Aspen’s water might be fine, but ‘lurking menaces’ prevail |

Aspen’s water might be fine, but ‘lurking menaces’ prevail

John Colson

Aspen’s tap water got a passing grade from a doctor whose expertise is environmental pollution and its effects on human health.”In general, I thought the water was good,” said Dr. Mark Liponis during Monday’s Aspen Center for Integrative Health Summer Health Symposium. Liponis, medical director of the Canyon Ranch Health Resorts and a well-known holistic health care practitioner, had samples of Aspen’s tap water sent to him by the organization’s development director, Liz Means.He then had it tested by Underwriters Laboratory Inc.The results, he said, showed that Aspen’s water has slightly elevated levels of some heavy metals, but none anywhere near the level of toxicity.For example, barium, chromium, copper, fluoride and chloroform were all detected at varying low levels. Only fluoride was even close to federally established maximums, and it was roughly 25 percent of that level. Liponis said the town’s water is “a little on the hard side,” and somewhat alkaline due to its high concentration of calcium.”I’d say overall, a very good report, with slight room for improvement,” he told the audience of roughly 300, which ranged from local residents attending out of personal interest to alternative health care specialists and aficionados.Liponis spoke at the end of a long day of talks by a number of experts, including Dr. Jeffrey Bland, president and chief science officer for the Metagenics corporation in Gig Harbor, Wash.; veterinarian Greg Ogilvie, a specialist in internal medicine and oncology; and others.The list of speakers was assembled under the topical headline “You Bet Your Life,” because, as described in the symposium literature, “Every day we literally bet our lives on a myriad of choices we make – to do, or not to do, things that affect our health and longevity.”Liponis addressed “Lurking Menaces: Everyday Toxins That Undermine Your Health,” and his talk was littered with references to nasty substances poured into the environment on a daily basis, from the heavy meals that result from mining to the chemicals we spray on our lawns.He said there currently are 80,000 chemical compounds in commercial use, a list that grows by 2,000 to 3,000 every year and that represents a total physical load of 1 million pounds per year.The vast majority of those compounds, he said, have been subjected to little or no testing by industry or the government.”What we know is really the tip of the iceberg,” he intoned. “We really know very little.”For example, Teflon, used for decades as a nonstick coating for pots and pans, was not the subject of an Environmental Protection Agency study until very recently. Liponis said it was not until June 30 of this year that the EPA began raising questions about Teflon’s role in causing cancer among children and adults.One in four Americans, including 10 million children, live within four miles an EPA Superfund cleanup site, he continued. He recalled the days when deep-rock miners would carry canaries into the mines as a warning against toxic fumes – if the canary fell over dead, the miner headed for the surface, knowing he might die before he got there.”The canaries are our kids,” Liponis said, explaining that unborn children who are exposed to high levels of chemical pollutants suffer the effects of that exposure much more than their mothers.He cited developmental deformities in everything from frogs to polar bears to illustrate his belief that modern society’s effects on the planet are poisonous ones. He recommended the book, “Our Stolen Future,” by Theo Colborn, Dianna Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers, which details the authors’ thesis that chemical pollution is disrupting our endocrine systems, which regulate everything from reproduction to cognitive function.Liponis believes that modern society’s approach to the introduction of chemicals into the environment is backward – industry comes up with a chemical solution to a problem, the chemical goes into general use, and only after it causes health problems of a certain scale does it undergo scientific scrutiny and government control.”We need to prove that it’s safe before it comes on the marketplace,” Liponis stated, calling that thought his “precautionary principle.” He rattled off a litany of chemicals and acronyms as proof of his contention: mercury accumulating in fish and people; PCBs causing birth defects; pesticides now being linked to Parkinson’s disease; and more.Even the bottled water phenomenon did not escape his ire, as he pointed out that not only is bottled water “a thousand times more expensive than what you get out of the tap,” it is not always as pure as its marketers claim.And, he said, “The biggest problem with bottled water is the bottles,” which are tossed in a landfill and take hundreds or thousands of years to disintegrate.”We need bottles that degrade within days, or hours,” he said, urging his audience to switch to home-filtration systems if they cannot bring themselves to drink water straight from the tap.As for other “emerging threats,” Liponis said genetically modified foods are being manufactured at alarming rates, with little or no government oversight in the United States.”They’ve never been tested,” he said, once again calling on government officials to adopt his “precautionary principle” of “making sure it’s safe” before unleashing it on the public.Another looming problem, he said, is the emerging science of nanotechnology, or specifically “nanoparticles” that are being touted as everything from diagnostic tools to repair devices for machines and even the human body. The potential for unanticipated, and negative consequence is enormous, he warned.Urging the audience to be “better stewards of your environment,” he concluded, “If we’re not going to do it, then nobody is.”The one-day symposium, held at Paepcke Auditorium, was the fifth such annual gathering in Aspen. It will be followed by the first Aspen Healthy Gourmet Fest, July 29 and 30. The event is a combination of cooking lessons and tasting events, many conducted in “some of Aspen’s most exclusive private homes” by “America’s top chefs.” There also will be an awards ceremony and dinner at the St. Regis Resort Aspen where the “Platinum Carrot Chef Awards” will be handed out in five categories: ethnic, organic, raw, spa and vegetarian.In addition, lifetime achievement awards will be presented to California restaurateur Alice Waters, for her use of seasonal organic foods in her restaurant, and winemaker Jim Fetzer, for his work in bottling organic wines. “Citizen Awards” will be given to Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, for his work introducing healthy foods into school vending machines; Morgan Spurlock, maker of the film “Supersize Me”; and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) for helping provide fresh fruit and vegetable snacks free to students in 500 schools. Tickets to the two-day event are $500, and can be obtained by visiting the website or by calling 970-920-2957, ext. 2.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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