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Sunday, December 27, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Letters To The Editor

Toxic Chemicals -- Column Misstates Danger To Public

Michelle Malkin buried a couple good points within her Dec. 8 column ("State's envirocrats are setting off false alarms").

Those points are that substitute control methods should be available for pesticides that are proposed to be phased out by 2025, and that much research on the effects of chemicals on human health is incomplete. However, her argument that naturally occurring chemicals should be exempted from the phase out is either incomplete or simply wrong.

Malkin pooh-poohs the notion that something found in nature could be a health hazard, but many chemicals found in nature are dangerous. Let's consider an obvious one that Malkin mentions: mercury. Mercury can kill people. Mercury vapor destroys lung tissue. Knowing that, I would not use mercury as a salad dressing. Of course, I would use a mercury thermometer. Therefore, the question is not is mercury safe or dangerous, but instead, how do you safely use mercury. To be honest, I do not know if applying a mercury-based compound to a crop field is more like using it in a salad dressing or in a thermometer. (Although considering my analogy, I don't want to take chances.)

Any chemistry textbook should describe the health hazards associated with mercury, and it should explain that sometimes mercury is safe while at other times it is dangerous. The same is likely to be the case with the other listed pesticides. Pesticide-regulation policy is a complicated issue and deserves public scrutiny. Hopefully, Malkin's name-calling and scare tactics have not triggered too many knee-jerk reactions. The topic should be covered in The Seattle Times, preferably by one of the award-winning reporters on your staff.

Gary Chang Seattle

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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