Rachel's Precaution Reporter #78

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2007.........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Toxic Shock Threatens Investors in Asia
  A new report on the chemical industry in Asia says adopting the
  precautionary principle could create a competitive advantage for
  companies that need to distinguish themselves from the laggards who
  are harming the industry's reputation.
N.Y. Governor Spitzer Proposes A Pollution Prevention Institute
  N.Y. Governor Spitzer's proposed Pollution Prevention Institute
  would recruit nonprofits and academics to set up an institute to
  provide technical assistance to businesses to cut their use of toxic
  chemicals -- such as solvents used to clean equipment -- when there
  are less toxic alternatives.
Radiation Fear at Schools
  Exposing young children to increased electromagnetic radiation from
  computer networks is controversial in England.
Parabens in Cosmetics: Precaution Makes Sense
  "So, when scientists say that more studies should be done on
  parabens, especially on long-term effects, I like to exercise the
  'precautionary principle' because there are options for products
  without parabens."
Plan Colombia's Environmental Impacts, Report to U.S. Congress
  "Given the number of unanswered questions about the safety of the
  [pesticide] spraying, and considering the precautionary principle and
  the international obligation not to cause impacts to the territories
  of other States, the Colombian government should halt spraying
The Problems in Modeling Nature, with Its Unruly Natural Tendencies
  Mathematical models often provide the basis for numerical risk
  assessments, which are government and industry's main tools for
  assuring the public that chemicals, pesticides, food additives,
  biotechnology, nanotechnoology and radiation are all "safe." But
  mathematical models are often based on faulty data and assumptions.


From: Environmental Finance, Feb. 15, 2007
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London, February 15: Investors have been warned that an estimated 70%
of listed companies in Asia -- excluding Japan -- are exposed to risks
associated with toxic chemicals.

The Association for Sustainable & Responsible Investment in Asia
(ASrIA), which made this estimation based on the FTSE Asia ex-Japan
All Cap index, has warned in a report that the use of toxic
chemicals dangerous to human health and the environment is a "classic
sleeper issue" for Asian companies.

"While product scandals and groundwater problems are rising, the
broader economic and social implications for human health have largely
been ignored by policymakers and the financial community," the report

ASrIA puts this down to government failure to put in place policies on
chemicals, or effectively police existing policies. With a "policy
vacuum" across much of Asia, developments are driven by EU and, to a
lesser extent, US legislation on chemicals safety.

But companies are also failing to act on, or embrace, the concept of
the precautionary principle to competitive advantage -- which is
behind tough new chemicals legislation in the EU.

"Internet bulletin boards in China have become a fast-paced source of
consumer views on products. While the reports are not always correct,
they can create a high-speed viral response which can dismantle a
company's brand equity in a matter of days," the report warns.
"Similar patterns are evident in Korea and Japan where product quality
problems are frequently raised first on the web before making their
way to the traditional media."

In addition to threatening investors in Asian companies, this
situation also affects US and European firms with supply chains in the
region, the report warns.

Dubbing the supply chain "brittle and unprepared to address many of
the emerging toxic chemical issues", the report says: "In part this
reflects the history of limited local market regulation, but it is
also a by-product of the punishing economics of the supply chain where
new, higher cost solutions can be undercut by lower cost producers."

In particular, as the supply chain extends its reaches into more
remote parts of China, it has become ever more difficult to police.
The report says that it is common practice for suppliers to substitute
locally-available chemicals for those specified by the buyer "on the
view that the end consumers will not be able to detect the

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From: Associated Press, Feb. 2, 2007
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By The Associated Press

ALBANY -- New Yorkers would face deposits on more beverage bottles, a
new office would address global warming and the state would continue
acquiring open space -- a hallmark of the Pataki administration --
under the environmental agenda proposed this week by Gov. Eliot

The new Democratic governor's budget, released Wednesday, contains
almost $1.17 billion for the state Department of Environmental
Conservation for 2007-2008, up $47 million or 4 percent. It proposes
$25 million in revenue increases from non-carbonated bottle deposits
the first year, and almost $10 million more from industrial permits
for pollution discharges and other measures.

Gov. George Pataki "did some good things in the environment,
especially with land," Willie Janeway of the Nature Conservancy said
of the three-term Republican governor who cut deals to protect more
than 1 million acres from development through conservation easements
or purchases. "Spitzer's been talking about taking it one step further
and really addressing the complex environmental problems."

Janeway, who also chairs a coalition of more than 200 environmental
groups, said problems include sprawl, climate change, invasive plant
and animal species and protecting farmland and drinking water

The hot button is expanding the 25-year-old bottle law to cover water,
juice, iced tea and sports drinks. A nickel deposit is now required on
beer and soda cans and bottles to ensure they get recycled, .

The proposal drew immediate opposition from a business coalition
called New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, which said the price for
each bottle and can sold in stores would rise by about 15 cents.

"Expanding the deposit law is simply about raising money for the state
off of our grocery bills," said James Rogers, president of the Food
Industry Alliance of New York State, on behalf of the coalition.

Judith Enck, Spitzer's chief environmental adviser, said that group's
estimate doesn't make sense. "The only justifiable price increase
would be 1.5 cents per container," she said.

Under current law, grocers keep a handling fee of 2 cents per
container and the bottling companies keep unclaimed deposits on beer,
soda and wine coolers, the beverages that account for about 75 percent
of the market. Under the proposal, groceries would keep 3.5 cents, and
unclaimed nickel deposits would go to the state -- an estimated $100
million or more a year that would be used for state environmental
programs starting next Jan. 1.

A similar measure passed the Assembly the past two years and, despite
some Senate Republican sponsors, was blocked by Senate Republican
Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, said Laura Haight of the New York Public
Interest Research Group. There would still be exceptions for milk,
baby formula and wine in the proposed new law. "The money is nice, but
what is really of value is it produces clean communities," she said.

On Wednesday, Bruno had called the expanded bottle bill "more than a
little fee," adding some estimates show it would generate up to $200
million as an "additional tax" on people who drink bottled and canned
beverages. "So we're going to look at that very closely because we
don't want any new taxes .. However, I'm not dead set against
anything. We're open to explore whatever makes sense in the context of
negotiating a new budget."

Matthew Maguire, spokesman for the Business Council of New York State,
said his group is concerned about new industrial fees and has
reservations about the bottle bill. "Whether you call it a tax or a
fee, any new cost imposed on facilities is a concern in a state where
businesses are already struggling to cope with high costs," he said.

The executive budget proposes adding 109 positions for a DEC staff of
3,480, including a new Climate Change Office with a staff of 12.
During the election campaign, Spitzer said global warming was the
major issue facing his generation. The DEC currently has 1.5 staffers
working on the issue and a proposed rule carried over from the Pataki
administration for participating in a regional initiative to limit
carbon dioxide from power plants and auction off greenhouse gas

That program is to start in 2009, Enck said. Also, New York is going
to follow California in issuing a regulation for cuts in vehicle
emissions of carbon dioxide, which was also proposed by the Pataki
administration, she said.

"We're watching that like hawks" for congressional attempts at federal
pre-emption, Enck said.

The Spitzer budget's proposed Pollution Prevention Institute would
recruit nonprofits and academics to set up an institute to provide
technical assistance to businesses to cut their use of toxic chemicals
- such as solvents used to clean equipment -- when there are less
toxic alternatives, Enck said. "It's completely voluntary for
companies, and we think it's going to improve their bottom line," she

The budget would rise from $50 million to $58 million for land
acquisition, including closing some of Pataki's easement deals, Enck
said. "And we want to do more land acquisitions," she said.

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From: Muswell Hill Journal 24 (London, England), Feb. 15, 2007
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Youngsters at some Muswell Hill primary schools could have their
health put at risk by new technology that hasn't been proven as safe,
it is claimed.

Controversy continues to surround the possible dangers of using
wireless internet connections in primary school classrooms -- yet one
school has had the technology for years and another is to make the
leap in the near future.

Tetherdown primary school, in Grand Avenue, was one of the first
schools to install the technology -- which allows laptop computers to
link to the internet wirelessly by using radio waves to beam
information back and forth.

And Coldfall primary school, Coldfall Avenue, is set to follow soon.

But there is still debate over how much electromagnetic radiation a
young child can safely be exposed to.

Current advice from the Health Protection Agency says increases in
sensitivity "may occur in infants and children", but there is "no firm
evidence" of exposure to such radiation having adverse health effects.

But a number of schools in the UK have dismantled their "wi-fi"
networks after pressure from parents, and Austria's Salzburg public
health department is one of many official bodies to have issued
warnings about its effects, having advised all schools and nurseries
not to install wi-fi at all.

Alasdair Philips, scientific and technical director of lobby group
Powerwatch, said:

"It strikes us as completely irresponsible to be putting these in
schools -- particularly primary schools -- without the monitoring
equipment to see if this is a sensible thing to do.

"It just seems so unnecessary. I can't see the great advantage of
filling the whole school with radiation.

"The radiation levels are obviously weaker than from a mobile phone
mast, but on the other hand you are sitting right on top of them.

"We are looking at connecting it with chronic fatigue, attention
deficit disorder, headaches and more."

Sarah Purdy, whose children attend Tetherdown, argues the system
hasn't been proved safe and has no educational benefits.

She said: "They just do it because it's new technology, but no-one has
thought of beaming microwaves at children all day long.

"Why are we risking our children's lives when cabled computer systems
are quite possible?

"The precautionary principle should prevail -- we should not expose
children unless this system is tested and proved safe, which it has
not been to date. We have no option and our children are being

Tetherdown has the system installed in its classrooms, but its head
teacher Evelyn Pittman said: "We have had a lot of communication with
parents and every aspect of the issue has been looked at, and I don't
think it needs to be something that is discussed outside of that."

Plans are afoot to install wi-fi in Coldfall Wood Primary, but Carol
O'Brien, head teacher at St James C of E Primary, Woodside Avenue,
said her school didn't have wi-fi.

Muswell Hill Primary and Our Lady of Muswell Hill Primary schools did
not respond before the Journal went to press.

Copyright 2007 Archant Regional

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From: Summit (Colorado) Daily News, Feb. 14, 2007
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By Eartha Steward, High Country Conservation Center

Just because I pride myself on being (and feeling like) a natural
woman doesn't mean that I don't enjoy my share of lotions, shampoos
and other beauty products. I may not shave my legs in the winter, but
in our mountain climate I apply gobs of lotions year-round.

Recently I read an article that recommended avoiding synthetic
ingredients called parabens that are found in lotions and beauty
products. At that point I didn't quite understand what parabens were,
but I was confident that the products I use don't include anything
that warranted a warning. So I decided to take a look on the back of
my favorite 'natural' sunscreen.

The sunscreen said it was "Chemical Free," so when I read the
ingredients I was surprised to find methylparaben listed on the label.
Confusion set in and I thought to myself, "So what ingredients are
truly "natural?"

In the shampoo, lotion and makeup aisles I notice products labeled
"natural" or "organic." Those products always appeal to me, so after
reading the article I started to turn them around and read the labels.
I was confronted with names like "methyl-,propyl-, butyl-, and ethyl-
parabens" or the even harder to pronounce name "imidazolidinyl urea."
On bottle after bottle there were names I couldn't pronounce, and I'm
the kind of person that feels anything I can't pronounce shouldn't be
put on or in my body.

Still, I didn't quite understand what parabens were, so I did a little
research. Parabens are a widely used preservative in cosmetics and
lotions, especially those containing botanical ingredients. The
parabens used in lotions and makeup are synthetically produced, though
one of them, methylparaben, can occur naturally.

The concern about parabens is that they mimic estrogen. Higher levels
of estrogen may cause breast cancer or reproductive problems. While
there have been studies done on parabens that link them to breast
cancer, more research is still needed for solid scientific evidence.
And most conclusions lead to the need for more studies.

So, when scientists say that more studies should be done on parabens,
especially on long-term effects, I like to exercise the "precautionary
principle" because there are options for products without parabens.

One product, recently recommended to me by local eco-mama Caroline
Foley, is Aubrey Organics sun care products. She had done her research
because Aubrey Organics sun care products do not contain strange
ingredients and work wonderfully for protection against our mountain
sun. Plus, Aubrey Organics is a completely paraben-free company and
has been since the 1970s.

The new Vitamin Cottage in Dillon offers almost the full line of
Aubrey products and you can find more about the company at www.aubrey-
organics.com. A couple other Aubrey favorites, used by Eartha's
Angels, are the calendula deodorant spray and the chamomile shampoo.

But if you're looking to support a local company, check out MyChelle
Dermaceuticals, which is based in Frisco. MyChelle products are also
available at the Vitamin Cottage or can be found online at
www.mychelleusa.com. And MyChelle products along with Aubrey products,
are never tested on animals.

Testing on animals is another important issue that should be
considered when choosing a beauty product. Personally, it doesn't make
me feel very good to think about bunnies being mistreated just so a
new shampoo can be made. Viable alternatives for testing ingredients
are available, without the use of animals.

A great resource for a list of hundreds of companies that don't test
on animals is www.caringconsumers.com. As consumers we have the choice
to say no to companies that test on animals because, as I mentioned
before, there are viable alternative testing methods. Check out Caring
Consumer's list of companies that do test on animals as well and take
a moment to write a letter. Its sounds super-grassroots but it really
does work because a good company will value feedback from its

So, next time you reach for that delicious lotion that helps cure your
mountain climate dry skin, take a look at the ingredients on the back.
If you are looking at a favorite product you've been using for a while
and you notice something you're not quite sure about, take a moment to
research it. Or, be totally wild and try something new. By supporting
companies that use truly natural, healthy ingredients and that are
cruelty-free, we can set a higher standard for beauty products in

Who knows, maybe someday you'll see Eartha Steward on a glossy
magazine cover modeling the latest all natural, totally organic
lipstick brand. Well, only if the magazine is printed on 100 percent
post-consumer paper, of course.


Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Holly Loff, and Beth Orstad,
consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country
Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to
waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community.
Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you're
wearing stylie shoes.

Submit questions to Eartha at recycle@colorado.net with Ask Eartha as
the subject or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506,
Frisco, CO 80443.

Summit Daily -- 40 West Main Street -- Frisco, CO 80443
P.O. Box 329 ** Frisco, CO 80443-0329
E-mail: news@summitdaily.com

Copyright Copyright 2007 summitdaily.com

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From: Earthjustice, Feb. 14, 2007
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Aerial herbicide spraying not proven safe for the environment

Oakland, Calif./Mexico City, Mexico -- In December, the Colombian
government violated a bilateral accord with Ecuador by spraying a
mixture of herbicides intended to destroy coca crops within 10
kilometers of the Ecuadorian border. To justify the spraying, Colombia
relied on studies by a team from the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control
Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS),
claiming that the spray mixture is safe. However, an independent
review of CICAD's recent studies, released to members of the U.S.
Congress today, shows that the pesticide mixture being sprayed has
not, in fact, been proven safe for the environment, and that Ecuador
has substantial cause to oppose the spraying.

According to the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense
(AIDA), the first CICAD Environmental and Human Health Assessment of
the Aerial Spray Program for Coca and Poppy Control in Colombia,
released in 2005, did not assess many of the greatest potential
ecological and human health risks posed by the aerial eradication
program in Colombia. Because of these omissions and the potential
environmental risk of the spraying, the U.S. Congress requested
further studies to better assess whether the mixture is truly safe for
the environment.

Preliminary results from the follow-up studies, released in August
2006, show that the mixture is indeed potentially harmful to the
environment, and particularly to amphibians -- the spray mixture
killed 50 percent of the amphibians exposed in less than 96 hours.
According to Earthjustice scientist and AIDA's Program Director Anna
Cederstav, "Contrary to what is argued by the government, this study
shows sufficient cause for concern to suspend the sprayings due to
potential environmental impacts, especially considering that Colombia
has the second highest amphibian biodiversity in the world and the
most threatened amphibian species."

Many other key questions about the environmental impacts of the
spraying also remain unanswered, despite the U.S. Congressional
mandate to conduct the studies. For example, the State Department has
not provided adequate information about the location of and risk to
sensitive water bodies and has done nothing to address whether other
threatened species are likely to be harmed. Without these
determinations, the claim by the Colombian government that it is safe
to spray along the Ecuadorian border is misinformed.

"Given the number of unanswered questions about the safety of the
spraying, and considering the precautionary principle and the
international obligation not to cause impacts to the territories of
other States, the Colombian government should halt spraying
immediately, and instead implement more effective and environmentally
safe alternatives for coca eradication," said Astrid Puentes, AIDA's
Legal Director.

Read AIDA's report about the omissions of the original CICAD studies

Read AIDA's critique of the follow-up studies

Read more information about AIDA's work on Plan Colombia


Anna Cederstav, AIDA (510) 550-6700, acederstav@aida-americas.org
Astrid Puentes, AIDA (5255) 52120141, apuentes@aida-americas.org

Earthjustice was founded as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in 1971

Earthjustice: 426 17th Street, Oakland, CA 94612 1.800.584.6460

Copyright 2007 Earthjustice

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From: New York Times, Feb. 20, 2007
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By Cornelia Dean

When coastal engineers decide whether to dredge sand and pump it onto
an eroded beach, they use mathematical models to predict how much sand
they will need, when and where they must apply it, the rate it will
move and how long the project will survive in the face of coastal
storms and erosion.

Orrin H. Pilkey, a coastal geologist and emeritus professor at Duke,
recommends another approach: just dredge up a lot of sand and dump it
on the beach willy-nilly. This "kamikaze engineering" might not last
very long, he says, but projects built according to models do not
usually last very long either, and at least his approach would not
lull anyone into false mathematical certitude.

Now Dr. Pilkey and his daughter Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, a geologist in
the Washington State Department of Geology, have expanded this view
into an overall attack on the use of computer programs to model
nature. Nature is too complex, they say, and depends on too many
processes that are poorly understood or little monitored -- whether
the process is the feedback effects of cloud cover on global warming
or the movement of grains of sand on a beach.

Their book, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't
Predict the Future, originated in a seminar Dr. Pilkey organized at
Duke to look into the performance of mathematical models used in
coastal geology. Among other things, participants concluded that beach
modelers applied too many fixed values to phenomena that actually
change quite a lot. For example, "assumed average wave height," a
variable crucial for many models, assumes that all waves hit the beach
in the same way, that they are all the same height and that their
patterns will not change over time. But, the authors say, that's not
the way things work.

Also, modelers' formulas may include coefficients (the authors call
them "fudge factors") to ensure that they come out right. And the
modelers may not check to see whether projects performed as predicted.

Eventually, the seminar participants widened the project, concluding
that erroneous assumptions, fudge factors and the reluctance to check
predictions against unruly natural outcomes produce models with, as
the authors put it, "no demonstrable basis in nature." Among other
problems, they cite much-modeled but nevertheless collapsed North
Atlantic fishing stocks, poisonous pools unexpectedly produced by open
pit mining, and invasive plants and animals that routinely outflank
their modelers.

Two issues, the authors say, illustrate other problems with modeling.
One is climate change, in which, they say, experts' justifiable
caution about model uncertainties can encourage them to ignore
accumulating evidence from the real world. The other is the movement
of nuclear waste through an underground storage site at Yucca Mountain
in Nevada, not because it has failed -- it has yet to be built -- but
because they say it is unreasonable to expect accurate predictions of
what will happen far into the future -- in this extreme case, tens or
even hundreds of thousands of years from now.

Along the way, Dr. Pilkey and Ms. Pilkey-Jarvis describe and explain a
host of modeling terms, including quantitative and qualitative models
(models that seek to answer precise questions with more or less
precise numbers, as against models that seek to discern environmental

They also discuss concepts like model sensitivity -- the analysis of
parameters included in a model to see which ones, if changed, are most
likely to change model results.

But, the authors say it is important to remember that model
sensitivity assesses the parameter's importance in the model, not
necessarily in nature. If a model itself is "a poor representation of
reality," they write, "determining the sensitivity of an individual
parameter in the model is a meaningless pursuit."

Given the problems with models, should we abandon them altogether?
Perhaps, the authors say. Their favored alternative seems to be
adaptive management, in which policymakers may start with a model of
how a given ecosystem works, but make constant observations in the
field, altering their policies as conditions change. But that approach
has drawbacks, among them requirements for assiduous monitoring,
flexible planning and a willingness to change courses in midstream.
For practical and political reasons, all are hard to achieve.

Besides, they acknowledge, people seem to have such a powerful desire
to defend policies with formulas (or "fig leaves," as the authors call
them), that managers keep applying them, long after their utility has
been called into question.

So the authors offer some suggestions for using models better. We
could, for example, pay more attention to nature, monitoring our
streams, beaches, forests or fields to accumulate information on how
living things and their environments interact. That kind of data is
crucial for models. Modeling should be transparent. That is, any
interested person should be able to see and understand how the model
works -- what factors it weighs heaviest, what coefficients it
includes, what phenomena it leaves out, and so on. Also, modelers
should say explicitly what assumptions they make.

And instead of demanding to know exactly how high seas will rise or
how many fish will be left in them or what the average global
temperature will be in 20 years, they argue, we should seek to discern
simply whether seas are rising, fish stocks are falling and average
temperatures are increasing. And we should couple these models with
observations from the field. Models should be regarded as producing
"ballpark figures," they write, not accurate impact forecasts.

"If we wish to stay within the bounds of reality we must look to a
more qualitative future," the authors write, "a future where there
will be no certain answers to many of the important questions we have
about the future of human interactions with the earth."

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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
  provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
  principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- 
  please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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