Rachel's Precaution Reporter #84

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2007.............Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

U.S. Opponents of Precaution Win Big Victory in Food Standards
  The opponents of precaution won an important victory this week --
  preventing the European Union and others from embedding the
  precautionary principle in United Nations food safety standards.
Washington State Legislature Bans Toxic Flame Retardants
  The Washington State Legislature this week banned all forms of
  brominated flame retardants -- a class of chemicals that have been
  found in breast milk at increasing concentrations in the past decade.
Drugs Are in the Water. Does It Matter?
  "Some say the spread of these substances in the environment is an
  example of how the products of science and technology can have
  unintended and unpredictable effects. In their view, when the
  knowledge about these effects is sketchy, it is best to act to reduce
  risk, even if the extent of the risk is unknown, an approach known as
  the precautionary principle." -- New York Times
Nanoscience: More Research and Transparency Wanted
  The French National Advisory Committee on Ethics calls for a
  precautionary approach to nanotechnology -- more research on the
  effects of nanotechnology before deploying it widely.


From: NutraIngredients.com, Apr. 4, 2007
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By Stephen Daniells

The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations
(IADSA) has revealed that [the] latest attempts to insert the
precautionary principle into Codex's draft risk analysis standards for
food safety have been foiled. [Codex is short for Codex
Alimentarius, a food-standards organization that is part of the
United Nations. Its meetings and its decisions tend to be dominated by
the food industry. --RPR editors]

The news marks the third unsuccessful attempt by the EU [European
Union] and other countries to include the principle in key Codex
documents, and could represent that last hurdle for adoption without
the inclusion of the precautionary principle.

David Pineda, IADSA's manager of regulatory affairs, told
NutraIngredients.com: "We are very happy with the outcome of this
week. This new decision by the committee means there are fewer
possibilities to introduce the precautionary principle [into the Codex

The precautionary principle allows governments to take certain
preventive measures for foods in cases where scientific evidence on
the safety of the food is uncertain, and many governments and other
organizations believe that it is used to create unjustified trade

"The new document just accepted by the committee appropriately follows
an earlier one by excluding the precautionary principle, an action
needed to help assure fair opportunities for trade in supplement
products," said Dr John Hathcock VP of scientific and international
affairs of the Council Responsible Nutrition (CRN USA).

The full Codex Committee of General Principles (CCGP) in Paris this
week debated the new draft and, after rallying of both government and
non-governmental organisations -- notably the US Council for
Responsible Nutrition (CRN USA) -- agreed to omit the precautionary
principle. To enter the Codex framework, the Commission must adopt the
Committee's draft.

Pineda said that whether or not the Commission accepts the document as
a Step 5 [document up for revision] or Step 8 [accepted document],
this week's decision means there are less possibilities to introduce
the precautionary principle.

"The introduction of this principle has been consistently rejected
since the Codex principles were first drafted. However, the text is at
an intermediate stage of the Codex procedure and changes can still be
made. There could, therefore, be attempts to include this principle
into the text during the next Commission meeting later this year which
will have to consider this week's decision of the CCGP," said Pineda.

Copyright 2000/2007-Decision News Media SAS

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From: Washingtion Toxics Coalition, Apr. 4, 2007
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Olympia, Washington -- The Washington State Legislature has passed the
nation's first ban on all forms of the toxic flame retardants known as
PBDEs. The Senate passed ESHB1024, sponsored by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-
Medina), by a 41 to 8 margin at noon today. Senator Debbie Regala (D-
Tacoma) sponsored the companion bill in the Senate. The bill now goes
to the governor for signature.

"Washington state is leading the way for improving the health and
safety of our children," said Hunter, who has sponsored the
legislation for three years. "We've come up with a common-sense
strategy for preserving fire safety while getting rid of chemicals
like PBDEs that build up in our environment, in our bodies, and even
in mothers' breast milk."

Major manufacturers, including HP, Dell, Sony, Panasonic, and
Phillips, have already stopped using PBDEs in their products. Sen.
Regala applauded the bill's final passage, saying "Companies have
proven that we don't need toxic chemicals like PBDEs to make effective
products. It's up to us at the state level to move the rest of the
industry toward safer practices."

The Washington State Departments of Ecology and Health requested the
legislation, which is supported by Governor Gregoire, three state fire
associations, the Washington State Nurses Association, the Washington
Medical Association, and many others. The bill is the first one of the
four Priorities for a Healthy Washington to head to the Governor's
desk. While other states have passed bans on the penta and octa forms
of PBDEs, which have been phased out of manufacture, Washington is the
first to act on the deca form. Deca has by far the highest production
volume of the PBDE forms.

"Fire fighters are concerned about preventing fires and reducing
exposure to toxic chemicals, because we're on the front lines in both
cases," said Keven Rojecki of the Washington State Council of Fire
Fighters. "Fire fighters are already exposed to so many deadly
carcinogens, it is critical that safer alternatives be used to ensure
products are fire safe. This bill is a victory for protecting the
health of firefighters and the public from harmful toxic chemicals."

The legislation does the following:

* Bans the use of the penta and octa forms of PBDEs, with limited
exceptions, by 2008

* Bans the use of the deca form in mattresses by 2008

* Bans the use of the deca form in televisions, computers, and
residential upholstered furniture by 2011, as long as a safer,
reasonable, and effective alternative has been identified by the state
departments of Ecology and Health and approved by fire safety

"This legislation is about doing the right thing to protect families
and our environment from the harmful effects of PBDEs," said Rep. Skip
Priest, R-Federal Way. "We're doing the responsible thing-banning the
chemical and working with alternative fire retardants so we don't
trade one danger for another." Priest added that he was very concerned
about the possible link between PBDEs and irregular brain development
in fetuses. This measure, he says, is the only sure way to break that

As the measure gained momentum, the bromine industry, the most
significant opponent to the legislation, employed tactics that
included testifying as fire safety organizations and widely
distributing a mailer with misleading information.

"With the passage of this legislation, Washington is a safer place to
raise children," said Laurie Valeriano, Policy Director for the
Washington Toxics Coalition. "Scientific facts and disease prevention
won out today over chemical industry scare tactics and hype."

Three hundred health care professionals signed a letter supporting the
ban on PBDEs, citing harmful health impacts from PBDEs including
learning and behavioral disorders, memory impairments, disruption of
thyroid function, reproductive effects, and cancer. The letter's
authors note that substantial evidence shows the buildup of PBDEs in
people, orca whales, and the environment, and new studies find that
the deca form breaks down into other forms of PBDEs that have already
been phased out.

"This action by the Washington State legislature marks a crucial step
forward for the health, development and learning of Washington's
children." said Barry Lawson, MD, Immediate Past President of the
Washington Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics said, "By
phasing out PBDEs, we can safeguard our children from exposures to
these persistent toxic chemicals and act on our responsibility to
provide them with a healthier future."

"This is truly a case where prevention is essential," said Judy
Huntington, MN, RN, Executive Director of the Washington State Nurses
Association. "By passing this legislation, we are making vital
progress in protecting our state's children, families and workers from
permanent yet preventable harm."


Gregg Small
Executive Director
Washington Toxics Coalition
4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, Suite 540
Seattle, WA 98103
Phone: 206-632-1545 Extension 113
Fax: 206-632-8661

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From: New York Times, Apr. 3, 2007
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By Cornelia Dean

Residues of birth control pills, antidepressants, painkillers,
shampoos and a host of other compounds are finding their way into the
nation's waterways, and they have public health and environmental
officials in a regulatory quandary.

On the one hand, there is no evidence the traces of the chemicals
found so far are harmful to human beings. On the other hand, it would
seem cavalier to ignore them.

The pharmaceutical and personal care products, or P.P.C.P.'s, are
being flushed into the nation's rivers from sewage treatment plants or
leaching into groundwater from septic systems. According to the
Environmental Protection Agency, researchers have found these
substances, called "emerging contaminants," almost everywhere they
have looked for them.

Most experts say their discovery reflects better sensing technology as
much as anything else. Still, as Hal Zenick of the agency's office of
research and development put it in an e-mail message, "there is
uncertainty as to the risk to humans."

In part, that is because the extent and consequences of human exposure
to these compounds, especially in combination, are "unknown," the Food
and Drug Administration said in a review issued in 2005. And aging and
increasingly medicated Americans are using more of these products than

So officials who deal with these compounds have the complex task of
balancing reassurance that they take the situation seriously with
reassurance that there is probably nothing to worry about. As a
result, scientists in several government and private agencies are
devising new ways to measure and analyze the compounds, determine
their prevalence in the environment, figure out where they come from,
how they move, where they end up and if they have any effects.

In many cases, the compounds enter the water when people excrete them
or wash them away in the shower. But some are flushed or washed down
the drain when people discard outdated or unused drugs. So a number of
states and localities around the country have started discouraging
pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes and residents from disposing of
drugs this way. Some are setting up "pharmaceutical take-back
locations" in drugstores or even police stations. Others are adding
pharmaceuticals to the list of hazardous household waste, like
leftover paint or insecticides, periodically collected for safe
disposal, often by incineration.

For example, Clark County, Wash., has a program in which residents
with unwanted or expired drugs can take so-called controlled
substances, like prescription narcotics, to police stations or
sheriffs' offices for disposal. They can drop noncontrolled drugs at
participating pharmacies, and 80 percent of the pharmacies in the
county participate.

In guidelines issued in February, three federal agencies, including
the E.P.A., advised people with leftover medicines to flush them down
the drain "only if the accompanying patient information specifically
instructs it is safe to do so." Otherwise, the guidelines say, they
should dispose of them in the trash (mixed with "an undesirable
substance" like kitty litter to discourage drug-seeking Dumpster
divers) or by taking them to designated take-back locations.

Worries about water-borne chemicals flared last summer when
researchers at the United States Geological Survey said they had
discovered "intersex fish" in the Potomac River and its tributaries.
The fish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, were male but nevertheless
carried immature eggs.

Scientists who worked on the project said they did not know what was
causing the situation, or even if it was a new phenomenon. But the
discovery renewed fears that hormone residues or chemicals that mimic
them might be affecting creatures that live in the water.

In a survey begun in 1999, the agency surveyed 139 streams around the
country and found that 80 percent of samples contained residues of
drugs like painkillers, hormones, blood pressure medicines or
antibiotics. The agency said the findings suggested that the compounds
were more prevalent and more persistent than had been thought.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration started looking into the
effects of residues of antibiotics and antiseptics in water, not just
to see if they might affect people but also to assess their potential
to encourage the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

Reports of contamination with pharmaceutical residues can be alarming,
even when there is no evidence that anyone has been harmed. In 2004,
for example, the British government reported that eight commonly used
drugs had been detected in rivers receiving effluent from sewage
treatment plants. A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs said it was "extremely unlikely" that the
residues threatened people, because they were present in very low
concentrations. Nevertheless, news reports portrayed a nation of
inadvertent drug users -- "a case of hidden mass medication of the
unsuspecting public," as one member of Parliament was quoted as

Christopher Daughton, a scientist at the Environmental Protection
Agency and one of the first scientists to draw attention to the issue,
said P.P.C.P. concentrations in municipal water supplies were even
lower than they were in water generally because treatments like
chlorination and filtration with activated charcoal alter or remove
many chemicals. Dr. Daughton, who works at the agency's National
Exposure Research Laboratory in Las Vegas, said he believed that if
any living being suffered ill effects from these compounds, it would
be fish and other creatures that live in rivers and streams.

Dr. Daughton and Thomas A. Ternes of the ESWE-Institute for Water
Research and Water Technology in Germany brought the issue to
scientific prominence in 1999, in a paper in the journal Environmental
Health Perspectives. They noted that pollution research efforts had
focused almost exclusively on "conventional" pollutants -- substances
that were known or suspected to be carcinogenic or immediately toxic.
They urged researchers to pay more attention to pharmaceuticals and
ingredients in personal care products -- not only prescription drugs
and biologics, but also diagnostic agents, fragrances, sunscreen
compounds and many other substances.

They theorized that chronic exposure to low levels of these compounds
could produce effects in water-dwelling creatures that would
accumulate so slowly that they would be "undetectable or unnoticed"
until it was too late to reverse them. The effects might be so
insidious, they wrote, that they would be attributed to some slow-
moving force like evolution or ecological change.

Initial efforts concentrate on measuring what is getting into the
nation's surface and groundwater. The discharge of pharmaceutical
residues from manufacturing plants is well documented and controlled,
according to the E.P.A., but the contribution from individuals in
sewage or septic systems "has been largely overlooked."

And unlike pesticides, which are intentionally released in measured
applications, or industrial discharges in air and water, whose effects
have also been studied in relative detail, the environmental agency
says, pharmaceutical residues pass unmeasured through wastewater
treatment facilities that have not been designed to deal with them.

Many of the compounds in question break down quickly in the
environment. In theory, that would lessen their potential to make
trouble, were it not for the fact that many are in such wide use that
they are constantly replenished in the water.

And researchers suspect that the volume of P.P.C.P.'s excreted into
the nation's surface water and groundwater is increasing. For one
thing, per capita drug use is on the rise, not only with the
introduction of new drugs but also with the use of existing drugs for
new purposes and among new or expanding groups of patients, like
children and aging baby boomers.

Also, more localities are introducing treated sewage into drinking
water supplies. Researchers who have studied the issue say there is no
sign that pharmaceutical residues accumulate as water is recycled. On
the other hand, the F.D.A. said in its review, many contaminants
"survive wastewater treatment and biodegradation, and can be detected
at low levels in the environment."

Some say the spread of these substances in the environment is an
example of how the products of science and technology can have
unintended and unpredictable effects. In their view, when the
knowledge about these effects is sketchy, it is best to act to reduce
risk, even if the extent of the risk is unknown, an approach known as
the precautionary principle.

Joel A. Tickner, an environmental scientist at the University of
Massachusetts, Lowell, says that it is a mistake to consider all of
these compounds safe "by default," and that more must be done to
assess their cumulative effects, individually or in combination, even
at low doses.

In his view, the nation's experience with lead additives, asbestos and
other substances shows it can be costly -- in lives, health and
-- to defer action until evidence of harm is overwhelming.

Others say the benefits of action -- banning some compounds, say, or
requiring widespread testing or treatment for others -- should at
equal and if possible outweigh their costs.

"You have to somehow estimate as well as possible what the likely
harms are and the likely benefits," said James K. Hammitt, a professor
of economics and decision sciences at the Harvard Center for Risk

And while it is possible that some of the tens of thousands of
chemicals that might find their way into water supplies are more
dangerous in combination than they are separately, Dr. Hammitt said in
an interview, "it's perfectly possible that they counteract each

Anyway, he said, assessing their risk in combination is a mathematical
problem of impossible complexity. "The combinatorics of this are truly

Given all this uncertainty, policy makers find it difficult to know
what to do, other than continuing their research. Studies of "the fate
and transport and persistence" of the P.P.C.P.'s will allow scientists
to make better estimates of people's exposure to them, Dr. Zenick
said, and "to assess the potential for human health effects."

But even that normally anodyne approach comes under question because
of something scientists call "the nocebo effect" -- real, adverse
physiological reactions people sometimes develop when they learn they
have been exposed to something -- even if there is no evidence it may
be harmful.

"The nocebo effect could play a key role in the development of adverse
health consequences from exposure even to trace elements of
contaminants simply by the power of suggestion," Dr. Daughton wrote
recently in a paper in a special issue of Ground Water Monitoring and
Remediation, a publication of the National Ground Water Association,
an organization of scientists, engineers and businesses related to the
use of groundwater.

In fact, the idea that there are unwanted chemicals in the water
supply has many characteristics that researchers who study risk
perception say particularly provoke dread, regardless of their real
power to harm. The phenomenon is new (or newly known), and the
compounds are invisible and artificial rather than naturally

But scientists at agencies like the Geological Survey say it is
important to understand the prevalence and actions of these compounds,
even at low levels. If more is known about them, agency scientists
say, researchers will be better able to predict their behavior,
especially if they should start turning up at higher concentrations.
Also, the Geological Survey says, tracking them at low levels is
crucial to determining whether they have additive effects when they
occur together in the environment.

Comprehensive chemical analysis of water supplies "is costly,
extraordinarily time-consuming, and viewed by risk managers as
prompting yet additional onerous and largely unanswerable questions,"
Dr. Daughton wrote in his paper last year.

But it should be done anyway, he said, because it is a useful way of
maintaining public confidence in the water supply.

"My work is really categorized as anticipatory research," he added.
"You are trying to flesh out a new topic, develop it further and see
where it leads you. You don't really know where it leads."


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From: Health and Safety at Work, Mar. 30, 2007
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France's National Advisory Committee on Ethics (CCNE) published an
opinion on the ethical implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology
for health in early March. The French experts call for more basic
research and greater transparency to improve understanding of how
nanoproducts may affect humans. They cited the EU's new chemicals
legislation, REACH, as a good precedent.

The Committee takes issue with the fact that only 0.4% of world
nanoscience and nanotechnology spending ($40 million out of a total
$10 billion) goes to research into risks and side effects.

The CCNE warned on the global attitude that privileges technologic
performance and commercial profitability and regrets that so little
worldwide nanotechnologies expenditure are dedicated to the study of
risks and side effects.

Thus recommendations follow the precautionary principle, which implies
more [the need for] fundamental research on risks before diffusing
nano-applications. It also implies more transparency on
nanotechnologies researches that is not currently effective because of
the requirements for confidentiality related to industrial

Finally they recommend the creation of a European [nanotechnology] law
like REACH on chemical products, based on transparency and an extreme
vigilance of nanotechnology's consequences on individual liberties.

The CCNE was founded in 1983 to give advice on ethical problems and
social questions induced by advancements in scientific knowledge in
the fields of life sciences, medicine, and health. This is a
completely independent committee and its role is only consultative. It
is made up of representatives of the main philosophical and spiritual
families, people qualified in the field of ethics (researchers,
doctors, nurses, politicians, jurists).

Copyright 1998-2005 ETUI-REHS

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