Don't drink the chicken?

Well, it's good to hear the federal EPA is going to be carrying water - no, not figuratively, literally - to families in Dimock, PA, where drilling by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., contaminated the water wells of 19 homes three years ago, according to the Pennsylvania EPA.

The agency went back and forth on the question of how to deal with the contamination, and given the hemming and hawing, this still may not be the final answer. But one passage in today's story caught my eye:

EPA toxicologist Dawn A. Ioven, in a memo posted on the agency's website, said well-test results from eight homes showed that four "contained contaminants at levels of potential concern."

The well water of one house, whose occupants include two toddlers, contained arsenic at levels that would pose a long-term cancer risk.

Arsenic is, of course, a deadly poison whose people-kiling powers are celebrated in the play and movie Arsenic and Old Lace. It was also the subject of a lot of heat recently generated by Dr. Oz in terms of packaged apple juice. FDA tests found only trace amounts of inorganic (poisonous) arsenic, but Consumer Reports did tests that found enough for parents to be warned to limit their children's apple-juice consumption.

What's odd about this is that parents are not being warned to limit their children's CHICKEN consumption, despite the latter's higher arsenic risk. Whether arsenic exposure in eating chicken is 15 or 30 times that of drinking apple juice, as this One Green Planet article details (or even, if, say, it's just the same amount), "the majority of the arsenic found in chicken is the highly toxic inorganic form. The cooking of meat may then also produce further toxic arsenic by-products."

It goes on to point out that although the arsenic in apple juice is thought to come from pesticides in other countries, you might wonder how so much arsenic got into chicken - and then provides the answer: "The poultry industry fed it to them." Yes, in addition to overusing antibiotics and helping to create drug-resistant bacteria, the livestock industry feeds arsenic-based drugs to animals as a way of making sure they don't die before they're prime slaughtering age. Once they're slaughtered, the arsenic becomes your problem.

Yet even while admitting the existence of this carcinogen in chicken, the FDA tells us to go ahead and eat all the chicken we want. It makes one wonder how many residents of Dimock may be following that advice even as they avoid the water from contaminated wells.

Bottom line: We all have a resposibility to choose healthy foods and lifestyles and to educate ourselves to the point where we can make such informed choices. But personal choice doesn't exonerate the polluters who have our environment. And it's past time for the EPA, the FDA and the USDA to stop carrying these big-bucks industries' water at our expense.