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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #70

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2006.........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Environmentalists: Stop Great Lakes Damage Before It Happens
  As the governments of the U.S. and Canada begin to revise the Great
  Lakes Water Quality Agreement, environmental groups around the lakes
  are calling for policies that prevent harm, rather than manage harm
  after it has occurred.
Over 700 Scientists Call for Precaution in Canadian Chemicals Law
  Canada is reviewing its basic environment law, known as CEPA. Now
  more than 700 scientists and physicians have urged their government to
  insert more prevention and precaution into Canada's chemicals
Editorial: Green Chemistry
  The French newspsper, Le Monde, says that the essential point of
  the new European chemicals policy, REACH, is "the inversion of the
  burden of proof," which transfers to chemical producers the
  responsibility to say under what conditions their products can be used
  without risk.
Wi-Fi: Should We Be Worried?
  For several years, the Times of London has been reporting on
  emerging evidence that some people feel effects from electromagnetic
  radiation produced by cell phone towers and wireless computer networks
  (wi-fi). Will anyone heed these early warnings?


From: Grand Haven (Michigan) Tribune, Dec. 21, 2006
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By John Flesher, AP Environmental Writer

Traverse City, Michigan -- About five years before zebra mussels
launched their invasion of the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s, Canadian
researchers warned it was coming.

But neither Canada nor the United States took steps to stop the tiny
mollusk from hitchhiking to the lakes from Europe inside ballast tanks
of oceangoing freighters. Now, controlling the pest costs taxpayers
hundreds of millions a year.

"We're paying many times the price we would have had to pay if we'd
taken a preventive approach," says Cameron Davis, executive director
of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

"The entire history of the Great Lakes is like that -- suspecting a
threat but not heeding the warning signs."

As both countries ponder the first significant update of the Great
Lakes Water Quality Agreement in nearly two decades, a coalition of
environmentalist groups has developed a wide-ranging set of proposed

Among them: adding to the agreement's list of bedrock principles the
"precautionary approach," or trying to head off potential threats
before they materialize instead of waiting to clean up the mess

"It means paying attention to scientific research and listening to the
early warning bells," says Davis, whose group crafted the wish list
with Great Lakes United, the Canadian Environmental Law
Association and the Biodiversity Project. Numerous other
organizations have endorsed it, he says.

Their 65-page paper is among a flurry of recommendations offered to
an executive committee of U.S. and Canadian officials since it began a
review of the water quality agreement last year to decide whether
changes are needed.

Davis says the report, "Promises to Keep; Challenges to Meet,"
advocates building upon the successes of the water quality agreement
while fixing its shortcomings.

While the agreement already calls for shielding the lakes from new
sources of toxins, it should have a policy of identifying and
preventing a broad range of chemical, biological and physical threats,
the report says.

Climate change is among the emerging dangers, it says, with the
potential to cause more precipitation and heavier storms even as it
drives water levels lower by boosting temperatures and evaporation.
Possible consequences include more pollution from runoff, sewer
overflows, wetland shrinkage and wildlife habitat loss.

The report calls for a board of experts to keep track of developments
in global warming research and recommend ways to minimize the damage
by acting early.

Another part of the precautionary approach could be controversial:
requiring people to demonstrate their actions wouldn't harm the lakes
instead of placing the burden on regulators to prove otherwise.

Even so, some business interests say the precautionary principle -- a
fixture in many international declarations and treaties on the
environment -- can be acceptable. The key is to base preventive rules
on good science and make them proportionate to the risk involved, says
the Ann Arbor-based Council of Great Lakes Industries.

The water quality agreement is "a vision document," says the group's
president, George Kuper. "What I'm anxious for is that people not take
that vision to outrageous extremes," such as demanding that industry
prove it won't put any toxins in the water instead of showing the
amounts won't be harmful.

"There is not a thing in this world that is risk free," Kuper says.
"The question is how to balance the risk against the reward."

In addition to preventing new problems, the agreement should push for
stepped-up cleanup and restoration of polluted sites, the
environmentalists' report says. And it should demand accountability
from both countries, urging them to set timetables and benchmarks and
put specific agencies in charge.

"The governments are not keeping their promises under the agreement,
in part because the political climate has changed," says Reg Gilbert,
senior coordinator of Great Lakes United, a Canadian-U.S. advocacy

People have grown more hostile to regulation and government since the
initial agreement was signed in 1972, he said. And the nature of
today's threats to the lakes, while just as serious, are less apt to
stir public outrage.

"There was a clamor for change back in 1972. People saw the fish
kills, smelled the dirty water. Those things got better and people
started to think the lakes weren't in trouble any more."

Copyright 2006 Grand Haven Publishing Corp.

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From: Canadian News Wire, Dec. 11, 2006
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Edmonton -- As the [Canadian] federal government launches its new
strategy for dealing with toxic substances, and as Parliament enters
the final phase of its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection
Act (CEPA), a letter signed by 721 Canadian scientists and doctors
released today calls on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to amend CEPA to
ensure it reduces Canadians' exposure to toxic substances.

The list includes 19 Canada Research Chairs, 25 Royal Society members,
4 Order of Canada recipients, and 2 Herzberg gold medalists. Dr. David
Schindler, Killam Memorial Chair and Professor of Ecology at the
University of Alberta, helped organize the initiative through a web
site, www.scientistsforahealthyenvironment.ca, which is still
collecting signatories.

"This letter reflects a remarkable breadth of scientific opinion.
Canadian doctors and scientists are calling on the federal government
to fix the problems in CEPA, and reduce toxic pollution in Canada," he

CEPA is Canada's overarching federal pollution law. The House of
Commons Environment Committee began a mandatory review of the law in
the spring, and is hearing from its last witness panel today. A
parallel review is taking place in the Senate's Standing Committee on
Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Witnesses appearing
before the committees have highlighted many weaknesses in the law that
have resulted in a lack of effective action to reduce pollution in

"Canada has a growing pollution problem that is a threat to both human
health and the quality of our environment," the scientists' letter
states. "CEPA requires significant improvements in order to deal with
the emerging challenges of harmful substances in our environment."

While the federal government last Friday announced an action plan to
move forward on key toxic substances, this plan does not address
deficiencies in the overall regulatory system. The letter focuses on
four areas that need improvement in CEPA:

1) Protecting vulnerable ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes-St.
Lawrence basin;

2) Requiring deadlines for each stage from assessment to management of
potentially harmful substances;

3) Employing the precautionary approach by shifting the onus on to
industry to show that products are safe, rather than the current
system, under which the government must generally prove that a
substance is harmful before taking regulatory action; and

4) Providing the authority to regulate potentially harmful substances
in consumer products.

"We hope this letter will encourage parliamentarians to make
improvements to CEPA so that it better protects our health and our
environment," said Dr. John Smol, Canada Research Chair in
Environmental Change at Queen's University, editor of the Journal of
Paleolimnology, and one of the co-signatories of the letter. "Future
generations will thank us."

The scientists' letter, and the list of signatories, is available at

Dr. David Schindler, University of Alberta, Tel. (780) 492-1291 or
(780) 325-3770; Dr. John Smol, Queen's University, Tel. (613) 533-6147

Copyright 2006 News Provided by Comtex.

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From: Le Monde, Dec. 14, 2006
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At the dawn of the third millennium, humans living in developed
countries are more contaminated by synthetic chemical products than
they have ever been before. The scientific controversy is far from
over, but the impact on health of this massive chemical contamination
is certain. The environmental cause of a number of cancers is proven,
and the drop in fertility correlates with exposure to certain
synthetic molecules. One must therefore commend the European
Parliament's Wednesday, December 13, adoption of the Reach regulation
- an unprecedented body of law on the danger of chemical products.

Regulating an industry that is at the heart of our model of economic
development was urgent. Although chemistry has brought undeniable
benefits to modern societies, its dark side could no longer be
obscured and denied. Once it is fully applied in July 2018, the Reach
regulation will allow us to understand the effects on health and the
environment of some 30,000 substances used to make common consumer

This result was very nearly never-to-be-achieved, so fiercely had it
been fought by the chemical lobby and European management. At the
heart of the European Commission, as well as in the Council of
Ministers -- where Germany, premier European chemical producer, led
the revolt -- and then in the European Parliament, the attempts to
torpedo the measure persisted up until the last moment.

However, Parliament's rapporteur, Guido Sacconi, a former Italian
trade unionist exhausted by the negotiations, did not concede on the
project's essential point: "the inversion of the burden of proof,"
which transfers to producers the requirement to say under what
conditions their products can be used without risk. At present, the
public authorities -- supposed to do this work, but swamped -- have
only been able to evaluate, according to Mr. Sacconi, some "400
molecules in twenty-five years." With Reach, producers will have to
make tests and prove harmlessness. These evaluations will cost between
2.8 and 5.2 billion Euros between now and 2018, or less than one
percent of the chemical sector's total sales.

Although imperfect, this text constitutes a step in the right
direction, toward a "green chemistry" that would progressively
eliminate those products harmful to health. The European chemical
industry argued with good reason about the threat to its
competitiveness, given that other continents are subject to lighter
constraints. But it is arming itself for the future, since, by
developing clean products, it will get ahead of the competition.
Behind Reach, an economic model Europe should count on is becoming
apparent: industry and activities that, as a matter of principle,
respect the environment and health.

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From: The Times (London), Dec. 11, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Nicki Daniels

Concern about the safety of wireless networks is mounting, with people
blaming everything from headaches to cancer on the technology

It started as a low murmur, and has now risen to a persistent hum.
Thanks partly to a lively correspondence in the pages of The Times,
the debate about the safety of wireless networks is gathering
momentum. Is this new technology a threat to human health comparable
to smoking -- as some campaigners claim -- or an electric storm in a

Wireless networks -- known as wi-fi or wLAN (wireless local area
network) -- are increasingly used in schools, offices and other public
places to connect computers and laptops to the internet using
radiofrequency transmitters with no need for complex cabling. In
future, whole town centres will be transformed into wi-fi "hot spots",
enabling people to access the internet wherever they are through hand-
held devices, including mobile phones. Indeed, Milton Keynes, Norwich
and the borough of Islington, in North London, already have this WiMax

It has taken the public a while to wake up to the idea that wireless
transmitters could be less than benign. As with mobile phones, we
first embrace the liberating new technology and only later ask the
awkward questions. Perhaps, as with pharmaceuticals, the order should
be reversed. The official line on the health implications of wi-fi is
that exposure to low level electromagnetic radiation from wireless
networks is well below recommended levels and that there is no
evidence of risk. But despite these soothing words, the groundswell of
concern is mounting, with some people blaming everything from
headaches to cancer on exposure to radio-frequency fields.

As reported in this newspaper, a number of schools have dismantled
their wireless networks after lobbying from worried parents, and
others are under pressure to follow suit. In Austria the public health
department of Salzburg has advised schools and kindergartens not to
use wLAN or cordless phones. Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada,
which has 7,400 students, has removed wi-fi because of what its Vice-
Chancellor, Dr Fred Gilbert, calls "the weight of evidence
demonstrating behavioural effects and physiological impacts at the
tissue, cellular and cell level".

Some experts have also expressed concerns. In September, 30 scientists
from all over the world signed a resolution calling for a "full and
independent review of the scientific evidence that points to hazards
from current electromagnetic field exposure conditions worldwide."
Closer to home, the Irish Doctors Environmental Association (IDEA) has
asked its country's Government to carry out "a full assessment of the
health impacts of electromagnetic radiation".

"There has been no research specifically looking at the effects of
wireless networks on human health," admits Alasdair Philips, the
scientific and technical director of the lobby group Powerwatch. "But
I have seen enough anecdotal material to be convinced that some people
are affected by them."

David Dean, 43, a councillor in Merton, South London, and the managing
director of a publishing company, describes himself as a human
antenna. "The moment I go into people's houses I know whether they
have wi-fi because my head starts to buzz. I had to leave my last job
because I couldn't stand up for more than ten minutes in the office
and my boss would not remove the wi-fi. My heart raced, I had double
vision and really bad headaches. It felt as though my head was in an
arm lock. Twice I have been into homes where the children were
screaming monsters. After I suggested to the parents that they turn
off the network for two days, the kids were transformed."

Anxiety about wi-fi has focused on the effect of electromagnetic
radiation on children because they have thinner skulls, less fully
developed nervous systems and will undergo a lifetime of exposure to
cellphone technology. In his report on mobile phones, Professor Sir
William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency (HPA),
acknowledged that radiation below guideline levels, while thought to
be safe, may have effects on the body. He therefore advocated a
precautionary approach, including close monitoring of radiation from
masts near schools and a recommendation that the beam of greatest
intensity from a mast should not fall within the grounds of a school.

"The emissions from wireless networks are very similar to those from
mobile phone base stations in terms of frequency and signal
modulation," says Philips, who, it must be said, runs a company
selling electromagnetic radiation detectors and blockers. "Many
published reports have shown ill-health affects apparently associated
with living and working close to mobile phone masts. In a Latvian
study of 966 children, motor function, memory and attention were
significantly worse in the group exposed to radiation from a pulsed
radio location station. The exposure levels were low, but similar to
those that children in classes with wLANs will be exposed to."

Dr Michael Clark, of the HPA, says published research on mobile phones
and masts does not add up to an indictment of wi-fi. "All the expert
reviews done here and abroad indicate that there is unlikely to be a
health risk from wireless networks," he says. "The few studies on
mobile phone masts that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals
claiming to observe health effects are not at all conclusive. The real
problem is deciding what level of precaution is appropriate.

"When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures
from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline
levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile
phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year
sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent
to 20 minutes on a mobile. If wi-fi should be taken out of schools,
then the mobile phone network should be shut down, too -- and FM radio
and TV, as the strength of their signals is similar to that from wi-fi
in classrooms."

Philips is not reassured: "Electromagnetic radiation exposure
guidelines in the UK are designed to protect against gross heating
effects. They are not meant to protect against long-term exposure to
low levels of pulsing microwaves, such as laptops emit when
downloading. We believe that these interfere with the body's own
normal internal electrical and electro-chemical signalling systems,
leading to serious health problems, and growing children may be more
affected than adults, whose cells are not changing as rapidly."

One of the problems in conducting research is that not everybody is
affected by electromagnetic radiation in the same way. "A growing,
consistent body of literature demonstrates that a subgroup of the
population appears to suffer distressing symptoms when exposed to this
type of radiation," says Dr Elizabeth Cullen, of IDEA. Sleep
disturbances, depression, blurred vision, heart and breathing
problems, nausea and headache are among the most common symptoms.

Up to 5 per cent of the population is thought to have this
sensitivity, which is recognised in Sweden as a disability. In
Stockholm sufferers can have their homes adapted to remove or screen
out sources of electromagnetic radiation. If this proves ineffective,
they can even rent council-owned cottages in areas of low radiation.

However, Dr Clark is not persuaded that electromagnetic fields are the
cause of sensitivity. "While we accept that some people experience
genuine symptoms, which can be distressing, what causes them is
another matter. Most scientists are very sceptical because of the
published laboratory investigations of electrosensitivity. People who
are convinced that they can tell when they are in the presence of
electromagnetic radiation cannot detect the fields in double-blind
laboratory conditions."

An important study by the University of Essex, due to be published
next year in a peer-reviewed journal, may settle the matter. During
the trial, 55 people who believe that they are hypersensitive and 120
non-sensitive controls were subjected to tests of concentration and
memory while signals from second and third generation mobile phone
masts were switched on and off. The trial was double blind: neither
the researchers nor the subjects knew when the signals were firing.

Some believe that sensitivity symptoms are not the only threat posed
by electromagnetic radiation. A Swedish study suggests that there is
an increased risk of acoustic neuroma (an auditory nerve cancer) in
people who have used mobile phones for more than ten years.
Conversely, last week the results of the largest and longest-running
study on mobile phones and the risk of cancer, published in the
Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that there was no

A literature review conducted by the International Commission for Non-
Ionising Radiation Protection concluded: "Results of epidemiologic
studies to date give no consistent or convincing evidence of a causal
relation between exposure from radio frequency fields (RFs) and any
adverse health effect. On the other hand, these studies have too many
deficiencies to rule out an association. Despite the ubiquity of new
technologies using radio frequency fields, little is known about
population exposure from RF sources, and even less about the relative
importance of different sources."

And here lies the nub of the problem. Not enough research has been
done over long enough periods on the effects of various levels of
exposure on different populations to draw any firm conclusions about
the dangers, if any, of wireless networks. As to whether the
convenience is worth the risk -- only you can decide.


Sidebar: 'I Felt Dizzy and Nauseous'

By Poppy Rhodes

"Electrosensitivity" is a rather misleading term. I'm fine around
electricity. But put me next to a BlackBerry or a wireless laptop
accessing the internet and I feel dizzy, slightly nauseous and my
flesh tingles as if it's being scrambled. It sounds bonkers I know.
But after years of denial I have had to come to terms with the fact
that aspects of this fantastic new technology do not agree with me.

We installed wi-fi in our house two years ago. We loved it. The whole
family could be online at the same time. I imagined myself working in
the garden during the summer (although I never did), and I could work
in bed. But from the moment wi-fi arrived I felt peculiar.

I mentioned casually to my husband that I could tell when he was
sending an e-mail, but he dismissed that as laughable: I must be
imagining it. So I put the idea out of my mind. But as the weeks and
months passed I began to feel iller, overwhelmed at times by intense
giddiness, headaches and a sense that I was moving through a dense
fog. Sleep was fitful and I seemed to feel constantly at a low par.

Then we went away for the Easter break to stay with friends in the
depths of remote countryside. I felt great as you tend to do when
you're on holiday. But the moment we walked back into our house I felt
giddy and nauseous again and then I knew. I wasn't neurotic. This was

I changed our router back to wired internet access. I had the
computers reconfigured so that they no longer sent out signals
searching for wi-fi and we binned the dect phones (digital cordless
phones) just to make doubly sure. My husband began to notice the
change in me within days and, finally, he believed me.

The trouble is that you can't talk about this without people thinking
that you're mad. My symptoms are minor compared to others I have heard
of. Sometimes I notice wi-fi in the wider world when it's heavy -- my
local bookshop, the Apple Mac shop, airports and an expensive hotel we
recently went to stay in. Other times I feel this scrambled fog only
when I'm near a device using this technology -- the hand-held machine
in restaurants that you tap your pin number into and laptops surfing
the web.

After months of monitoring, I'm happy knowing that it is wi-fi that
makes me feel this odd and not some other unknown disease. I avoid it
when I can. I don't see much difference between someone smoking a
cigarette or shouting into a mobile phone next to me in a public
place. If anything I think I'd prefer the cigarette.


Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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