Rachel's Precaution Reporter #82

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

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

The Madison Declaration on Mercury Pollution
  Scientists call for worldwide public warning about the dangers of
  eating mercury-contaminated fish: "Methylmercury exposure now
  constitutes a public health problem in most regions of the world."
Toxins on the Menu
  Victoria [British Columbia] member of parliament Denise Savoie
  says it is hard to trust the argument that there are "safe
  levels" for mercury and other contaminants. "Is there any safe level
  for things like that?" she asks.
Victoria Takes Sides Against Residents in Power-Line Battle
  In Canada, indigenous people have gone to court to try to stop a
  high-voltage power line using precautionary arguments -- but they are
  being betrayed by the government of British Columbia.
Op-Ed: Big Cypress Threat Goes Beyond Panthers
  This op-ed says the National Park Service management principles
  embody something close to the precautionary principle. We have
  searched the web for these management principles but so far have come
  up empty. Can any of our readers help us find them?
Op-Ed: Alleviating Your Toxic Body Burden
  "Under the rubric of 'healthy until proven dangerous,' the chemical
  industry has been allowed to insert itself into our biological
  essence, dismantling the basic division between the synthetic and the
  natural world. As much as it sounds like Philip K. Dick's Blade
  Runner, the constructed world no longer stops where our skin
USA: Coalition Urges Congress to Oppose Open Ocean Aquaculture
  "Our [U.S.] government's priority should be ocean and fisheries
  protection, as pursuant to the United Nations Food and Agriculture
  Organisation Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which calls
  for adherence to the precautionary principle," said Paula Terrel of
  the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.


From: U.S. Geological Survey, Mar. 8, 2007
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Madison, Wisc. -- The health risks posed by mercury contaminated fish
is sufficient to warrant issuing a worldwide general warning to the
public -- especially children and women of childbearing age -- to be
careful about how much and which fish they eat. That is one of the key
findings comprising "The Madison Declaration on Mercury Pollution"
published today in a special issue of the international science
journal Ambio.

Developed at the Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a
Global Pollutant last August in Madison, Wis., the declaration is a
synopsis of the latest scientific knowledge about the danger posed by
mercury pollution. It presents 33 principal findings from five
synthesis papers prepared by the world's leading mercury scientists
and published in the same issue of Ambio. The declaration and
supporting papers summarize what is currently known about the sources
and movement of mercury in the atmosphere, the socioeconomic and
health effects of mercury pollution on human populations, and its
effects on the world's fisheries and wildlife.

Five other major findings in the declaration were:

** On average, three times more mercury is falling from the sky today
than before the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago as a result of the
increasing use of mercury and industrial emissions.

** The uncontrolled use of mercury in small-scale gold mining is
contaminating thousands of sites around the world, posing long-term
health risks to an estimated 50 million inhabitants of mining regions.
These activities alone contribute more than 10 percent of the mercury
in Earth's atmosphere attributable to human activities today.

** Little is known about the behavior of mercury in marine ecosystems
and methylmercury in marine fish, the ingestion of which is the
primary way most people at all levels of society worldwide are exposed
to this highly toxic form of mercury.

** Methylmercury exposure now constitutes a public health problem in
most regions of the world.

Methylmercury levels in fish-eating birds and mammals in some parts of
the world are reaching toxic levels, which may lead to population
declines in these species and possibly in fish populations as well.
"The policy implications of these findings are clear," said James
Wiener, a Wisconsin Distinguished Professor at the University of
Wisconsin-La Crosse who served as technical chair for last summer's
conference. "The declaration and detailed analyses presented in the
five supporting papers clearly show that effective national and
international policies are needed to combat this global problem."

Published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Ambio
(www.ambio.kva.se) is widely recognized as an important international
forum for debate on scientific, social, economic and cultural issues
affecting the human environment.

Wiener said the Madison Declaration summarizes a year-long effort by
many of the world's leading mercury scientists, assembled into four
expert panels, to review and synthesize the major mercury science
findings. Every member of all four scientific panels endorsed the
declaration, he said. Wiener added that all 1,150 participants at the
conference were invited to express their confidence in the experts'
findings, and the vast majority of those who did so agreed with the
experts' conclusions.

Other major findings in the declaration include:

** Increased mercury emissions from developing countries over the last
30 years have offset decreased emissions from developed nations. There
is now solid scientific evidence of methylmercury's toxic health
effects, particularly to the human fetus.

** New evidence indicates that methylmercury exposure may increase the
risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly in adult men.

** Increasing mercury concentrations are now being found in a number
of fish-eating wildlife species in remote areas of the planet.

** The actual socioeconomic costs of mercury pollution are probably
much greater than estimated because existing economic analyses don't
consider mercury's impacts on ecosystems and wildlife.

The concentration of methylmercury in fish in freshwater and coastal
ecosystems can be expected to decline with reduced mercury inputs;
however, the rate of decline is expected to vary among water bodies,
depending on the characteristics of a particular ecosystem.


Besides Wiener, conference organizers included James Hurley of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison Sea Grant Institute, David Krabbenhoft
of the U.S. Geological Survey and Christopher L. Babiarz of the UW-
Madison Water Science & Engineering Laboratory. Wisconsin Sea Grant,
USGS and UW-La Crosse were among the major sponsors of the 2006

CONTACT: David Krabbenhoft, U.S. Geological Survey, (608) 821-3843,
dpkrabbe@usgs.gov; or James Hurley, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant
Institute, phone (608) 262-0905, email hurley@aqua.wisc.edu

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From: Monday Magazine (Victoria, B.C., Canada), Mar. 14, 2007
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Fish full of mercury are just one symptom of a poisoned planet

Now it's the fish that are poisonous. The Madison Declaration on
Mercury Pollution -- based on a conference in Wisconsin last summer
and released this week -- says children and women of child-bearing age
should avoid certain kinds of fish because they are high in mercury.

Mercury is a toxin that can have various effects, depending on how it
is taken into the body. Exposing a fetus to mercury, according to the
Madison report, will impair the child's development and is associated
with learning difficulties. It's long been known that mercury
poisoning can cause a lack of coordination, memory loss and mood
swings even in adults.

In short, it is nasty stuff that you don't want in your body. And as
the Madison report authors point out, there is a lot more of it in the
environment now, thanks to burning coal. The scientists acknowledged
the level has increased three-fold in the 200 years since the
Industrial Revolution, but they stopped short of calling for cleaning
up the mess. Instead they advised people to change their consumption
patterns, picking fish like salmon or sole over predators like tuna
and shark that are further up the food chain.

Environmentalist and author Guy Dauncey argues we shouldn't ignore the
source of the problem and should act accordingly to reduce the amount
of mercury to which we and other species are exposed. "It's another
nail in the coffin of coal-fired power," says Dauncey. "It's not
coming from fluorescent light bulbs and thermometer tubes; it's coming
from air pollution."

Victoria member of parliament Denise Savoie describes the Madison
report as, "Really worrisome. Not surprising, but worrisome." She
says, "This was just much more specific and maybe a little more
alarming." For populations that rely on fish as a mainstay of their
diet, she adds, the report is really bad news.

She points out that in Victoria mercury is one of the metals present
in sufficient quantities at both Macaulay Point and Clover Point
sewage outfalls to warrant a "contaminated site" designation.

In 2005 the Capital Regional District, which is responsible for the
region's sewage, announced that over the previous seven years it had
reduced the amount of mercury going into the ocean with our wastes by
70 percent. The region achieved the reduction mainly by requiring
dental offices, which use a mercury amalgam for fillings, to capture
the metal instead of flushing it down the drain.

Still, though reduced, mercury continued to enter the ocean with our
sewage and large amounts of the metal that had been flushed over the
years remained on the ocean floor. The 2006 report An Evaluation of
Sediment Quality Conditions in the Vicinity of the Macaulay Point and
Clover Point Outfalls, found levels of mercury that were five times
what you would typically expect in ocean sediments.

MP Savoie says it is hard to trust the argument that there are "safe
levels" for mercury and other contaminants. "Is there any safe level
for things like that?" she asks. Over time, she says, scientists and
regulators keep reducing the level of mercury and other contaminants
deemed acceptable in the environment. "Why do the thresholds keep
going down? Maybe it's because we know there are no safe thresholds."

She adds, "There are some products that shouldn't even be in

The problems caused by higher levels of mercury in the environment are
indeed part of a much larger story. As Dauncey explains it, we emerged
from World War II into the 1950s era where people really believed
chemistry and industry would help them live better. By the 1980s, he
says, the problems were obvious. "Ozone layer, oops. Climate change,
oops. Cancer, oops."

After four years of work, Dauncey and two co-authors are putting the
final touches on a new book, Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable
Epidemic. Not enough public attention goes to the environmental and
chemical causes of cancer, he says. The incidence rates of many types
of cancer are steadily rising in the industrialized world, he says,
and it can't be explained by better diagnosing. "At some point you
think this is wrong. This has to be wrong."

We should be acting on the precautionary principle, he says, and not
allowing the widespread use of chemicals when we know little about
their effects on human health and other species. We know even less, he
says, about how chemicals work together in our bodies, and since we
live in a chemical soup, it's something we should be concerned about.
"We are exposed to hundreds simultaneously."

It's not enough, says Savoie, to say avoiding toxins is a matter of
consumer choice. Yes, you can choose not to buy tuna or not to put
pesticides on your lawn, but when harmful chemicals are spread
throughout the environment that affects future human generations and
innumerable other plants and animals. "That's no longer consumer
choice," she says. "We're more than consumers. We're part of that

On the whole, though, governments aren't acting cautiously to control
toxins. The NDP [New Democratic Party] pushed a bill in recent months
that would have banned the cosmetic use of pesticides throughout
Canada, but it didn't get enough support from the other parties. "I
find that frustrating," she says. "I think there's movement on some of
these issues, but we're going very, very slow."

Dauncey predicts that the environmental causes of cancer and other
diseases are going to be more and more on the public agenda, much the
way it took decades before governments committed to act on climate
change. He says, "Cancer is the next big one that's going to wake up
with a bang."

Copyright Copyright 2007 Monday Magazine

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From: The Province (Vancouver, B.C., Canada), Mar. 19, 2007
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Tsawwassen residents opposed to plans to put high-voltage power
lines through their neighbourhood can rightly complain that the
provincial government is selling them out.

The residents hoped to overturn a B.C. Utilities Commission ruling
that approved the controversial project.

Their appeal court date is just days away.

But now they have learned that the B.C. government intends to
intervene on the side of the BC Transmission Corporation.

The Tsawwassen Residents Against Higher Voltage Overhead Lines
(TRAHVOL) has already spent nearly $300,000 fighting this project.

It calls Victoria's last-minute intervention "unbelievable" -- and
that is not far off the mark.

The residents' case was strengthened when the B.C. Court of Appeal
granted them a second grounds for appeal.

This was based on the principle that where science cannot agree
whether or not something may be harmful to health -- such as
electromagnetic fields from high-voltage power lines -- a
precautionary approach must be taken.

But the B.C. government doesn't think that the precautionary principle
should be a question of law in decisions by the Utilities Commission.

In other words, the Campbell government gives power lines a higher
priority than people's health.

Such an approach hardly fits with the government's earnest new
commitment to preserving the environment.

Copyright The Vancouver Province 2007

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From: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Mar. 16, 2007
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By Matthew Schwartz

March 16, 2007

The recent article on the National Park Service's decision to re-open
off-road vehicle trails in the Bear Island section of Big Cypress
provides a good discussion. However, no matter how important the
panther is to the story, it is far from the only objection the
environmental community has to this poorly thought-out decision.

According to the terms of the July 2000 Off-Road Vehicle Management
Plan (which regulates ORV use within the preserve), most of these
lands were deemed off limits to ORVs even without the presence of
panthers. Far from being "dry and forested," much of the newly opened
area consists of vast tracts of low-lying, wet prairie, inundated for
most of the year.

Prairies are identified by the management plan as the "vegetation
community most effected by ORV use." The plan goes on to list effects
such as the loss of vegetation, exposure of underlying soils, rutting,
compaction and the very likely spread of invasive plant species.
Dispersed use due to a lack of natural obstacles is also cited. As
stated in the September 2000 Record of Decision, "Environmentally
sensitive areas, such as prairies, will be closed to ORV use."

Another objection to this decision relates to the length of the
trails. While the management plan calls for approximately 30 miles of
ORV trails in Bear Island, the new alignment provides for more than 34
miles of designated trails plus an additional seven miles of
"secondary" trails. Although secondary trails are permitted by the ORV
management plan, they are required to have a specific destination such
as a campsite. In Bear Island, the only destination given by the NPS
for the re-opened secondary trails is that they provide access to a
"hunting area." This is not consistent with either the letter or the
spirit of the management plan.

In 2006, the Department of the Interior released its new guidelines
for the National Park Service. One of the key management principles
was to "ensure that conservation will be predominant when there is a
conflict between the protection of resources and their use." This is
echoed by the NPS' own "precautionary principle" -- "in all situations
involving conflicts between resource protection and resource use, the
National Park Service would decide in favor of resource protection."

In addition to the endangered Florida panther, Big Cypress National
Preserve is home to no less than 29 other animals listed as
threatened, endangered or species of special concern. These include
mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and a mollusk. Many of these are also
affected by ORV travel. The University of Florida is conducting
research on the effects of ORVs on amphibians and small mammals in Big
Cypress prairies.

Plant life is equally diverse: Of the more than 850 species found in
the preserve, 72 are listed by the state of Florida as threatened or

Perhaps more than any of its other qualities, Big Cypress is defined
by this explosion of biodiversity. Proper use and enjoyment are, of
course, expected and encouraged in any unit of the National Park
Service. However, use and enjoyment should never extend to activities
which have been shown to damage or are likely to damage natural
resources. In a recent National Geographic special issue on "Our
National Parks in Peril," an aerial photo of Big Cypress received a
two-page spread. The caption? "Scarface."

We who live in Broward County are fortunate to have this national
treasure in our backyard. I and others often lead hiking trips into
remote sections of the preserve only about an hour from Fort
Lauderdale. Wet feet, the only drawback, are a small price to pay to
experience the natural beauty and tranquility of South Florida as it
once was.

As a unit of our National Park System, Big Cypress is the property of
all Americans and few of the nearly 450,000 annual visitors to the
preserve do so for the purpose of ORV travel. In the context of the
current controversy, it is worth repeating the mission statement of
the NPS here: "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic
objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of
the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them
unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Matthew Schwartz is the political chairman of the Sierra Club of
Broward County.

Copyright 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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From: California Progress Report, Mar. 15, 2007
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The California Legislature Experiments With "Green Chemistry"

By Gary A. Patton

During your last physical exam, did your doctor check your blood and

If so, you may be surprised by the high number of non-natural
substances that were found passing through your body. Doctors recently
reported eighty-four distinct hazardous chemicals and metals in the
vital fluids of PBS host Bill Moyers.

And highly articulate, well-informed, financially-secure, middle aged
white males born in the United States to supportive, nurturing parents
aren't the only ones suffering.

Despite numerous studies pointing to the potential health impacts of
the toxic materials insinuating themselves into our bodies, we're
still not allowed to know basic information about the severity of the
threat this morbid melange poses to our health.

Let's take three of the better-known nasties: dioxins, phthalates, and
PCBs. These "aspirins of evil" are incorporated into products we use
daily including baby toys and teething rings. Chronic exposure may
cause birth defects, mental retardation, neurological damage, and
chromosomal abnormalities, yet safe exposure levels that protect both
consumers and workers have yet to be determined.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Federal Toxic Substances
Control Act of 1979 allows for synthetic chemicals to be produced and
manipulated into products without any testing for potential human
health problems. Since 1979, over 70,000 chemicals have been
registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Only a small
percentage has undergone testing; most of those produced in large
quantities are rarely tested at all.

But fear not, dear reader. This year, the California Legislature is
considering a package of bills that would prohibit or reduce the use
of the most abundant and potentially harmful chemicals. They are also
going to vote on legislation that would establish a State toxics
inventory program to keep better track of the chemical industry.

We strongly support the Legislature in their efforts to create a
regulatory structure that protects human health and nurtures the
burgeoning Green Chemistry movement.

Here's a final point to ponder: Under the rubric of "healthy until
proven dangerous," the chemical industry has been allowed to insert
itself into our biological essence, dismantling the basic division
between the synthetic and the natural world. As much as it sounds like
Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner, the constructed world no longer stops
where our skin begins.

Since these chemicals may not show their deleterious effects for
decades to come, and may contribute incrementally to the likelihood of
learning disabilities or asthma in our children, doesn't it make sense
to adopt a precautionary principle instead?

Promoting Green Chemistry and banning the most potentially dangerous
products is a great first step. We'll be working with our help ensure
that our children grow up in a healthier, less-toxic world.

If you'd like a list of the bills we're following, contact PCL
Legislative Advocate Rene Guerrero at rguerrero@pcl.org.


Gary Patton is the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation
League, a statewide, nonprofit lobbying organization. For more than
thirty years, PCL has fought to develop a body of environmental laws
in California that is the best in the United States. PCL staff review
virtually every environmental bill that comes before the California
Legislature each year. It has testifed in support or opposition of
thousands of bills to strengthen California's environmental laws and
fight off rollbacks of environmental protections.

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From: Fish Farmer (Edinburgh, Scotland), Mar. 16, 2007
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A coalition of environmental, fishing and consumer groups is calling
on Congress to oppose open ocean aquaculture.

A proposed bill on open water aquaculture was introduced to the
general public yesterday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) in a Washington DC briefing.

According to the coalition, if finalised, the bill would permit
millions of fish to be raised in large commercial cages off America's
coasts. It says this could be detrimental to oceans, wild fish, and

"For the past several years, scientists, fishermen and conservation
groups have been focused on healthy oceans and the need for strong
leadership in developing sustainable marine conservation policies,"
said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.
"Unfortunately, NOAA is putting all this at risk by promoting
industrial fish farming off our coasts."

"The Bush Administration has strongly promoted open ocean aquaculture
for years and still has not adequately incorporated environmental
safeguards or addressed the many problems caused by fish farms in
their policy," said George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.
"The NOAA aquaculture bill was a non-starter in the last Congress and
it should be rejected by this one as well."

NOAA's goal is to grow the US aquaculture industry from $900 million
to $6 billion.

"The new bill is a minuscule step up from the previous bill, but
it still leaves too many specifics to regulators whose purpose is to
promote an industry that can dump untreated sewage equivalent to that
of 17 million people into our oceans," said Mitchell Shapson of the
Institute for Fisheries Resources.

According to the coalition, NOAA expects the majority of industry
growth to be from raising carnivorous finfish, like tuna or halibut,
which rely on a steady diet including wild fish in some form.
"Our government's priority should be ocean and fisheries protection,
as pursuant to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which calls for adherence
to the precautionary principle," said Paula Terrel of the Alaska
Marine Conservation Council.

According to the coalition, the Bush Administration's plan promotes
the construction of large-scale fish farms in deep waters from three
to 200 miles off the US coast.

The coalition says it is objecting to the plan because it: lacks
substantial environmental provisions, including a prohibition on the
farming of genetically engineered fish; lacks consumer protection
initiatives; contains weak provisions for protecting traditional
fisheries-dependent communities; and ignores regional jurisdiction
over the planning, regulation, and monitoring of open ocean fish

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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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