Rachel's Precaution Reporter #29

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006............Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

City of Oakland, California Adopts Zero Waste as a Goal
  Oakland, California, a port city of 400,000, has formally adopted
  the goal of zero waste by 2020 -- a precautionary approach to
  municipal discards. Mayor Jerry Brown says zero waste can protect
  the environment, enhance the local economy, and serve social justice.
California Could Pioneer a New Industry: 'Green Chemistry'
  The long-awaited "Wilson Report" shows how California could take
  the lead in developing safer chemicals.
Editorial: The Poverty of Public Health in a Dominant Power
  Worldwide, the keystone idea of public health is prevention. But
  hurricanes Rita and Katrina revealed that, in the U.S., decades of
  budget-cutting have left us with a public health infrastructure that
  is frayed, overburdened, and unable to prevent major harm from natural
  disasters, epidemics of infectious disease, or the well-documented
  health burdens of poverty, social exclusion, job-related insecurity
  and stress.
A Response to 'Does God Oppose the Precautionary Principle?'
  In RPR #28, a writer argued that God opposes the precautionary
  principle if it deters humans from modifying plants with genetic
  engineering. Here a writer offers a different view of the theology of
  genetic engineering and the precautionary principle.
Europe Seeks More Precaution in Genetic Engineering Decisions
  Europe is still in considerable turmoil about genetically modified
  (GM) foods. Many countries believe the scientific uncertainties
  surrounding GM foods are still too large to allow GM products to be
  promoted and sold. Better safe than sorry, they say.


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter, Mar. 7, 2006
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By Peter Montague

The City Council of Oakland, California has formally adopted a goal
of zero waste by 2020. The resolution was first proposed by Mayor
Jerry Brown in December 2005 and was adopted by City Council without
opposition on March 7, 2006.

Oakland is a port city of 400,000 on San Francisco Bay.

The City Council's resolution directs the Public Works Agency and
the Mayor's Office to develop a Zero Waste Strategic Plan.

In adopting the zero waste goal, the City Council noted that it will
serve three purposes: environmental protection, economic development,
and social equity.

The resolution and supporting materials can be found here.

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From: University of California at Berkeley, Mar. 14, 2006
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Weak U.S. chemical disclosure laws prevent industries from seeking
safer alternatives

The United States has already fallen behind globally in the move
toward cleaner technologies, including green chemistry, say the
report's authors.

By Sarah Yang

BERKELEY -- California should take the lead in establishing a
comprehensive policy for chemical production and use or face a growing
set of health and environmental problems and risk being left behind by
the global economy, according to a new report [1 Mbyte PDF download]
by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Center for
Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH).

The report is the first in the nation to establish a state framework
for a move toward "green chemistry," in which policies are designed to
motivate industry investment in the design and use of chemicals that
are less toxic, do not accumulate in the body, and break down more
readily in the environment. Green chemical manufacturing processes
also use safer materials and less energy, and they produce less
hazardous waste.

Commissioned in 2004 by the California Senate Environmental Quality
Committee and the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic
Materials, the report was released to the committees today by the
California Policy Research Center, under the aegis of the UC Office of
the President. It says that greater incentives for innovation are
needed to motivate industry leaders and entrepreneurs to invest in
green chemistry. These include improvements in information on chemical
toxicity, enhanced regulatory oversight and greater funding for green
chemistry research in California.

The report recommends that California develop a comprehensive
chemicals policy to implement these changes and that the legislature
convene a chemicals policy task force as the first step in this

The United States has already fallen behind globally in the move
toward cleaner technologies, including green chemistry, say the
report's authors. The European Union (EU), for instance, has already
passed landmark legislation in the push toward environmentally safer
materials. One law, the Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronics
Equipment (WEEE), is intended to encourage the use of new materials
in electronic products that are easier to handle during recycling and
recovery; it makes manufacturers who sell electronic products in the
EU responsible for reducing electronic waste.

A second EU law, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances in
Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (RoHS), bars the use of
hazardous substances, including lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxic
materials, in electrical and electronic equipment sold in the European

A proposed third piece of legislation, the Registration, Evaluation
and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) framework, will require EU
producers and importers to submit toxicity and use information for
about 30,000 chemicals, and it introduces an authorization procedure
for the use of up to 1,400 very hazardous chemicals.

"The European Union is emerging as a global leader in clean technology
and chemicals management, and they are changing the nature of
production globally," said Michael P. Wilson, assistant research
scientist at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at
UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and lead author of the report.
"California should be on the leading edge of these technologies,
including green chemistry, which would not only respond to concerns
about the state's long-term productive capacity, but it would address
a whole host of chemical problems that are affecting health,
environment, businesses and government in the state."

According to the report, a relatively weak U.S. Toxic Substances
Control Act (TSCA) has provided little incentive for U.S.
manufacturers to invest in green chemistry technologies. For instance,
the TSCA has not required chemical producers to generate and make
public toxicity and exposure information for some 99 percent of
synthetic chemicals in commercial use.

"As a result, U.S. consumers, industry, and small-business owners are
unable to identify safer chemical products on the market, and it is
very difficult for industries to identify hazardous chemicals in their
supply chains," the report states. It also notes that "there is
growing scientific concern over the biological implications of
chemical exposures that occur over the course of the human lifespan,
particularly during the biologically sensitive period of fetal and
child development. Hundreds of chemicals persist in the environment
and accumulate in human tissues."

The report states that chemical exposures contribute to the childhood
diseases of asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders and certain cancers.
It also presents data showing that 23,000 workers each year in
California are diagnosed with a deadly chronic disease that is
attributable to chemical exposures in the workplace and another 5,600
die as a result of a chronic disease induced by workplace chemical

It cites a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimate that 217,000
new hazardous waste sites will appear in the United States by 2033, on
top of 77,000 sites in existence today, and that efforts to mitigate
environmental impacts at the new sites will cost an additional $250

The report notes that a number of leading California businesses,
including Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West, Intel, HP,
Apple and IBM, are working to implement chemical policies to avoid the
use of toxic substances, and that a California chemicals policy would
help them do so.

"California businesses need better information about the safety of
chemicals, but they have been frustrated by long-standing federal
chemicals policy weaknesses, especially the Toxic Substances Control
Act," Wilson said. "Correcting these weaknesses in California will go
a long way toward supporting our businesses and addressing pressing
public and environmental health problems; it will motivate chemical
producers to begin investing in green chemistry technologies. Without
California leadership, the U.S. could lose its competitive edge in
this arena."

California stands much to gain, or lose, in this scenario, said
Wilson. The report highlights the projected 50 percent state
population growth to 55 million people by 2050. Effectively managing
that growth in a sustainable way -- with its accompanying social,
economic and environmental issues -- needs to begin now, said Wilson.
sustainable chemicals policy is an integral part of preparing for the
state's future needs, he said.

Moreover, the chemical industry plays a key role in California's
economy. In 2004, the industry employed approximately 81,000 people
and produced $28.6 billion in worker earnings and $1.7 billion in
state and local tax revenues, according to figures from the Chemical
Industry Council of California.

"California already plays a leading role in a number of innovative
areas, such as energy efficiency," said Wilson. "By acting in the near
term, the state could become a global leader in green chemistry

The report was guided by a 13-member advisory committee made up of
faculty members from UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Riverside, and
scientists from the California Department of Health Services.

Co-authors of the report are Daniel Chia and Bryan Ehlers, both of
whom worked on it while graduate students at UC Berkeley's Goldman
School of Public Policy.

The California Policy Research Center is a program of the University
of California that was established to apply the university's extensive
research expertise to the analysis, development, and implementation of
state and federal policies on issues of statewide importance.

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From: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (Vol. 60, pg. 2), Jan. 15, 2006
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The recent hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico exposed the poverty of
U.S. public health infrastructure, weakened by years of budgetary

By Nancy Milio*

Katrina and Rita, the unprecedented September hurricanes and massive
Gulf of Mexico surge, overpowered the levees of New Orleans and
flooded state coastlines. They also exposed the poverty of U.S. public
health infrastructure, weakened by years of budgetary neglect.

Tens of thousands of New Orleanians were trapped in the city. They
were mostly poor African Americans who had no cars and no access to
the limited numbers of buses that were available. Fifteen thousand
eventually made it to safety in the Astrodome stadium. Thousands more
sought refuge in an unattended convention centre, virtually unknown to
authorities. Here they attempted to survive in extreme heat, without
adequate sanitation, water or food for several days. The ill, elders,
and children suffered most; several died; a third had been injured by
the storm; 40% had chronic diseases; a third were without necessary
medications. Over half had no health insurance and many were not
eligible for Medicaid, the public health insurance for the poor,
because they did not fit the narrow categories of that programme --
for example, they were not parents of young children.[1] Worse, dozens
of elders were left unattended in nursing homes and medical
facilities. As a result, they died; this lead to criminal indictments
against culpable health personnel.

The hundreds of thousands of Americans, both citizens and "illegal"
residents trapped in coastal towns and cities were vulnerable to this
catastrophic disaster because of three failures of public policy:
poverty, growing again in recent years, and the dearth of public
measures to reduce it; the inadequacy of emergency planning and
resources despite years of warning; thirdly, the deterioration of
environmental regulation to protect coastal wetlands, land use, and
storm mitigation. The question now is whether these health damaging
wrongs will be made right.


In the USA policies that broadly sustain a healthful level of living
for people who cannot work or find jobs that pay more than poverty
level wages ($19,000 for a four person family), have been steadily
under funded in recent years and are to be cut further in coming
years. These include cash assistance, food stamps, health and child
care, housing subsidies, unemployment insurance, and the failure to
raise the minimum hourly wage, at $5.50, unchanged since 1997.


The linchpins in the national population's health are a handful of
separate federal agencies that support each state's health department
and 3000 local health departments. Among these are the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA). Each has had cuts of 10%-20% annually, shrinking their efforts
in disease prevention, surveillance, community health centres,
maternal and child health, and environmental monitoring and regulatory
enforcement. Other cuts were made in the Food and Drug Administration
and Occupational Health and Safety by as much as 50%.

Although new funds were invested in public health after the September
11, 2001 terrorist attacks, they were narrowly focused, with billions
going to drug companies to induce them to produce medications to
thwart bioterrorism attacks, such as anthrax. At the same time, public
health authority for emergency preparedness was moved from the US
Public Health Service to the new huge, 170,000 employee, 23 agency
Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Public health preparedness thus
became more vulnerable to budget and personnel cuts. All DHS workers,
under new imposed work rules, can be moved from one agency to another,
resulting in diminished expertise. Many tasks were outsourced to
commercial firms with non-unionised workforces, making DHS oversight
and coordination difficult at best.[2]

Authoritative reports recently examined public health preparedness.
They found that future financing plans will be $100 billion short of
meeting needed improvements. Two thirds of the states' health
departments lacked funds and workforce expertise; lacking too was a
comprehensive national information network for communication and
coordination among local, state, federal efforts.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was once the lead
independent federal agency for dealing with disasters, gaining a
reputation for quick and efficient aid to states and communities
during the 1990s. It too was enveloped in the DHS and vulnerable to
programme cuts and new leadership after September 11. During the
Katrina emergency it was widely acknowledged to have failed; the head,
a political appointee, resigned within days.

The well known key ingredients for effective planning include clear
goals and a strategy based on defined responsibilities of all major
stakeholders; mechanisms for decision making, coordination and
communications -- and resources: money, people, supplies, expertise.
It also requires the use of reliable information, preferably science

The science data before Katrina were clear. They were summarised and
published by an investigative reporter in May 2005 after reviewing
years' worth of government and academic reports:

A slow-moving Category 4 [140 miles/hour] or 5 [170 miles/hours]
hurricane...could generate a 20 foot surge that would easily overwhelm
the levees of New Orleans....the geographical "bowl" of the City would
fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate
with little option but to cluster on rooftops....The water itself
would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemical,
and debris...New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural
catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil.[3]

Just before the Bush Administration in 2001, FEMA had been offering
disaster mitigation grants to states to help repair the flood
protection levees of New Orleans. These were eliminated. FEMA had
cited a hurricane strike on the city as one of three worst most
probable natural disasters that could occur in the USA. At the same
time, the Army Corps of Engineers, whose job is to protect flood prone
land, asked Congress for $430 million to shore up the levees.
Louisiana Congressional officials sought $14 billion to revive the
coastal wetlands, but got only $ 0.57 billion. By 2004, the
Administration instead had cut funding by 80%, and what was available
was often spent on less than necessary water projects in Louisiana to
support industry, with limited regard for environmental damage while
destroying millions of acres of storm blocking wetlands.[4]


The health risks raised by the disregard of poverty by policymakers
and the inadequacy of public health and safety preparedness agencies
were multiplied by the decline in environmental protection. Beyond
continuous budget cuts in recent years, the EPA became newly headed by
political rather than professional appointees. It redefined regulatory
terms such that "wetlands" -- which were not to be used for economic
development -- became open to commercial purposes in the Gulf region,
weakening the shoreline buffer against storm surges. In line with the
Administration's policy to lighten government regulation of business,
it focused on re-writing rules protecting drinking water and air;
asbestos and mercury elimination, and as most widely known, global
climate change.

As a case in point, an environmental official in the White House, a
former Petroleum Institute lobbyist, edited an EPA climate change
report so as to raise uncertainties about whether global warming is
occurring and downplaying potential damage. (He soon resigned and went
to work for the giant oil firm Exxon-Mobil.)

Katrina and Rita revealed another facet of climate change that
policymakers are not acknowledging. Over 2 million evacuees mandated
to leave Houston, Texas during Rita were caught in gridlock on the
expressways because there were too many cars. People in New Orleans
were caught in town because they had no cars. What they shared with
all Americans is a dependence on cars -- the mark of "freedom" to move
"whenever and wherever". That devotion adds to U.S. oil dependence,
which makes a large contribution to imprisoning the world's population
under a thickening blanket of water warming greenhouse gases,
intensifying hurricanes.


The Administration's answer to auto-oil dependence is to promote more
of the same. The Governor of Louisiana wants billions to build more
highways for the next evacuation. The Department of Interior is
planning to expand energy development on public lands, including the
pristine Alaska National Wildlife Reserve and the nation's coastal
waters, ending a 25 year moratorium. The new Energy Act provides many
billions mainly to promote fossil fuel industries.

With a projected $150-200 billion needed to restore New Orleans and
surround -- which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country
-- the majority Republican Party's Study Group proposed to cut the
2005-2006 budget further to pay the disaster's costs, producing $370
billion in "savings" over five years. These cuts involve the services
and protections that were already deficient and helped create the
vulnerabilities of New Orleans and the coastal poor, including health
and education programmes, home care, energy conservation; water
quality and wastewater infrastructure; high speed rail development and
new public transit; neighbourhood investment and minority business
development, legal services for the poor and local emergency worker

In the new century, U.S. leaders' commitment has been to "free market"
solutions to public issues. This wake up moment could be more
healthfully used to restore financing to reduce poverty to at least
European levels; to rebuild adequate public health and safety
capacity, and to enable tools to protect environments, moving toward a
new energy future, for example, a national intercity rail system,
linking small and large cities, spurring rural development, new
transportation options, conservation, energy efficiency technologies
and buildings, new energy sources and new good jobs, training and
education, discouraging sprawl and energy expensive houses.


1. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Katrina evacuees
ineligible for Medicaid. 26 Sep 2005.

2. Government Accountability Office. Federal agencies face
challenges in implementing initiatives to improve public health
infrastructure. Jun 2005.

3. Moody C. Frail disaster preparation. Am Prospect 2005;5:23.

4. Editorial. New York Times 2005; Sep 13.

5. Republican Study Group. Budget Options for 2005-06. 22 Sep 2005.

Correspondence: Professor N Milio Carrington Hall, number 7460,
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7460, USA;

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From: Micah's Mission, Mar. 15, 2006
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By Jill McElheney

[Introduction: In Rachel's Precaution Reporter #28, a writer
argued that God favors humans modifying plants with genetic
engineering. In this view, applying the precautionary principle to
genetically modified foods would be a theological error. Here a reader

God, the one of Christianity, invites us to "come, let us reason
together" and "taste and see that the Lord is good."

The Bible is an advocate of Love and Goodness often stating this is
how God defines Himself. The writer of the little essay proclaiming
genetically modified food may solve world hunger is going out on a
limb to label this as loving and good. Every perfect gift comes from
above, but can be perverted through lust of profits.

Evenly distributing what is available, better known as sharing, is
what the Scriptures advocate. The earth has always been bountiful
enough. It is a good earth from a good God. Greed is a result of the
fallen world, and its consequences is a toxic harmful environment. I
believe this is why there will be a new earth according to prophesy of
the Bible.

Genetically modified food will not change corrupt governments or
unethical business practices to all of sudden become upright and care
for the starving. We cannot have a heaven on earth at this time in
history, still Christians work all over the world to share and feed
the hungry in our desire to follow Christ. Would Jesus give mercury
contaminated fish to his followers because it satisfied their hunger?
I tend to think He would scold the mercury polluters who can afford,
and should prevent mercury contamination of the holy temple, which is
the human body. Recorded in Scripture on the occasion that Jesus
became visibly violent was when unjust weights were being used in
commerce at the temple. Now that His Spirit resides in us, we are
still to follow his teachings to use just weights in business.
Precautionary Principle is a just weight.

When we offer prayers of thanks to the Creator at meal times, we are
acknowledging His gifts of the natural world that resulted in our
being nourished to continue His good work. Yet, we don't expect Him to
remove the pesticides that taint our food and cause diseases. He is
not responsible for the bad greedy choices of mankind, but still
working good through them.

Love is not interested in corporate dividends at the expense of
unknown detrimental effects. Love treasures what He most values:
PEOPLE. The free market system has become dangerously muddy in ethics
trampling all over human health just to make an extra buck. I tend to
think our knowledge is spiraling upward everyday as we build this new
Tower of Babel.

Micah's Mission
Ministry to Improve Childhood & Adolescent Health
P.O. Box 275
Winterville, GA 30683
(t) 706.742.7826
(f) 706.543.1799
website: http://www.arches.uga.edu/~babuice/MICAH/index.htm

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord
require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly
with your God." Micah 6:8

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From: Meath Chronicle (County Meath, Ireland), Mar. 18, 2006
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EU [European Union] environment ministers have urged a shake-up of
risk assessment and decision-making procedures used to approve new
genetically-modified crops.

The development marks the latest stage in the EU's struggle to
achieve a regulatory regime for GM crops that enjoys backing from all
25 member states.

In a public debate held during their council meeting in Brussels
recently, ministers called almost unanimously for the European food
safety authority (EFSA) to improve transparency in its scientific
assessments of GM crops. Some appealed for extra assessment steps.

Several ministers urged the scrapping of comitology procedures that
have allowed the European commission to end the EU's de facto
moratorium on new GM crops despite opposition from many governments.
In most cases the commission's approval of new crops has been based on
positive scientific opinions from EFSA.

The debate was tabled by Austria, which holds the EU presidency but is
also vehemently opposed to GMOs. Vienna has defied the commission and
EFSA by imposing a national ban on several EU-approved crops, citing
scientific uncertainty.

"There are considerable shortcomings in our ability to assess GMOs,"
Spanish minister Cristina Narbona Ruiz said in opening the debate.
Most of her colleagues followed in a similar vein.

UK minister Elliot Morley offered dissent. Assessment procedures were
basically sound, he argued, though EFSA did need to be "more direct
and open" and make its opinions "more clearly presented and more
robustly argued".

Some ministers went further, urging better long-term monitoring of the
effects of new crops and more assessment of the indirect effects of GM
products. Belgium refloated the idea of an EU-wide liability and
insurance regime for damage done by GM crops.

Several member states wanted more independent verification of
scientific studies carried out by industry and a clear framework for
resolving differences of opinion between EFSA and member state
assessment bodies.

Many ministers called for greater use of the precautionary principle
in GM decisions, and for coexistence rules that would unambiguously
allow GM-free zones.

Austria is to hold conferences on both issues next month and ministers
will revisit the issue at their next meeting in June.

Potentially equally significant was the level of opposition from
several ministers to the use of EU comitology rules to approve GM
applications. The procedures, which are also used in many other areas
of EU policy, are currently under review by the EU's general affairs

"We should think hard about changing the rules," Italian minister
Altero Matteoli said. "There hasn't been a simple majority of member
states in favour [of certain applications], let alone a qualified
majority, but even so the commission decides to give an approval."

Responding to the debate, EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas
said EFSA was "still finding its feet" and hinted support for changes
to risk assessment procedures.

"Certain changes may be beneficial" to make the system "as
comprehensive and transparent as possible," he said. Increasing
confidence in the scientific process first might make the comitology
procedure less contentious, he said.


Copyright Meath Chronicle and http://www.unison.ie/

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
  examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in
  action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
  decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to
  answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary
  principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

  We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we  
  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
  their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
  to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

  Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
  provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
  principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- 
  please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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