Rachel's Precaution Reporter #74

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007..........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Large Study Links Long-time Cell Phone Use to Brain Cancer
  The evidence continues to accumulate linking cell phone use to
  brain cancers. Isn't it time to heed early warnings and apply the
  precautionary principle to this technology, especially for children?
Scientists Urge Precaution for Electromagnetic Fields
  At a public hearing in Connecticut, three senior scientists testify
  that studies linking electromagnetic fields (EMF) to cancer in
  children warrant a precautionary approach.
Maine Legislature May Target Toxic Flame Retardant for Phaseout
  The Maine legislature seems ready to phase out the use of the flame
  retardant, Deca, in common household products.
Massachusetts Bill Would Replace 10 Toxicants in Consumer Products
  A majority of Massachusetts legislators support a bill that would
  replace 10 toxic chemicals with safer alternatives in common household
ETC Group Releases Report on Synthetic Biology
  Scientists are now creating new forms of life that have never been
  seen on Earth before. In keeping with the precautionary principle, the
  ETC Group asserts that -- at a minimum -- there must be an immediate
  ban on environmental release of these synthetic organisms until wide
  societal debate and strong governance are in place.
Regulatory Failure in the Great Lakes, Part 1
  A new government report on the Great Lakes says the system for
  regulating toxic chemicals is "inadequate" and needs to be replaced by
  a precautionary approach because large numbers of humans are in
  danger. Both the U.S. and Canadian systems for controlling toxic
  chemicals have failed.
Biofuels: Green Energy or Grim Reaper?
  "This is not anti-capitalist, but the straight-forward application
  of the precautionary principle, ensuring that we have given careful
  consideration to the full implications of our investments before we
  rush ahead to spend them. Moving ahead too quickly without considering
  the options is, to use an extreme example, like invading Iraq without
  thinking about the future implications."


From: Microwave News, Jan. 22, 2007
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An international team of researchers has found new evidence that long-
term use of a mobile phone may lead to the development of a brain
tumor on the side of the head the phone is used. In a study which
will appear in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of
Cancer, epidemiologists from five European countries report a nearly
40% increase in gliomas, a type of brain tumor, among those who had
used a cell phone for ten or more years. The increase is statistically
significant. In addition, there was a trend showing that the brain
tumor risk increased with years of use. The new paper is posted on the
journal's Web site.

This is the second type of tumor that has been linked to long-term
cell phone use. In 2004, the Swedish Interphone group reported a
doubling of acoustic neuromas among people who had used a mobile
phone for ten years or more.

The new study, part of the 13-country Interphone project, is based
on the data collected in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the U.K.
Last year, the German Interphone team also reported an increase in
gliomas following more than ten years of mobile phone use. (See our
report: "Is There a Ten-Year Latency for Cell Phone Tumor

The new five-country study included 1,521 glioma cases and 3,301
controls. There were 143 cases with ten or more years of mobile phone
use. The earlier German study had only 12 cases who had used a cell
phone for at least ten years.

Another research group, led by Lennart Hardell of Írebro University
and Kjell Hansson Mild of the National Institute, both in Sweden, have
also found an increased risk of brain tumors and acoustic neuromas
following ten years of cell phone use. "The [new] study shows that the
issue is not settled and that more data, preferably prospective data,
are needed," Anders Ahlbom of the Kaolinska Institute in Stockholm
told Microwave News.

Anssi Auvinen of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) in
Helsinki, a member of the Finnish Interphone study team offered a
similar conclusion. "We need more research on long-term use," he
stated in a press release issued today.

In fact, on Saturday, the London Times revealed that Lawrie
Challis, the head of the U.K. research effort on mobile phones and
health, known as MTHR, is in the final stages of negotiations for a
study of 200,000 mobile phone users who will be monitored for cancer,
Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. The story appeared on the front
page of the January 20th Times. "We know from smoking and from the
bomb falling in Hiroshima that nothing was seen for ten years,"
Challis told the BBC.

Ahlbom said that the planned study, disclosed by Challis, will be a
joint effort of an international consortium consisting, at present, of
epidemiologists from Denmark, Finland and Sweden, as well as the U.K.

The London Times ran a companion article under the headline: "Could
These Be the Cigarettes of the 21st Century?... 'Absolutely'." And
in an editorial, the Times applauded the decision to carry out the
new long-term study: "The precautionary principle still applies here.
Manufacturers should welcome the new study."

At this writing, the cell phone industry had yet to issue any
responses to these new developments. But Sheila Johnston, a consultant
based in London with close ties to the mobile phone industry,
circulated an e-mail this morning calling Challis's announcement a
"very sad outcome."

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From: Microwave News, Jan. 19, 2007
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Three senior members of the public health community -- each with
extensive experience with electromagnetic field (EMF) health research
-- have called for precautionary policies to limit leukemia risks to

At a public hearing convened by the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC)
on January 9, David Carpenter, Raymond Neutra and Daniel Wartenberg
testified in support of prudent avoidance, as advocated by the
Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). Prudent avoidance is a
strategy of adopting low-cost ways of reducing human exposures to

In a report prepared for the siting council, Peter Valberg of the
Gradient Corp., a consulting firm in Cambridge, MA, put forward a
100mG [milliGauss] exposure limit. Michael Repacholi, the former head
of the World Health Organization's EMF project in Geneva who is now
working on behalf of Connecticut Light & Power Co. and the United
Illuminating Co., two electric utilities, has endorsed Valberg's
proposal (see MWN, November 13, 2006).

The state DPH opposes Valberg's 100mG guideline as "ill-conceived."
Susan Blancaflor, the head of its environmental section, told the CSC
that such a target level "does not consitute prudent avoidance" nor
does it provide "ad- equate protection of public health." The DPH
favors a 10mG exposure limit.

The 100mG standard is "way too high," Carpenter said at the public
hearing. "It's misguided." Carpenter is the director of the Institute
for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany. From 1980
to 1987, he was the director of the New York State Power Line Project.
The project's final report, which highlighted the childhood cancer
risk, prompted national attention to EMFs. "The odds are that we are
grossly underestimating the real risks, if the risks are real,"
Carpenter warned.

Valberg held his ground. "I feel very confident that 100mG is safe,"
he said. "I would allow my children to be exposed to 100mG -- [if this
were the case,] I could sleep at night."

While Repacholi agreed that prudent avoidance was a worthy goal, he
kept repeating that the science which forms the basis for
precautionary policies is somewhere between "weak" and "very weak."
"Most scientists believe that there is something strange in the
[epidemiological] data [because] these fields just cannot cannot cause
cancer," Repacholi said.

"It's not strange," countered Wartenberg, the director of
environmental epidemiology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
in Piscataway, NJ. "Why would you assume that the epidemiology is
wrong? It does not make sense to throw out the childhood
epidemiological data." Wartenberg was a member of the National Academy
of Sciences-National Research Council (NAS-NRC) panel that issued a
report on power-line EMFs in 1996. Two years later, he served on the
EMF Working Group assembled by the National Institute of Environmenal
Health Sci- ences (NIEHS). Wartenberg has carried out three meta
analyses on EMF-cancer risks -- for the NAS-NRC, for the NIEHS and for
the California EMF program.

"I believe there is solid evidence supporting an association between
exposure to magnetic fields and the incidence of childhood leukemia,"
Wartenberg told the CSC. "As a public health professional, I believe
strongly that prudent action to limit the exposure and possibly
prevent several children from developing cancer is essential unless
the costs... outweigh the value of the impact on these children's

Neutra, who ran the $7 million, eight-year California EMF program,
said that he would classify power-frequency EMFs as a possible human
carcinogen -- as the NIEHS and the International Agency for Research
on Cancer (IARC) had done in 1998 and 2001, respectively. Neutra, who
works for the California Department of Health Services, testified by

"My degree of certainty, like those at NIEHS and IARC was not pulled
down by arguments by physicists that physiological or pathological
effects from residential power lines was 'impossible' based on the
application of physical laws to simplified biological models of cell
mechanisms," Neutra wrote in his prepared testimony. "Physicists don't
know enough about biology for me to be convinced by their arguments."

Below are excerpts from Carpenter, Neutra and Wartenberg's written
testimony submitted to the siting council.


David Carpenter: Setting an EMF Limit Based on Negative Rat Studies
Instead of the Observed Childhood Leukemia Risk Is "Simply Foolish"

In my judgment, the proposal to establish a magnetic field screening
level of 100 mG at the edge of right-of-ways is misguided. It will not
be protective of human health, especially to children. As documented
by Wartenberg (1998), epidemiological studies of residential exposure
to magnetic fields and childhood leukemia show a positive relationship
that cannot be explained by random variation. Two independent meta
analyses show that prolonged exposure to power line fields of 3 or 4
mG is associated with an increase in the risk of leukemia in children
(Ahlbom et al., 2000; Greenland et al., 2000). Furthermore, there is
reason to believe that, as with other carcinogens, exposure to lower
intensity fields also increases risk of cancer. To devise an exposure
standard on the basis of negative rat studies when there is strong
evidence of increased risk of leukemia in children associated with
magnetic fields from power lines is simply foolish. It is children and
other humans that we are supposed to protect, not rats.

Since others are providing detailed comments on human studies, I have
been asked to discuss animal and cell culture studies that might
provide a mechanistic basis for the relationship between exposure to
60 Hz magnetic fields and leukemia in children. No rodent study, to
date, has demonstrated that magnetic field exposure over a range of
intensities has resulted in leukemia or lymphoma (Boorman et al.,
2000). There are several possible reasons for the failure to find
leukemia in this animal model system. Human studies of childhood
leukemia have concluded that leukemia results from a combination of
two events -- one primary event in the prenatal period, probably
involving a genetic alteration, followed by an exposure to an
environmental factor in the early postnatal period (Kim et al., 2006).
Unfortunately, most rodent exposure studies have been of young or
adult animals, not with prenatal exposure or exposure of juvenile
animals. Repacholi et al. (1997) demonstrated elevation in the rate of
lymphoma in transgenic mice predisposed to develop lymphoma after
exposure to radiofrequency fields, although the same strain did not
develop lymphoma after 50 Hz magnetic field exposure (Harris et al.,
1998). There is, however, no evidence that this particular mutation is
relevant to human leukemia, while the TEL-AML1 fusion gene which is
documented to be associated with up to 25% of all childhood acute
lymphocytic leukemia (Kim et al., 2006) has not been studied in an
animal model. The Harris et al. (1998) study was of animals 6-8 months
of age, which again is not an appropriate model for childhood leukemia
because it did not include prenatal or early life exposure. The most
convincing animal model which has demonstrated a relationship between
risk of lymphoma and magnetic field exposure is the study of Reif et
al. (1995) who showed that dogs living in homes that fell in the "very
high current" residential category of Wertheimer and Leeper (1979) had
a significant 6.8 fold (95% CI: 1.6-28.5) elevated risk of developing

Other animal studies have reported elevations in different kinds of
cancer, even though evidence for a relationship in humans is less
convincing for any cancer other than leukemia. Mevissen et al. (1998)
reported that 50 Hz magnetic fields at 1000 mG caused a significant
increase in skin tumors induced by the chemical carcinogen, DMBA.
However, other laboratories have not been able to replicate this
finding, using somewhat different procedures (Anderson et al., 2000).
Svedenstal et al. (1999) have reported DNA damage, which can lead to
cancer, using the comet assay applied to brain cells of mice raised
under a high-voltage power line. This study confirms that DNA breaks
occur with low intensity EMFs, as reported by others (see Lai and
Singh, 2004). Goodman and Blank (1998) have reported that magnetic
fields alter transcript levels for specific genes. They found that an
80 mG, 60 Hz magnetic field applied for 20 min induces heat shock
protein 70 synthesis in mammalian cells. Alteration of this and other
genes is another possible pathway to cancer. Magnetic fields are known
to reduce secretion of melatonin in animals and humans, which could
relate to elevated risk of breast cancer (Reiter, 1995). Girgert et
al. (2005) have shown that 12 mG magnetic fields block the ability of
tamoxifen to regulate growth of human breast cancer cells in culture,
confirming previous observations.

In my opinion, these animal studies should not be used as the basis
for setting standards at right-of-ways for several reasons. Adult
rodents exposure is likely not a good model of human childhood
leukemia, the cancer of concern, because childhood leukemia depends
upon a combination of prenatal and post-natal events. While we do not
know the mechanism of cancer induction, induced currents are likely
critical, and will be very different in animals of different shapes,
again indicating that rodents may not be good models of human
childhood leukemia.

Finally, we have strong evidence of an association of exposure to
magnetic fields of low intensity and leukemia in humans, especially
children. The fact that we do not as yet know the mechanism does not
change the existence of this association. This evidence of an
association between childhood exposure to magnetic fields and leukemia
should be the basis for setting standards at the edge of right-of-


Ahlbom A, Day N, Feychting M, Roman E, Skinner J, Dockerty J, Linet M,
McBride M, Michaelis J, Olsen JH, Tynes T and Verkasalo PK (2000) A
pooled analysis of magnetic fields and childhood leukemia. Brit J
Cancer 83: 692-698.

Anderson LE, Morris JE, Sasser LB and Loscher W (2000) Effects of 50-
or 60-hertz, 100 micro T magnetic field exposure in the DMBA mammary
cancer model in Strague-Dawley rats: Possible explanations for
different results from two laboratories. Environ Health Perspect 108:

Boorman GM, Rafferty CN, Ward JM, Sills RC (2000) Leukemia and
lymphoma incidence in rodents exposed to low-frequency magnetic
fields. Radiat Res 153: 627-636.

Girgert R, Schimming H, Korner W, Grundker C and Hanf V (2005)
Induction of tamoxifen resistance in breast cancer cells by ELF
electromagnetic fields. BBRC 336: 1144-1149.

Goodman R and Blank M (1998) Magnetic field stress induces expression
of hsp70. Cell Stress Chap 3: 74-88.

Greenland S, Sheppard AR, Kaune WT, Poole Ch, Kelsh MA for the Child-
hood Leukemia-EMF Study Group (2000) A pooled analysis of magnetic
fields, wire codes, and childhood leukemia. Epidemiology 11: 624-634.

Harris AW, Basten A, Gebski V, Noonam D, Finnie J, Bath ML, Bangay MJ
and Repacholi MH (1998) A test of lymphoma induction by long-term
exposure of E micro -Pim1 transgenic mice to 50 Hz magnetic fields.
Rad Res 149: 300-307.

Kim AS, Eastmond DA and Preston RJ (2006) Childhood acute lymphocytic
leukemia and perspectives on risk assessment of early-life stage ex-
posures. Mut Res 613: 138-160.

Lai H and Singh NP (2004) Magnetic field-induced DNA strand breaks in
the brain cells of the rat. Environ Health Perspect 112: 687-694.

Mevissen M, Haussler M, Lerchl A and Loscher W (1998) Acceleration of
mammary tumorigenesis by exposure of 7,-12-dimethylbenz[a]
anthracenetreated female rats in a 50-Hz, 100 micro T magnetic field:
Replication study. J Toxicol Environ Health A: 53: 401-418.

Reif JS, Lower KS, and Oglivie GK (1995) Residential exposure to
magnetic fields and risk of canine lymphoma. Am J Epidemiol 141:
352-359: 1995.

Reiter RJ (1995) Reported biological consequences related to the
suppression of melatonin by electric and magnetic field exposure.
Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science 30: 314-330.

Repacholi MH, Basten An, Gebski V, Noonan D, Finnie J and Harris AW
(1997) Lymphomas in E micro -Pim1 transgenic mice exposed to pulsed
900 MHz electromagnetic fields. Rad Res 147: 631-640.

Svedenstal BM, Johanson KJ, Mattsson MO and Paulsson LE (1999) DNA
damage, cell kinetics and ODC activities studied in CBA mice exposed
to electromagnetic fields generated by transmission lines. In Vivo 13:
507- 514.

Wartenberg D (1998) Residential magnetic fields and childhood
leukemia: A meta-analysis. Am J Public Health 88: 1787-1794.

Wertheimer N and Leeper E (1979) Electrical wiring configurations and
childhood cancer. Am J Epidemiol 109: 273-284.


Raymond Neutra: Unswayed by Physicists' Arguments

In our 2002 Risk Evaluation my review of the literature led me, like a
scientific advisory committee at the NIEHS in 2001, to classify power
frequency EMFs as a "Possible Human Carcinogen" based on the childhood
and adult lymphocytic leukemia epidemiology. This is the
classification used by the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC). That classification includes agents like coffee, which I doubt
will turn out to be carcinogenic and fiber glass which probably will.
Thus, to be more specific and to format our conclusions in a way that
could be used by our policy analysis contractors, the California
program scientists went further in their hazard classification, Each
reviewer also provided a "degree of certainty that EMFs at the 95th
percentile of residential exposure caused an increased risk of disease
'to some degree'" My degree of certainty about this fell in the "close
to the dividing line between believing and not believing " that the
two fold increase in childhood leukemia rates in children with home
exposures above 3 milliGauss was indeed caused by EMFs and not due to
bias or confounding. A doubling of childhood leukemia rates translates
to an added lifetime risk of 100/100,000. If real this would be well
above the 1/100,000 de minimis risk level used for carcinogenic
regulation in California. "Close to the dividing between believing and
not believing" was defined by our program as being somewhere between
40 and 60 on a certainty scale ranging from 0-100. My degree of
certainty, like those at NIEHS and IARC was not pulled down by
arguments by physicists that physiological or pathological effects
from residential power lines was "impossible" based on the application
of physical laws to simplified biological models of cell mechanisms.
Physicists don't know enough about biology for me to be convinced by
their arguments. My certainty was also not pulled down by the null
results of toxicological studies using high intensity pure 60Hz
magnetic fields. Prior to these studies being done I had gone on
record that they were prone to falsely exonerate EMFs. This is because
they assume that EMFs, like chemicals will produce large effects when
given at very high doses. But the epidemiological evidence suggests
that this is not so.

Also EMFs next to power lines are a complex mixture of frequencies,
fluctuating dosing schedules, polarizations etc. Testing the
carcinogenicity of pure 60Hz fields and concluding the power line EMFs
are safe is like testing caffeine for carcinogenicity and after
getting null results declaring that espresso coffee with its many
chemical ingredients is not carcinogenic. Therefore the mostly null
toxicology results pulled my certainty down only a little. I therefore
was most influenced by the epidemiological evidence, which has, since
2002 been further supported by additional studies. The fact that the
associations seen in the studies are not large compared to the
resolution power of the studies keeps me from being more strongly
certain they are causal in nature.

The policy question before regulators of power lines is: "How certain
must you be of how much disease before you would pass from inaction to
cheap or to expensive EMF avoid- ance?"

The answer to this question is only partly driven risk estimates from
professionals like me, costs and ethics are important too. So decision
makers trying to balance the interests and values of stakeholders in
society are the ones that have to answer this question.

It turns out that the answer to this question varies with stakeholders
depending both on their special interests and on the ethical framework
that they bring to the problem at hand.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has authorized
utilities to claim in their rate base around 4% of new transmission
project costs in no and low cost EMF avoidance as long as it produces
at least 15% reduction in fields. The per mile costs of doing this is
less than those quoted below for retrofitting existing lines. It is my
impression that the "no and low cost (4% project cost) avoidance that
has been routinely carried out with new transmission lines in
California since the early 1990s almost always achieves a magnetic
field at the edge of right of way well below the100mG that Connecticut
utility companies are proposing as a criterion number. The CPUC did
not provide a cost benefit rationale for this policy. But a reading of
our policy projects suggests that a modest degree of certainty that
the childhood leukemia associations are causal in nature could justify
the policy on a cost benefit basis.

This idea is illustrated in the following graph taken from the cost
benefit analysis prepared by Professor Detlof von Winterfeldt and
colleagues as part of the California EMF program. On the horizontal
axis of the graph one has the "degree of certainty that EMF exposure
causes an increased risk of some degree" ranging from 0 to 1.00. On
the vertical axis we have possible degrees of increased risk ranging
from no increased risk to a five-fold increase of childhood leukemia

You will see two zones, a large zone shaded with diagonal lines to the
reader's upper right and a narrower cross hatched zone to the lower
left. The latter cross hatched zone represents the combinations of
epidemiological risk and the certainties that they are "real" which
would lead a cold blooded economist who values a child's life at $5
million dollars to advise against no and low cost EMF avoidance
measures. For example at a 0.2 degree of certainty of a 1.4 fold
increased risk of childhood leukemia would not be high enough for him
to advise any avoidance. My 0.4-0.6 "close to the dividing line of
believing and not believing" that the 2 fold increase in childhood
leukemia rates is "real" would lead the cold blooded economist to
recommend that you use the no and low cost "split phasing" to reduce
magnetic fields. However even if I were 100% convinced that EMFs
caused a fivefold increased risk, the economist would not recommend
undergrounding the lines. A child's life is not of sufficient worth to
the cold-blooded economist to warrant that expense. We found that not
all stakeholders were enthusiasts of this kind of cost- benefit
approach, but regulators, engineers and economists find it useful.
Accordingly Professor von Winterfeldt's analysis covers both the cost
benefit approach as well as an ethical analysis of the rights and
duties of the various stakeholders. I have provided a published
article on the project to my colleagues in Connecticut and the full
report and flexible decision models can be found on our web site at

The "right to know" principle would dictate that utility companies
should provide residents near the line with what remediation is
proposed and what right of way magnetic fields are predicted and
actually achieved. The CPUC did not require our utilities to provide
this information. However during the California EMF program, utilities
shared other EMF information prepared by our department by means of
"bill stuffers." Limiting this notification to some particular
milligauss level, particularly 100 mG, which is so high that
notifications will almost never be given, will precipitate arguments
about the rationale for choosing that mG level that would be hard to
resolve on a scientific basis. Perhaps the advice of Mark Twain, one
of Connecticut's most distinguished citizens is relevant here: "Tell
the truth, you will please half the people and surprise the rest."

This suggests that routine disclosure should be done regard-less of
milligauss levels. It is true that this will sometimes precipitate
questioning and arguing. However, the costs of no and low cost
avoidance in new transmission lines and in reacting to residents
adjacent to the proposed transmissions lines should be considered as a
fraction of the revenues of the utility during the lifetime of the
proposed project.

Below I quote from the California Policy Options document that our
department sent to CPUC in 2002. They have chosen only to deal with
new transmission lines and not with the other policy issues detailed


Daniel Wartenberg: Solid Scientific Evidence Supporting an EMF-
Childhood Leukemia Association

I have been asked to offer comments on the Connecticut Siting
Council's Draft Electric and Magnetic Field Best Management Practices
For the Construction of Electric Transmission Facilities in
Connecticut (Sept. 28, 2006 draft), hereafter, BMP. The BMP suggests
that many public health agencies believe that, "there is no
established link between adverse health effects and EMF exposure
(p.2)," and that other study groups concluded that, "there is no
consistent evidence that exposure to typical power-line MF causes
adverse health effects (p.2)." On the basis of these views, and the
Council's desire to focus its policy on "prudent avoidance," the
Council proposes a screening level based on no-effect levels
determined through animal experiments modified by traditional safety
factors, leading to an acceptable level of less than 100mG at peak
load averaged over 24 hours at the edge of the Right of Way.


I believe there is solid scientific evidence supporting an association
between exposure to magnetic fields and the incidence of childhood
leukemia. I base this opinion on my review of the literature, my
participation on two expert review panels and my conduct of three
commissioned meta-analyses. There are five important issues to

(1) is there evidence of an association between exposure to magnetic
fields and childhood cancer;

(2) if so, is it likely that this association might be due to bias;

(3) if so, is it likely that this association might be due to

(4) given the data, what is the estimated impact of these exposures;

(5) in light of these estimates, are there appropriate actions that
should be taken to limit risk.

I consider each, in turn.


More than 100 epidemiologic studies have been conducted in over 10
countries using a wide variety of study designs and ways of measuring
exposure to EMFs, both in the residence and occupationally. To
summarize these studies, the weight of evi- dence approach has been
applied several times, by both individu- als and expert panels. There
have been over two dozen expert panel reviews of the EMF issue, far
too many to review here. Two reviews, in which I participated, were
conducted in the United States.The first panel was convened by the
National Research Council of the NationalAcademy of Sciences.After
several years of meetings, workshops and deliberations, the group
reported in the Executive Summary that, "Living in homes classified as
being in the high wire-code category is associated with about a 1.5-
fold excess of childhood leukemia (p.3)."[1] The second panel,
convened by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
(NIEHS), was instructed to follow the procedures developed by the
International Agency for Research on Cancer. The Working Group
concluded that, "ELF EMF are possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group
2B)."[2] This was based principally on "the results of studies on
childhood leukemia in residential environments and on CLL [chronic
lymphocytic leukemia] in adults in occupational settings." My most
recent metaanalyses, conducted for the California Department of Health
Services, reported that the risk for leukemia was elevated and
statistically significant, particularly at the higher exposure cut-

There was some evidence that supported an exposure-response gradient.
Two pooled analyses of childhood leukemia statisti- cally
significantly elevated risks for those children at the highest
exposure categories (>3 or 4 mG). [4,5]

As a result of all of these studies, their apparent consistency, and
the lack of an accepted mechanism of action that might have been used
to justify the extrapolation of possible health effects from animals
to humans, I do not understand the logic or reasoning behind the use
animal experiment data in the determination of a safe exposure level
to limit childhood cancer risk. It is my belief that the human cancer
epidemiologic data are more relevant in assessing the potential
hazards to humans.


In 1999, I reviewed the EMF literature for the California Department
of Health Services. I concluded that it is unlikely that selection
bias can be the sole explanation of the reported associations between
exposure to magnetic fields and childhood cancer incidence. In a paper
I published as part of that review,[6] I stated that, "given the wide
variety of study populations and measurement protocols, it is unlikely
that a single design flaw has resulted in consistent effects across
all studies and can be the sole explanation for the reported


If an agent, in this case wire codes or magnetic field intensity, is
correlated both with an outcome, such as childhood leukemia, and other
factors, the role of those other factors, even if carcinogenic, does
not invalidate the primary relationship. Rather, those other factors
are called confounders and must be adjusted for in the analyses to try
to derive a measure of the independent effect of the primary factor,
as has been done in many of the EMF studies. One study shows that for
another factor that itself is associated with both EMF exposure and
childhood leukemia to be sufficient to explain the observed
associations between EMF exposure and childhood cancer, that factor
would have to be a very strong risk factor for childhood leukemia.[7]
It seems unlikely, but not impossible, that a major risk factor for
leukemia could have gone largely unnoticed throughout all the studies
conducted to date. However, to have credibility for its presence,
investigators will need to identify this unknown factor, specifically,
and demonstrate statistically that it imparts a large enough leukemia
risk to explain the observed association between EMF exposure and
leukemia. This is a tall order and has yet to be demonstrated despite
the large number of studies conducted and the many potential risk
factors assessed.


Often, in developing policy, it is useful to estimate the effect of an
intervention. In this case, estimates of the magnitude of the elevated
risk to children living in higher exposure areas (based on the pooled
analyses and meta-analyses) can be combined with estimates of number
of children living in higher exposure areas (based on household
surveys) with the annual average incidence of childhood cancers to
estimate the number that likely are due to exposure to EMF if, in
fact, the observed association is causal. Three studies have estimated
the potential number of childhood leukemia cases attributable to EMF
exposure.[3,4,8] If the reported associations are causal, these
studies suggest that as many as 120-175 additional cases per year in
the US/North American may result from residential exposure alone.


In an article I published with Dr. Dale Jamieson,[9] I address these
concerns explicitly in the context of the Precautionary Principle. In
that piece, specifically addressing the EMF issue, we argue that,
"since the scientific uncertainty is unlikely to be resolved in the
foreseeable future, policy decisions must be based on the possibility
of risk and the cost and technology of reducing exposure." Given the
potential impact cited above, the question is whether it is a better
strategy to: (a) accept the science as proven and have government act
to reduce exposures; (b) view the data as inconclusive and ignore the
exposure in order to save remediation costs; or, (c) to prudently
lower exposures of greatest concern in case the possible risk is shown
eventually to be true. As a public health professional, I believe
strongly that prudent action to limit the exposure and possibly
prevent several children from developing cancer is essential unless
the costs (monetary and otherwise) outweigh the value of the impact on
these children's lives.

Literature Cited

1. National Research C, Committee on the Possible Effects of
Electromagnetic Fields on Biologic S. Possible Health Efects of
Exposure to Residential EMFs. Washington, DC: National Academy Press,

2. NIEHS WorkingGroup. Assessment of Health Efects from Exposure to
Power-Line Frequency EMFs. Research Triangle Park, NC: National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 1998:508.

3. Wartenberg D. Residential EMF exposure and childhood leukemia:
Meta-analysis and population attributable risk. Bioelectromagnetics
2001; Suppl. 5:S86-S104.

4. Greenland S, Sheppard AR, Kaune WT, Poole C, Kelsh MA. A pooled
analysis of magnetic fields, wire codes and childhood leukemia.
Epidemiology 2000;11:624-634.

5. Ahlbom A, Day N, Feychting M, Roman E, Skinner J, Dockerty J, et
al. A pooled analysis of magnetic fields and childhood leukemia.
British Journal of Cancer 2000;83(5):692-698.

6. Wartenberg D. The potential impact of bias in studies of
residential exposure to magnetic fields and childhood leukemia.
Bioelectromagnetics 2001;Suppl. 5:S32-S47.

7. Langholz B. Factors that explain the power line configuration
wiring code -- childhood leukemia association: What would they look
like? Bioelectromagnetics 2001;Suppl. 5:S19-S31.

8. Kheifets L, Afifi AA, Shimkhada R. Public health impact of
extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields. Environmental Health
Perspectives 2006; 114(10): 1532-1537.

9. Jamieson D, Wartenberg D. The Precautionary Principle and EMFs.
American Journal of Public Health 2001; 91(9): 1355-1358

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From: Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine), Jan. 17, 2007
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By Susan M. Cover, Staff Writer

Augusta -- Amy Graham of Farmington lobbied the Legislature three
years ago to get rid of potentially harmful flame retardants used in
common household items.

She's back again this year to finish the job.

Graham, the mother of two young children, said Tuesday that she wants
the Legislature to prevent new uses of a flame retardant called Deca.
It's used in mattresses, televisions, curtains and upholstered
furniture to reduce the spread of flames in a fire.

In 2004, the Legislature voted to phase out two other forms of the
chemicals, called Penta and Octa. Now, Graham and nearly two dozen
environmental groups across the state are working to get rid of Deca.

"We buy covers for the electrical outlets, we put household cleaners
and medicines up high out of the reach of curious youngsters," she
said. "Yet, no matter how hard we try, there are chemicals in our
homes from which we cannot protect our children."

The chemical, which was classified as a "potential human health risk"
by scientists at the University of Southern Maine, has been found in
human blood and breast milk, she said.

Graham was one of many people who came to the Statehouse on Tuesday
for a press conference to talk about six environmental goals for the
new legislative session. In addition to the bill to prevent new uses
of Deca, the 22 groups -- which include the Sierra Club, Northern
Forest Alliance and Maine Rivers -- have joined together to support a
variety of bills. With a combined membership totaling about 100,000,
the groups have agreed on these goals:

** No weakening of current environmental protections.

** Adoption of the endangered and threatened species list
developed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. That
list has 14 species including the New England cottontail, redfin
pickerel, short-eared owl and a bird called Barrow's goldeneye. The
list hasn't been modified since 1997.

** Adoption of rules to reduce greenhouse gases, which would
help address global warming.

** Funding for the Land for Maine's Future program. The program
needs at least $25 million a year to operate, and the groups would
support a multiyear bond, said Jenn Burns of Maine Audubon.

** Approval of a $25 million bond to support redevelopment of
riverfront communities.

Ted Allen of Brunswick, a volunteer who monitors piping plovers at
Reid State Park, said without official state protection, some wildlife
won't survive. Even with a program in place to protect them, piping
plover chicks don't often make it to maturity.

"The only reason we still have these birds in Maine is that they are
included on Maine's endangered and threatened species list," he said.
"The state has made a commitment to protect them."

When it comes to global warming, Bill Houston of Kingfield urged
lawmakers to support a bill that would allow Maine to join the
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It sets a limit on the amount of
global warming pollution that can come from fossil fuel-burning power

"Our economies are vitally linked to winter as we used to know it,"
Houston said. "We don't have to accept global warming as inevitable."

Houston is an instructor at Skowhegan Regional Vocational Center,
where he teaches the outdoor recreational leadership program. He's
also a registered Maine guide.

Fifth-grade students from Andover School near Bethel read a poem at
the press conference about their love for White Cap Mountain. The
students traveled to Augusta to support land conservation, which is
supported by the Land for Maine's Future program.

All of the goals put forward by the groups will help preserve the
quality of life in Maine, said Susan Farady, of The Ocean Conservancy
in Portland. "Maine is facing unprecedented challenges to our way of
life," she said.

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From: Clean Water Action, Jan. 23, 2007
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Boston, Mass. -- As the European Union moves ahead with new reforms
that modernize toxic chemical policies, momentum builds in
Massachusetts for similar measures that would replace commonly used
toxic chemicals with safer alternatives.

A majority of legislators in both houses of the Massachusetts
legislature are co-sponsoring "An Act for a Healthy Massachusetts:
Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals." The bill, sponsored by
Representative Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) and Senator Steven Tolman (D-
Brighton) initially targets 10 of the worst toxic chemicals found in
common household products such as dry cleaning, pesticides, solvents,
building materials, foam cushions, and electronics. It would mandate a
careful process to evaluate alternatives to these chemicals and
replace them with safer alternatives where feasible. It would also
assist businesses in the transition and increase the competitiveness
of Massachusetts businesses internationally. So far the bill has been
co-sponsored by 83 (of 160) Representatives and 25 (of 40) Senators.

"The United States is becoming a dumping ground for common household
products with toxic ingredients exported here from countries that ban
their local sale," said Deborah Shields, Executive Director of the
Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition. "If China and Europe can
protect the health of their citizens from hazards like formaldehyde in
plywood cabinets, why are we lagging so far behind?"

Countries around the globe are taking steps to prevent harm to health
from toxic hazards by phasing out the use of toxic chemicals. Because
the United States is lagging behind, these countries can continue to
sell toxic products here. Last month, the European Parliament gave
final approval to a sweeping reform of chemical regulations that
requires the chemical industry to gather health and safety data on
thousands of chemicals used in everyday commerce, and replace the most
dangerous chemicals with safer substitutes. The new standards, known
as REACH (for Registration, Evaluation, a nd Authorization of
Chemicals), will begin in April 2007 and will roll out in stages over
the next eleven or more years.

"If Massachusetts businesses want to retain access to the European
market, which is the largest in the world, they will need to start
complying with these new standards within the next few months," said
Kaufman. "We can position Massachusetts as a true leader if we act

Cindy Luppi, Organizing Director for Clean Water Action said, "We
applaud the Massachusetts legislators who are taking steps to promote
safer materials and technologies here so that the health of our
residents, and our businesses, will be better protected."

"This bill can help Massachusetts businesses lead a wave of innovation
that stimulates our economy, increases the safety of our workplaces,
and prevents harm to our health," said Tolman. "This is one of my top
priority bills for this coming session."

In 2005, the Massachusetts legislature funded the Toxics Use Reduction
Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell to study safer alternatives to five
widely used toxic chemicals. The study identified safer alternatives
to major uses of the chemicals, including perchloroethylene, used in
dry cleaning, Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) in vinyl products
like children's toys, shower curtains and IV bags, and formaldehyde
used in personal care products and building products.

"Now that we have proof that it is indeed possible to find feasible
safer alternatives to many of the most dangerous and commonly used
toxic chemicals, we need to better protect our health and safety by
moving toward the use of these safer products," said Jen Baker of
MASSPIRG. "Consumers should not have to fear exposure to toxic
chemicals from the everyday products that they use. With safer
alternatives available, we must stop subjecting ourselves to
unnecessary harms."

The ten chemicals initially targeted by the bill are lead,
formaldehyde, trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (Perc),
dioxins and furans, hexavalent chromium, organophosphate pesticides,
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate
(DEHP), 2,4, dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4, D).

"More and more research is revealing that toxic chemicals contribute
to the incidence of chronic diseases and disorders like cancer,
learning disabilities, and Parkinson's disease," said Eric Weltman,
Deputy Director of Advocacy and Policy of the Massachusetts Public
Health Association. "The bottom line: our laws need to catch up to
this new science."

The bill is supported by the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, a
coalition over 150 organizations in health, labor, scientific,
environmental, faith and community groups working to the use of
promote safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.


Lee Ketelsen New England Director Clean Water Action 262 Washington
Street 3rd floor Boston, MA 02118 617-338-8131 ext 206

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From: Nanowerk News, Jan. 23, 2007
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A new report by the ETC Group concludes that the social, environmental
and bio-weapons threats of synthetic biology surpass the possible
dangers and abuses of biotech. The full text of the 70-page report,
Extreme Genetic Engineering: An Introduction to Synthetic Biology [1
Mbyte PDF], is available for downloading free-of-charge on the ETC
Group website.

"Genetic engineering is passe," said Pat Mooney, Executive Director of
ETC Group. "Today, scientists aren't just mapping genomes and
manipulating genes, they're building life from scratch -- and they're
doing it in the absence of societal debate and regulatory oversight,"
said Mooney.

Synbio -- dubbed "genetic engineering on steroids" -- is inspired by
the convergence of nanoscale biology, computing and engineering. Using
a laptop computer, published gene sequence information and mail-order
synthetic DNA, just about anyone has the potential to construct genes
or entire genomes from scratch (including those of lethal pathogens).

Scientists predict that within 2-5 years it will be possible to
synthesize any virus; the first de novo bacterium will make its debut
in 2007; in 5-10 years simple bacterial genomes will be synthesized
routinely and it will become no big deal to cobble together a designer
genome, insert it into an empty bacterial cell and -- voila -- give
birth to a living, self-replicating organism. Other synthetic
biologists hope to reconfigure the genetic pathways of existing
organisms to perform new functions -- such as manufacturing high-value
drugs or chemicals.

A clutch of entrepreneurial scientists, including the gene maverick J.
Craig Venter, is setting up synthetic biology companies backed by
government funding and venture capital. They aim to commercialise new
biological parts, devices and systems that don't exist in the natural
world -- some of which are designed for environmental release.
Advocates insist that synthetic biology is the key to cheap biofuels,
a cure for malaria, and climate change remediation -- media-friendly
goals that aim to mollify public concerns about a dangerous and
controversial technology. Ultimately synthetic biology means cheaper
and widely accessible tools to build bioweapons, virulent pathogens
and artificial organisms that could pose grave threats to people and
the planet. The danger is not just bio-terror, but "bio-error," warns
ETC Group.

Despite calls for open source biology, corporate and academic
scientists are winning exclusive monopoly patents on the products and
processes of synthetic genetics. Like biotech, the power to make
synthetic life could be concentrated in the hands of major
multinational firms. As gene synthesis becomes cheaper and faster, it
will become easier to synthesize a microbe than to find it in nature
or retrieve it from a gene bank. Biological samples, sequenced and
stored in digital form, will move instantaneously across the globe and
be resurrected in corporate labs thousands of miles away -- a practice
that could erode future support for genetic conservation and create
new challenges for international negotiations on biodiversity.

"Last year, 38 civil society organizations rejected proposals for
self-regulation of synthetic biology put forth by a small group of
synthetic biologists," said Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group. "Widespread
debate on the social, economic and ethical implications of synbio must
come first -- and it must not be limited to biosecurity and biosafety
issues," said Wetter.

The tools for synthesising genes and genomes are widely accessible and
advancing at break-neck pace. ETC Group's new report concludes that it
is not enough to regulate synthetic biology on the national level.
Decisions must be considered in a global context, with broad
participation from civil society and social movements. In keeping with
the Precautionary Principle, ETC Group asserts that -- at a minimum --
there must be an immediate ban on environmental release of de novo
synthetic organisms until wide societal debate and strong governance
are in place.

Copyright 2005-2007, Nanowerk LLC

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #890, Jan. 18, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

The system for regulating toxic chemicals has failed in the Great
Lakes and a precautionary approach should be adopted, according to a
new report [6 Mbyte PDF] published by the International Joint
Commission (IJC), the U.S.-Canada governmental body responsible for
water quality in the Lakes. The IJC was created by treaty in 1909 and
has focused aggressively on water quality since 1978. The Great Lakes
hold 20% of the world's fresh surface water.

The Major Justification for Precaution: Ignorance Abounds

IJC scientists, and independent researchers, are now reporting a host
of new toxic chemicals in fish and other wildlife in the Great Lakes.
However, "Insufficient data are available to establish consumption
guidelines for these toxic substances," the report says. (pg. 115)
[Page numbers inside parentheses refer to the IJC report.]

After 30 years of under-funded effort, the government agencies charged
with protecting public health remain ignorant about most of the
chemicals being discharged into the Lakes:

"Due to analytical limitations, only a very low proportion of the
large number of potentially troublesome compounds identified as likely
present in the Great Lakes environment are currently analyzed in Great
Lakes monitoring programs," the report says. (pg. 124)

Even the industries producing the chemicals are ignorant of their
effects: "Industry's capacity to invent and produce new chemicals has
overwhelmed both their ability to produce adequate data for the
regulatory system to assess, and the regulatory system's capacity to
assess it," the report says. (pg. 125)

Both the U.S. and Canadian systems for regulating chemicals stand
accused of failure.

The report was written by the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, the
Great Lakes Scientific Advisory Board, the International Air Quality
Advisory Board, and the Council of Great Lakes Research Managers and
was published in June, 2006, by the International Joint Commission

Unfortunately, the IJC's withering criticism of the chemical
regulatory system is buried deep in the report, in chapter 5, "Human
Health," where many readers may miss it.

Chapter 5 makes these points:

1. Legacy Toxicants Are Declining Slowly, If At All

As time passes, "legacy" chemicals (mainly PCBs and mercury) in the
Great Lakes are declining much more slowly than expected. In fact,
mercury is not declining at all -- it is holding steady or, in some
places, even increasing because of coal-burning power plants. (pg.

2. A New Set of 'Emerging' Toxicants Has Been Identified

Meanwhile, a new set of "emerging" contaminants has appeared in the
Lakes during the past few years (pg. 124):

** Brominated fire retardants (BFRs), PBDEs and tetrabromo bisphenol-

** Perfluorinated compounds or PFCs (PFOS, perfluorooctanoic acid,
N-ethyl perflourooctane sulfonamidoethanol);

** Phthalates (a large class of plastic additives);

** Pharmaceuticals and chemicals found in personal care and household
products (PPCPs);

** Estrogenic and hormonally active compounds (birth control agents,
natural estrogens, alkylphenol ethoxylates, bisphenol-A, Trenbolone);

** Some currently used pesticides (Atrazine). (pg. 124)

3. 'Persistence' Has a New Meaning

The IJC report says pharmaceuticals and personal-care products are
"persistent by virtue of their ongoing release into the environment in
human and animal excreta" -- in other words, even though individual
chemicals may degrade, they enter the Lakes in a steady stream, so
they are constantly available for uptake by fish and other wildlife.

4. New Hazards Are Being Identified for Old ('Legacy') Toxicants

In addition to these newly-discovered "emerging" contaminants, a host
of new information about harm to wildlife and humans has become known:

The IJC report notes that, "The National Research Council (NRC) [in
2000] concluded that 'the population at highest risk is the children
of women who consumed large amounts of fish and seafood during
pregnancy.' Its report concluded that the risks to that population are
likely to result in an increase in the number of children who have to
struggle to keep up in school, and who might require remedial classes
or special education." (pg. 117)

The IJC report estimates that as many as 15% of all pregnant women in
the U.S. may have sufficient mercury in their blood to produce
children burdened by cognitive deficits.

And the report says no amount of mercury can be considered safe:
"There is no evidence to date that a threshold blood-mercury
concentration exists where effects on cognition are not seen." (pg.
118) In other words, any amount of mercury causes some cognitive

5. Fish Are Too Dangerous for Children & for Women Prior to Menopause

For the first time, this IJC report recommends that fish-consumption
advisories should warn all children, and women younger than the age of
menopause, to not eat ANY fish from the Great Lakes "as an option."
(pg. 128) It is not clear what "as an option" means -- but the rest of
the phrase is clear: the authors of the IJC report are saying for the
first time that the health benefits of eating Great Lakes fish are now
outweighed by the cocktail of toxic chemicals the fish contain.[1]

This is a major and very far-reaching recommendation from the IJC
Science Advisory Board. The Great Lakes commercial and sport fisheries
are valued at $4 billion per year and support thousands of jobs.

6. Men, too, should restrict their intake of Great Lakes fish

** Mercury consumption is now associated with high blood pressure,
heart-rate variability, and heart attacks. (pg. 118)

** New data from the laboratory of Ellen Silbergeld at Johns Hopkins
Medical School suggests that mercury can cause an autoimmune reaction
that damages the heart, autoimmune myocarditis. In autoimmune
myocarditis, the body's own immune system attacks the heart muscle and
can ultimately cause heart failure.

The report concludes, "These findings suggest that future
fish-consumption advisories in the Great Lakes region, which are
largely issued to protect women of child-bearing age and children, may
need to be extended to other segments of the population (such as adult
males, etc.)." (pg. 118)

In other words, the population of people who can safely eat most Great
Lakes fish is essentially zero.

7. New health effects discovered from eating Great Lakes fish

Birth defects

According to one study, eating two meals of Great Lakes fish per month
is sufficient to increase the number of serious birth defects: "Among
the 2,237 infants born to female members of the New York State Angler
Cohort between 1986 and 1991, there was an increased probability of a
major malformation (including hypospadias, cleft palate, and
musculoskeletal defects) in males but not females, whose mothers
consumed two or more sport fish meals per month during pregnancy."
(pg. 119)

Breast Cancer among Pre-Menopausal Women

One study showed that young women eating Great Lakes fish have a 70%
increased risk of breast cancer: "McElroy et al. (2004) found an
increased relative risk of developing breast cancer of 70 percent in
pre-menopausal Wisconsin women who recently consumed Great Lakes
sport-caught fish." (pg. 120)

Immune system impairment in children

Children have an increased incidence of inner ear infections, and of
asthma, from exposure to common contaminants in Great Lakes fish --
PCBs, DDT and its breakdown byproduct, DDE, and hexachlorobenzene. The
obvious suggestion here is of immune system damage. (pg. 120)

The report emphasizes again and again the dangers to children posed by
eating fish from the Great Lakes: "Researchers are discovering an
increasing suite of behavioral abnormalities in infants and children
and in laboratory rodents prenatally exposed to environmentally
relevant concentrations of PCBs or mercury." (pg. 119)

8. Fish Consumption Advisories Don't Protect Public Health

The IJC report seems schizophrenic on the question of fish consumption
advisories as a way of protecting the public from eating contaminated
fish. On the one hand, as we have seen above, the report recommends
fish advisories containing tougher language: children and pre-
menopausal women should be advised to eat NO FISH from the Great Lakes
"as an option" (whatever that means). On the other hand, the report
acknowledges that fish advisories don't reach the people most
endangered by Great Lakes fish -- subsistence fishers:

"While advisories provide excellent advice, they have limited
effectiveness, in part because they focus on sport fishing.
Subsistence fishers who depend on Great Lakes fish to feed their
families often eat species that are not covered by advisories. In
addition, the current emphasis on sport fishing tends to target male
sport fishers rather than subsistence fishers, many of whom are women
and minorities. These latter groups are largely unaware of the dangers
of contaminated fish." (pg. 121)

Could it be more plainly stated? Fish advisories are ineffective. To
prove the point, the IJC report says that, before fish advisories were
initiated in 1994, a survey was taken of fish consumption. After 8
years of publishing extensive fish consumption advisories -- warning
people which fish to avoid eating in specific waters of the Great
Lakes -- a second survey showed that, "the numbers of individuals
consuming fish and the amount of Great Lakes sport fish consumed had
not decreased." (pg. 122)

The IJC then turns about-face and says, "Fish consumption advisories
can only be regarded as a limited and temporary solution for public
health protection." (pg. 122) To be blunt about it, this is nonsense.
If eight years of fish advisories have not changed the number of
people eating Great Lakes fish and have not changed the amount of fish
they eat -- and if fish advisories don't even reach the subsistence
fishers, who are women and children and who are most endangered --
then fish advisories can only be regarded as a failure.


The report says, "The issues associated with 'legacy' and 'emerging'
contaminants of concern and the contaminant-associated health effects
described in [chapter 5] are, to varying degrees, surprises, in that
they highlight the short-sightedness of our profit-driven approach to
innovation, and the inadequacy of our hazard-based regulatory system."
(pg. 126)

Instead of an "inadequate" regulatory system based on risk assessment,
the IJC report recommends a new approach, based on precaution:

"A much more precautionary, responsive, and democratic approach is
clearly required," the report says. (pg. 125) And: "Other
jurisdictions widely apply the Precautionary Principle to stimulate
innovation and science, and provide good governance," the report says.
(pg. 126)

[To be continued next week.]


[1] The exact wording is: "The Science Advisory Board recommends to
the IJC that... The Parties modify their fish consumption advice to
address overall fish consumption to focus on... Promoting special
precautions for pregnant women including effects on the fetus, women
of child-bearing age, and children under 15, and advocating that this
group adopt the additional prudence of not eating Great Lakes fish as
an option;"

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From: BBC, Jan. 19, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Jeffrey A. McNeely

[On September 22, 2006, Jeffrey McNeely published an article on the
BBC web site titled, "Biofuels: Green Energy or Grim Reaper."
Readers responded strongly to the article, and here Dr. McNeely
responds to those readers.]

I was delighted that my short article on biofuels has generated such a
vigorous response -- the public clearly has deep concerns about our
energy future.

Brazilian cars have been running on bioethanol for years

First of all, I focused on bioethanol after reading a report saying
that 65 ethanol plants were being constructed in the Corn Belt of the
US mid-west, with a combined capacity that the Earth Policy Institute
considered sufficient to consume all of the maize grown in the major
producing states.

These are precisely the states that produce excess maize, which is
then used as part of the US contribution to the World Food Programme,
and distributed to developing countries.

I am very sympathetic to those who believe that such exports may serve
as a disincentive for the recipient countries to develop their own
agriculture, but the fact remains that some 800 million people in the
world remain undernourished and welcome donations of surplus food.

Waste of energy?

Perhaps worse, last November's issue of BioScience reported that the
various inputs required to convert maize to ethanol consume 29% more
energy than is contained in the ethanol produced.

Ethanol from cellulosic biomass requires 50% more energy than the
final product can deliver; and each gallon of ethanol requires 1,700
gallons (6,400 litres) of water and produces 6-12 gallons (23-26
litres) of noxious organic effluent.

Of course, this is just the first generation of just one type of
biofuel, and greater investments in second and third generations may
greatly improve the picture.

Having said that, I do recognise that bioethanol is simply one of
numerous energy options. Biodiesel is undoubtedly a better
alternative, and lignocellulosic energy may be even better. And there
are more options on the table: methanol, solar, wind, tidal, and
nuclear power.

So while my article raised some warning flags about moving ahead too
quickly on bioethanol without considering the full costs and benefits,
I also believe that a thoughtful consideration of the costs and
benefits of all of the energy options are well justified.

This is not anti-capitalist, but the straight-forward application of
the precautionary principle, ensuring that we have given careful
consideration to the full implications of our investments before we
rush ahead to spend them.

Moving ahead too quickly without considering the options is, to use an
extreme example, like invading Iraq without thinking about the future

Most energy experts will agree that our first line of response should
be improved energy efficiency and conservation. Banning cars would
certainly be unpopular but, with appropriate incentives, the use of
alternative forms of transport, ranging from walking and cycling to
improved public transport systems, would all be relevant in reducing
energy demand.

'Global experiment'

Finally, in the few short months since the original article was
published, considerable additional work on biofuels has been done,
covering the full range of perspectives.

The expansion of biofuel crops is certainly having an impact on food
commodity prices already, which the commodity traders may consider
good news. But in many parts of the tropics, land that may be
extremely important for biodiversity is being converted to grow
bioenergy crops.

Even under the most efficient forms of lignocellulosic processing, we
are beginning a massive global experiment whose results are far from
certain. Our current way of life is highly energy-intensive, at least
for those of us living in cities or developed countries.

This calls for increased investments in research and development to
find alternative solutions, along with a serious reconsideration of
what "quality of life" really means.

Jeffrey A. McNeely is chief scientist of IUCN, the World Conservation
Union, based in Switzerland

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  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
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  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
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