Rachel's Precaution Reporter #25
"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"
Wednesday, February 15, 2006.........Printer-friendly version
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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Table of Contents... Op-Ed: Curing Our Public Health System For 100 years, the cornerstone of public health theory and practise has been "primary prevention" -- preventing disease instead of having to cure it. Really, the precautionary principle is nothing more than a traditional public health approach. If they ever got together, citizens who favor the precautionary approach and public health specialists in every county and municipality might discover that they are natural allies. Bush Administration Proposes New Risk Assessment Methods New rules proposed for government "risk assessments" may stifle regulation. Toxicologist Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that scientists won't be able to meet the standards for risks for which there are little underlying data. "I'm concerned that regulations will die at OMB [Office of Management and Budget]" as a result, she says. EPA Scientists Criticize OMB's Call for Alternative Risk Models The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has proposed new rules for risk assessments conducted by federal agencies. Scientists within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are not enthusiastic. Studies of Chemicals in Humans Are Driving a Prevention Agenda "Instead of waiting for conclusive evidence, many activists say there is enough information to start banning chemicals. They argue that manufacturers should have to prove new chemicals are safe before they are approved for use. This requires embracing the precautionary principle, which argues that in the absence of conclusive evidence in face of a serious threat, we must still take action." Income Inequality Grew Across the Country Over the Past Two Decades A prevention philosophy applied to the health of U.S. citizens would focus on growing inequalities of income and wealth. Numerous studies over the past 30 years have shown that inequalities, social alienation, and a pyramid of hierarchies make people especially susceptible to many diseases including cancer, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Boston Globe, Feb. 11, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] OP-ED: CURING OUR PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM By Madeline Drexler Last week, in his State of the Union address, President Bush bemoaned spiraling medical costs -- and rightly so. What he didn't say was that 99 percent of US healthcare dollars are spent on treating and curing disease, and only 1 percent on preventing disease. That logic is backward -- and the president's proposed 2007 budget makes matters even worse. Health savings accounts, medical liability reform, and token infusions of cash are the wrong medicine for what ails Americans. If the president were sincere about nurturing a "compassionate, decent, hopeful society," he would reinvigorate our public health system. Public health, after all, is both morally enlightened and economically prudent. It rests on the idea that promoting health and averting disease saves more lives more cheaply than does high-tech medicine. It's a concept Bush has consistently weakened. "This is probably the worst administration ever for public health," said Dr. Walter Tsou, immediate past president of the American Public Health Association, at the group's annual meeting in December. "They're constantly cutting back money -- with the exception of things that actually scare them, like bioterrorism and pandemic flu." What's killing us now, as opposed to what we fear will kill us, is cancer, heart disease, tobacco- related afflictions, complications of obesity, drug-resistant infections, and other ills, both chronic and acute. In fiscal 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's core programs suffered a 4 percent funding cut, compared with the previous year; Bush's proposed 2007 budget lops off another 4 percent. These core programs -- that is, nonterrorism-related activities -- are the bread and butter of public health. Among the programmatic victims are chronic disease prevention and health promotion, occupational safety and health, environmental health, and health services block grants to states, which cover everything from cancer screening to flu shots. These aren't just meaningless line items; they're people's lives. In 2004, Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC director, stated that "robust" funding of disease prevention programs could each year save diabetics from 43,000 amputations, 165,000 kidney failures, and more than 10,000 cases of eye disease; reduce by half 40,000 new HIV infections; and forestall two-thirds of alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Healthcare coverage is another foundation stone of public health. In his enthusiasm about insurance portability, Bush forgets to mention that 46 million Americans don't have health insurance to haul around. That's a death sentence. According to a 2004 Institute of Medicine report, 18,000 adults die unnecessarily each year because they lack coverage. So what's the alternative? How can the administration truly improve the state of the union's health? First, it must follow its own advice. Every decade, the US Department of Health and Human Services publishes a document that sets national objectives for curbing disease and improving health. Its "Healthy People 2010" report calls for reducing obesity levels to 15 percent of the adult population and 5 percent of children and adolescents; cutting tobacco use to 12 percent of adults and 16 percent of adolescents; and eliminating exposure to hazardous ozone levels. These official goals are so far out of reach as to be cynical. Achieving them requires action -- not 11 brief sentences of prime-time speechifying. Second, the administration must think as globally about health as Bush is fond of boasting he does about the economy. Many nations, both rich and poor, have a keener sense of the value of comprehensive health measures than does the United States -- and we should learn from them. In Sweden, for example, the national agenda is to "Create social conditions to ensure good health, on equal terms, for the entire population." That includes not just wholesome foods and local parks in which to exercise, but also jobs and a good education. In the United Kingdom, far-flung government authorities are required to collaborate on ambitious health targets. Finally, our history-loving president might borrow a page from the annals of public health. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- the profession's golden age -- its leaders thought big. They didn't dole out scraps of rhetoric; the language of social reform came naturally. In 1905, Hermann Biggs, New York City's legendary health commissioner, famously asserted: "Public health is purchasable. Within natural limitations a community can determine its own death rate." And no, he wasn't talking about tax-deductible health savings accounts. Madeline Drexler is a Boston-based journalist and author of "Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections." She has a visiting appointment at the Harvard School of Public Health. Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Science Magazine (pg. 161), Jan. 13, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] MORE DETAILS SOUGHT IN ASSESSING HEALTH RISKS By Jocelyn Kaiser The Bush Administration this week proposed new federal standards for analyzing health and environmental risks underlying regulations that ask for more details on the evidence that a pollutant causes harm. Experts agree that the changes should improve the quality of assessments, although one critic worries that the bar would be set so high that it could also slow the pace of new regulations. The draft bulletin "provides clear, minimum standards for the scientific quality of federal agency risk assessments," says John Graham, the outgoing director of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB's) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Graham, a former Harvard University professor who in the past 5 years has bolstered the office's influence on agency rulemaking, says the standards should help risk assessments pass scientific review more quickly. The proposed rules include steps that aren't always routine, such as requiring that agencies weigh both positive and negative studies. The document also asks agencies preparing assessments that could have a major economic or policy impact to look more closely at the uncertainties, including variability in the population and both middle estimates and the range of risks. Some agencies tend to emphasize the high end of risk, says an OMB official. "This is a big change in practice, especially for parts of EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency]," explains the official. Kimberly Thompson, a risk expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and president-elect of the Society for Risk Analysis, applauds the greater emphasis on quantitative tools. "This basically outlines things agencies should have been doing all along," agrees Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who chairs EPA's scientific advisory board. But toxicologist Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C., suggests that scientists won't be able to meet the standards for risks for which there are little underlying data. "I'm concerned that regulations will die at OMB" as a result, she says. Graham leaves next month to head the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California. The comment period closes on 15 June, and the proposed bulletin will also be reviewed by the National Academies. Copyright 2006 American Association for the Advancement of Science Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Risk Policy Report, Feb. 7, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] EPA SCIENTISTS CRITICIZE OMB'S CALL FOR ALTERNATIVE RISK MODELS EPA staff scientists are strongly criticizing recent calls by the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) to evaluate alternative "models" for how chemicals affect health, saying the mandate may force the agency to accept "junk science" and unjustifiably lower environmental standards. The criticism could lead to a rift with EPA science chief George Gray over crafting agency comments on the draft guidance, which are due to be submitted to OMB later this year. Gray said in a recent interview that considering alternative models submitted to the agency in support of risk assessments about chemicals' biological impact will help improve decisions by detailing the uncertainty surrounding those estimates. Gray has made expanding uncertainty analysis in agency risk reviews a key element of his emerging agenda (Risk Policy Report, Jan. 31, p1). One senior EPA science manager reportedly said at a Jan. 23 meeting of the agency's high-level Science Policy Council (SPC) that the bulletin is "dreadful" and reflects a "1980s view of risk assessment" that does not reflect currently accepted practices, according to sources who attended the meeting. OMB's recently proposed risk guidance calls on agencies to consider all "plausible" models of the biochemical impacts of a contaminant at low levels of exposure. "Where a risk can be plausibly characterized by alternative models, the difference between the results of the alternative models is model uncertainty ...When model uncertainty is substantial, the central or expected estimate may be a weighted average of the results from alternative models," according to the draft guidance. But some EPA scientists and observers say this provision will result in "model-shopping" among industry scientists. "This may open the door to everyone coming in with their own model." Simply because they can write a computer program to "compute results they prefer, doesn't mean that a model is valid," according to one science policy expert. "Accepting all 'plausible' models sets a pretty low bar. These models should require strong biological support before they are considered," an agency source says. Agency critics also say the approach is flawed because the strength of the biological support should determine which models the agency accepts for inclusion in chemical risk reviews. They also say it is hard to find chemicals for which there is sufficient biological information to conduct fully informed modeling exercises mandated by OMB. "There are only a few dioxins, arsenics and mercury's out there with substantial enough databases," according to another agency source. But administration officials are strongly defending their approach. During a Jan. 19 interview, then-OMB regulatory chief John Graham said "if there's no evidence for looking at an alternative model, then there's no value in considering it. Statistical backing is evidence, although if the support is biological as well as statistical, then that's stronger than statistical evidence alone." And, during a Jan. 25 interview with Risk Policy Report, Gray agreed with EPA critics that biological evidence is important, but argued that multiple models are essential to understanding the uncertainty of chemicals' impacts. "I don't think anyone would suggest that statistical goodness-of-fit would determine [the quality of a model]. It's biological evidence that counts." But Gray said that examining different models with "biological plausibility" is a useful way to understand the uncertainty that surrounds chemical potency estimates. Gray also said during his interview, "Models are just ways for us to implement different biological theories about what may be going on. What I think is important is when we don't know about different biological pathways, considering multiple models is probably a good idea." Asked whether the call in the OMB bulletin would open the agency to alternatives to the precautionary "linear model" currently used for evaluating carcinogens, Gray said, "The linear model has certain biological principles it is based on and what you can do is look at how well the data fit that model. Other models have different biological data that support them. That process helps you think about the data and the model helps you quantify the uncertainty around that." But industry analysts say EPA and academic scientists also manipulate statistics to buttress their arguments about the health impacts of environmental contaminants without strong biological support in agency risk-based drinking water and air standards. Industry observers say the linear model does not describe the impact of many potentially carcinogenic chemicals at low doses and point to the agency's 1998 decision to use the linear model for chloroform, which was rejected both by agency science advisers and in a March 2000 U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision as untenable (Risk Policy Report, April 18, 2000, p5). But EPA risk assessors say the OMB may recreate the confusion sparked by open calls for a variety of risk models accepted by EPA programs in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, industry and other outside experts could chose among the linear, "the one-hit, multi-hit, Weibull, log- probit and other models. Eventually EPA and other federal agencies realized that interested parties would 'model shop' and use the model that gave them the answers they preferred," according to the science policy observer. This resulted in the agency formally adopting the linear model to provide some comparability across risk estimates in the 1986 cancer risk guidelines and a set of interagency principles the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy adopted. But industry officials say risk modeling has grown more sophisticated since that time and companies know convincing and detailed data on a chemical's biochemical impacts are now required. "With the publication of the 2005 updated cancer guidelines, companies know that significant biological evidence is required to overcome protective assumptions like the linear model EPA uses," according to one industry source. Agency staff and environmentalists say they are concerned key protections will be eroded if the bulletin is finalized in its current form. "This [OMB guidance] is worrisome because models can be constructed to give any kind of low-dose answer you want, and the practical alternatives" are limited, an EPA source says. And an environmental scientist says, "This is an assault on protective assumptions with far-reaching consequences." A science policy observer agrees, saying, "Concerns about an assault on the linear model are accurate and well founded." But conservative science policy analysts also argue that academic and EPA scientists can rely too heavily on statistically-backed but biologically deficient arguments to support their views. In a Jan. 17 critique of EPA air pollution standards for particulate matter, American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow Joel Schwartz says, "There are literally millions of plausible statistical models relating to air pollution health outcomes, and no objective way to choose among them. Under these circumstances, researchers have a tendency to select those models that give the largest or most statistically significant effects." Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Ottawa (Canada) Citizen, Feb. 14, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] POLLUTION IN PEOPLE By Shelley Page and Susan Allan, Ottawa Citizen [RPR Introduction: We have added internal links within this story for clarification.--RPR editors] During the past 50 years, breast cancer incidence has climbed 90 per cent - Lung cancer rates have jumped more than 600 per cent - Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer tied to a weakened immune system, has increased 250 per cent - Asthma affects more kids than ever before. Biomonitoring tests reveal toxic chemicals are in all of us, on that everyone seems to agree. So what does it mean to human health? Scientists are only beginning to explore the links Infants start life polluted with PCBs, pesticides and 200 industrial chemicals. Rocket fuel laces their mother's breast milk. Carcinogens, hormone disruptors and the chemicals used to make GOR-TEX and Teflon infuse everyone's blood. New technology is making it possible to find ever smaller concentrations of chemicals in people's blood. Suddenly, TV stars in Britain and celebrities in California are rolling up shirt sleeves to have their blood tested to draw attention to the issue. When almost 100 journalists in Pittsburgh handed over hair samples for testing, close to one-third showed elevated levels of mercury. Last year, the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., released Body Burden: The Pollution in People, a study that examined the levels of 210 chemicals in nine people. In April, the World Wildlife Federation tested 39 members of the European Parliament for 101 compounds. Until recently, Canadians stayed out of the bloodletting. Then last week the Toronto-based group Environmental Defence announced it had tested 11 Canadians for 88 chemicals believed to be either carcinogenic or to disrupt reproduction, hormonal function and/or interfere with fetal development. The study found, on average, participants had 44 chemicals in their bodies. Renowned artist and environmentalist Robert Bateman was one of the test subjects. Despite eating organic food, using environmentally friendly cleaners and living on an idyllic West Coast island, his body was revealed to be a repository for 48 toxins: heavy metals; PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls used in electrical transformers and now banned); PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers used as fire retardants); PFOs (perfluorinated chemicals used in stain repellents, non-stick cookware and food packaging), pesticides and insecticides. "I had no idea when they were taking those samples out of my arm that there was a possibility that all those chemicals could be in there," a bewildered Bateman told a journalist. No one emerges unscathed. But so what? The Canadian report raised more questions than it answered. Does the fact our bodies are laden with chemicals mean anything? Are the increasing number of cancers, fertility problems, auto-immune diseases, autism and other horrors related to these chemicals in our bodies? Can we trace learning difficulties, mental illness and brain fog to the chemicals our bodies absorbed as far back as the womb? Were the harsh pollutants found in Mr. Bateman and others in concentrations considered dangerous? If the majority of the studies' participants were healthy, at it appears, does this mean the toxic findings are meaningless? For half a century, advancing societies have pumped the global environment full of synthetic chemicals, while realizing previously unimagined benefits. But during these five decades, our bodies, particularly our fat cells, have become storage tanks for the byproducts of vastly improved lifestyles. Environmental activists call this "chemical body burden" -- the price of technological advance. A few years ago, scientists could not detect these chemicals. Now that they can, they want to know if and how they affect human health. Researchers have yet to draw a conclusive line between body burden and health problems. Still, there are rising incidences of illness to consider: - During the past 50 years, breast cancer incidence has climbed 90 per cent. The incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer tied to a weakened immune system, increased 250 per cent in the same period. - During the past decade, several studies have linked weak or defective sperm to employment in occupations with exposure to chemicals and pesticides. In 1938, only one-half of one per cent of men were functionally sterile. Today, that number is between eight and 12 per cent. Meanwhile, eight per cent of women of child-bearing age suffer fertility problems. - Asthma affects more kids than ever before -- about 12 per cent of children under age 14. Are these increases in health problems a result of the increase in chemicals in our environment? Sometimes yes. Lung cancer rates jumped more than 600 per cent in the past 50 years, not because of industrial chemicals but rather tobacco smoke. That is when large numbers of women started smoking. As for the other diseases, no one is certain environmental toxins play a role. Biomonitoring, the latest trend in public health, may provide answers. By examining chemicals in the blood and urine, it's sometimes easy to see how public policy makes a difference to people's health. By measuring cotinine -- a metabolite of nicotine -- U.S. researchers showed that blood levels of secondhand tobacco smoke decreased 75 per cent in adults during the 1990s, simply because smoking was banned at work and in public places. Levels in children remain twice as high as adults, showing that they continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke at home, out of the reach of government policy. It is hoped biomonitoring will reveal much more about the presence and perhaps effects of toxins. The largest effort is the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, an ongoing $6.5-million survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that measures about 145 chemicals in 2,500 people across the United States every two years. All year long, teams from the CDC dispatch four tractor- trailers to neighbourhoods in 30 locations across the country, interviewing residents, performing exams and sampling blood and urine. Last July, it heralded its third nationwide report as the "largest and most comprehensive of its kind ever released anywhere by anyone... a giant step forward in our ability to understand the relationship between exposures to various chemicals and the potential human health effects." Among the study's findings: - Lead levels among children in the U.S. have dropped significantly during the past few years. Only 1.6 per cent of children in the study between the ages of one and five had elevated blood levels, down from 4.4 per cent in the early 1990s. Lead exposure in children has been found to damage the brain and nervous system, cause behavioural and learning problems, such as hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches. "We continue to strive that all children are free from lead exposure in their home, in their environment," said CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding, "but nevertheless, this is an astonishing public health achievement and I think really speaks to the removal of lead from gasoline." Lead is one of the early successes of biomonitoring. Early concerns about lead were met with skepticism by some. Today no level is considered safe. According to a recent report in Science magazine, when the U.S. and other countries set out to reduce automobile emissions, models suggested lead levels in children would decrease slightly as gas lead levels declined. Beginning in 1976, CDC began to check lead levels in children and adults. Tests revealed blood lead levels declined about tenfold more than expected between 1976 and 1980. These numbers prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to remove lead from gasoline more rapidly. - The 2005 CDC report also showed that organochlorine pesticides eliminated from use in the 1980s -- the study names Aldrin, Endrin and Dieldrin -- did not show up in the humans studied. "Since these chemicals have no longer been used as pesticides, we have virtually eliminated them from the human population," said Dr. Gerberding. - Phthalates, plasticizers found in everything from plastics to vinyl to hairspray, were found at levels that demand further investigation. The CDC warned that just because an environmental chemical appears in blood or urine does not mean it causes disease. "The toxicity of a chemical is related to its dose or concentration in addition to a person's susceptibility. Small amounts may be of no health consequence, whereas larger amounts may cause adverse health effects." Not surprisingly, this caution was echoed by the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that represents 135 leading manufacturers in the chemical industry, a $450-billion enterprise in the U.S. "The benefits of chemistry have helped all of us live longer and healthier lives," it said in response to the CDC report. "These advances should not be underestimated or undermined by unnecessarily alarming people about products that protect our health, keep us from harm and contribute to our well being." The World Wildlife Fund, meanwhile, said the report addressed only "the tip of the iceberg" because it did not measure a range of chemicals including fire retardants. The CDC studies are used to determine what chemicals are getting into people at what levels; to assess efforts to reduce certain exposures; to determine research priorities. "Now that we can accurately measure these exposures in humans," Dr. Gerberding said, "it sets the stage for us to get the kind of information we really need: What does this mean for people? What does it mean for me, that this is present or absent?" In some countries, biomonitoring studies prompted a phase-out of certain substances. Sweden, for example, banned fire retardants six years ago after breast milk monitoring found that levels were doubling every two to five years. Since that time, the corresponding curve of concentration in breast milk has gone down. As early as this Thursday, the European Union is expected to vote on legislation that would overhaul chemical regulations in the EU and force businesses to prove their products are safe. The Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) legislation would phase out chemicals found to be carcinogenic. Last Tuesday in Brussels, a group representing two million physicians urged members of the European Parliament to pass the legislation. "We are in a serious situation," Dr. Dominique Belpomme told the legislators. "Some 75 per cent of cancers are due to mutations induced by environmental factors, mainly chemicals." With all of this biomonitoring data, scientists are working to determine typical exposures within the general population. Once they establish "reference ranges," they can investigate for incidences of sickness when they find atypically high exposure rates. Science magazine notes a 2001 case in which the state of Nevada asked CDC to study higher than normal leukemia rates in Fallon, Nevada. Of the 110 chemicals measured, tungsten and arsenic were found in much higher concentrations among all residents than in the rest of the population. The government has put tungsten on its priority list to determine if the metal increases cancer rates in animals. CDC data also showed that eight per cent of women of childbearing age -- higher than anticipated -- have levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, above the level the government considers safe. They are now trying to determine how much mercury comes from fish, drinking water and other sources. Mercury is known to cause health problems. So too lead. But others toxins found during biomonitoring are more controversial. When the CDC said it had reported several phthalates -- ingredients used in nail polish, cosmetics and fragrances -- were higher in women aged 20 to 40 than in other groups, the Environmental Working Group launched a campaign to remove these compounds from cosmetics. Industry groups accused the EWG of needlessly scaring women. The CDC revised its findings, when a second report with a much larger sample size didn't find elevated levels among women of child-bearing age. In its third report, released in July, it suggests the compounds warrant further investigation. It's also not known if PBDEs -- or polybrominated diphenyl ethers -- are toxic to humans. These compounds are widely used as flame retardants in mattresses, electrical equipment and other household products. Researchers found very high levels in mothers' breast milk. As a result, the European Union and California banned the compounds. The manufacturer is voluntarily phasing them out of products, but it's still not known if they make anyone sick. Others are trying to identify the source of such toxins. The Harvard University School of Public Health is giving people backpacks that catch air particles as they move about their daily lives. They want to gauge where the greatest exposures are to chemicals. Their studies have shown that people spend 65 per cent of their time in their residences, 25 per cent in some other indoor environment, five to seven per cent in transit, and usually less than five per cent of their time outdoors. Harvard is especially interested in indoor pollutants (fungi, dust mites, nitrogen dioxide, tobacco smoke, lead, asbestos, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, radon) because concentrations are many times greater than outdoor levels. Instead of waiting for conclusive evidence, many activists say there is enough information to start banning chemicals. They argue that manufacturers should have to prove new chemicals are safe before they are approved for use. This requires embracing the precautionary principle, which argues that in the absence of conclusive evidence in face of a serious threat, we must still take action. Charlotte Brody, of the California-based environmental group Commonweal, took part in the EWG body burden survey. "The 11 Canadian volunteers join the 12 notable Californians that were biomonitored earlier this year and the 32 other people around the world who now know their toxic chemical levels," she said this week in an interview. "I am one of those 32 people who were shocked to learn about the levels of mercury, phthalates, dioxins and other chemicals in me." Even more shocking, she says, "no government and no polluting industry knows how these chemicals in people are connected to the growing number of people with cancer, learning disabilities, infertility, and asthma." Brody's colleague, Davis Baltz, also took part in the biomonitoring survey. He says the Canadian report released last week, and others like it, shows "environmental contaminants have penetrated into every nook and cranny of our lives." He said people can try to reduce personal exposure, but it's up to governments to protect the people. He called REACH proposals in Europe, which would overhaul the chemical industry, "the most significant environmental legislation in 30 years." REACH would not only apply to chemicals manufactured in Europe, but also to chemicals imported into Europe, which means the U.S., Canada and other chemical makers would have to abide by its provisions. The centerpiece of REACH is the requirement that chemicals be tested before they are allowed into commerce, the wider environment, and as tests are increasingly showing, our bodies. "This shifting of responsibility is a sea change in how chemicals are regulated and will create momentous market shifts encouraging safer alternatives and driving bad actors out," Mr. Baltz said this week. He added that in light of Health Canada's recent decision to ban an increasing number of chemicals in cosmetics, it would be both appropriate and very helpful if Health Canada publicly signals its support for a strong REACH program. A vote on the legislation is expected as early as this Thursday in European Parliament. Rick Smith, of Environmental Defence, also pointed to REACH and to the U.S.'s. proposed Child, Worker, and Consumer-Safe Chemicals Act, which he said has the potential to follow the European lead. "When these frameworks become law, citizens of the EU and the U.S. will be granted a higher level of protection for their health and safety than Canadians," he said. He called on Canada to become a world leader, noting it is the third worst polluter in the industrialized world. He said the opportunity exists to bring the regulation of toxic chemicals in Canada up to international standards. In Canada, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act regulates toxic chemicals used and produced by industry. "It's time to give this ineffective piece of legislation a makeover during its mandatory five-year review beginning in the fall of 2005." Under CEPA, safety testing is not required for most chemicals. "Industry is not held accountable for its chemicals. Pollution prevention and the phase-out of toxics is only granted lip service. The result is that as each year passes, increasing volumes of chemicals are entering the environment and making their way into Canadians." Meanwhile, Health Canada told reporters the sample size of 11 people was small but they would look into it. Copyright The Ottawa Citizen Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Jan. 26, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] INCOME INEQUALITY GREW ACROSS THE COUNTRY OVER THE PAST TWO DECADES Early Signs Suggest Inequality Now Growing Again After Brief Interruption In most states, the gap between the highest-income families and poor and middle-income families grew significantly between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, according to a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. The study is one of the few to examine income inequality at the state as well as national level. The incomes of the country's richest families have climbed substantially over the past two decades, while middle- and lower- income families have seen only modest increases. This trend is in marked contrast to the broadly shared increases in prosperity between World War II and the 1970s. In addition, while income inequality declined following the bursting of the stock and high-tech bubbles in 2000 -- both of which were quite costly to the highest-income families -- early national-level data suggest that inequality began growing again in 2003. Incomes at the top have rebounded strongly from the stock market correction, while the negative effects of the recent recession on lowand moderate-income families have lasted longer than usual. Thus, it appears that the two- decade-long trend of worsening income inequality has resumed. The study is based on Census income data that have been adjusted to account for inflation, the impact of federal taxes, and the cash value of food stamps, subsidized school lunches, and housing vouchers. Income from capital gains is also included. The study compares combined data from 2001-2003 with data from the early 1980s and early 1990s, time periods chosen because they stand as comparable low points of their respective business cycles. Its findings include: ** In 38 states, the incomes of the bottom fifth of families grew more slowly than the incomes of the top fifth of families between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. In these 38 states, the incomes of the richest grew by an average of $45,800 (62 percent), while the incomes of the poorest grew by only $3,000 (21 percent) In other words, the poorest families -- who saw an increase in purchasing power of only $143 per year -- have not fared nearly as well as the richest families during this period. In only one state -- Alaska -- did the incomes of the low- income families grow faster than the incomes of the top fifth. ** In 39 states, the incomes of the middle fifth of families grew more slowly than the incomes of the top fifth of families between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. In no state did the income gap (degree of income inequality) between middle- and high-income families narrow during this period. ** Within the top fifth of families, the wealthiest families enjoyed the highest income growth over the past two decades. In the 11 states that are large enough to permit this calculation, the incomes of the top 5 percent of families rose between 66 percent and 132 percent during this period. This is faster than the income growth among the top fifth of families as a whole in these states -- and much faster than the income growth among the bottom fifth of families in these states, which ranged from 11 percent to 24 percent. ** The five states with the largest income gap between the top and bottom fifths of families are New York, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and Florida. Generally, income gaps are larger in the Southeast and Southwest and smaller in the Midwest, Great Plains, and Mountain states. Income gaps tend to be larger in states where incomes in the bottom fifth are below the national average, and to be smaller in states where incomes in the bottom fifth are above the national average. ** The five states with the largest income gaps between the top and middle fifths of families are Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee. Income inequality increased rapidly during the 1980s. During the 1990s exceptionally low unemployment produced relatively broad-based wage growth during the latter part of the decade. This broad-based growth ended with the 2001 economic downturn. Growth in real wages for low- and moderate-income families began to slow and by 2003 wages began to decline. Thus far, the recovery from the downturn has not been strong enough to generate the kind of income gains among low- and middle- income families seen in the late 1990s. Growing Inequality Has Costly Consequences "Growing income inequality harms this nation in a number of ways," stated Jared Bernstein, Senior Economist, Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the report. "When income growth is concentrated at the top of the income scale, the people at the bottom have a much harder time lifting themselves out of poverty and giving their children a decent start in life." "A fundamental principle of our economic system is that the benefits of economic growth will flow to those responsible for their creation. When how fast your income grows depends on your position in the income scale, this principle is violated. In that sense, today's unprecedented gap between the growth of the typical family's income and productivity is our most pressing economic problem." States Can Partially Offset Trend Toward Larger Income Gaps The biggest cause of rising income inequality over the past two decades has been the erosion of wages for the 70 percent of workers with less than a college education. That erosion, in turn, reflects long periods of higher-than-average unemployment, globalization, the shift from manufacturing jobs to low-wage service jobs, immigration, the weakening of unions, and the decline in the minimum wage. More recently, even college-educated workers have experienced real declines in wages, in part because of offshore competition. While many of these economic factors are largely outside the control of state policymakers, "there's a lot that states can do to mitigate the effects of increasing inequality," Elizabeth McNichol, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report noted. Possible steps include raising the state minimum wage, strengthening supports for low-income working families, and reforming the unemployment insurance system. In addition, states can pursue tax policies that partially offset the growing inequality of pre-tax incomes. TABLE A: TOP TEN STATES FOR SELECTED INCOME INEQUALITY MEASURES Greatest Income Inequality Between the Top and the Bottom, Early 2000s 1. New York 2. Texas 3. Tennessee 4. Arizona 5. Florida 6. California 7. Louisiana 8. Kentucky 9. New Jersey 10. North Carolina Greatest Income Inequality Between the Top and the Middle, Early 2000s 1. Texas 2. Kentucky 3. Florida 4. Arizona 5. Tennessee 6. New York 7. Pennsylvania 8. North Carolina 9. New Mexico 10. California Greatest Increases in Income Inequality Between the Top and the Bottom, Early 1980s to Early 2000s 1. Arizona 2. New York 3. Massachusetts 4. Tennessee 5. New Jersey 6. West Virginia 7. Connecticut 8. Hawaii 9. Kentucky 10. South Carolina Greatest Increases in Income Inequality Between the Top and the Middle, Early 1980s to Early 2000s 1. Kentucky 2. Pennsylvania 3. West Virginia 4. Indiana 5. Hawaii 6. Texas 7. Tennessee 8. North Carolina 9. Arizona 10. New York Greatest Increases in Income Inequality Between the Top and the Bottom, Early 1990s to Early 2000s 1. Tennessee 2. Connecticut 3. Washington 4. North Carolina 5. Utah 6. Texas 7. West Virginia 8. Pennsylvania 9. Florida 10. Maine Greatest Increases in Income Inequality Between the Top and the Middle, Early 1990s to Early 2000s 1. Kentucky 2. Pennsylvania 3. North Carolina 4. Indiana 5. Tennessee 6. Texas 7. West Virginia 8. Vermont 9. New Jersey 10. Connecticut The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization and policy institute that conducts research and analysis on a range of government policies and programs. The Economic Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to broaden the public debate about strategies to achieve a prosperous and fair economy. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 820 First Street NE, Suite 510 Washington, DC 20002 Tel: 202-408-1080 Fax: 202-408-1056 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.cbpp.org Economic Policy Institute 1333 H Street NW, Suite 300 Washington, DC 20005 Tel: 202-775-8810 Fax: 202-775-0819 email@example.com http://www.epi.org Return to Table of Contents ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. 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