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Math Matters

By City Weekly Readers
Posted // September 12,2012 -

One million micrograms is one gram, and it would be impossible to have 22 million micrograms (22 grams) of PCE in 1 cubic meter of air [“Toxic Secret in Sandy,” Aug. 30, City Weekly]. I, however, can’t blame you since you live in a society that is rated 22nd in science, while nobody seems to be willing to find out why.

The reason is simple: Science depends on math, and math on arithmetic. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that still insists on using a fractional system, a Middle Ages system based on the length of thumbs and feet. Any arithmetic fractional calculation is very difficult, compared to a decimal system. If the government would be serious about better math and science, the first thing it should do, as so many other countries did centuries ago, is demand that we enforce the law Congress passed around 1850 that the official American system is the metric system. Some are saying that this would be too difficult, but I have yet to meet one American who thinks that their decimal monetary system is too difficult to handle.

As an engineer, I have worked in the construction industry, and it was amazing how many mistakes are made, mainly due to incorrect layouts and working with fractional numbers. Some possibly cause serious structural problems and—equally important—cause the unnecessary extra cost of change orders due to such mistakes.

We also see very serious problems when we deal with environmental issues, where we still use gallons in combinations with concentrations expressed in milligrams per liter. When you mention micrograms per cubic meter, the general public has no idea what this represents.

What many people also do not know is that our drinking water is tested with tests that will not identify those “toxic” compounds, so that any statement that the water is safe should be taken with a grain of salt. PCE will only be identified in water if one specifically tests for it.

Typical for those in charge of our water also is the statement of Mr. Bowler when he stated that Sandy has the cleanest water in the entire country because only one of the 20 wells used requires chlorine. Chlorine disinfection (killing bacteria by damaging their DNA) is highly controversial, as it by itself is highly toxic (actually the first chemical warfare agent used in the First World War) and, besides damaging DNA, also chemically reacts with organic matter by chlorinating this matter and forming halogenated compounds of which many are either toxic or carcinogenic. When sewage-treatment plants use chlorine to meet the state’s requirement for disinfection, they probably become the largest producers of carcinogens entering our environment. But because we do not test for them specifically, the general public does not even know, mainly because the media does not know and is not willing to spend the time to even learn.

The present generation may be technically savvy with all its information equipment, but seems to become more and more technically illiterate (for the basics) and therefore will believe anything it is told.

PETER MAIER
Stansbury Park

 
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