Rachel's Precaution Reporter #45

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2006..............Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Styrofoam Food Packaging Banned in Oakland, California
  The city of Oakland, California has banned the use of styrofoam
  packaging for take-out food. Roughly 100 other U.S. cities have taken
  similar steps to avoid the creation of unmanageable and unnecessary
  plastic wastes.
Mendocino County, California Adopts Precautionary Principle
  Mendocino County, California, has adopted a precautionary principle
  policy to guide governmental decisions. Two county departments will be
  selected to begin implementing the ordinance.
Europe's Proposed Chemicals Law -- REACH -- Hopelessly Weakened?
  For several years, the European Union (EU) has been trying to pass
  a law, called REACH, that would require industrial chemicals to be
  safety-tested before they are put on the market. The slogan for REACH
  is, "No data, no market." The global chemical industry has bitterly
  opposed REACH, and it now looks as if the chemical corporations have
  succeeded in weakening the proposal substantially.
Environment Linked to More Than One-Third of All Children's Disease
  The potential for preventing human disease world-wide is enormous:
  "The evidence shows that environmental risk factors play a role in
  more than 80% of the diseases regularly reported by the World Health
  Organization. Globally, nearly one quarter of all deaths and of the
  total disease burden can be attributed to the environment. In
  children, however, environmental risk factors can account for slightly
  more than one-third of the disease burden."
Untreated Social Ills Make for Higher Medical Costs
  In Canada, a former minister of health and welfare says that nation
  would do far better by spending less on health care and more on
  keeping people healthy in the first place, preventing disease instead
  of trying to cure it.


From: San Francisco Chronicle, Jun. 28, 2006
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By Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- The Oakland City Council approved a ban on Styrofoam
packaging for take-out food late Tuesday during a marathon council
meeting that ended early today.

Oakland joins about 100 cities that have adopted similar measures,
including Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, which banned Styrofoam nearly
20 years ago. San Francisco is expected to ban Styrofoam food
packaging later this summer.

The measure, which takes effect in January, will ban Styrofoam or
polystyrene food packaging and require restaurants and cafes to switch
to disposable food containers that will biodegrade if added to food

In 2004, the city began an ambitious food recycling plan that
encourages residents to stuff used food containers, such as pizza
boxes, into the green litter container that already includes yard

The council voted 7-1 with Councilwoman Desley Brooks the sole
opponent. Tuesday's action was the final vote after the ban was first
approved two weeks ago. Brooks, along with some restaurant owners, has
said that the ban would place an undue burden on small businesses. But
supporters, including the measure's author, Councilwoman Jean Quan,
said there were plenty of cost-effective options out there for

The city plans to enforce the measure based on citizen complaints.
After a first warning, food vendors could face fines ranging from $100
to $500 for repeat offenses. Supporters note that polystyrene takes
thousands of years to decompose and is already a huge problem in
waterways. The California Integrated Waste Management Board reported
that polystyrene is responsible for 15 percent of the litter collected
in storm drains.

The California Restaurant Association opposes such bans, saying that
Styrofoam is necessary to keep food warm. The group also said that
Oakland has a history of forcing small businesses to make changes in
order to solve the city's litter problem.

In January, the council voted to impose a litter tax on fast-food
restaurants to help pay for litter cleanup crews. Under that measure,
fast-food restaurants and convenience stores are being assessed
between $230 and $3,815 annually, depending on their size, in order to
raise $237,000 each year to pay for litter cleanup around the city.

But many local businesses in Oakland supported the measure, noting
that they have already voluntarily stopped using Styrofoam, or never
used it.

"We've never used (Styrofoam) and we never would," said Gabriel
Frazee, manager of the Nomad Cafe on Shattuck Avenue. "All of our food
containers are compostable except for plastic drink lids. In San
Francisco, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association also supports a
proposed ban.

Frazee, whose business has won several awards for its environment-
friendly practices such as using coffee grounds for compost, said that
even if paper containers are a little more expensive, it's built into
the cafe's business plan.

"There is a slight price difference, but not to the extent that it's
going to ruin the business," Frazee said. "Our owner believes in an
environmentally friendly business, and our customers support us."

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From: Mendocino Partnership For The Precautionary Principle, Jun. 27, 2006
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On June 27, 2006, the Mendocino County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors
(3-0) adopted the County's first-ever environmental policy -- the
Mendocino County Precautionary Principle Policy. The text of the
policy can be found here.

Two Supervisors, Delbar and Wattenburger, were not present for the
scheduled hearing because they had left the weekly Board meeting in
protest against an earlier agenda item. According to the Board
Chairman, Supervisor David Colfax, both verbalized disfavor for the
adoption of a Precautionary Principle Policy prior to their exit.
Supervisors Colfax, Smith, and Wagenet voted to pass the Policy.

The Precautionary Principle is a guiding framework for decision-making
that anticipates how actions will affect the environment and the
health of future generations. The newly adopted policy will provide an
innovative structure for decision-making. This structure includes the
value of public input, transparency, full-cost and benefit accounting,
and guidance towards alternatives with the least potential impact on
human health and the environment. The Director of Public Health, Carol
Mordhorst, stated "The Precautionary Principle provides a good
opportunity for guidelines for county departments to make decisions
that produce the least harm."

The Precautionary Principle was brought before the County by the
"Mendocino Partnership for the Precautionary Principle," a civic group
assembled in 2005. The first steps included requesting the County
study the Principle's possible implementation. The study period
resulted in the formation of a new policy. According to Environmental
Commons' Director, Britt Bailey, "I am very proud of today's decision.
For the past eight months we have been involved in the study of this
Principle in concert with county officials. We all knew we liked the
ideas behind the Principle but were unsure how the values could be
placed into daily decision-making. In the end, we have built a
relationship with our government -- and this relationship has allowed
for thoughtful discussion and an increased understanding of the ways
in which we can work together to protect the beauty and ecology of our
county as well as the values of its residents."

5th District Supervisor, David Colfax, has been supportive of the
County's adoption of this policy from the beginning stages. "I believe
we can do a better job of protecting our environment and human health.
The Precautionary Principle Policy will provide us with a tool to
protect our beautiful County and its future generations," he said.

Implementation of this policy will begin with a pilot project
utilizing two (2) County Departments to be selected by the Executive

In addition to becoming Mendocino's first environmental policy, the
adoption of the Precautionary Principle marks just the second instance
in which a county government has decided to adopt the Principle. San
Francisco County adopted the Precautionary Principle in 2003.

Contacts: Britt Bailey, Director Environmental Commons (707) 884-5002,

Carol Mordhorst, Director Mendocino Dept. of Public Health (707)
472-2777 mordhorc@co.mendocino.ca.us

J. David Colfax, 5th District Supervisor Mendocino County Board of
Supervisors (707) 463-4221 / (707) 895-3241 colfaxd@pacific.net

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From: European Environment Bureau, Jun. 27, 2006
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Environmental, women's, health and consumer organisations are very
concerned that the Council Common Position on the future EU chemicals
law -- REACH -- will not protect people and the environment from toxic
chemicals. We believe that the loopholes in the Council text, which
was rubber-stamped today by Environment ministers, give cause for
serious doubt that REACH will be an improvement on current chemicals

The Council Common Position fails to take account of the European
Parliament's First Reading position to substitute hazardous chemicals
with safer alternatives, whenever possible. It would allow
carcinogens, chemicals that are toxic to reproduction (e.g. the
phthalate DEHP) and hormone-disrupting substances (e.g. bisphenol A)
to stay on the market, even if safer alternatives exist. This loophole
represents little change from the current, flawed system, which has
failed to control the most dangerous chemicals and hinders safe,
innovative products from entering the market.

The Council text also drastically reduces safety information that
chemical producers would be obliged to supply, particularly for
substances produced in low quantities. Thousands of chemicals could
thus stay on the market, despite no health information being
available. This, too, reduces the likelihood of identifying safer
alternatives and taking precautionary action on chemicals.

The NGOs urge the European Parliament to reaffirm its support for the
substitution principle during Second Reading. We anticipate that
substitution will become the main area of contention, together with a
legally binding duty of care and greater access to information.

Only when these principles are fully endorsed by the EU institutions
deciding on REACH will European citizens and the environment benefit
from the new EU chemicals legislation.


The European Environment Bureau (EEB) is a federation of 143
environmental citizens organisations based in all EU Member States and
most Accession countries, as well as a few neighbouring countries.
They range from local and national to European and international. The
aim of the EEB is to protect and improve the environment of Europe and
to enable the citizens of Europe to play their part in achieving that

Copyright EUbusiness Ltd 2006.

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From: World Health Organization, Jun. 16, 2006
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Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease

How much disease could be prevented through better management of our
environment? The environment influences our health in many ways --
through exposures to physical, chemical and biological risk factors,
and through related changes in our behaviour in response to those
factors. To answer this question, the available scientific evidence
was summarized and more than 100 experts were consulted for their
estimates of how much environmental risk factors contribute to the
disease burden of 85 diseases.

This report summarizes the results globally, by 14 regions worldwide,
and separately for children. The evidence shows that environmental
risk factors play a role in more than 80% of the diseases regularly
reported by the World Health Organization. Globally, nearly one
quarter of all deaths and of the total disease burden can be
attributed to the environment. In children, however, environmental
risk factors can account for slightly more than one-third of the
disease burden. These findings have important policy implications,
because the environmental risk factors that were studied largely can
be modified by established, cost-effective interventions. The
interventions promote equity by benefiting everyone in the society,
while addressing the needs of those most at risk.

Download the full document in English [pdf 8.8 megabytes]

Download the executive summary [pdf 859kb] Download the executive
summary en Espanol [pdf 2.62 megabytes]

Press release: Almost a quarter of all disease caused by
environmental exposure

Radio interviews: by Dr Maria Neira, Director, Public Health and the
Environment Department, WHO, Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun, Scientist, Public
Health and the Environment Department, WHO and lead author of the
report Dr Carlos Corvalan, Scientist, Public Health and the
Environment Department, WHO and co-author of the report

Video message: Health is the key in motivating to solve
environmental problems by Dr Maria Neira, Director, Public Health and
Environment Department, WHO.

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From: Toronto Globe and Mail, Jun. 22, 2006
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By Andre Picard

Many of us revel in thinking of Canada as a great place to live, a
generous, caring country with a well-woven social safety net that
protects the sick and poor from harm.

But that feel-good image is largely a myth, according to Monique
Begin, the respected former minister of health and welfare.

While we have a generous medical care system, Canada's welfare system
is parsimonious at best, she told delegates to the recent annual
meeting of the Canadian Public Health Association.

More striking still is her proposed solution. "Rebalancing of the
health budget is what is needed," Dr. Begin said.

In other words, let's spend less money on health care and more on
keeping the population healthy.

How do you do that? By tackling what renowned social scientist Sir
Michael Marmot calls the "causes of the causes of poor health" -- the
social determinants of health.

Dr. Begin, unlike so many of today's politicians, is bold enough to
say that, in Canada, we spend too much money on dealing with the
proximate causes of disease -- $142-billion in health spending in 2005
-- and far too little on tackling the root causes of illness in much
of the population -- a lack of adequate income, poor housing,
inequality, hopelessness.

Welfare is in her vocabulary and it's not a dirty word, as it is in
most mainstream political circles.

A recent report from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights underscored just how frayed Canada's social safety
net has become. It became a central talking point at the CPHA
conference where delegates heard, among other things:

** Minimum wage (which varies by province) is inadequate, to the point
where one-third of full-time workers can't make ends meet.

** Only about one-third of people who are unemployed are actually
eligible for employment insurance.

** Almost 40 per cent of all jobs are part-time or seasonal.

** There are 1.2 million poor children in Canada, and nearly 320,000
of them rely on food banks for their daily bread.

** Welfare rates (which vary by province) provide income that is about
half the poverty rate.

** Our social programs have perverse disincentives, such as those that
require people to quit their jobs and go on welfare to get
catastrophic drug coverage.

** There is shocking poverty among native peoples; not surprisingly,
their health is abysmal.

** Child care is inadequate almost everywhere but Quebec.

** There is an army of unpaid caregivers that has virtually no
official help.

** Social housing is virtually non-existent.

In Canada, only 17.8 per cent of public expenditures are on social
programs other than health; in Sweden, by contrast, that figure is
36.8 per cent. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development, 21 European countries spend more on social programs
than Canada, including Poland and the Slovak Republic. Not
coincidentally, all those countries spend less than Canada on health.

The lesson we should be taking from European countries is that one of
the most effective health interventions is income redistribution.

Money is the best drug we have. And, paradoxically, providing people
with a decent income is probably cheaper than treating the illnesses
of poverty, which tend to be expensive conditions such as diabetes,
heart disease and cancer.

Notably absent from the lists of Canada's welfare shortcomings are
seniors. The poverty rate in the over-65 age group is 5 per cent in
Canada, compared with 20 per cent in the United States.

Our elderly are among the best off in the Western World because we
made a determined effort to improve their lot with programs such as
the Guaranteed Income Supplement and progressive tax measures.

This demonstrates that where there is political will, we can tackle
social inequalities.

But look at what we do with children. Ottawa provides poor parents
with the Canada Child Benefit and the National Child Benefit

But most provinces negate that measure by clawing back -- reducing
provincial welfare payments by an offsetting amount, or through

Poverty in children has a life-long reach. Poor children will grow up
to be unhealthy adults.

Dr. Begin, who is currently serving on the World Health Organization
Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, said the message that
social justice is good for our collective health and that the speed at
which we perform hip replacements is not the most pressing health
problem in this country is a tough sell.

Baby boomers are distinguishing themselves as the most selfish
generation to have ever walked the face of the Earth. We love our
health care (which is more accurately described as sickness care) and,
increasingly, we hate welfare.

Yet it is a false dichotomy and a false economy. We can pay now with
decent social programs or pay later with increased health costs.


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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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