Rachel's Precaution Reporter #76
"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"
Wednesday, February 7, 2007..........Printer-friendly version
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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Table of Contents... British Court Case Highlights Precautionary Approach to Pesticides The [British] Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concluded there was a lack of concrete evidence on the health impacts of pesticides and suggested the precautionary principle be followed until more information was available. The advice was ignored. Editorial: Climate Change Demands Action A major newspaper, New York Newsday, urges use of the precautionary principle in response to evidence of human contributions to global warming. Long Island Residents Oppose A Radio Tower, Invoking Precaution Residents who spoke out at last night's meeting, however, don't want to wait for any "if." They would rather operate according to the precautionary principle that is now the rule in several countries and a few American municipalities regarding environmental issues. The principle states -- very roughly -- that where an activity raises concerns about public or environmental health, the burden of proof is on those carrying out the activity, rather than the public. Synthetic Chemicals Can Affect Offspring "In the absence of concrete data for many of these chemicals, the precautionary principle should be exercised," said Dr. Linda Guidice, chairwoman of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California at San Francisco and the organizer of the reproductive health conference that brought 500 scientists, clinicians and community activists together last week. The Years the Locusts Ate To protect the future against climate chaos, we must "bring back the precautionary principle" and shift the burden of proof onto those whose activities despoil the environment. Nanotechnology: The Next Battleground? The concerns expressed by those wary of nanotechnology are very similar to those expressed by critics of biotechnology, namely that we just don't know what the impacts will be. It is this lack of knowledge that has led some to invoke the precautionary principle and call for a moratorium on certain aspects of nanotechnology use and research. Poles, Czechs Likely to Accept Missile Shield: Analysts President Bush says he initiated the Iraq war as a precautionary measure. Now the military in Poland and the Czech Republic say they want to accept a U.S. missile shield as a precautionary measure. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: www.edie.net, Feb. 6, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] PESTICIDES CAMPAIGNER TAKES DEFRA TO THE HIGH COURT By Sam Bond A woman who has been fighting for stricter laws controlling the spraying of agricultural chemicals [in England] has welcomed a judge's decision to allow her to take her battle to the next level. For the past six years Georgina Downs has waged a one-woman war against Defra [Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] for its perceived failure to provide protection against the damage caused by pesticides, both to the environment and human health. Through the vehicle of her UK Pesticides Campaign, Ms Downs has been arguing that Government is legally obliged to protect people with tighter regulation, risk assessment for spraying near residential areas and what she sees as the serious inadequacies of the existing bystander risk assessment. "The fact that there has never been any risk assessment for the long- term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide sprayed fields means that there is no evidence to support the Government's continued assertions that there are no health risks to people in the countryside from crop-spraying," she said. Ms Downs has now been granted permission by a High Court Judge, Honourable Justice Mitting, to Judicially Review the approach taken and policy adopted by David Miliband to the control of the use of pesticides in crop-spraying. Her case is based on the fact that Government has chosen to ignore several of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), which was asked by Ministers to examine the potential threat to health and the environment posed by spraying. The commission had concluded there was a lack of concrete evidence on the health impacts of pesticides and suggested the precautionary principle be followed until more information was available. The easiest way to do this, it said, would be to to introduce no-spray buffer zones around the edges of fields which backed onto residential areas. Government considered the advice but decided the buffer zones were unproven and unnecessary and would put an unacceptable financial burden on farmers. Ms Downs claimed that Defra's response to the RCEP report, published in July 2006, continued to demonstrate the Government's 'clear commitment to protecting industry interests over and above protecting public health'. Her case is expected to be listed for a full High Court Hearing in the spring. Copyright Faversham House Group Ltd 2007. edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent. To print: Select File and then Print from your browser's menu This story was printed from www.edie.net Pesticides campaigner takes Defra to the High Court (published on 6- February-2007) URL: http://www.edie.net/news/news_story.asp?id=12571 A woman who has been fighting for stricter laws controlling the spraying of agricultural chemicals has welcomed a judge's decision to allow her to take her battle to the next level. For the past six years Georgina Downs has waged a one-woman war against Defra for its perceived failure to provide protection against the damage caused by pesticides, both to the environment and human health. Through the vehicle of her UK Pesticides Campaign, Ms Downs has been arguing that Government is legally obliged to protect people with tighter regulation, risk assessment for spraying near residential areas and what she sees as the serious inadequacies of the existing bystander risk assessment. "The fact that there has never been any risk assessment for the long- term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide sprayed fields means that there is no evidence to support the Government's continued assertions that there are no health risks to people in the countryside from crop-spraying," she said. Ms Downs has now been granted permission by a High Court Judge, Honourable Justice Mitting, to Judicially Review the approach taken and policy adopted by David Miliband to the control of the use of pesticides in crop-spraying. Her case is based on the fact that Government has chosen to ignore several of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), which was asked by Ministers to examine the potential threat to health and the environment posed by spraying. The commission had concluded there was a lack of concrete evidence on the health impacts of pesticides and suggested the precautionary principle be followed until more information was available. The easiest way to do this, it said, would be to to introduce no-spray buffer zones around the edges of fields which backed onto residential areas. Government considered the advise but decided the buffer zones were unproven and unnecessary and would put an unacceptable financial burden on farmers. Ms Downs claimed that Defra's response to the RCEP report, published in July 2006, continued to demonstrate the Government's 'clear commitment to protecting industry interests over and above protecting public health'. Her case is expected to be listed for a full High Court Hearing in the spring. CP Copyright Faversham House Group Ltd 2007 Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Newsday, Feb. 6, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] EDITORIAL: CLIMATE CHANGE DEMANDS ACTION Panel report erases lingering doubts Even the Bush White House, stubbornly skeptical about the dangers of global warming, accepts the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says it's "very likely" that human activity has caused most of the global temperature increase since 1950. Now the question is what the president and the Congress are ready to do. This is a time to start moving from debate to action. The panel's fourth report since 1990 is not a shoot-from-the-hip screed from an activist group. It summarizes the work of hundreds of authors and peer reviewers, modified in response to more than 30,000 comments on the drafts. So it sifts out extreme findings to achieve a broad consensus. It won the approval of 113 nations, including the United States. "It reflects the sizeable and robust body of knowledge regarding the physical science of climate change, including the finding that the Earth is warming and that human activities have very likely caused most of the warming of the last 50 years," said the top White House delegate to the panel's meeting. Still, last week a House committee heard testimony that Bush officials have pressured government scientists to remove comments about global warming from documents. This page accepted the national decision not to join the Kyoto agreement on cutting greenhouse gases because it did not include China and India, which are becoming huge emitters. (Many on the panel wanted the new report to say it was "virtually certain" that human activity is causing the warming. But China objected, so the final result was "very likely.") The panel will propose solutions later this year. It's time to get beyond Kyoto and reach global agreement on a menu of steps to reduce global warming. The precautionary principle dictates that, even in the absence of 100 percent certainty, we now know enough to get moving fast, to do what we can to slow down the warming. Copyright Newsday Inc. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Northender.com (Oyster Bay, N.Y.), Feb. 2, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] TOWER OF DISSENT By Brian Brennan The third public meeting was held last night on a subject that has polarized a substantial portion of the Bayville population. Village Mayor Victoria Siegel and the Village trustees last night allowed representatives of the Nassau County police and fire departments to present their argument that the Village must allow the County to install a new, T-band, digital turnkey radio system on its water tower. The system would be composed of multiple antennas and electromagnetic microwave dishes, as well as a substantial shed at the base of the tower. The audience, assembled in the auditorium of the Bayville Intermediate School, heard from a panel of the proposal's supporters before the floor was opened to questions and comments. The reasons why Proponents of the system insist that it would greatly enhance the communication capabilities of the County's first responders throughout Long Island. It would allow Nassau to have its own unique frequency, they say, an improvement over the current system of sharing a UHF band with municipalities in New Jersey. This, the County claims, has forced its emergency personnel to transmit at levels that do not interfere with co-users but that limit radio traffic capacity. The County also insists that coverage itself would be far more comprehensive and reliable, allowing solid interoperability with all of Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York City, and three miles out into Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Early last month, County Executive Tom Suozzi held a press conference and hit out at local Long Island governments that he claimed were compromising public safety by refusing to allow antennas to be placed on their water towers. Opposition to the antennas stems from fears of the radiation generated by the microwave dishes, especially as the water tower is cattycorner to the Bayville Primary School. First to take the podium was County Police Deputy Inspector Ed Horace. Mr. Horace said that three key points would be illustrated throughout the night: that putting the antennas up will benefit Bayville and all of Nassau County, that Bayville's water tower is critical to the plan to improve coverage throughout Long Island, and that there are absolutely no health risks whatsoever. Also speaking were County Police Commissioner James H. Lawrence, Assistant County Chief Fire Marshall Peter Meade, independent consultant Ron Petersen, and Stephanie Walsh, a project site reviewer for Motorola, which has been awarded the contract to install and operate the system. The Bayville Fire Department submitted a letter read by Mayor Siegel urging support for the proposal. Regardless of whether this particular proposal was judged to be safe or not, the letter said, it was imperative that communications be improved. "After 9/11, those of us in law enforcement took a step back and examined the way we do public security," Commissioner Lawrence told the audience. "I am aware that a lot of you are here because of the things that you have heard. I ask you to just look at the facts." The Commissioner said that the current system, erected in 1982, is inadequate and "partially unsafe" because of its spotty coverage. He called it "disheartening" that it was necessary to invoke memories of 9/11 to underscore the need for improved communications. Many first responders lost their lives that day due to inadequate radio communications, he said. Ron Petersen and Motorola's Stephanie Walsh were there to offer more in-depth analyses of the safety issues. Mr. Petersen has a consulting firm and is also a former chairman of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Initial Committee on Electromagnetic Safety. He is currently secretary of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Study (EMBS) Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR). The panel took pains to convey that there was nothing arbitrary in the selection of Bayville as a necessary site. A team of engineers scouted the island for locations, Ms. Walsh said, and a refusal by Bayville to take part in the project would affect the entire communication chain. She said the sites on which the engineers settled are "absolutely the sites we need", and that, "We simply can't meet the required coverage needs without Bayville." Individuals on both sides of the debate came armed with studies, reports and statistics about the system's safety. Ron Petersen quoted the World Health Organization (WHO), the IEEE and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radio Protection to back up his assurance that the level of radiation generated is less than one-tenth of the maximum allowed by the US Federal Communications Commission and other national agencies. His argument is also supported by the report summarizing an independent study commissioned by the Village and available on the Village website that reads, "The expected increases of electromagnetic radiation levels are small in Bayville, because the energy radiated by the proposed antennas would go far overhead. It would be very weak when it reaches a few people in Mill Neck. There should be no fear of microwave or other Radio Frequency exposure to adults or small children living in Bayville or attending either Bayville school." Mr. Petersen said that it is easy to Google the topic and access a multitude of articles and reports purporting to be from experts that paint a frightening picture of electromagnetic radiation. But documents that withstand the scientific process and peer review, he said, support his argument. Every resident who spoke expressed some degree of disapprobation for the proposal. Some cited studies and documents, the validity of each Mr. Petersen dismissed. Most, however, cited a lack of solid documentation either way. The precautionary principle The EPA and WHO continue to study the possibility of links between electromagnetic radiation and health problems such as developmental difficulties in children and cancer. "These are living documents. If anything is found....then the standard will be changed," Mr. Petersen said. Residents who spoke out at last night's meeting, however, don't want to wait for any if. They would rather operate according to the precautionary principle that is now the rule in several countries and a few American municipalities regarding environmental issues. The principle states -- very roughly -- that where an activity raises concerns about public or environmental health, the burden of proof is on those carrying out the activity, rather than the public. Those who raised their hands to speak at last night's meetings indicated that, to them, the proponents of this plan have not satisfactorily discharged that burden. One resident seemed to sum up the sentiments of the majority when she told the panel, "The bottom line is: you don't know." Several referred to the once-imagined safety of asbestos, tobacco, hormone replacement therapy and the air quality at Ground Zero. One resident presented Mayor Siegel and the Village trustees with a petition containing over 250 signatures urging them to block the proposal. After she had given it to them, the resident said it was "an insult to hide behind the cloak of 9/11 and homeland security." Several expressed concern and support for firefighters and the police, but said that any communications benefits offered by the system did not outweigh the uncertainty. "We have to ask ourselves: is the tradeoff worth it?" said Joseph DiGennaro. Resident Beverly Pacifico took the podium and spoke of taking her school-aged son to a chemo treatment that very day as part of his battle against leukemia. She was one of many who said that no risk to the health of the Village's children was acceptable. Also at issue was the fact that Bayville already had 52 antennas on its water tower, largely belonging to cell phone carriers who pay the village for the space. "I wouldn't be that concerned if there wasn't already so much equipment there. I know from the outside, it looks like we're resisting something that's helping us, but that's really not the case," said Chris Zino, a Bayville resident and volunteer firefighter for Oyster Bay. Mr. Zino questioned the legality of this arrangement, in lieu of a deed dating back to the 1950's that prohibited commercial use of the water tower. Mayor Siegel replied that the Village barred cell phone companies from using the tower for years until being advised by their counsel in 2003 that the clause to which Mr. Zino referred had expired. In answer to a question from resident Mary Pell, the Mayor said that the Village could only legally remove the antennas of companies with which it had contract if it relocated the antennas to another location within the Village. Ms. Pell asked when those contracts expired, and was told by Mayor Siegel that that issue would be looked into. The meeting began at 7:30 and ended promptly at 9:00. When several in the audience called out questions as to whether there would be any more meetings on the subject, Mayor Siegel replied that the vote would be carried out publicly. No date for the vote has been released. Copyright 2006 Northender.com Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: InsideBayArea.com, Feb. 4, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] SYNTHETIC CHEMICALS CAN AFFECT OFFSPRING Scientists believe effects can extend to two generations By Douglas Fischer, staff writer SAN FRANCISCO -- Your ability to reproduce -- and the health of your child and even your grandchildren -- hinges on an exquisitely timed series of chemical reactions controlled by infinitesimally tiny amounts of hormones. You scramble those reactions at your peril, in other words, and last week hundreds of researchers gathered at the University of California, San Francisco, warned society may be doing exactly that with synthetic chemicals. The chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, are found everywhere in our environment: our food, lotions, shampoos, baby bottles, toys, appliances, even the casings encapsulating our medicines. They mimic hormones at levels scientists only recently have been able to measure, and some are active at concentrations of a part-per-trillion or less -- a speck of dirt sullying 55tons of clean laundry. Most worrisome to scientists: In many cases the effect of such pollution on our bodies remains as mysterious as the processes they potentially disrupt. "In the absence of concrete data for many of these chemicals, the precautionary principle should be exercised," said Dr. Linda Guidice, chairwoman of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF [University of California at San Francisco] and the organizer of the reproductive health conference that brought 500 scientists, clinicians and community activists together last week. The list of potential effects, scientists concluded, stretches across every aspect of reproductive and sexual development -- preconception, conception, pregnancy, puberty, menstruation, menopause. Every key developmental stage is driven by a tightly choreographed fluctuation in hormones. A flood of endocrine disrupters, scientists fear, obviates that dance. For those suffering from endometriosis, there's no need to imagine. Wendy Botwin of Oakland was 18 when she felt the first signs: mysterious sickness, massive abdominal pain, irregular periods, crushing headaches, painful sex. Two-and-a-half years passed before a doctor diagnosed endometriosis, a debilitating disease where the tissue lining the uterus appears outside the womb in other parts of the body. Today, at 37, Botwin has been on every type of birth control pill, been advised to get pregnant (she may be infertile) and to have a hysterectomy. One drug sent her into menopause, at age 21. Nothing has worked. She feels certain something in the environment has triggered this. Her father died at 62 of stomach cancer. Her younger sister last year was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She feels, she said, very much like a canary in a coal mine. "I know we've polluted our bodies and the Earth," she said. "The environment is really inside of our bodies. It's not just outside." The science of endocrine disrupters is still controversial. The effects in humans are uncertain. Government panels assessing the weight of the evidence for many of these compounds repeatedly have found no need for concern. But scientists say disturbing gaps remain in our knowledge. - Several studies have shown pesticides suppress fetal testosterone in laboratory animals. But scientists can't fully explain the consequence. They don't even know the role testosterone plays in a baby boy's brain development. - The womb was once thought of as a gatekeeper, shielding the developing baby from harm. No more. A number of contaminants readily traverse the placenta, and others -- synthetic fragrances, for one -- are thought to hold the door open, so to speak. - Female mice exposed in utero to bisphenol-A, a estrogenic additive used to line food cans and make plastic shatterproof, among other things, saw a 40percent increase in chromosomally abnormal eggs, according to one research team. But this is where the science gets murky. In November a European panel investigating the effects of bisphenol-A concluded levels found in the environment pose no threat to our health, despite findings such as Hunt's. Why? Mice and humans process bisphenol-A differently, the panel said. Mice recirculate the compound and appear to be particularly sensitive to such weak estrogens. Humans, in contrast, rapidly transform bisphenol-A in the gut into a compound devoid of hormonal activity, then pass it via urine. Such differences, according to the European Food Safety Administration, "raise considerable doubts about the relevance of any low-dose observations in rodents for humans." There's another example out there, however: DES, or diethylstilbestrol, a wonder drug given with the best of intentions from the 1940s to the 1970s to pregnant women prone to miscarriage. The mothers did fine, but DES ravaged the reproductive tracts of their children. DES did its damage, scientists now know, because it turned hormones on at a time during fetal development when they would normally be silent. That, researchers say, is exactly what bisphenol-A and a soup of other endocrine-disrupting compounds do. Sandra Steingraber, a noted ecologist, author and cancer survivor, echoed Botwin's thoughts on the environment and endometriosis as she told scientists of her experience being pregnant with her daughter, Faith. "We need to start thinking of our reproductive lives as a live musical performance. Our bodies are the piano, but the hands are the environment," she said. "We are nothing less than the receivers of environmental messages. As that message changes, we are changing ourselves." Contact Douglas Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 208-6425. Copyright 2000-2006 ANG Newspapers Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: TheTyee.ca, Feb. 5, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] THE YEARS THE LOCUSTS ATE Too late now? Shame on enemies of action on global warming. By Rafe Mair Thank God it's finally over! The blockbuster environmental report put out last week by a blue ribbon panel of scientists permits no argument except that of a fool. The increasing greenhouse gases and the results will be very serious if we start doing something now, and catastrophic if we don't. In fact, the most important message from this report is that the dramatic consequences we once just feared are already with us and worsening by the day. What a shame. What horrible governmental neglect -- deliberate neglect at that! The years we should have learned and acted, our governments permitted and even encouraged the horrible practices that now threaten the very existence of our species on this planet. This shameful time, the past 25 years, are, as Churchill would likely have called them, the years the locusts ate. Let's look at what happened. The public relations people spent the whole time telling the world that the climate concerns were stuff and nonsense. Exaggerations! Bad science! What was happening either wasn't happening or, if it was, it was just one of Mother Nature's cyclical things that would come and go. Dropping our best defence Public relations people are not hired to pass judgment on how their clients ply their trade. They are hired to put the best possible face on everything they do. I know a bit about it because I briefly did some consulting work, 20 years ago, for a large PR firm. Some of what the flack does is pretty routine stuff and relatively harmless. When, however, they jump the line between true and false, they do enormous harm. Their most effective weapon we, through our politicians, handed to the environment despoilers long ago. We -- our society -- placed the onus of proving harm upon ourselves, not the user. At the same time, our governments [in Canada] took away from us the former policemen in the environment, namely, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the provincial Ministry of Environment. These two agencies still exist but they have been thoroughly politicized, and now they too put the onus of proving harm on the public and in fact shill for the industries they are supposed to monitor! On environment issues, therefore, the public has no friends save themselves and environmental organizations they support. Bring back the precautionary principle The onus of proof must be placed back where it belongs -- on those who would use the environment. Moreover, the onus of proof -- and this is critical -- must be accompanied by the precautionary principle which argues that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the action must not take place. In days gone by, this principle was at least the stated policy of government. While I don't want to belabour a constant issue of mine, the classic breach of the precautionary principle was the farming of Atlantic salmon in B.C. [British Columbia] waters. Put shortly, 15 years ago, when the fish farms came seriously to our coast, there was an abundance of evidence from Norway, Scotland and Ireland demonstrating that it was hugely dangerous to have fish pens near migrating salmonid smolts because the sea lice from these cages would destroy them. Between 1997, the time the NDP [New Democratic Party] government placed a moratorium on Atlantic salmon farms, and 1991, when the Campbell government lifted it, independent science poured forth and unanimously supported the evidence from Norway, Scotland and Ireland. The Campbell government ignored the science, thereby saying "get stuffed" to those who pled the precautionary principle. Flacks versus facts What the removal of the precautionary principle does is play right into the hands of the PR flack because instead of having to defend his client, all he need do is raise doubts, with disinformation as his main weapon. The actions taken by the fish farmers are remarkable examples of how independent science has been downplayed and often ignored. Let me give you one example. After years of denying that lice from fish farms attacked salmon smolts in the Broughton Archipelago, where tiny smolts have to run a gauntlet of millions of sea lice from these cages, the farmers and their buddies in government argued that no one had proved that it was these precise lice that were doing the damage! Even when some fish pens were left fallow during salmon migrations, and there was a bountiful return, the flacks, wonderfully aping the ink fish, raised all manner of silly possibilities as explanations. I only use the fish farm example because it's current in our bailiwick. The shifting of the burden of proof onto the public instead of it remaining on those who would advocate taking the action, is worldwide. We have a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (federal) and a B.C. Environment Ministry both of which have laws to administer which clearly place the burden of proof on those who want to take the action. Yet, instead of enforcing these rules, both ministries, on orders from their political masters, have taken upon themselves the duty of helping the potential spoilers with their licensing requirements, turning a blind eye to their transgressions, and promoting the industry they are supposed to monitor. (In one case, the B.C. government actually returned fines levied against the fish farmers!) We're out of time This may all seem like legalistic nit-picking but it's far from that. The shifting of the burden of proof away from those using the environment has meant that the work governments are supposed to do as policemen of the environment not only doesn't happen any more, but worse, the government "policemen" are on the side of the despoiler! What has all this to do with global warming? A hell of a lot. For if the governments are going to support obvious causes of global warming and other environmental degradation, it will fall to the people -- not those they elect to look after their interests -- and environmental groups they may support to demonstrate the harm. The only way we can tackle both the big problems and the lesser ones is for governments to place the onus of disproving harm squarely on the user. Given the recent history of both the federal and provincial governments, that won't be easy. But, unless we put the burden of proof where it belongs, we have zero chance of making headway in our long delayed fight for our planet's survival. ============== Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. You can read previous ones here. Mair's website is www.rafeonline.com and his latest book, Over the Mountains, is at your bookstore...or it damn well should be. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: OhmyNews International (South Korea), Feb. 3, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] NANOTECHNOLOGY: THE NEXT BATTLEGROUND? Fight may be brewing between rampant capitalism and concerned citizens By John Horvath Nanotechnology is a manufacturing technology on a very small scale. The particles used in nanotechnology research or manufacturing are invisible to the human eye, one nanometer being one billionth of a meter. A human hair is 80,000 nanometers wide. Although nanotechnology is still very much in its infancy, already there are concerns over the widespread use of the technology. Furthermore, apprehension isn't restricted to one field, but covers areas such as human health, environmental impacts, effects on international trade and developing countries, and the possible proliferation in armaments. The concerns expressed by those wary of nanotechnology are very similar to those expressed by critics of biotechnology, namely that we just don't know what the impacts will be. It is this lack of knowledge that has led some to invoke the precautionary principle and call for a moratorium on certain aspects of nanotechnology use and research. Although most people don't realize it, we are already surrounded by products developed using nanotechnology. Face creams and sun tan lotions are two examples, and there are claims that such creams, which are able to pass through the skin, are potentially mutagenic and cancerous. Other products include such things as self-cleaning trousers and crack-resistant paint. Nanoparticles can pass into the body by three means: through inhalation, ingestion, and transdermally. It's not so much what nanoparticles are made of as much as their size. Toxicity increases as the size of the particle decreases. Another worry is where the particles get to within the body. It's already well known from pharmaceutical companies that putting a drug on the back of a nanoparticle can increase the delivery of the drug to the brain. The problem is that if a nanoparticle can get to the brain, then it can also get to other sensitive parts of the body, such as the kidneys, liver, or even foetus. Aside from this, some are also worried about the military implications of nanotechnology. Research is already being conducted by the military in several countries; indeed, military research into the use of nanotechnology has been going on since the 1980s. Recently, there has been a marked increase in such research activity, particularly in the U.S. Researchers in the U.S. are currently working on a battle suit that would protect soldiers from radiation and also act as a compress when a soldier is injured. Other innovations include the facilitation of surveillance, bombs the size of a pen that could flatten a whole city, and, ultimately, the manipulation of the human body to make soldiers more stress-tolerant, to repair injuries more effectively, and to speed up reactions. What is of concern to many is that once such technology has been used by the military, the transfer to the civilian sector will be a natural step. As a result of all this, some scientists are calling for a slow deceleration of nanotechnology research in order to buy time for an international agreement on limits to such technology. Some experts claim that governments are currently running around five years behind the times in terms of assessing the potential impacts. Not only this, but the ways in which researchers handle nanoparticles is justification in itself for slowing down and taking stock of nanotechnology. While scientists in South Africa handle nanoparticles as if they were dealing with the AIDS virus, other researchers, including some in Europe, wear only a "Japanese subway mask" as protection. As one observer put it, "this is like wearing a volleyball net to keep out mosquitoes." In addition to this, there is the broader socio-economic implications of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology will mean that the raw materials that we currently consider to be essential will change, and that this will have a dramatic effect on developing countries, many of which rely on the export of raw materials. Additionally, the effect on developing countries is such that some countries are adapting themselves to nanotechnology as a means for development. This, in turn, creates a situation where the basic needs of society are brushed aside in favor of high technology centers. As in other areas of science and technology, such as biotechnology and various areas of computer technology, namely software development, there are also concerns about the impact of intellectual property, as it is conceivable that a single patent may have dominance over many industrial sectors since it could cover the fundamentals of all matters. To this extent, a collusion of interest between industry and government must be avoided. Hence, government policy mustn't be composed by small groups of experts and bureaucrats, but include the general public as well. Moreover, policy makers need to ask the right questions to ensure that big business doesn't circumvent regulation. The Big Attraction Although there are many opponents and critics of nanotechnology, not everyone is so skeptical of the new technology. Some even see it as a way of rectifying present enigmas, such as pollution. Because of the scale of the particles in question, it's envisaged that future applications could allow the removal of the smallest contaminants, including greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some point out that the abandonment of broad areas of technology research, such as nanotechnology, will only push such research underground, where development would continue unimpeded by ethics and regulation. In such a situation, it would be the less stable and less responsible practitioners (for example, terrorists) who would have all the expertise. To this extent, many who reject calls for a moratorium on nanotechnology note that technology has always been a double-edged sword. Moreover, they argue that forgoing fields such as nanotechnology is untenable. Nanotechnology is simply the inevitable end result of a persistent trend toward miniaturization that pervades all of technology. It is far from a single centralized effort but is being pursued by a myriad of projects with many diverse goals. Along these lines, the European Commission (EC) has high hopes for nanotechnology. For most politicians, the possible benefits of the technology far outweigh any potential hazards. At best, the precautionary principle is sidestepped by a promise to look into an issue in more depth. For instance, the U.K. government recognized the need for further research in this area and promptly requested a study on the potential benefits and problems of nanotechnology. A report was subsequently released entitled "The social and economic challenges of nanotechnology," prepared by the U.K.'s economic and social research council. The authors of the report maintain their aim is to "stimulate debate" with the paper's publication. Three areas are highlighted as central to this debate: the governance of technological change; social learning and the evaluation of risk and opportunity under uncertainty; and the role of new technology in ameliorating or accentuating inequity and economic divides. Yet by carefully observing the language of the U.K. report, it's clear that the British government's move is more of an exercise in spin management, with the aim to highlight the benefits and downplay the concerns. While the report is useful in that it provides a general overview to what nanotechnology is, it nevertheless skims over present day concerns as something which belongs far out into the distant future (and thus the problem of other generations), this despite the fact that many of the worries are over applications and products already on the market. An artificial split is made between current nanotechnology research and applications (i.e., those which may be possible in the medium term) and those which may emerge in the long term. Current applications are predominantly limited to advances in well-established areas of applied science, such as material science and colloid technology. Medium-term applications are likely to focus on overcoming barriers to technological progress, while long term applications are seen as more difficult to predict, and are thus viewed as the focus of most concern by critics. As with biotechnology, what the "debate" on nanotechnology actually represents is an overall shift in the framework of European science and technology, in where research is moving away from knowledge generation to one of income generation. The two are mutually exclusive, as the pursuit of profit means patents and intellectual property rights put limits on the free flow of information. While competition may mean the production of cheaper goods, it also means withholding vital knowledge for fear that your rival may end up making money off your ideas. This is the enigma that Eurocrats have been struggling to overcome. Although capable of producing excellence in terms of research, Europe is finding it hard to capitalize on it. While the EU shows a creditable performance in some fields (such as medical research, chemistry, aeronautics or telecommunications), it is falling ever further behind in biotechnology and the information technologies. Overall, Europe's performance in terms of trade in high technology is continuing to deteriorate: its trade deficit in this field increased from 9 billion euro in 1995 to 48 billion in 2000. For the EC, a clear indicator of this competitive weakness is the falling share of patent registrations of European origin, whether on the European or the U.S. market. But there is one ray of hope: in the nanotechnologies, a sector with a particularly promising future, Europe is almost level with the United States in terms of publications and patents. Thus, the only way to stop the overall decline of Europe's performance of trade in high technology is to increase European investment in research, with the ultimate aim of turning knowledge into profit. For many Eurocrats, the E.U. had already lost out in the bitter harvest over biotechnology; they now feel that they must make sure that the same doesn't happen with nanotechnology. Copyright 2007 Ohmynews Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: DefenseNews.com, Feb. 2, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] POLES, CZECHS LIKELY TO ACCEPT MISSILE SHIELD: ANALYSTS By Chris Johnson, Reuters, Warsaw Despite fierce public opposition, center-right governments in Poland and the Czech Republic are determined to push through plans to site a U.S. missile defense system and thus tie Washington's interests to their region. Although the system -- with a radar station in the Czech Republic and up to 10 ground-based ballistic rockets, or interceptors, in Poland -- would offer no protection now to either country, Warsaw and Prague are playing a longer game. Analysts and diplomats say both center-right governments in the former communist states see the U.S. system as a way of locking in a long- term strategic relationship with Washington. And despite polls showing deep public doubt, and strident political opposition, both administrations believe they can get the plans through parliament provided some concessions are met. "The missile shield is viewed as a long-term insurance policy for times of acute instability," said Eugeniusz Smollar, president of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw. "The argument is that if the United States has a major base here, it will view this territory as special and will therefore have a much stronger motivation to look after its security." The proposed central European defense system would be able to detect and shoot down missiles carrying nuclear, bacteriological or chemical warheads, which the Pentagon says could be fired from Iran from 2011 or 2012. The system would be part of a multi-billion-dollar scheme to counter "rogue regimes", such as North Korea. Up to 25 interceptors are to be installed this year in the United States. LONG-TERM RISK While neither Warsaw nor Prague sees threats now from either Russia or Iran, they are using a precautionary principle. At the back of their minds, officials say the two countries are worried about a possible long-term risk from their former Soviet masters in Russia, which could be several decades away, and about potential future missiles from the Middle East. The missile defense plans have angered Russia, which sees it as an attempt to change the strategic balance in Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the plans on Jan. 31 and said Russia would come up with a "highly effective" response. Iran, Putin told a news conference in Moscow, did not possess long- range missiles, only medium-range devices. "Our specialists don't think that anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe are aimed against terrorists or Iran. Can you really fight terrorists with ballistic missiles?" he said. Tim Williams, head of European security analysis at the Royal United Services Institute, said there was "lingering concern about Russia" in Poland and the Czech Republic. "This system would be no use against any concerted attack (from Russia). Russia has hundreds of missiles and could easily overwhelm both countries. "But (Warsaw and Prague) feel it binds them to Washington for the long term, and in that it has extra appeal," he added. Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski is due to discuss the U.S. proposal with all political parties next week, officials said on Jan. 31, and formal negotiations with Washington are likely to begin in the middle of February. Williams said a calculation that Warsaw and Prague were among the most likely governments to accept the system was one of the key reasons they were selected by Washington. The central European countries also fall in a convenient geographic band, far enough north for interceptors to shoot down any incoming missiles aimed at Europe, and close enough to most other European states to offer them protection under the shield. VISAS AND PATRIOTS An opinion poll this week showed most Poles oppose placing the missiles on Polish soil, and Czech public opinion is also hostile, comments by political parties in Prague suggest. The left-wing Czech opposition Social Democrats said on Jan. 31 party members were leaning against hosting the radar. "This is going to be a hotly debated issue and it won't be easy to push it through," said Jiri Pehe, head of the New York University in Prague. "Now it is 50:50 in parliament." But a waiver of visas for Czech citizens visiting the United States could swing public opinion in favor of the scheme, analysts say, and politicians from all major Czech parties have said it would underpin the country's long-term security. The ruling Civic Democrats back the idea in general. "I am deeply convinced that locating the base (here) will raise the safety of the Czech Republic and its citizens," Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said in parliament on Jan. 31. In Poland, the plan has raised concern among junior partners of the coalition government who have suggested the missiles could make the country a target of terrorism. But this objection can probably be overcome, diplomats say, if the ruling conservative Law and Justice party can get U.S. help to place advanced medium-range Patriot batteries in Poland to counter any risk of attack from rogue missiles. 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