Rachel's Precaution Reporter #23
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

From: Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) ..[This story printer-friendly]
January 27, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The BE SAFE campaign is promoting the precautionary philosophy nationwide and internationally. One component of the campaign is the BE SAFE Platform. You can sign on and add your own voice to this call to prevent problems, not merely manage them.]

[RPR introduction: The BE SAFE campaign is promoting the precautionary philosophy nationwide and internationally. One component of the BE SAFE campaign is the BE SAFE Platform, reprinted here. You can add your own voice to this call to prevent problems, not merely manage them, by signing on as an individual or on behalf of your group. The goal is a million signatures. -- Editors.]

The BE SAFE Platform

In the 21st century, we envision a world in which our food, water and air are clean, and our children grow up healthy and thrive. Everyone needs a protected, safe community and workplace, and natural environment to enjoy. We can make this world vision a reality. The tools we bring to this work are prevention, safety, responsibility and democracy.

Our goal is to prevent pollution and environmental destruction before it happens. We support this precautionary approach because it is preventive medicine for our environment and health. It makes sense to:

** Prevent pollution and make polluters, not taxpayers, pay and assume responsibility for the damage they cause;

** Protect our children from chemical and radioactive exposures to avoid illness and suffering;

** Promote use of safe, renewable, non-toxic technologies;

** Provide a natural environment we can all enjoy with clean air, swimmable, fishable water and stewardship for our national forests.

We choose a "better safe than sorry" approach motivated by caution and prevention.

We endorse the common-sense approach outlined in BE SAFE's four principles listed below.



Government and industry have a duty to prevent harm, when there is credible evidence that harm is occurring or is likely to occur -- even when the exact nature and full magnitude of harm is not yet proven.


Industry and government have a responsibility to thoroughly study the potential for harm from a new chemical or technology before it is used -- rather than assume it is harmless until proven otherwise. We need to ensure it is safe now, or we will be sorry later. Research on impacts to workers and the public needs to be confirmed by independent third parties.


Precautionary decisions place the highest priority on protecting health and the environment, and help develop cleaner technologies and industries with effective safeguards and enforcement. Government and industry decisions should be based on meaningful citizen input and mutual respect (the golden rule), with the highest regard for those whose health may be affected and for our irreplaceable natural resources -- not for those with financial interests. Uncompromised science should inform public policy.


Decision-making by government, industry and individuals must include an evaluation of alternatives, and the choice of the safest, technically feasible solutions. We support innovation and promotion of technologies and solutions that create a healthy environment and economy, and protect our natural resources.

Click here to sign on as an organization.

Click here to sign on as an individual.


From: Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal ........................[This story printer-friendly]
January 29, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: U.S. coastal communities are endangered by land-use policies that allow building right on the water's edge, plus powerful storms that sweep away anything in their path. A precautionary approach might include policies to control growth in danger zones, plus policies to protect local economies from being "developed" to a point where they no longer serve the needs of local people.]

More disasters of Hurricane Katrina-proportions are a certainty because the United States has no policy to control growth in danger zones at the water's edge.

In a single generation, land along the nation's fragile coasts has been gobbled up, concentrating wealth at the shore, threatening the environment and putting at risk millions of people and property worth billions of dollars.

While the Hudson River Valley is among the least-prone coastal areas to hurricane damage, the estuary shares many of the other stresses affecting U.S. coastal communities. Here, the desire to live on the water that is fueling a building boom around the country is compounded by our proximity to New York City and its many commuters and second- home owners.

Thousands of new homes and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space are proposed for construction on the shores of the Hudson River in the mid-Hudson Valley alone. Development throughout the Hudson's vast watershed has already been linked to measurable declines in the water quality of the streams that feed the Hudson River estuary.

A three-month Gannett News Service examination found:

** Approximately 23 percent of the nation's estuaries do not meet state and federal clean water standards for swimming, fishing or supporting marine species. While much of the Hudson is safe for swimming, the state advises against eating many fish species because of contamination.

** In many seashore towns, once-robust commercial fishing and shipbuilding industries have been replaced by tourism-driven economies and lower wages.

** Demand for waterfront property has driven home prices so high that workers who staff the shops, restaurants, schools and police departments can't afford to live nearby.

** Industrial pollution remains a burden, as cleanup costs impede some revitalization efforts. New York's Brownfield cleanup law has helped communities and developers subsidize the cost of cleaning polluted waterfronts, but contamination remains costly.

Communities could decline

If runaway land consumption and relentless growth in automobile use continue unchecked, many healthy shore communities could face sharp declines over the next 25 years, according to Dana Beach, director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and an authority on coastal sprawl.

"When we modify watersheds (with roads and buildings) we are changing the physical attributes, the biological attributes of the water bodies embedded in those watersheds," Beach said.

Paved surfaces, for instance, interrupt the water cycle, preventing rainwater from percolating into the ground and recharging underground water reserves. The pavement tends to increase stream erosion and degrade habitat because rainwater cascades quickly off of pavement, filling streams with explosive force. Pollutants such as salt and oils from roads flow off pavement directly into streams.

That, and other changes to the watershed, have contributed to a wholesale change in the composition of fish species in many Hudson River tributaries -- with fewer overall fish species now present than a few decades ago.

The federal government has a patchwork of regulations and agencies that focus on pollution, flood control, the environment and growth patterns.

The state controls some land-use decisions on the coast, as shown by New York's decision last year to deny St. Lawrence Cement Co.'s plans to build a cement plant on the Hudson River in Columbia County. That decision was based on a federal law executed by the states that is intended to protect the nation's coastline.

Most land-use decisions, however, are in the hands of the smallest governments -- the cities, towns and villages. Volunteer planning boards consider development proposals and make decisions based on the zoning ordinances on the books.

Those boards are considering proposals for thousands of waterfront condominiums, single-family homes, restaurants and retail and office space in the valley -- including Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Newburgh, Fishkill, Lloyd, Hyde Park and Esopus.

In coastal communities across the country, local residents, professional activists and others are struggling to check encroaching sprawl and development.

New advocacy taking hold

But the traditional position of many environmentalists -- opposed to any and all new construction near sensitive marshes, wetlands and waterways -- is giving way to a new and more savvy form of advocacy.

It's evident in places such as Kingston, where a coalition of groups, Friends of Kingston Waterfront, has proposed an alternative development plan for two riverfront parcels where developers want to build more than 2,500 homes, as well as businesses.

The advocates push "smart growth" and "new urbanism" ideas, that seek to concentrate construction in areas already developed, where public infrastructure such as water and sewer service and schools can serve the new population. The strategy is to concentrate population growth in these areas, leaving outlying areas open for wilderness, recreation or farming.

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration formed a partnership to promote smart- growth principles to coastal communities.

"Our role is to provide coastal communities with the best information possible so they can make informed decisions about where and how to grow," said Tim Torma, an EPA manager in the agency's smart-growth program.

EPA experts are assisting planners in Aquidneck Island, R.I., to implement a master plan for developing 10 miles of coast on Narragansett Bay north of Newport, R.I.

"This really gives voice to what island residents said they wanted," Tina Dolen, Executive Director of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission. "They told us they wanted environmental protection, access to the water, roadways that were not so dangerous and a better-looking commercial development area."

Gannett News Service conducted the investigation of coastal development.

Dan Shapley contributed local context to this report. He can be reached at dshapley@poughkeepsiejournal.com

On the Web

Hudson River Estuary Program: www.dec.state.ny.us/website/hudson/hrep.html

Copyright 2006 PoughkeepsieJournal.com


From: Seattle Times ......................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 24, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The basic orientation of public health is called "primary prevention." That's the precautionary approach in a nutshell -- look ahead and do your best to prevent problems before they occur, rather than trying to manage them afterward. New studies show that land-use decisions are making many of us sick. Therefore, precautionary action is needed to prevent unhealthy land-use decisions.]

By Eric Pryne

Residents of King County's less-walkable neighborhoods -- can you say sprawl? -- are more likely to be overweight, a recently completed study concludes.

Another related study has found, perhaps not surprisingly, that people who live and work in those neighborhoods generate more auto-related air pollution, another potential threat to health.

The two studies' findings are summarized in the winter edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Planning Association. The authors, who collaborated in their research, say their work constitutes the most comprehensive look yet at the link between urban- development patterns and human health in a single metropolitan area.

Earlier research has raised the possibility of a connection between sprawl, obesity and other health problems. The King County results suggest "current laws and regulations are producing negative health outcomes," the authors warn.

"None of this is saying suburbia is bad," said Lawrence Frank, an urban-planning professor at the University of British Columbia and co- author of both studies. "It just says these are the relationships you get... and they should be taken into account."

A top aide to King County Executive Ron Sims said the county already has adopted some changes as a result of the studies and is planning more.

The research isn't likely to end the debate over sprawl and health.

To learn more

Lawrence Frank of the University of British Columbia will speak about his research on neighborhood design and health at 7 tonight at Town Hall, Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street, Seattle. Admission is $10 with advance registration, $15 at the door. For tickets and more information, see www.iceh.org.

"If you're listing things that impact obesity, neighborhood design would be maybe 10th on my list," said Tim Attebury, King County manager for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. "I would put McDonald's and too much TV way in front of neighborhood design."

But Frank and co-author James Sallis, a health psychologist at San Diego State University, said the two new studies go beyond previous work in showing that development patterns can have a significant impact on health even when taking into account other variables such as age, income, education and ethnicity.

The walkability factor

For both studies, researchers ranked neighborhoods using a "walkability index" that included such factors as residential density, the number of street connections, and the mix of homes, stores, parks and schools. All are believed to influence how much people walk.

In one study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers surveyed and monitored about 75 adults in each of 16 King County neighborhoods. Eight neighborhoods, including Upper Queen Anne and White Center, scored high on the walkability index; the other eight, including Kent's East Hill and part of Sammamish, scored low.

Each group of eight included four wealthier and four lower-income neighborhoods.

On average, researchers found, the Body Mass Index -- a measure of height and weight -- of residents of the more walkable neighborhoods was lower, and they were more likely to get the U.S. Surgeon General's recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise.

In the second study, funded by the Federal Transit Administration, King County and other local governments, researchers estimated the auto-related pollution generated by about 6,000 King County residents who kept detailed records of their travel for two days in 1999 as part of another study.

Again, people who lived and worked in more walkable neighborhoods produced fewer pollutants associated with smog, the study found.

Surprising finding

After subjecting the data to statistical analysis, Frank said, researchers were surprised to learn that even small changes in neighborhood design can make a difference.

A 5 percent increase in a neighborhood's walkability index, for instance, was associated with a 0.23-point drop in Body Mass Index. For someone 6 feet tall, that's a difference of less than 2 pounds, but Frank said bigger changes in a neighborhood's walkability would be expected to produce greater differences in weight.

The presence or absence of stores, parks, schools and other destinations within a quarter- to a half-mile of home appears to be the most important factor in how much people walk, he said.

Karen Wolf, a senior policy analyst in Sims' office, said that as a result of the studies, the county already has amended the policies that guide its planning to make health a priority.

County officials also are working on a checklist to rate development projects' impact on health, she said.

In White Center, one of three neighborhoods that Frank and other researchers studied in detail, Wolf said the county has rezoned property to encourage "mixed-use" development that allows both housing and shops, and is seeking a grant to develop an inviting walkway between a redeveloped housing project and the community's business district.

"The whole idea is to make walking something you don't even think about," she said. "It's part of your everyday life."

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

Copyright 2006 The Seattle Times Company


From: The New York Times .................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 27, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Maine's new e-waste law gives producers responsibility for their products from manufacture through disposal. But we need to go further to really prevent millions of pounds of toxic electronic waste from entering the soil and water. Keeping toxic trash out of our dumps won't mean a thing if we don't stop the export of hazardous material to countries without enforceable environmental regulations.]

By Elizabeth Royte

Last week, Maine became the first state to require manufacturers of computer monitors and televisions to pay for their recycling and disposal. Washington, with a pending bill, may be next. That's progress, right?

Computer recycling sounds like an unmitigated good: it keeps hazardous components out of incinerators and landfills, which researchers at Carnegie Mellon University estimate already hold more than 60 million computers. And by reusing glass, plastic, aluminum and heavy metals (like lead, copper and mercury), recycling averts the energy use and pollution linked with mining and drilling for new materials.

But because recycling in the United States is expensive, hazardous and encumbered with environmental and safety regulations, many companies that collect e-waste simply ship it to underdeveloped nations. According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Basel Action Network, up to 80 percent of the material dropped off by well-meaning Americans at community recycling events ends up bundled for export.

Most of the stuff that goes overseas can't or won't be fixed and sold. Computer dealers in Lagos, Nigeria, for example, complain that up to 75 percent of the 400,000 units they receive each month from recyclers are junk. A 2002 documentary showed Chinese workers, including children, using hammers and chisels to pry copper and aluminum from computers, burning PVC-coated wires to get at copper and swirling acids in buckets to extract gold.

After stripping what they can, workers dump the computer carcasses and waste sludge in nearby fields or streams. Soil and water tests in the e-waste processing town of Guiyu, China, for instance, revealed levels of chromium, tin and barium hundreds of times higher than allowable in the United States.

It's easy to find American companies that call themselves computer recyclers, but it's hard to trace what they actually do. The government doesn't regulate these businesses, and the Environmental Protection Agency has no certification process for recyclers. There are dozens of e-waste bills being considered across the country, including one in New York City. Five states and 15 counties ban computer and television monitors from landfills. California, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts have e-waste recycling programs in place, all financed by different mechanisms.

Even the electronics industry doesn't like this patchwork approach, but so far, no one has come up with anything better. Four e-waste bills are floating around the House and Senate: the biggest difference between them is whether consumers or manufacturers would pay for the programs. A strong argument holds that when producers must manage their own discards, they have a strong incentive to design equipment that's nontoxic and easy to recycle.

The sooner Congress gets it together, the better. Electronic waste is now considered the fastest-growing segment of the municipal waste stream in the United States. The National Safety Council estimated in 2004 that by 2009, 250 million computers will have become obsolete. As awareness of the hazards of e-waste rises, more states will ban it from landfills. But keeping toxic trash from our dumps won't mean a thing if we don't forbid the export of hazardous material to countries without enforceable environmental regulations.

To halt this environmental injustice, in which we're all complicit, the federal government needs to restrict the use of hazardous materials in computers, require manufacturers to put in place recycling programs (it will be a lot cheaper and safer to recycle this stuff once the toxics are out) and ban hazardous waste exports. That may sound like a tall order, but that's no reason not to proceed: the European Union has already passed every one of these laws.

Elizabeth Royte is the author, most recently, of "Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


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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Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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