Rachel's Precaution Reporter #29
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter .......................[This story printer-friendly]
March 7, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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.


From: University of California at Berkeley ...............[This story printer-friendly]
March 14, 2006


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.

[Rachel's introduction: The long-awaited "Wilson Report" shows how California could take the lead in developing safer chemicals.]

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 process.

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 Union.

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 exposures.

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 billion.

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. A 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 innovation."

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.


From: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (Vol. 60, pg. 2) [This story printer-friendly]
January 15, 2006


The recent hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico exposed the poverty of U.S. public health infrastructure, weakened by years of budgetary neglect.

[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 based.

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 grants.[5]

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; nancy_milio@unc.edu


From: Micah's Mission ....................................[This story printer-friendly]
March 15, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 responds.]

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


From: Meath Chronicle (County Meath, Ireland) ............[This story printer-friendly]
March 18, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 council.

"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/


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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