Rachel's Precaution Reporter #45
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

From: San Francisco Chronicle ............................[This story printer-friendly]
June 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The city of Oakland, California has banned the use of styrofoam packaging for take-out food. Roughly 100 other U.S. cities have taken similar steps to avoid the creation of unmanageable and unnecessary plastic wastes.]

By Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From: Mendocino Partnership For The ......................Precautionary Principle [This story printer-friendly]
June 27, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Mendocino County, California, has adopted a precautionary principle policy to guide governmental decisions. Two county departments will be selected to begin implementing the ordinance.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contacts: Britt Bailey, Director Environmental Commons (707) 884-5002, britt@environmentalcommons.org

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

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


From: European Environment Bureau ........................[This story printer-friendly]
June 27, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: For several years, the European Union (EU) has been trying to pass a law, called REACH, that would require industrial chemicals to be safety-tested before they are put on the market. The slogan for REACH is, "No data, no market." The global chemical industry has bitterly opposed REACH, and it now looks as if the chemical corporations have succeeded in weakening the proposal substantially.]

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

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

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

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

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


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

Copyright EUbusiness Ltd 2006.


From: World Health Organization ..........................[This story printer-friendly]
June 16, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The potential for preventing human disease world-wide is enormous: "The evidence shows that environmental risk factors play a role in more than 80% of the diseases regularly reported by the World Health Organization. Globally, nearly one quarter of all deaths and of the total disease burden can be attributed to the environment. In children, however, environmental risk factors can account for slightly more than one-third of the disease burden."]

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

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

Download the full document in English [pdf 8.8 megabytes]

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

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

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

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


From: Toronto Globe and Mail ..............................[This story printer-friendly]
June 22, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In Canada, a former minister of health and welfare says that nation would do far better by spending less on health care and more on keeping people healthy in the first place, preventing disease instead of trying to cure it.]

By Andre Picard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Child care is inadequate almost everywhere but Quebec.

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

** Social housing is virtually non-existent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.

Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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