Rachel's Precaution Reporter #42
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

From: Grist ..............................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 12, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "Our company provides nontoxic cleaners, recycled paper towels and tissues, and other alternatives to unhealthy conventional household products. But those products are really just the vehicle for promoting an idea called the Precautionary Principle, which says that when it comes to things that could affect the environment, we should take a good look before we leap and err on the side of caution. If there's any doubt about an activity, then that activity should be set aside until its safety is proved. It's the opposite of 'shoot first and ask questions later,' which is the philosophy that's gotten us into all this trouble."]

Questions from Grist editors

What work do you do?

I'm president of Seventh Generation, though lately I've been referring to myself as the Inspired Protagonist, providing the vision and inspiration to carry the company forward.

How does your work relate to the environment?

Our company provides nontoxic cleaners, recycled paper towels and tissues, and other alternatives to unhealthy conventional household products. But those products are really just the vehicle for promoting an idea called the Precautionary Principle, which says that when it comes to things that could affect the environment, we should take a good look before we leap and err on the side of caution. If there's any doubt about an activity, then that activity should be set aside until its safety is proved. It's the opposite of "shoot first and ask questions later," which is the philosophy that's gotten us into all this trouble.

What are you working on at the moment? Any major projects?

Our Change It program is partnering with Greenpeace to send 100 students to Washington, D.C., for a week. It's summer camp for tomorrow's activists. These students will head home ready to lead their communities to a better place. We're seeding the country with people who can change it. That's a very powerful idea to me.

We've also just created a website called Tampontification that encourages women to share their thoughts about menstruation as a way to get them thinking about safer choices. As a husband and the father of two daughters, this is really a personal mission for me. We're also using the site to encourage volunteerism, rally donations to organizations helping homeless people, and connect people in need to those who can help.

And I'm really energized about our new blog -- The Inspired Protagonist -- creating a community for exchanging ideas and promoting social justice and environmental ethics. I like things that connect the power of one individual to the power of many others to create an energy that's greater than the sum of its parts. I guess you could say that my work involves facilitating those connections.

How do you get to work?

I drive an Audi convertible, but its days are numbered. I'm working on retrofitting an old car to use biodiesel. It's turning out to be an involved process because you have to start with a diesel engine, and you can't buy diesel passenger cars in Vermont so I have to go out of state. But it's really interesting.

What long and winding road led you to your current position?

In my 20s, I founded an adult-education business in New York City. It was surprisingly successful, but not very meaningful. One day I found myself on national television defending certain shallow ideals that were the subject of classes we offered (see "worst professional moment," below!). I realized that I didn't want to teach people how to harness their worst instincts for personal gain. I wanted to make the world a better place. Since then, I've been trying to figure out ways to do that. Seventh Generation is the current culmination of that process.

Where were you born? Where do you live now?

I was born in New York City. Today my family lives in Charlotte, Vt., a small town outside Burlington. Vermont hasn't lost its sense of scale like other places. Everything is still manageable. Life moves more slowly. There's no constant overload of empty distractions, which leaves much more time for the things that matter.

What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?

Being on the Phil Donahue Show and defending a class I'd created called "How to Marry Money." I realized at that moment that I had turned into the kind of person I most detested, which is someone who can rationalize anything in the pursuit of money. When I walked off the set, I was literally sick. I decided right there to sell the business.

What's been the best?

In 2004, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- perhaps America's most conservative business organization -- gave Seventh Generation its Corporate Stewardship Small Business Award. I found myself at a banquet table in D.C. with Don Evans, the secretary of commerce, and the CEOs of some pretty big and, in some cases, pretty bad companies. Even though my heart was pounding itself to pieces, I had the bully pulpit that evening and used it to tell everyone there what was wrong with the way they were doing business.

What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?

The total lack of understanding of externalized costs. For example, when a company pollutes the air, it might be saving money on clean-air technologies, but those costs are just passed on to someone else. Governments have to clean up the mess. Our health-care system has to treat asthmatics. These are real costs. They're just taken off society's bottom line rather than the company's.

Who is your environmental hero?

Right now it's Buckminster Fuller.

What's your environmental vice?

I'm not as concerned about the environment as I am about social- justice issues. But you can't divorce the environment from social justice. So I guess if I have an environmental vice, it's that our company has been too focused on the environment. The people most at risk from the conventional products our brand is meant to replace can't afford to buy our stuff. That keeps me up at night, and as a company we're working on resolving this.

How do you spend your free time?


Read any good books lately?

Peter Senge's new book Presence is wonderful.

What's your favorite meal?

Seafood. Any kind, prepared any way.

Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?

None! I don't consider myself an environmentalist. An environmentalist is someone who deconstructs the world and figures out the one problem they're concerned about without seeing that everything is related. You need to think systemically in order to fix all the parts of the world that are broken. Environmentalism can't do that because its focus is too narrow.

What's your favorite place or ecosystem?

The ocean.

If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?

Every product or service would reflect its full social and environmental cost. Organic foods would cost half as much as conventional foods and a Hummer would set you back $2 million.

Which actor would play you in the story of your life?

I drew a blank, so I put it to an office vote. It was a draw between Dustin Hoffman and Mel Gibson. I'll let you be the judge ...

If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?

Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe & Healthy, Non- Toxic Cleaning. Realize that you really do have the ability to change the world. It can be as simple as making small changes at home.

Pick up a copy of my new book Naturally Clean, which provides room-by- room tips for eliminating toxic chemicals from your home -- protecting your health and the environment's. All of the royalties from book sales are going to the Children's Health Environmental Coalition, a nonprofit working to educate parents and empower the public to protect children from the toxic threats in homes, schools, and communities.

Copyright 2006. Grist Magazine, Inc.


From: The Hill Times (Ottawa, Canada) ....................[This story printer-friendly]
June 12, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "Mr. Lourie said he conducted an informal survey of about 30 sources in the government, manufacturing industry, advocacy groups, and academics, and only government officials viewed 'sound science' as a valid phrase. Even the industry officials surveyed acknowledged the term as a strategy for undermining or delaying government action, he said."]

By Simon Doyle, Hill Times

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act calls on the government to use 'precaution' in its risk management of toxins, but the principle has not been used.

As the federal government comes under criticism for failing to properly regulate toxins and carcinogens in consumer products and the environment, the Standing Committee on Environment heard last week that government departments have relied on a faulty approach of using "sound science" to determine the risks associated with toxins.

In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on the government to ban a number of harmful and toxins that do not break down in the environment and that are sold in consumer products, such as flame retardants, found in furniture and carpets, or perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which is used to make non-stick pans and other non-stick materials.

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA, gives regulatory powers to Cabinet to define chemicals as toxic if they are considered to pose significant health risks.

But last week, environmental advocates told the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development that government departments have been influenced by industry groups that have successfully argued that the government needs to use a "false principle" of "sound science" in its decisions to ban substances.

A brief submitted last week to the committee by Bruce Lourie, president of the Ivey Foundation, an environmental charitable foundation in Toronto, says that there is no such thing as "sound science" because it implies absolute evidence or consensus when all science contains uncertainty. The brief calls the phrase an invention of industrial stakeholders to slow down and delay the regulatory process toward banning chemicals.

In his appearance before the Environment Committee last week, Mr. Lourie said he conducted an informal survey of about 30 sources in the government, manufacturing industry, advocacy groups, and academics, and only government officials viewed "sound science" as a valid phrase. Even the industry officials surveyed acknowledged the term as a strategy for undermining or delaying government action, he said.

"We see sound science referenced in federal documents. Sound science, if you read any of the literature on it, was a term created by industry, deliberately, to interject uncertainty, to interject doubt into decision-making. So the fact that we have sound science in our federal documentation suggests that we're really lining ourselves up with the kind of language the industry uses, deliberately, to undermine action. That's problematic," Mr. Lourie said.

The Canadian Cancer Society says that 50 per cent of cancers are preventable, and although most preventable cancers can be attributed to smoking, people can unknowingly accumulate carcinogens and other toxins in their bodies through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact.

They can be found in pesticides and weed killers, household cleaners and detergents, personal care products, fruit with traces of pesticides, beef with growth hormones, composite wood products and plastics.

In the 1970s, one in five Canadians could expect to develop cancer in their lifetimes, according to Health Canada cancer statistics. Today, the chance for men is one in 2.4 and for women one in 2.7, and the rate is predicted to rise.

CEPA includes a provision mandating that the government use a "precautionary principle" in its approach to determining whether some substances are harmful, but witnesses at the committee said a "sound science" approach does not allow for such precaution.

Larry Stoffman, from the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control, who appeared before the committee with Mr. Lourie, said that in the absence of using the precautionary principle, cancers that could be prevented, are not.

Mr. Stoffman and Mr. Lourie pointed to mercury as an example of a well-known toxin with multiple health hazards, but which has not been banned and is still used in thermometers in public school labs.

If "sound science" had been applied in the risk management of smoking in public places, Mr. Stoffman said, smoking would still be allowed in the very committee room where they met in West Block.

Mr. Stoffman said the European Union uses an effective precautionary principle, which says that wherever reliable scientific evidence shows there may be adverse health effects from certain substances--even if there is uncertainty about the extent of the effects--there is a requirement to use precaution and ban or virtually eliminate the substance.

The House Environment Commons Committee is currently conducting a statutory review of CEPA. Liberal MP John Godfrey (Don Valley West, Ont.), a member of the committee, told The Hill Times that the committee could use the opportunity to look at redefining CEPA's precautionary principle, to ensure that it is properly used.

"What happens is that these things become politicized. If there's a substance where a group of stakeholders have some economic interest in defending it, and they don't want this particular substance replaced-- they own the patent on it or whatever else--if the debate reaches a Cabinet committee, the danger is that the economic interest of the stakeholder trumps the precautionary principle," Mr. Godfrey said.

The issue appears to be gaining some political momentum. Last week, two Liberal MPs, Susan Kadis (Thornhill, Ont.) and Maria Minna (Beaches-East York), held a joint news conference to tout two private members' bills. Ms. Kadis' bill, Bill C-274, would ban brominated flame retardants by adding them to the toxic substances list. Ms. Minna's bill, Bill C-298, would ban PFOS, found in non-stick pans, which is linked to various types of Cancer and can damage the brain and the immune system.

Ms. Minna, former minister for International Cooperation under Jean Chretien, said the issue is becoming increasingly important because, while studies have increasingly shown the health hazards of the chemicals, children are increasingly accumulating them.

However, under the regulatory powers of CEPA, the former Liberal government had several years to ban the substances, and when asked why it did not, Ms. Minna said the regulatory process--which observers say can become bogged down in consultations--is slow.

"I, quite frankly, think we need to change the regulatory system to make it easier and a little faster, so that these kinds of changes can be made fairly quickly," Ms. Minna said. She said that she hopes to see committee's current review of CEPA come up with a streamlined way to ban substances through regulations.

"I think that maybe we should take a look at the regulatory system as we review CEPA, and really change the onerous time that it takes to designate substances. Other countries are doing it much faster," Ms. Minna said. "In the meantime we should pass this through the House of Commons. Let's do it now," she said of the bill she introduced.

Ms. Kadis added that increasing pressure is only now creating awareness about harmful environmental toxins. "The media has played an important role, the public has, we're trying here today, and I think collectively, we're at a point in time that it really begs for that type of action to take place and serious investigation by our officials," Ms. Kadis said.

Ms. Minna's bill is at first reading and will be debated on June 15, but she said Minister Ambrose has indicated the government will not be supporting the bill because such matters are the responsibility of the Environment Department.

John Moffet, a director general at the Department of the Environment, also appeared before the committee last week, and when asked why the government has not banned substances such as mercury, Mr. Moffet said CEPA gives the government the power to do so. The issue is really one of political will, he said.

"Why haven't we? Fundamentally? I would argue that those are political decisions. On the issue of federal leadership, the act gives us the authority to address a wide range of issues, the extent to which we've chosen to exercise that authority, has been and will continue to be a political decision," Mr. Moffet said.

Mr. Moffet said stakeholder consultations on banning substances can become "circular" and slow the process down. "Nothing in CEPA impedes the minister from saying, 'I don't care what that process says, this is the decision,"" he said.

A study released this month by Environmental Defence, an environmental advocacy group in Toronto, tested seven children and six parents to find harmful toxins in all of them, such as stain repellants, flame retardants, mercury, lead, DDT and PCBs. Some children were found to have higher levels of chemicals than their parents.

The study tested for 68 chemicals with a 68 per cent success rate. They found eight chemicals linked to reproductive disorders, 38 suspected cancer-causing agents, 23 chemicals dangerous to the hormone system, 19 neurotoxins, and 12 toxins associated with respiratory illnesses.

Last week, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose (Edmonton-Spruce Grove, Alta.) announced an initiative to prevent nearly 10 tonnes of mercury from entering into Canada's air over the next decade. Ms. Ambrose also announced that she would have her blood tested in another study by Environmental Defence to raise awareness of the toxins in the blood of children and families.


From: Wi-Fi Planet .......................................[This story printer-friendly]
March 13, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: If precaution were widely adopted, the Wi-Fi industry would be badly hurt. But consider history. Forty years ago almost nobody believed cigarette smoking caused long-term health problems -- although scientists were already sounding the alarm.]

By Gerry Blackwell

Dr. Frederick Gilbert, president of Lakehead University in Sudbury, Canada, says he first made the decision to avoid using wireless technology on his campus seven years ago. He was and remains concerned about possible health effects from exposure to even the low levels of RF radiation emitted by Wi-Fi equipment. Data security was a much lesser concern.

The ongoing research on which Gilbert based his decision claims to show health effects from exposure to RF radiation (RFR) ranging from sleep disruption to genetic damage -- though effects from Wi-Fi system emissions are probably at the relatively benign end of the range. None of this research, it's worth noting, is going on at Lakehead.

The president's decision -- and it appears to be his personal decision -- came to light recently when the school's administration issued a bulletin in response to student inquiries about why Lakehead wasn't implementing a campus-wide Wi-Fi access network like other North American universities. Media in Canada and the U.S. picked up on it, and the radio waves, as it were, hit the fan.

Gilbert does not appear to be a crank. A biologist by training, and president of this small northern Ontario university since 1998, he sounded eminently sensible when we talked on the phone. He was slightly shell shocked by the negative media attention, though. "We've been taking a little static in the media," is how he put it. "It's interesting that we have been portrayed as Luddites, yet this campus is one of the most progressive in terms of technology use."

Lakehead, Gilbert points out, has an extensive fiber network that provides high-speed Internet access almost everywhere. It supplements Ethernet connections with cyber cafes where students can use computers connected to the network. The only thing they can't do is fire up their laptops at a cafeteria table or outside on the lawn.

It's not even that Lakehead has an outright ban on wireless. In places where the fiber network doesn't extend -- such as a couple of research facilities on the edge of campus -- the school has in fact deployed Wi-Fi nets. And while dorm rooms all have high-speed wired connections, there is nothing stopping students setting up their own Wi-Fi nodes. "What students do within the dorms is up to them," Gilbert says.

So if he isn't a Luddite or a crank, why has Gilbert made this seemingly contrarian decision?

According to him, there is a mounting body of scientific evidence to suggest -- but not conclusive proof, he is the first to admit -- that there are "bioeffects" from even low-level RF radiation. "If you look at the literature that has been published," he says, "there are demonstrable effects of exposure. Once we get to the point where we can definitively say that there are or are not harmful effects, that's when we make a decision to deploy, I think."

The current state of understanding about the health effects of low- level RF radiation (RFR) may be analogous to the understanding of the effects of asbestos exposure or cigarette smoking 25 or 40 years ago, he suggests. So in the meantime, he'd rather play it safe. "The issue I have is that we're looking here at a technology of convenience [i.e. Wi-Fi] on a campus that is already very technologically advanced," Gilbert says. "Under the circumstances, I don't see any reason to take anything other than a precautionary position."

Gilbert's interest in the effects of radiation goes back to his undergraduate days when he studied ionizing radiation. RFR is not ionizing radiation, he is quick to point out, but his interest continued. "When I got into the literature on electromagnetic radiation [EMF, of which RFR is one type], there were indications to a biologist that there could be something here, at least to look at as a potential."

The effects of highly concentrated EMF radiation from long-term, heavy use of cell phones has of course been debated in the scientific community for several years. There is a growing concern, especially in the European community, that heavy users of mobile phones are, indeed, at increased risk of brain cancer -- among other health problems.

But these effects are supposedly the result of the thermal energy generated by RFR, part of a continuum of known effects that includes birds sitting on very high-power antennas being fried instantly when transmission begins. Ambient RF radiation -- the kind that is in the air all around us, emitted by wireless communications systems, including Wi-Fi -- is at much lower levels, generating insignificant amounts of thermal energy.

The research on the effects of ambient RFR is at a much earlier stage. Current U.S. and Canadian health standards allow RFR exposure in the thousands of microwatts, notes environmental consultant Cindy Sage, a principal in Sage EMF Design of Santa Barbara, California. But research in the past five years has begun to show effects from emissions measured in the nanowatts, Sage says. (A microwatt is 10-6 [one millionth of a] watt, a nanowatt is 10-9 [one billionth of a] watt.)

"Once you get into the nanowatts range, you're getting into Wi-Fi territory," she says. "And at least sleep disruption can be an effect of exposure and maybe a constellation of other health issues."

Gilbert refers to Sage as a key source of information on the subject, although he has not actually used her as a consultant. Sage has consulted with other colleges, universities and school districts on exactly these issues, she says, but is not at liberty to reveal their deliberations or decisions. She implies that other schools have made or are in the process of making similar decisions to Gilbert's for similar reasons.

Sage describes herself as a synthesizer and interpreter of the scientific evidence. Her firm's Web site and some of its publications include continually updated bibliographies of scientific studies on the effects of ambient RFR. She was also a respondent to the City of San Francisco's request for comments on its proposed city- wide Wi-Fi network. Her firm's response was in opposition to the deployment.

Its argument boils down to this. There is some evidence, albeit inconclusive and puzzling to scientists, of bioeffects from low- intensity RFR. We need more research. In the meantime, the correct approach is to use the "precautionary principle" -- i.e. avoid an action if the consequences are unknown but judged to have some potential for major or irreversible negative consequences. Exactly the position Gilbert is taking in other words.

Some of the reasons for not deploying Wi-Fi and WiMAX are purely economic and practical, she suggests. If it turns out these technologies are a health hazard, companies and institutions would presumably have to rip out their wireless networks and replace them at considerable expense with something else. There is also the prospect of victims suing network operators. Sage says children are probably most vulnerable.

The list of observed health effects in the research Sage has studied - which we have no way of being able to evaluate, of course -- includes memory loss, sleep disorders and insomnia, slowed motor skills and reaction time in school children, immune system changes, spatial disorientation and dizziness, headaches, loss of concentration and "fuzzy thinking," lower sperm count, increased blood pressure, DNA damage and more. A scary litany.

What should we think about the position Gilbert and Sage have taken? If it was widely adopted, the Wi-Fi industry would be badly hurt, which can't be a good thing. But consider history. As Gilbert notes, 40 years ago almost nobody believed cigarette smoking caused long-term health problems -- although scientists were already sounding the alarm.

Copyright 2006 Jupitermedia Corporation


From: Seattle Times ......................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 22, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: A few years ago Verizon, the phone company, invoked the precautionary principle, saying children should not use cell phones because the hazards were poorly understood. Now as the evidence of harm from exposure to electromagnetic radiation mounts up, Verizon is aggressively marketing cell phones to children. Money trumps precaution.]

By Jolayne Houtz

Tristan Pasterick of Sammamish started clamoring for a cellphone in first grade after admiring his older cousins sporting snazzy new phones.

Six seemed too young to Tristan's parents. They waited until last summer, just before the 8-year-old entered third grade.

"He wanted a puppy or a sibling, and he wasn't going to get either of those, so we went with a cellphone instead," joked his mother, Rachel Pasterick. "This was cheaper and cleaner."

Tristan, now 9, keeps his cellphone charged and stashed in his backpack, next to a bit of emergency cash and some extra pencils.

When the school bell rings, Tristan flips open his phone as he walks home with friends or while waiting for his mom to pick him up.

"It's a way for us to keep in touch, and for peace of mind -- his and mine," Rachel Pasterick said.

Phones for tweens

A new market is emerging for more kid-friendly phones, styled to appeal to children but with parental controls and limited features: Most don't have cameras, voice mail or text messaging and don't allow downloading or Web access. Here are some of the options:


The colorful Firefly from Firefly Mobile ($99) has big buttons featuring Mom and Dad stick figures for speed-dialing parents and an address book for up to 22 preapproved phone numbers. There's also an optional call-screening mode so the phone accepts only calls from parent-programmed numbers. Kids can personalize the phone with ringtones, animations, screen colors and optional accessories.

LG Migo

This bright-green Verizon Wireless phone (about $80) has four parent- programmable buttons and an emergency button instead of a full keypad. It has a speakerphone and optional accessories.


This model by Enfora (about $100) has parental controls and features educational games by LeapFrog that kids can play to earn more talk time. Parents can program acceptable phone numbers online, and they also can set "quiet times" when the phone will not ring.

Disney Mobile

Disney and Sprint are teaming up to launch Disney Mobile this summer to appeal to families wanting a family wireless service with exclusive Disney content.


Hasbro's Tiger Electronics introduced this two-way radio ($74.99 for two units) last year. The walkie-talkies look like cellphones and let kids talk with family and friends within a two-mile radius who also have a CHATNOW.

MyScene Mobile

Mattel and Single Touch Interactive launched this phone (about $80) tied to the Barbie MyScene toy line for tween girls. The phone comes with customized accessories and an online "reward board," where parents can create a list of chores for kids -- Make your bed! Do your homework! -- that allow them to earn extra talk time.


Wherify Wireless' phone ($150), to be sold in the U.S. this year, has a Global Positioning System locator feature to find the phone -- or the kid holding it -- "within feet, in about a minute." Tweens -- children from ages 8 to 12 -- are the new frontier for the cellphone industry. In the past year, a half-dozen companies have announced products aimed at the lunchbox set and the parents trying to keep tabs on them.

Kids, of course, are drawn to the phones' "cool factor." Children as young as 6 are packing phones inside their Hello Kitty and Spiderman backpacks. Principals of Seattle-area elementary schools say this is the first year cellphones have been noticeable on their campuses. Many are creating school policies governing cellphone use, like those in place at middle and high schools, where cellphones are more common.

Children's advocates and safety experts say mobile phones in the hands of young children raise some questions: How should parents monitor a child's phone use? Will a phone lead to a false sense of security? Who else might get access to the child's phone number?

"If your child has a handheld device that can connect them to the Internet, you have no control over that anymore," said Susan Linn, co- founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Parents "are allowing corporations, to say nothing of pedophiles, unfettered access to their kids."

Peace of mind

As the chief scheduler and driver for a "typical, triple-tasking family" with three children, Britt Weber of Normandy Park worried about getting stuck in traffic while chauffeuring her children to their activities.

She and her husband decided that 9-year-old Madelyn was ready for a cellphone this year as third grade began, and added her phone to the family's calling plan for $15 a month.

Their seventh-grade son also has a cellphone. So far, their 5-year-old son remains cell-less.

Madelyn is allowed to use her cell only for outgoing calls and in emergencies after school, Weber said. It has five numbers programmed in: Mom, Dad, home, brother and one friend.

"I just felt easier, knowing that she could call me," Weber said. "What's my child and my peace of mind worth?"

And it's already come in handy. Weber once forgot to pick up her daughter after school.

"She called me and said, 'Mom, I don't see you here," but she didn't panic," Weber said.

Still, Weber said she's gotten some grief for letting Madelyn go wireless.

"All her friends' parents said, 'Why did you get her that? Now I'll have to," " Weber said.


The real target for cellphone companies is kids aged 10 to 16: the ones "who are going to spend considerable money" to download ringtones, graphics and games for their phones, said Ben Rogers, vice president of technology research with GfK NOP Technology, an international market-research firm.

But by appealing to 6- to 10-year-olds, companies hope to hook kids on technology early and entice them to push their parents for upgrades, Rogers said.

Phones like the Firefly and the Migo, with limited features and parental controls, won't appeal to kids much past the age of 10, he predicted.

"I just don't see them agreeing to carry a phone that can only call Mom, Dad and the police," he said.

"It's almost a bait-and-switch," Rogers said, explaining that companies pitch the safety message to parents, who can then expect their children to soon be clamoring for a fully loaded phone.

Companies also are experimenting with advertising by cellphone.

"This will be a way to bypass parents and talk to kids directly," said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert. The Portland- based consumer-watchdog group is pushing Congress to investigate the sale and marketing of mobile phones to young children.

Staying safe

Some law-enforcement officials like the idea of enabling "instant check-in" with parents, but they say cellphones in the hands of young children raise some safety concerns.

A cellphone with all the latest features makes a child more accessible to anyone, said Seattle Police Sgt. Leanne Shirey, who also runs a nonprofit education organization called The Internet and Your Child.

"If you... monitor who they talk to at home," Shirey asked, "why would you hand them a phone" you can't monitor?

Still, a phone with parental controls and limited features, coupled with clear rules about phone use, could be a good tool for families, said Michael Chiu, public-information officer for Bellevue Police. Chiu said a cellphone could help by enabling a child to make a quick call to Mom before accepting a ride with a neighbor, for example.

But Chiu said he hopes parents remember that children still need to be taught how to be safe, phone or no phone.

A way to touch base

Many parents see mobile phones for kids as a way to "parent on the go," to extend their oversight and remotely cover scheduling gaps.

Sally Brady opted to buy her oldest son, Jack, "the cheapest phone I could find" and a pay-as-you-go plan when he entered middle school in Issaquah this year.

The school district's late-start schedule on Wednesdays prevents Brady, a legal secretary in downtown Seattle, from being there when her son boards the bus that day.

Now Jack and a friend, each with a cellphone, head for the bus together, and Jack sends a text message to his mom when he's safely aboard.

"He thinks he's cool to have it, and I think it makes him feel better on Wednesdays," Brady said.

But it's not without headaches. Occasionally, Jack forgets to text message from the bus, leading his mom to call the school in a panic to make sure he's there.

For the first couple months Jack had the phone, he received occasional calls from people apparently at a nightclub -- calls intended for the person who previously had Jack's number.

And Jack sometimes forgets to charge his phone.

"It's one more thing for me to remember to do," Brady admitted.

Many families say they are careful to create rules about how and when their children can use their phones.

Teresa Walter of Kirkland has 10-year-old twins who started school this year with their own cellphones.

The twins know their parents can see all the calls they make and know they must abide by school rules to keep the phones out of sight. They also know they can't share their phones with friends, and that they'll be expected to pay if their calls push the family over its monthly allotment of minutes.

"It's really for convenience," Walter said.

Whether they're being dropped off at swim-team practice or missing home during a sleepover, "I just want them to know they can touch base with me anytime."

Jolayne Houtz: 206-464-3122 or jhoutz@seattletimes.com

Copyright 2006 The Seattle 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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