels in their drinking water than generally are found in the United States.

He said arsenic had been found to cause cancer in humans at concentrations as low as 200 ppb and that three recent studies "found cancerous effects below 100 pbb." He quoted a professor who said that this provided a very low margin of safety. The professor saw no reason why the upper limit should not be drastically reduced.

As Waldman acknowledged, the reason why it hasn't been reduced is the cost versus the benefits. He quoted Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, where arsenic levels are higher than average, as saying that a lower limit could put small water suppliers out of business and that there was no proof it would benefit anyone's health. Waldman's answer to Domenici's statement was that a 1992 study estimated that people drinking water with 50 ppb of arsenic run a 1 percent greater than normal risk of dying of bladder, kidney, lung or liver cancer. …

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