Rachel's Precaution Reporter #87

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2007............Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Ponder Awhile the Wisdom of Bhutan
  In the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, a new Constitution is being
  prepared for adoption in 2008. The official draft contains some
  very far-reaching provisions to protect the natural environment and
  the quality of life for the citizens of Bhutan.
National Academy Panel Is Urged to Embrace Precaution
  Last week, Nicholas Ashford of MIT and Amy Kyle of University of
  California, Berkeley, urged a panel of the National Academy of
  Sciences to recommend adoption of the precautionary principle.
Oregon Lawmakers Consider Chemical Ban
  "Anything can be toxic. And the dose, in my opinion, absolutely
  matters," said James Lamb, a toxicologist with the Weinberg Group, a
  company that represents a wide range of pharmaceutical and chemical
  firms. "If you look just what is on your table, salt, water... not too
  long ago somebody drank so much water that she died."
U.S. Smelter's Pollution Now Human Rights Issue for Peru
  "According to Martin Wagner of Earthjustice, the goal of the
  precautionary measures is 'to improve human rights conditions for the
  people we represent in La Oroya, and ensure that those responsible
  take definitive action to control the contamination.'"
'Precautionary Principle' Triggers EU Atrazine Ban
  We have observed a consistent pattern among anti-precaution
  advocates: the universal technique for bashing the precautionary
  principle is to distort what it is and how it works, then criticize
  the distorted version. Here we see the technique demonstrated by the
  Heartland Institute.


From: Japan Times, Apr. 25, 2007
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Global Sense By Statute

By Stephen Hesse

If nations had laws requiring that we all went about our business
wisely and with respect for the planet, those laws would prioritize
precaution and force polluters to clean up their mess.

So far, however, few citizens demand such statutes -- and fewer
governments are keen to draft them. One exception is the Himalayan
Kingdom of Bhutan, which is now drafting a new constitution that
will put a priority on environment conservation.

The Precautionary Principle and the Polluter Pays Principle remain
little known at the national level, but they are already established
features of international law, having been included in the Rio
Declaration on Environment and Development, a non-binding statement
adopted by 178 nations at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June

Fine phrases rarely jive

Unfortunately, the fine phrases touted at international conferences
rarely jive with how we run our economies day to day. Now, 15 years on
from Rio, and despite all we know about environmental degradation,
many corporations still insist that precaution and cleanup impose an
unfair burden, forcing companies to trim their profits and anger

Sorry, but tough. It's time for corporations and governments to worry
less about enriching those already rich beyond reasonable measure, and
start acting for the well-being of all, including the children of
those presently feasting off unearned incomes, who will inherit a
compromised planet, too.

And the imbalance of wealth is getting worse. In his Japan Times
column last Sunday, Robert Samuelson reported that the richest 10
percent of America's population receives 44 percent of the nation's
pretax income, while the richest 1 percent receive an astonishing 17

Samuelson characterizes this gap in income distribution as "hardly
optimal," and concludes by paraphrasing the English economist John
Maynard Keynes (1883-1946): "The rich are only tolerable so long as
their gains can be held to bear some relation to roughly what they
have contributed to society."

If what the rich have contributed increasingly appears to be
jeopardizing the welfare of others, then those others may soon see
their gains as being not just intolerable, but downright criminal.

And that day may be nearer than we imagine. With governments being
called upon to deal with the threats of climate change, corporations
that value profits over planetary well-being may soon find themselves
on the wrong side of the law.

In Bhutan, for example, new priorities are becoming a reality, as the
country is presently in the process of drafting a new constitution for
adoption in 2008. Two drafts can be viewed on the Internet [We can
only find one.--RPR Editors], and both adopt wording that makes
every Bhutanese citizen "a trustee of the Kingdom's natural resources
and environment." All citizens are to have a "fundamental duty" to
contribute to the protection of the natural environment "through the
adoption of environment-friendly practices and ethos."

Under Bhutan's new constitution, the government, too, will have
clearly defined responsibilities that include protecting the
environment, preventing pollution, securing sustainable development,
and ensuring a safe and healthy environment.

Specifically, the government must ensure that at least 60 percent of
the nation's total land area is forested at all times, with the
parliament being able to declare any part of the country a national
park or protected reserve.

Even more forward-looking, if adopted, is language in the first draft
that allows Bhutan's parliament to enact environmental legislation
based on three principles -- precaution, polluter pay and
intergenerational equity -- the latter having gained considerable
international support over the past decade.

Definitions of precaution vary, but all formulations of the principle
contain three elements, according to the Science and Environmental
Health Network.

First, when we have a reasonable suspicion of harm; secondly when
there is scientific uncertainty about cause and effect; and thirdly,
our duty to take action to prevent harm.

Expensive safety procedures

As reasonable as this may sound, the risk of harm is difficult to
quantify, and many industries remain adamantly opposed to laws that
require more expensive safety procedures, as they know the costs can
outweigh uncertain benefits. With scientific inquiry rapidly evolving,
however, potential harm is becoming easier to identify.

In comparison, the Polluter Pays Principle is simple -- you make a
mess, you clean it up. But what happens when improved science reveals
that industry has long been degrading the environment with something
once seen as benign: ozone-layer depletion, for example, or climate

Should energy companies be legally responsible for reducing carbon-
dioxide levels that are substantially the result of burning fossil
fuels for energy? They aren't yet. But if oil companies continue to
make record profits while investing paltry sums in alternative
energies and carbon-sequestration technologies, the anger and demands
of citizens, and governments, could spike dramatically.

The third principle, intergenerational equality, has been developed in
the wake of efforts to clarify the concept of sustainable development,
which is most often defined as "development that meets the needs of
the present generation without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs."

This definition comes from a 1987 report, "Our Common Future," from
the World Commission on Environment and Development. It is also known
as the Brundtland Report, because Gro Brundtland, Norway's first
female prime minister, headed the commission.

Clearly Bhutan is on the right track. But what about the mass-
production and mass-consumption nations that are most in need of
sustainable development, such as the United States and China?

According to a recent brief from the International Institute for
Environment and Development (IIED), there are four reasons why
unsustainable behavior remains the norm: "Economic growth is
considered an inviolable principle, rather than people's rights and
welfare, or environmental processes and thresholds; environmental
benefits and costs are externalized; poor people are marginalized, and
inequities entrenched; and, governance regimes are not designed to
internalize environmental factors, to iron out social inequities, or
to develop better economic models."

The IIED is a London-based independent, nonprofit research institute
working in the field of sustainable development. The short report,
titled "A New Era in Sustainable Development," is available on the

According to the IIED, three paradoxes lie at the core of our failure
to change.

"First, the economic paradigm that has caused poverty and
environmental problems to persist is the very thing that we are
relying on to solve those problems. Second, this unsatisfactory state
of affairs coexists with a policy climate that espouses sustainable
development. Third, action is being neglected just when it is most
urgently needed: sustainable development remains at best a 'virtual'
world, a planners' dream."

So, while most of the world continues to pursue a self-destructive
development paradigm that we are too enamored of to change, the people
of Bhutan are crafting a better approach, taking proactive steps
toward sustainable development.

Unfortunately, they share Earth with billions of others who, for now,
are less wise, less fortunate, and less thoughtful. So the question is
this: Will we come to our senses and follow Bhutan's lead, or will
they, as passengers on the same planet, be condemned to follow ours?

Stephen Hesse welcomes readers' comments at stevehesse@hotmail.com

(C) All rights reserved

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From: Risk Policy Report, Apr. 24, 2007
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By Adam Sarvana

A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel charged with improving
EPA's [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's] risk assessment
methodology is being encouraged to consider using the so-called
precautionary principle in directing the agency's future risk
assessments, which could be significant if it leads to NAS
recommending that EPA develop European-style safeguards on bringing
substances to market only after extensive information has been
provided to regulators about their potential health risks.

The panel heard from several academic experts on risk assessment and
toxicology at an April 17 meeting in Washington, DC. The experts also
broadly backed a risk assessment approach that would involve more
public input on assessing the risks to communities, rather than just
individuals, of such things as the location of power plants and
manufacturing facilities.

Nicholas Ashford, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on
Occupational Safety & Health, told the committee that regulators
should not be afraid to follow the precautionary principle -- which
says substances should not be allowed on the market until they are
proved safe, shifting the burden from the regulator to industry.

Ashford also said officials should be willing to set stricter
standards to control chemical, pesticide and other substances' risks
to humans. Basing risk assessment and potential regulations on
existing technologies, for instance, stifles innovation and ultimately
harms the United States' economic competitiveness, he said.

"Thinking solutions are based on static technology is a mistake,"
especially when doing cost-benefit analysis of potential risk
mitigation measures, he said at the meeting. "If you regulate beyond
the capability of current technologies you get more innovation....
You can't separate scientists and engineers when you're regulating
chemicals." Ashford encouraged the panel to consider advancements that
have already occurred, such as when Dow silicone widely replaced
polychlorinated biphenyls after the latter were found to be more
harmful to human health than previously thought.

Setting sufficiently protective standards has become more difficult
because of the need to justify every proposal economically, he argued,
which can be difficult when innovations that would be spurred by a
regulation cannot be accounted for. "We have lost so much courage
because of cost-benefit analysis just because you can't guarantee
you'll come up with a new and better technology, even though we always
have in the past," he said.

Ultimately he urged the panel to prod the United States in the
direction of the European Union, where strict new testing methods and
the precautionary principle are the prevailing risk assessment and
mitigation model. "Don't truncate analysis of risk to what's possible
with current technologies," he said. "Look at Europe and find out
what's happening."

Some experts at the meeting also stressed the need for EPA to expand
its definition of risk assessment beyond measuring an individual's
response to a given dose of a potentially harmful substance -- the
currently prevailing risk assessment model at the agency. Instead, the
experts said EPA's definition of risk assessment should encompass
potential risks to whole communities.

"Risk assessment needs to be informed by a public problem paradigm,
not just using the same [study] model every time," Amy Kyle, a
professor at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, said at
the meeting. "The audience isn't just agencies" but includes the
public being protected by regulations, she said, adding that such work
could, for instance, "support decisions on safer, less toxic products"
by communities as well as individuals.

She argued that "at the heart of this is the 'My way or the highway'
attitude from the risk assessment community, the idea that if you
don't do it my way nothing else you do is scientific. People in
California communities have been told their concerns are unscientific
because risk assessment doesn't show them. We need to reach a more
accommodating way to address that."

NAS panel member Thomas McKone, also of UC Berkeley, asked Kyle
whether EPA would be the right agency to do the kind of work she
proposed. "I'm not saying EPA can do all of this," she responded, "but
thinking about how to do it could be beneficial."

Ashford agreed with Kyle's assessment, saying, "When you talk to a
community you tell them about risk assessment and uncertainty and so
on and then someone [from the community] says, 'Does that plant need
to be there? Does it need to do what it's doing the way it's doing
it?' Well, that's an embarrassing question, and the answer is usually
'I don't know, I'm just a toxicologist.'"

More broadly, Ashford touted some state laws, such as in Massachusetts
and New Jersey, as attractive alternative models to the federal Toxics
Release Inventory, which mandates disclosure of emissions and
discharges but does not set caps on permitted levels of harmful
substances. "Under [those state] laws industry is asked the question,
'How can you do things differently?' Risk assessment is important but
it's only part of the picture."

The panel is conducting an ongoing scientific and technical review of
EPA's current risk analysis concepts and practices, and is expected to
release a final report to the agency late next year. Kyle and Ashford
addressed their remarks mainly to the panel's charge question from EPA
of how to "identify priorities and approaches for research to obtain
relevant data to increase the utility of risk analyses."

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From: Associated Press, Apr. 19, 2007
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By Aaron Clark, Associated Press Writer

Salem, Ore. -- Pacifiers and lipstick aren't the sort of thing health
advocates and business groups normally squabble over.

But the two sides clashed Wednesday over a bill in Oregon that would
prohibit the sale of toys and other consumer products for children
under 5 that contain phthalates, a chemical used to make plastics more
durable and pliable.

Supporters of the bill said the chemical compound could contribute to
rising breast cancer rates in women and physical abnormalities in

"Phthalates, used in a variety of children's products including soft
toys and teethers, have been linked to developmental problems, such as
early puberty in girls, male genital defects and reduced sperm
quality," said Renee Hackenmiller-Paradis, program director for the
Environmental Health Oregon Environmental Council. "Yet, there
currently are no laws in the U.S. prohibiting the use of phthalates."

But a toxicologist and representative from the toy industry said the
amount of toxic chemicals and exposure periods for children's toys are
so low that they aren't a health hazard.

"Anything can be toxic. And the dose, in my opinion, absolutely
matters," said James Lamb, a toxicologist with the Weinberg Group, a
company that represents a wide range of pharmaceutical and chemical
firms. "If you look just what is on your table, salt, water... not too
long ago somebody drank so much water that she died."

The Senate committee on Health Policy and Public Affairs heard
representatives from both factions as it considered two bills that
would ban some products containing phthalates and create a task force
to study phthalates in cosmetics. A third piece of legislation urges
Congress to re-examine many of the chemicals used in cosmetics,
including phthalates.

Joan Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, a trade
group with over 500 members, including the manufacturers of Mattel
Barbie dolls and Hasbro's My Little Pony, said a ban on children's
toys containing phthalates could make those products less safe.

Without the phthalates, she said, toys could be more weak and brittle
and create a choking hazard for youngsters.

"A ban on toys is not supported by the science specific to these
products and how they are used by children," said Lawrence. "Such a
ban does a disservice by needlessly alerting parents and caregivers to
a nonexistent threat."

L. Earl Gray, a research biologist at the Environmental Protection
Agency, said there is little research on the chemical's effects on
humans, but there is a general consensus among scientists about the
negative effect phthalates have on the reproductive system of rats,
which are used as study subjects.

The panel spent less time on the potential negative effect of the
chemical in cosmetics, but public health advocates and
environmentalists are increasingly drawing attention to the chemical
compound that they say needs further study.

Phthalates have been used widely during the past 50 years in
everything from car parts to children's toys to health care devices,
to increase flexibility and longevity of plastics.

In 1999, Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization, pledged
to eliminate phthalates in their hospital supplies.

And states are starting to give the chemical compound another look.

California, Maryland and New York are considering bills that would ban
phthalates in certain products, and the compound has been banned in
some goods in the European Union, Japan and Argentina.

"Ninety percent of increased human life span is not due to the
wonderful technologies and lifesaving interventions of triple bypass"
surgeries and other health technologies, said Gail Shibley, an
administrator at Oregon's Department of Human Services.

"But rather, making sure our water is safe, making sure our food is
safe, and making sure we are not putting people in an environment
which is difficult for them to be healthy."

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From: PR Newswire, Apr. 24, 2007
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IACHR to Examine Peru's Responsibility for Contamination from Doe Run
Corp. Facility

WASHINGTON and LIMA, Peru, April 24 -- The Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights (a division of the Organization of American States)
forwarded a petition alleging human rights violations to the
Government of Peru, giving them two months to respond. The petition
asserts that severe contamination from a smelter owned by U.S.-based
Doe Run Corporation, and lack of effective pollution and human health
controls by the government, gravely threaten the rights of the
residents of La Oroya, Peru, including their rights to life, health,
and integrity.

"This first step by the IACHR is good news," assured Carlos Chirinos,
an attorney with the Peruvian Society for Environmental Defense
(SPDA), an organization that has been associated with the case since
its inception, and one of the lawyers representing the community. "It
shows the strength of our petition, and is a positive step in the
process to identify the government's responsibilities." The IACHR
determined that the petition, prepared by Earthjustice, the
Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), the
Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA), and Peruvian lawyer,
Carlos Chirinos, met the Commission's procedural requirements and
forwarded it to the Peruvian government last week. According to the
Commission's rules, after this two-month period the IACHR will take
into account Peru's comments in evaluating the admissibility of the
case, determining whether the contamination violates human rights, and
the resulting responsibilities of the Peruvian government.

The Commission is simultaneously evaluating a request by these groups
for precautionary measures to address the urgent health threats to the
citizens in La Oroya. "We are now waiting for the government's
comments on the petition, as well as a decision by the Commission on
the request for precautionary measures. These measures could help
considerably to provide effective protection for the people's human
rights in La Oroya," added Astrid Puentes of AIDA.

The precautionary measures requested include: adequate diagnosis and
medical treatment for the persons represented, education programs and
efficient access to information, effective emissions and contamination
controls, an evaluation of contamination in key areas of the city, and
implementation of adequate clean-up measures. According to Martin
Wagner of Earthjustice, the goal of the precautionary measures is "to
improve human rights conditions for the people we represent in La
Oroya, and ensure that those responsible take definitive action to
control the contamination." For more information visit AIDA's website:
http://www.aida-americas.org Watch a short video about the situation
in La Oroya here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY6WXa9aKrM&


Astrid Puentes, AIDA (+5255) 52120141 apuentes@aida-americas.org

Martin Wagner, Earthjustice (510) 550-6700 mwagner@earthjustice.org

Carlos Chirinos (+511) 422-2720 cchirinos@spda.org.pe

Copyright 1996-2007 PR Newswire Association LLC

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From: Heartland Institute, Apr. 16, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Bonner R. Cohen

The European Union (EU) has banned atrazine, effective next year,
saying the herbicide has contaminated a number of drinking water

Unlike the United States, which bases regulatory decisions on risk
assessments such as the ones EPA carried out on atrazine, the EU is
guided by the precautionary principle.

The difference between the two approaches is significant.

"The so-called precautionary principle," Washington State University
toxicologist Alan S. Felsot said, "essentially holds that when any
concerns or allegations, no matter how spurious, are raised about the
safety of a product, precautionary measures should be put in place and
all burden of proof to the contrary should fall on the proponent of
the alleged unsafe product or activity."

"Environmentalist calls to ban atrazine are environmentally
irresponsible," said Angela Logomasini, director of risk and
environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

"The risks of atrazine are minimal and the benefits many," Logomasini
continued. "Proper use of herbicides -- particularly atrazine --
reduces the need to till soil, thereby reducing soil erosion. It is
also a critically important tool for farmers to produce an affordable
supply of fruits and vegetables."

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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 -- 
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