Monday, April 25, 2005

The Miracle of Deregulation 

1.) From Katharine Mieszkowski of Salon's "War Room": The new Bush administration food pyramid guidelines recommend hearty portions of swordfish and king mackerel -- two fish the EPA has declared off-limits for young children, nursing moms, and potential moms:
Those fish are among those most contaminated with mercury, a pollutant released from coal-fired power plants -- which the Bush administration has failed to crack down on. According to E.P.A. research, some 600,000 U.S. newborns, each year, are at risk for learning disorders and behavioral problems because of their exposure to the neurotoxin in the womb.

The USDA's new Web site ignores all these mercury warnings,
recommending the very fish most likely to contain high levels of mercury. "Not only does the new food pyramid shirk away from telling the public which unhealthy foods to avoid," said David Wallinga, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Food and Health Program in Minneapolis, "it actually tells people to eat fish that other federal agencies warn are too contaminated with mercury to eat."

Dr. Wallinga
calculated that a single 6 ounce serving of swordfish, which is among the recommended daily allowances on MyPyramid.gov for an active 35 year-old woman, contains 28 times what the E.P.A. says is the maximum, safe, daily amount of methylmercury, and four times more than the maximum amount that's acceptable for an entire week.
2.) Courtesy of our distinguished colleague Orc at This Space for Rent: The U.S., already leading the world in total number of manned spacecraft blown to smithereens, has finally decided to address the problem of overly stringent safety standards:
NASA officials have loosened the standards for what constitutes an acceptable risk of damage from the kind of debris that led to the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia as it was returning from space two years ago, internal documents show.

The move has set off a debate within the agency about whether the changes are a reasonable reassessment of the hazards of flight or whether they jettison long-established rules to justify getting back to space quickly . . . .

The documents were given to The New York Times by several NASA employees, who asked not to be named, saying they feared retribution.

Documents that had been revealed earlier showed that NASA was struggling to meet safety goals set by the independent board that investigated the Columbia accident. The new documents suggest that the agency is looking for ways to justify returning to flight even if it cannot fully meet those recommendations.

The documents, by engineers and managers for the space agency, show at least three changes in the statistical methods used in assessing the risks of debris like ice and insulating foam striking the shuttle during the launching. Lesser standards must be used to support accepting the risks of flight, one presentation states, "because we cannot meet" the traditional standards . . . .

A second presentation was prepared last month. It provides extensive tables showing the expected failure rates of the carbon composite panels on the wings' leading edges, expressed as sigma values. Sigma represents the standard deviations from the mean; in practice, the higher the sigma number, the lower the probability of failure. A traditional 3-sigma failure rate is about 1 in 800, Mr. Muratore said, a 2-sigma is 1 in 40, and a 1-sigma is 1 in 2.

Moving from a 3-sigma to 2-sigma "is pretty reasonable," he said, if analysis can show the likelihood of debris of the right size striking that vulnerable spot with the precise amount of force to cause severe damage is only 1 in 1000 or 1 in 10,000. He said there had been "a lot of healthy debate."

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