Recently, we had an occasion to need a permit to discharge some produced ground water in a swamp. There were a pile of tests and standards we had to meet to get the permit. Since we were discharging pure, unpolluted ground water into swamp that was so turbid you couldn’t see a 12-foot ‘gator at 1 foot, I figured we’d have no problem. The swamp probably would have been improved by dumping the contents of a motor-home holding tank into it, but we had to comply with every rule that the state could come up with. And boy, could they come up with some. I’m pretty sure that the people who make the rules feel like they are not doing their jobs unless they come up with more rules.
I think most of us all can agree that protection of our water resources is very
important. There are a few exceptions: I recently read about an Amish guy who
went to jail because he refused to give up his privvie for religious reasons.
Now, I’ve visited the woods behind the rig a few times, but it never was for
religious reasons. Besides, the only Sears & Roebuck catalog I’ve seen
lately is online, and that ain’t gonna work, but I digress.
Most of the water-quality standards are pretty straightforward, and the reasons
are obvious. We tested for all the known contaminants in the ground water in
our area, and then we got to the more interesting parts of the test. One of the
items required for the discharge permit was a test for mercury. I figured this
would be pretty easy, as there is no mercury in the local ground water. Boy,
was I wrong. We all know that mercury is dangerous and toxic, and probably will
make your babies be born nekkid and their heads spin around multiple times, so
we know enough to check for it anywhere it might be a problem.
It gets better. When I was in high school, we all played with mercury in
chemistry class, pouring it in our hands, hurling it to the floor and watching
it splatter in all directions – that sort of thing. I’m not sure, but I don’t
think it was responsible for my present derangement. Eventually, people a lot
smarter than I am figured out that it was dangerous, and they were able to test
for it down to parts per million. They set a standard for exposure that seemed
reasonable at the time. Then they developed ways to check for mercury in parts
per billion. Since this was several orders of magnitude more sensitive, they
found mercury in all sorts of things, like Charlie the Tuna, so they lowered
the standard to a point that would assure us that we couldn’t poison ourselves
– no matter what.
Now, the wonders of modern science have figured out how to test for mercury
down to a level of parts per trillion. This is an exceedingly small amount, and
there only are a couple very expensive labs that can do it. When the state
found out about this revelation, they decided to lower the standards to the
point of the absurd. I’m sure it garnered some government troll a plaque
somewhere. Since it is known that the local water does not contain mercury, and
I have yet to see twitching, glow-in-the-dark citizens, I figured that that
we’d still be all right. Seems there’s always a catch when dealing with people
who are doing things “for your own good.” The standard turned out to be so low
that even the test itself could contaminate the sample.
How can that be, you ask? Here’s the deal: If you are of an age to have mercury
amalgam fillings in your teeth, and you breathe around the sample, it’ll fail!
This is the same mercury that you’ve had in your mouth since Dr. Doom drilled
your teeth at the tender age of 14, and although it ain’t killed you yet, it’s
too much for water going into the swamp. The sample is best taken by a very
experienced hand – either a young person with plastic fillings or an old geezer
like me with no teeth. We eventually held our breath, got the sample, sent it
off and passed.
The point to this: Anything in excess can be harmful. Too much oxygen can cause
spontaneous combustion and ruin your day; too much water can cause
hyperhydrosis and ruin your day. Common sense should enter into the equation
It seems to me that some of our leaders go around inventing solutions, and then
look for problems where they can apply them. This, apparently justifies their
existence on the public (read: your and my) payroll.
When we see a problem, we all should apply ourselves to the solution. But when
there’s no problem, why not just let us work and produce?
The World According to Wayne: Water-quality Standards
May 4, 2009