Rachel's Democracy & Health News #890
Thursday, January 18, 2007
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #890 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
January 18, 2007
REGULATORY FAILURE IN THE GREAT LAKES, PART 1
[Rachel's introduction: A new government report on the Great Lakes says the system for regulating toxic chemicals is "inadequate" and needs to be replaced by a precautionary approach because large numbers of humans are in danger. Both the U.S. and Canadian systems for controlling toxic chemicals have failed.]
By Peter Montague
The system for regulating toxic chemicals has failed in the Great Lakes and a precautionary approach should be adopted, according to a new report [6 Mbyte PDF] published by the International Joint Commission (IJC), the U.S.-Canada governmental body responsible for water quality in the Lakes. The IJC was created by treaty in 1909 and has focused aggressively on water quality since 1978. The Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's fresh surface water.
The Major Justification for Precaution: Ignorance Abounds
IJC scientists, and independent researchers, are now reporting a host of new toxic chemicals in fish and other wildlife in the Great Lakes. However, "Insufficient data are available to establish consumption guidelines for these toxic substances," the report says. (pg. 115) [Page numbers inside parentheses refer to the IJC report.]
After 30 years of under-funded effort, the government agencies charged with protecting public health remain ignorant about most of the chemicals being discharged into the Lakes:
"Due to analytical limitations, only a very low proportion of the large number of potentially troublesome compounds identified as likely present in the Great Lakes environment are currently analyzed in Great Lakes monitoring programs," the report says. (pg. 124)
Even the industries producing the chemicals are ignorant of their effects: "Industry's capacity to invent and produce new chemicals has overwhelmed both their ability to produce adequate data for the regulatory system to assess, and the regulatory system's capacity to assess it," the report says. (pg. 125)
Both the U.S. and Canadian systems for regulating chemicals stand accused of failure.
The report was written by the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, the Great Lakes Scientific Advisory Board, the International Air Quality Advisory Board, and the Council of Great Lakes Research Managers and was published in June, 2006, by the International Joint Commission (IJC).
Unfortunately, the IJC's withering criticism of the chemical regulatory system is buried deep in the report, in chapter 5, "Human Health," where many readers may miss it.
Chapter 5 makes these points:
1. Legacy Toxicants Are Declining Slowly, If At All
As time passes, "legacy" chemicals (mainly PCBs and mercury) in the Great Lakes are declining much more slowly than expected. In fact, mercury is not declining at all -- it is holding steady or, in some places, even increasing because of coal-burning power plants. (pg. 115)
2. A New Set of 'Emerging' Toxicants Has Been Identified
Meanwhile, a new set of "emerging" contaminants has appeared in the Lakes during the past few years (pg. 124):
** Brominated fire retardants (BFRs), PBDEs and tetrabromo bisphenol- A;
** Perfluorinated compounds or PFCs (PFOS, perfluorooctanoic acid, N-ethyl perflourooctane sulfonamidoethanol);
** Phthalates (a large class of plastic additives);
** Pharmaceuticals and chemicals found in personal care and household products (PPCPs);
** Estrogenic and hormonally active compounds (birth control agents, natural estrogens, alkylphenol ethoxylates, bisphenol-A, Trenbolone); and
** Some currently used pesticides (Atrazine). (pg. 124)
3. 'Persistence' Has a New Meaning
The IJC report says pharmaceuticals and personal-care products are "persistent by virtue of their ongoing release into the environment in human and animal excreta" -- in other words, even though individual chemicals may degrade, they enter the Lakes in a steady stream, so they are constantly available for uptake by fish and other wildlife.
4. New Hazards Are Being Identified for Old ('Legacy') Toxicants
In addition to these newly-discovered "emerging" contaminants, a host of new information about harm to wildlife and humans has become known:
The IJC report notes that, "The National Research Council (NRC) [in 2000] concluded that 'the population at highest risk is the children of women who consumed large amounts of fish and seafood during pregnancy.' Its report concluded that the risks to that population are likely to result in an increase in the number of children who have to struggle to keep up in school, and who might require remedial classes or special education." (pg. 117)
The IJC report estimates that as many as 15% of all pregnant women in the U.S. may have sufficient mercury in their blood to produce children burdened by cognitive deficits.
And the report says no amount of mercury can be considered safe: "There is no evidence to date that a threshold blood-mercury concentration exists where effects on cognition are not seen." (pg. 118) In other words, any amount of mercury causes some cognitive damage.
5. Fish Are Too Dangerous for Children & for Women Prior to Menopause
For the first time, this IJC report recommends that fish-consumption advisories should warn all children, and women younger than the age of menopause, to not eat ANY fish from the Great Lakes "as an option." (pg. 128) It is not clear what "as an option" means -- but the rest of the phrase is clear: the authors of the IJC report are saying for the first time that the health benefits of eating Great Lakes fish are now outweighed by the cocktail of toxic chemicals the fish contain.
This is a major and very far-reaching recommendation from the IJC Science Advisory Board. The Great Lakes commercial and sport fisheries are valued at $4 billion per year and support thousands of jobs.
6. Men, too, should restrict their intake of Great Lakes fish
** Mercury consumption is now associated with high blood pressure, heart-rate variability, and heart attacks. (pg. 118)
** New data from the laboratory of Ellen Silbergeld at Johns Hopkins Medical School suggests that mercury can cause an autoimmune reaction that damages the heart, autoimmune myocarditis. In autoimmune myocarditis, the body's own immune system attacks the heart muscle and can ultimately cause heart failure.
The report concludes, "These findings suggest that future fish-consumption advisories in the Great Lakes region, which are largely issued to protect women of child-bearing age and children, may need to be extended to other segments of the population (such as adult males, etc.)." (pg. 118)
In other words, the population of people who can safely eat most Great Lakes fish is essentially zero.
7. New health effects discovered from eating Great Lakes fish
According to one study, eating two meals of Great Lakes fish per month is sufficient to increase the number of serious birth defects: "Among the 2,237 infants born to female members of the New York State Angler Cohort between 1986 and 1991, there was an increased probability of a major malformation (including hypospadias, cleft palate, and musculoskeletal defects) in males but not females, whose mothers consumed two or more sport fish meals per month during pregnancy." (pg. 119)
Breast Cancer among Pre-Menopausal Women
One study showed that young women eating Great Lakes fish have a 70% increased risk of breast cancer: "McElroy et al. (2004) found an increased relative risk of developing breast cancer of 70 percent in pre-menopausal Wisconsin women who recently consumed Great Lakes sport-caught fish." (pg. 120)
Immune system impairment in children
Children have an increased incidence of inner ear infections, and of asthma, from exposure to common contaminants in Great Lakes fish -- PCBs, DDT and its breakdown byproduct, DDE, and hexachlorobenzene. The obvious suggestion here is of immune system damage. (pg. 120)
The report emphasizes again and again the dangers to children posed by eating fish from the Great Lakes: "Researchers are discovering an increasing suite of behavioral abnormalities in infants and children and in laboratory rodents prenatally exposed to environmentally relevant concentrations of PCBs or mercury." (pg. 119)
8. Fish Consumption Advisories Don't Protect Public Health
The IJC report seems schizophrenic on the question of fish consumption advisories as a way of protecting the public from eating contaminated fish. On the one hand, as we have seen above, the report recommends fish advisories containing tougher language: children and pre- menopausal women should be advised to eat NO FISH from the Great Lakes "as an option" (whatever that means). On the other hand, the report acknowledges that fish advisories don't reach the people most endangered by Great Lakes fish -- subsistence fishers:
"While advisories provide excellent advice, they have limited effectiveness, in part because they focus on sport fishing. Subsistence fishers who depend on Great Lakes fish to feed their families often eat species that are not covered by advisories. In addition, the current emphasis on sport fishing tends to target male sport fishers rather than subsistence fishers, many of whom are women and minorities. These latter groups are largely unaware of the dangers of contaminated fish." (pg. 121)
Could it be more plainly stated? Fish advisories are ineffective. To prove the point, the IJC report says that, before fish advisories were initiated in 1994, a survey was taken of fish consumption. After 8 years of publishing extensive fish consumption advisories -- warning people which fish to avoid eating in specific waters of the Great Lakes -- a second survey showed that, "the numbers of individuals consuming fish and the amount of Great Lakes sport fish consumed had not decreased." (pg. 122)
The IJC then turns about-face and says, "Fish consumption advisories can only be regarded as a limited and temporary solution for public health protection." (pg. 122) To be blunt about it, this is nonsense. If eight years of fish advisories have not changed the number of people eating Great Lakes fish and have not changed the amount of fish they eat -- and if fish advisories don't even reach the subsistence fishers, who are women and children and who are most endangered -- then fish advisories can only be regarded as a failure.
The report says, "The issues associated with 'legacy' and 'emerging' contaminants of concern and the contaminant-associated health effects described in [chapter 5] are, to varying degrees, surprises, in that they highlight the short-sightedness of our profit-driven approach to innovation, and the inadequacy of our hazard-based regulatory system." (pg. 126)
Instead of an "inadequate" regulatory system based on risk assessment, the IJC report recommends a new approach, based on precaution:
"A much more precautionary, responsive, and democratic approach is clearly required," the report says. (pg. 125) And: "Other jurisdictions widely apply the Precautionary Principle to stimulate innovation and science, and provide good governance," the report says. (pg. 126)
[To be continued next week.]
 The exact wording is: "The Science Advisory Board recommends to the IJC that... The Parties modify their fish consumption advice to address overall fish consumption to focus on... Promoting special precautions for pregnant women including effects on the fetus, women of child-bearing age, and children under 15, and advocating that this group adopt the additional prudence of not eating Great Lakes fish as an option;"
From: Solari, Inc. ........................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 1, 2007
THE SOURCE OF HOPELESSNESS: A REVIEW OF 'AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH'
[Rachel's introduction: "My nickname for our current economic system is 'The Tapeworm.' ...Believing that our solutions for addressing global warming lie within the system defined by the Tapeworm goes hand in hand with obtaining our media from companies controlled by the Tapeworm, and having to choose from among leaders anointed by the Tapeworm, such as Al Gore. This belief is, in fact, the source of our hopelessness."]
By Catherine Austin Fitts, Solari Inc.
[Catherine Austin Fitts served as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner at HUD in the first Bush Administration; she previously served as Managing Director and Member of the Board of Directors of the Wall Street investment bank, Dillon, Read & Co., Inc.]
The day after 9-11, a person whom I respect and care about a great deal said to me, "George Bush was anointed by God for a time such as this." He then asked me what I thought. I said that I thought that the Bush family was anointed by financial fraud, narcotics trafficking, and pedophilia. Stunned, he said, "If that is true, then it's hopeless." I replied that things were far from hopeless, but that for me solutions started with faith in a divine intelligence rather than affirming a dependent relationship with organized crime.
Last week I had dinner with a wonderful couple -- activists in the San Francisco Bay Area-- and the woman told me how wonderful she thought Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth was. She then asked for my opinion. When I gave it, she said, "If that is true, then it's hopeless." We then proceeded to have a rich conversation about why folks who used to call themselves "liberal" or progressive are in the same trap as folks who use to call themselves "conservative"
In order to respond to the problem of global warming, it is necessary to look at the ways that we as citizens support criminal activity by our government and how we as consumers, depositors and investors support the private banking, corporate and investment interests that run our government in this manner. This is easier said than done. When we 'get it' -- i.e., that we have to withdraw from a co-dependent relationship with organized crime in order to save and rebuild our world -- we can find ourselves struggling to envision the system-wide actions that are needed and feeling overwhelmed by the task of determining how to go about them personally and in collaboration with others.
My nickname for our current economic system is "The Tapeworm." For decades I have listened to Americans from all walks of life insist that we must find solutions within the system -- i.e. within the socially acceptable boundaries laid down by the Tapeworm. Believing that our solutions for addressing global warming lie within the system defined by the Tapeworm goes hand in hand with obtaining our media from companies controlled by the Tapeworm, and having to choose from among leaders anointed by the Tapeworm, such as Al Gore. This belief is, in fact, the source of our hopelessness.
George Orwell once said that omission is the greatest form of lie. Gore's omissions in An Inconvenient Truth are so extraordinary that it is hard to know where to start.
Watching An Inconvenient Truth is more useful for understanding how propaganda is made and used than for understanding the risks of global warming (I am not qualified to judge the scientific evidence here -- I am assuming that Gore's presentation on global warming is sound).
The fundamental lie that Al Gore is telling comes from defining our problem as environmental -- in this case global warming, whereas our environmental problems -- as real and important as they are -- are but a symptom of the problem, not the problem. Gore defines our problem as "what." He is silent on "who." For example, Gore does not ask or answer:
** Who is doing this?
** Who has been governing our planet this way and why?
** Cui bono? Who benefits?
** Who has suppressed alternative technologies resulting in our dependency on fossil fuels? Why?
** Who has generated how much financial capital generated from this damage?
** How did things get this bad without our changing? How much was related to fear of and dirty tricks of those in charge?
** How do we recapture resources that have been criminally drained and use them to invest in restoring environmental balance?
Utah Phillips once said, "The earth is not dying. It is being killed, and the people killing it have names and addresses." In one sentence, Utah Phillips told us more about global warming than Al Gore has told us in a lifetime of writing and speaking, let alone in An Inconvenient Truth.
Needless to say, Gore offers no names and addresses. Gore's "who" discussion is limited to population. He seems to imply that the issue is the growth in population combined with busy people being shortsighted, leading to some giant incompetency "accident." That makes it easy to avoid digging into the areas that would naturally follow from starting with "who" -- which should lead to dissecting the relationship between environmental deterioration and the prevailing global investment model that is such a critical part of the governance infrastructure and incentive systems.
Gore walks us through timelines showing the global warming of temperatures. By defining the problem as simply environmental damage, and shrinking the history down to temperatures, there is no need to correlate environmental deterioration with the growth of the global financial system and the resulting centralization of economic and political power. The planet is being run by people who are intentionally killing it. Their power is their ability to offer all of us ways of making money by helping them kill it. Hence, understanding how the mechanics of the financial system and the accumulation of financial capital relate to environmental destruction is essential. If we integrate these deeper systems into an historical timeline, authentic solutions will begin to emerge. But Gore omits the deeper systems and the lessons of how we got here and in so doing closes the door on transformation.
For example, there is no place on Gore's time line that shows:
** the creation of the Federal Reserve:
** the movement of currencies away from the gold standard:
** the growth of non-accountable fiat currency systems:
** the growth of consumer, mortgage and government debt;
** the growth in the superior rights of corporations over people and living things;
** the growth of "privatization" (which I call "piratization");
** the subversive and sometimes violent suppression of renewable energy, housing and transportation technologies and innovations;
** the growth of the offshore financial system and the use of that system to launder and accumulate vast sums of pirated capital accumulated through the onshore destruction of communities.
Understanding the fundamental imbalance of the corporate model -- where enterprises have the rights of personhood, but not the finite existence of people or the legal responsibilities and liabilities -- and the corporate model's economic dependence on subsidy that drives up debt, economic warfare and the destruction of all living things is a critical piece to developing actions to reverse environmental damage. Al Gore is a man that has made money for corporations his entire life. He is a member in good standing of the Tapeworm and his current lifestyle and this documentary are rich with the resources that corporations can provide.
There is also no personal accountability. Al Gore has not "come clean." There is no discussion of Gore's role in the Clinton Administration in facilitating worldwide economic centralization and warfare, and with it genocide and environmental destruction -- for example, there is no mention of The Rape Of Russia or the driving out of Washington of an investment model proposing to align places with capital markets to create a win-win economic model that he intimates is possible. For more, see my recently published case study on Tapeworm Economics, and the competition between two economic visions during the Clinton Administration, "Dillon, Read & the Aristocracy of Prison Profits".
The documentary ends with a long list of things that we can do. Many of these items are on my list. We all need to come clean in the process of evolving towards sustainability. However, without a new investment model and the governance changes that automatically follow, the result of An Inconvenient Truth is to teach us to be good consumers of global oil and consumer product corporations and banks and -- we are supposed to intuitively understand -- vote for Al Gore or the candidates he endorses. Gore draws us down a rabbit hole, which leaves us even more dependent on the people and institutions that created and profited from the problem in the first place. What that means is that the real solution will be significant depopulation. The viewer is left to preserve a bit of the shrinking American bubble to protect us from having to face the depopulation solutions underway (See above links on "The Rape Of Russia" and "Dillon, Read & The Aristocracy of Prison Profits".)
The way a tapeworm operates inside our bodies is to inject a chemical into its host that makes it crave what is good for the tapeworm and bad for the host. An Inconvenient Truth is an injection from the Tapeworm. Don't see it and crave a new round of what has not worked before. Things are not hopeless. There is no need to waste time and money adoring and financing the people who are killing the planet, or counting on the politicians who protect them.
To get you started, let me recommend that you take the money and time that you would spend watching An Inconvenient Truth and invest it in reading or watching a few of many authentic leaders with useful maps and solutions that are leading to serious ecosystem healing and transformation:
Mind Control, Mind Freedom By Jon Rappoport
Escaping the Matrix: How We the People Can Change the World By Richard Moore
America: From Freedom to Fascism A documentary by Aaron Russo
Scholars for 9/11 Truth
What The Bleep Do We Know? A documentary by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente
Messages from Water
The Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee Bill Murphy, Chris Powell
Cynthia McKinney for Congress
Ron Paul for Congress
Can you imagine what these folks could do and what could happen if we all invested 2 hours each and the price of a movie theatre ticket in their work? Can you imagine what would happen if all the money donated to Al Gore and candidates like him were invested in authentic leaders and our access to them? I can -- and the truth and beauty of that future fills my life and work with hope.
Catherine Austin Fitts is President of Solari and may be contacted at www.solari.com
From: Harvard Public Health Review .......................[This story printer-friendly]
January 1, 2007
EXPOSING THE ROOTS OF HEALTH DISPARITIES
[Rachel's introduction: "What intrigues Williams are not just extreme forms of racism, but their subtler, more insidious, day-to-day manifestations. A huge body of research on health disparities has led him to conclude that stress resulting from institutionalized racism and discrimination, be it real or perceived, blatant or muted, is an 'added pathogenic factor' that contributes to well-above-average levels of hypertension, respiratory illness, anxiety, depression, and other ills in minority populations."]
By Richard Saltus
In his latest bid to unearth the dark, tangled roots of disparities in health between blacks and whites, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) newcomer David R. Williams has gone to South Africa....
Williams looks at social policies and historical patterns of discrimination through a sociologist's lens. By sifting and sorting data in fresh ways, he has cast new light on the causes of blacks' poorer health and rates of survival, observe his new colleagues at HSPH. In August, Williams joined the faculty as the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health.
What intrigues Williams are not just extreme forms of racism, but their subtler, more insidious, day-to-day manifestations. A huge body of research on health disparities has led him to conclude that stress resulting from institutionalized racism and discrimination, be it real or perceived, blatant or muted, is an "added pathogenic factor" that contributes to well-above-average levels of hypertension, respiratory illness, anxiety, depression, and other ills in minority populations. Socioeconomic status is just part of the problem. While lower-income people generally tend to be less healthy, Williams says, "blacks do more poorly than whites at every level of socioeconomic status."
The roots of health disparities run so deep that they're invisible to most of society, he has found. "A lot of what I struggle with is understanding the larger social, political, and economic context in which health is embedded and the broader forces, many of them hidden, that shape mobility and access to health care," Williams says. "I have argued, for example, that residential segregation, resulting from historical racist policies, is a fundamental cause of excess levels of ill health in the African-American population."
Segregation by neighborhood is so high at every income bracket in the United States that, in many cities, it comes close to levels once legally mandated by apartheid in South Africa, Williams says. Sixty- six percent of blacks would have to move in order to distribute blacks and whites evenly.
Truth in numbers
Over the past decade, Williams has been among the top 10 most-cited researchers in the social sciences. His more than 100 papers have yielded insights such as these:
Blacks die at twice the rate of whites in the age groups 1-4 and 25-54--a grim fact often missed in comparisons of overall mortality rates, which yield a 30 percent mortality disadvantage for blacks.
In Pitt County, North Carolina, the odds of having hypertension were seven times higher for black men who as children and adults had low socioeconomic status (SES) than for black men whose SES was high.
In Mississippi, home to the highest heart disease death rates in America, the healthiest black women die from heart disease at a greater rate than the sickest white women.
According to Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH, director of the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and a senior scientist in MGH's Institute for Health Policy, Williams "understands the issue of disparities in its entire breadth and depth-- discrimination and socioeconomic status, community and societal factors. Few people have that expertise."
Betancourt and Williams served together on the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine committee that issued the landmark 2003 report, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. The authors found that, even when they had overcome barriers to getting health care, African-Americans and other minority populations were still less likely to receive certain high- tech, expensive, yet common procedures such as coronary bypass operations, kidney dialysis, and kidney transplants. They were more likely, however, to undergo certain other procedures, including lower- limb amputations for diabetes. Why this is so continues to be a subject of research. Possible explanations include health care providers' biases, miscommunication, and blacks' lack of trust in the largely white health care system.
If death rates for blacks and whites were equal, the authors wrote, about 100,000 fewer black Americans would die every year. In fact, blacks are still dying at rates whites did 30 years ago. "And this is not an act of God," Williams points out dryly.
Reversing entrenched policies
Williams is frenetically busy, always on the move. Yet, sitting in his box-filled office, he is expansive, his conversation accented with the lilt and softness of St. Lucia, an island nation in the Caribbean where he grew up.
His college studies, in nearby Trinidad, were in theology, not as a road to the ministry but because of his view of the church as "a foundation for meaningful engagement and service to community." After college, Williams came to the United States, braving the bitter Michigan winters, to study at Andrews University, the flagship educational institution of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which promotes preventive health practices such as exercise, vegetarianism, and abstinence from smoking and alcohol. Williams earned an MPH from the Adventist Loma Linda University in California, his field work bringing him back to Michigan as a health educator at an Adventist facility in Battle Creek.
There Williams worked in fitness, stress management, and heart-disease risk-reduction programs, where he says he was impressed by "the extent to which health practices and behaviors of individuals were shaped by larger social forces. The nature of the family environment was a strong predictor of the long-term success of a stop-smoking program, for example." This insight led to a PhD in sociology from the University of Michigan where, after a six-year stint at Yale, he returned in 1992 as professor of sociology and senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Research.
Along the way, personal experience fed into Williams' views of the corrosive effects of racist attitudes upon psychological health and well being. Not long after emigrating to the United States, for example, Williams and four other black university students were pulled over by Indiana police at about 1 a.m. on their way back to Andrews University from a weekend trip. The driver was allegedly speeding, but when the officer insisted on seeing the licenses of everyone in the car, the young men felt the sting of racism. "It made us all angry--we were nearly home, we were tired, we felt we shouldn't have to do this," remembers Williams.
A more menacing act shook him and his wife in the predominantly white neighborhood of Battle Creek, Michigan, where they were renting an apartment. "As I was going to sleep there was an explosion, and a flash of light," Williams recounts. "Someone had fired shots in the air, and on the lawn of a black family who had just moved in next door, a cross was burning." Although the police sent a hate crimes unit to investigate, "there was nothing reported in the local media." That seeming indifference rankles Williams to this day.
If entrenched social policies have contributed to the insidious health disadvantages that persist among today's minorities, it should be possible, if daunting, to reverse these, Williams believes. As part of a group that is collaborating with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, he is working to establish a national commission that will "look systematically at disparities in race, health, and socioeconomic status, and see what policies can be used to improve health."
"It's primarily about improving the circumstances in which people live and work," Williams says. That means job training and initiatives that improve their ability to take advantage of the opportunities that society offers." If there are no easy answers, Williams is nevertheless generating new information he hopes will help societies narrow health and economic divides along racial lines.
"What's phenomenal about David," says Lisa Berkman, who chairs Williams' department and helped lure him to HSPH, "is that he takes data that have long been in the public domain, such as decades of life expectancy data, and uses them to point out underlying causes of racial disparities in health that lay hidden or silent. He's making the roots of disparities transparent."
Richard Saltus has been a reporter for the Associated Press, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Boston Globe. He writes about science, medicine, and public health.
Copyright, 2006-2007, President and Fellows of Harvard College
From: The Bloomington (Indiana) Alternative ...............[This story printer-friendly]
December 31, 2006
[Rachel's introduction: In Indiana the garbage industry has gained extraordinary influence within the Department of Environmental Management and the state legislature: Garbage incineration is about to be declared a form of "recycling" and real recycling is about to lose its funding.]
By Thomas P. Healy
In an unprecedented move, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) is seeking to alter the definition of what constitutes recycling by including incineration -- specifically waste- to-energy projects.
Additionally, IDEM's Office of Pollution Prevention and Technical Assistance is establishing an integrated recycling plan with new guidelines that could undermine local government recycling programs, encourage more polluting industries in Indiana and divert limited funds from legitimate recycling operations.
The state's environmental community -- especially members of the Indiana Recycling Coalition (IRC), a statewide nonprofit advocate for waste reduction and recycling -- is concerned that such initiatives threaten existing recycling projects and send plans to expand them up in smoke.
At a mid-December Business Summit on Recycling Issues called by the IRC, stakeholders in resource reduction and reuse activities learned about these policy changes and heard about legislative initiatives that may be introduced in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
IRC President Melissa Kriegerfox told attendees that Indiana is the first state to propose a redefinition of recycling to include incineration.
"As far as the Environmental Protection Agency is concerned, this is turning the solid waste hierarchy upside down," she said.
Kriegerfox, recycling and reuse director for the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District (SWMD), explained that the EPA's solid waste hierarchy places source reduction at the top, followed by reuse and recycling. The bottom tier is considered final disposal, and that includes incineration, waste-to-energy facilities and landfills, she said.
While not opposed in principle to waste-to-energy projects, Kriegerfox said IRC does not consider incineration to be recycling.
"Recycling takes materials and puts them in a process to make into a new product," she said. "Incineration is final disposal."
The IRC is also concerned about any policy shifts at IDEM that would mandate that recycling programs become "revenue neutral" and utilize only Indiana outlets for materials in an effort to "close the loop."
"Not all civic services generate revenue," Kriegerfox said, citing diverted costs -- both financial and environmental -- that rarely seem to end up in the equation. "As IDEM has proposed it, there's no way that you can make it work."
For example, there is no consideration for diverted greenhouse gas emissions from recycling, say, aluminum cans. Other values such as "pride of place" generated through community cleanups or the value a community derives from educational programs cannot be neatly plugged into a spreadsheet cell.
IRC claims the meaning of "closing the loop" -- a catchphrase long favored by waste reduction and reuse advocates -- is being subverted in IDEM's usage to insist that recyclables generated in Indiana be put back into the manufacturing process within Indiana.
Kriegerfox says IDEM ignores other options for boosting the marketplace for recycling in the state and the global nature of the commodities market.
"You can't expect businesses like Rumpke or Waste Management or Republic to use only the Indiana marketplace when they could get $25 to $100 more a ton by sending materials to California or China," she said.
The same holds true for community recycling programs. Monroe County's SWMD collects sorted office paper that is sold to a mill in Manawa, Wis., where it is made into tissue and tissue paper.Under the new proposal, that arrangement would be viewed with disfavor during the grant review process, in which the solid waste district would have to prove it is "successful" -- "revenue neutral" -- by using "closed- loop" Indiana-based outlets.
In this scenario, Kriegerfox said, IRC fears its member groups would suffer when it comes to competing for funds.
"If you don't meet those requirements then you can't apply for the grant," she said, which leaves more funds to give to waste-to-energy projects such as burning automobile tires or trash for energy.
That's not exactly accurate, according to Sandra Flum, director of intergovernmental affairs for IDEM.
"I think there's a misconception that we're talking about all waste- to-energy projects, and that's not the direction we're heading right now," she said. "We're looking at what's a good use."
Flum noted that waste-to-energy is currently not on the list of priorities the Recycling Market Development Board (RMDB) uses when considering applications for grants or low-interest loans.
"As the priority list is currently written, it's unclear whether state funds could be used for such projects," she said. "So adding [waste- to-energy projects] seemed like a good idea."
Indiana's problem with discarded automobile tires -- nearly 6 million annually -- prompted the specific inclusion of projects that involve burning tires for energy, Flum said.
An IDEM report created in November examined how funds available through the Recycling Market Development Program are being utilized and found that some remain leftover at year's end.
"So we thought it makes sense, if we're not going to spend money on the first priorities, that we at least add waste-to-energy as a priority," Flum said.
According to Flum, the report was the first step toward getting the RMDB to consider an expanded definition of recycling so it could provide grants to waste-to-energy projects. She stressed that including such projects would not threaten recycling programs.
"We clearly prioritize it so that the other valuable projects that have been traditionally funded would be higher priorities," she said. "For us it's where this falls in the priority, and we recognize it as a lower priority than other types of recycling."
Asked about pollution from waste-to-energy projects, Flum said, "You would certainly have emissions controls on any kind of incineration or smokestack, and it would be defined on a health-based standard. There's no way that we would encourage a business to come in here without controls on what they're emitting."
Flum was unaware of any "revenue-neutral" proposals and said that evaluating such recommendations would be appropriate for the state's Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) to study.
"We think that's the right organization to give the direction that the RMDB asked for," she said.
Although the RMDB has thus far declined to include waste-to-energy in its definition of recycling, don't expect IDEM to stop pushing to expand the definition to include one of Gov. Daniels' pet projects. Flum suggested that another waste-to-energy source could be manure from Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
For its part, IRC will continue educating Hoosiers, reminding them that source reduction is the first of the three Rs of recycling.
In addition to participating in the Business Summit, IRC recently met with 15 environmental groups from around the state to discuss the proposed changes. The organization is poised to launch a Defend Recycling campaign next week, in time for the 2007 session of the Indiana General Assembly.
Thomas P. Healy can be reached at email@example.com
Details are available at http://www.indianarecycling.org
Copyright 2005 by The Bloomington Alternative
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