Rachel's Precaution Reporter #132

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2008.............Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

The Delayed Introduction of Unleaded Petrol
  In New Zealand (as in the U.S.), the dangers of toxic lead in
  gasoline were known for decades, but safer substitutes were not
  adopted, partly because of "the absence of a precautionary principle
  as part of risk management policy in regard to children's health, even
  when all the evidence pointed in this direction."
A Tower of Issues
  "If you look at these things [radio towers], it's pretty convincing
  that you've got a real question mark here, and that it would pay to
  err on the precautionary side," BRACT member Joseph DiGennaro said at
  a meeting on Monday.
For Sarkozy and Dubya, a Shared Playbook
  "This [new French] law essentially authorizes people to be detained
  for crimes they might commit in the future, not the crime they have
  already committed, a stunning extension of the precautionary
Public Urged To Lead on Environmental Safety
  Speakers urged the government to use what they called the
  "precautionary principle," an approach to environmental protection
  that puts public health first. New Jersey, they said, needs to make
  the public's health and safety the top priority because the state has
  more than 15,000 contaminated sites, as well as some of the nation's
  highest rates for cancer and chronic lung disease.
Why Precaution Is Needed
  Human activities are now ruining the Earth as a place suitable for
  human habitation. Because of this new reality, a new way of making
  decisions is needed. That's why the precautionary principle has
  emerged in recent years, to help people defend the future.
Precaution: A New Way To Make Decisions
  The precautionary principle is a new way of making decisions, quite
  different from the current way.
Sunset of the Precaution Reporter Revisited
  Last week we announced the sunset of Rachel's Precaution Reporter
  without explanation. Here's a bit more detail.


From: Scoop.co.nz (Wellington, New Zealand), Mar. 5, 2008
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Confusion and procrastination: The delayed introduction of unleaded

Unleaded petrol became mandatory in New Zealand in 1996, but a newly
published study led by the University of Otago, Wellington reveals
there was a 20 year delay as a result of deliberate lobbying by the
lead additives industry, poorly informed and vacillating politicians,
and a bureaucracy which lacked technical expertise.

This novel study of pollution and politics analyses the literature and
reports from 1974 to 1996 and finds that there was clear international
evidence that lead in petrol was a known serious health risk,
particularly for children. It has recently been published in the
international journal 'Environmental Health'.

Despite this evidence, the study shows that successive New Zealand
Governments and the bureaucracy consistently claimed that there was no
urgency to introduce unleaded petrol in this country.

"A major reason for this procrastination was industry lobbying of
Government. The lead additive supplier, Associated Octel, which was
owned by major oil companies, provided counter information over 20
years in order to undermine international scientific studies," says
lead researcher Dr Nick Wilson from the University of Otago's
Department of Public Health in Wellington.

Modifications in the early 1980s to the one refinery in the country,
owned by the NZ Refining Company, also limited the ability to supply
unleaded petrol. These changes were made after it was already well-
known that leaded petrol was a health risk.

The study found other fundamental and significant reasons for the long
delays were:

** the absence of a precautionary principle as part of risk management
policy in regard to children's health, even when all the evidence
pointed in this direction.

** weak policy machinery and lack of technical expertise within the
Ministry of Energy and the Department of Health

** a closed and negative attitude by the bureaucracy and Government to
input from the wider community, including scientists and non-
government organisations.

"The New Zealand experience shows yet again the weakness in decision-
making processes that comes about when no single government agency
akin to the US Environmental Protection Agency has overall
responsibility for an important environmental health issue."

Even when there was international and New Zealand evidence in the late
1970s and early 1980s that lead might be a threat to child health and
development, nothing was done. Authorities still continued to claim
that international research did not apply to this country, despite
scientific advice to the contrary from the Royal Society of New

"There was a credibility/denial gap a kilometre wide between
scientists and governments on this issue," says Dr Wilson. "It was
exceedingly na´ve to think that industry would voluntarily remove lead
from petrol without regulation. The manufacturers of the lead
additives even wrote to the Department of Health suggesting that air
monitoring should not occur near busy intersections as it was

A co-author of the study, Dr John Horrocks, from the Wellington
Institute of Technology, says that "the faith of politicians and
officials that New Zealand was 'clean and green' and 'well-
ventilated', to use some of their phrases, has also held back progress
on other forms of air pollution."

"There are some lessons here from the lead additives story. We seem to
think we are a special case, even though vehicle emissions are known
to cause as many premature deaths in New Zealand as road crashes.
Until recently New Zealand had some of the world's dirtiest diesel.
Though the Clean Air Council recommended in 1974 that vehicles pass
emission tests, the most that older polluting cars have to do is to
meet a feeble visible smoke test, finally introduced in 2006.

"Just as it took too long to get rid of lead, it is going to take more
than a decade to clean up the vehicle fleet," he says.

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From: The Northender (Oyster Bay, N.Y.), Feb. 29, 2008
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By Brian Brennan

A small but determined group of Bayville residents is not giving up on
blocking a T-band, digital turnkey radio system from being erected on
the water tower at 34 School Street, or on existing commercial
antennas removed from the tower.

The village board of trustees voted in April to okay the new system,
under pressure from Nassau County, which said the equipment was
necessary to enhancing the county's first responder system.

The system would consist of two electromagnetic microwave dishes and
four radio frequency (RF) antennas. These would be joining as many as
52 RF antennas that have been placed on the tower by commercial
wireless companies since the early 1990s. The village puts yearly
rental revenue from the companies at around $200,000.

Opponents fear the effects of the microwave radiation, especially as
the water tower is caddy corner to the Bayville Primary School. They
have formed a coalition called Bayville Residents Against Cell Tower
(BRACT) and filed a lawsuit against the village. They are represented
by the Coalition of Landlords, Homeowners and Merchants.

BRACT argues that it has not been satisfactorily proved that RF waves
are not harmful to human health; and that policymakers must therefore
operate on the so-called precautionary principle. The principle -- now
the rule in environmental policy in several countries and a few
American municipalities -- states that an activity must not be carried
out until it has been demonstrated that it is not harmful to public or
environmental health.

"If you look at these things, it's pretty convincing that you've got a
real question mark here; that it would pay to err on the precautionary
side," BRACT member Joseph DiGennaro said at a meeting on Monday. Dr.
DiGennaro has spent nearly 40 years as a professor of environmental,
community and personal health at Hunter, Lehman and Nassau Community
colleges, and at Hofstra University. He and his wife JoTina are
spearheading BRACT's efforts.

"We're fighting a couple of things here, I think," said JoTina
DiGennaro. "I don't think people are completely aware of what the
situation is and how dangerous it is. I think some people are very,
very attached to their cell phones, which is fine, but you can't put
that above our own health and the health of our children."

BRACT is not satisfied with the findings of a study conducted for the
village by the Planning and Research Consulting Associates (PARC
Associates) because it was paid for by Motorola, which won the
contract to erect the new system.

The study found that the radiation generated by the tower would be
less than one-tenth the level allowed by US Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) guidelines.

"The expected increases of electromagnetic radiation levels are small
in Bayville, because the energy radiated by the proposed antennas
would go far overhead," the report reads. "It would be very weak when
it reaches a few people in Mill Neck. There should be no fear of
microwave or other Radio Frequency exposure to adults or small
children living in Bayville or attending either Bayville school."

At a meeting last year, Bayville Mayor Victoria Siegel said that the
village commissioned the study on its own and that it was only agreed
after the fact that Motorola would pay for it.

The findings of the study are in keeping with those of the Institute
of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the World Health
Organization (WHO) that risks to human health are negligible, though
both bodies continue to examine the issue.

However, those who lobby against cell towers in residential
neighborhoods argue that federal research has been inadequate and
underfunded; and that telecommunications industry lobbyists have
wielded undue influence in policy making. They also highlight a
perceived inappropriateness in the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) -- rather than a health agency -- regulating RF standards.

There is a stumbling block to the regulation of wireless facilities by
local and state governments in the form of the Telecommunications Act
of 1996. The act prohibits municipalities from barring RF applications
on the basis of environmental effects, so long as the applicants are
in compliance with FCC regulations.

According to the text of the act, "As written, the purpose of the
requirement is to prevent telecommunications siting decisions from
being based upon unscientific or irrational fears that emissions from
telecommunications sites may cause undesirable health effects. In a
surprising number of public hearings on the issue of cellular siting,
individuals appear and complain of allegedly harmful health effects,
although the authors know of no studies substantiating such claims."

The act supports the position of the Bayville Board of Trustees, who
have insisted that their powers of refusal in cases of wireless
applicants are limited.

BRACT, on the other hand, say that their case is a strong one, in view
of the deed by which a Mona Williams donated the land on which the
tower stands to the village in December of 1950.

The deed states that "no commercial enterprises shall be permitted
thereon and, in addition, no use of the premises shall be made or
permitted which would be offensive, dangerous or obnoxious to the
owners or any owner (now or hereafter) of land within a radius of one-
quarter of a mile of the premises..."

Mayor Siegel has said that the village refused to rent space on the
tower until informed by legal counsel that the restrictions written
into the deed had expired.

That they really have expired is disputed by some who point to an
April 1954 indenture.

The indenture says that the restrictions would only be in place
through 1978 if the property passed out of village hands, but adds,
"So long as said parcel more particularly described hereinabove is
owned by [Bayville], said restrictive covenants shall be deemed in
full force and effect."

The mayor has said that the village could only legally remove
contractees' antennas if it relocated the antennas to another location
within its borders.

With the federal government behind them, it does not seem likely that
the commercial customers would go quietly.

Nor will the county. The Suozzi administration was harsh in its
criticism last year of Bayville and 23 other municipalities that it
accused of hampering necessary safety enhancements.

The new system, the county argued, would allow Nassau to have its own
unique frequency, rather than having to continue to sharing a UHF band
with municipalities in New Jersey. Sharing the band, the county
claimed, has forced its emergency personnel to transmit at levels that
do not interfere with co-users, but that limit radio traffic capacity.

The county insists that the new coverage would be far more
comprehensive and reliable, and allow for solid interoperability
throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York City, and the areas
three miles out into Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean

Copyright 2006 Northender.com

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From: Yale Daily News, Mar. 3, 2008
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By Daniel Nichanian

Always eager to intensify the extremism of his rhetoric, the
increasingly unpopular French President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking to
regain approval by coupling a despicable criminal justice reform with
a stunning disregard for the law.

Earlier this year, Sarkozy pushed through a bill that allows for
"dangerous" detainees to be held in a detention facility after they
have completed their sentences. A commission of three magistrates has
the authority to order them back in jail for a year after examining
the threat they pose; the decision can be renewed indefinitely.

The Left immediately appealed to the Constitutional Council, France's
supreme authority on constitutional matters. The Council upheld the
law last week, but ruled against its retroactive application to
detainees already serving their sentences. This prompted Sarkozy to
take the unprecedented step of asking one of the country's top
magistrates (who almost immediately rebuffed him) to find a way to
circumvent this decision, pledging that the law would be applied
retroactively when all was said and done.

This law essentially authorizes people to be detained for crimes they
might commit in the future, not the crime they have already committed,
a stunning extension of the precautionary principle. "What is
important for me is that we don't let monsters free after they have
served their sentences," said Sarkozy in his answer to the
Constitutional Council.

A sentence of 15 years in prison can now be transformed into lifelong
detention with little publicity and possibility of appeal. To make
matters worse, judges will undoubtedly be influenced by the pressure
of knowing that they will be the first ones blamed if a detainee whose
liberation they allowed ends up in the news once again.

Unfortunately, this debate confirms how difficult it is to oppose "law
and order" reforms. No politician wants to be known as an advocate of
criminal rights, while countless candidates campaign on the need to
toughen criminal law. As a result, there is a seemingly never-ending
drift towards stricter punishments with barely any push-back.

This pattern has been playing out in the United States for a long
time, and has recently been extended from issues of crime to
terrorism. Democrats trying to reform wiretapping laws are denounced
for bringing aid and comfort to terrorists, and George Bush's "with us
or against us" doctrine has been applied to domestic contestation as
much as to international relations. Now, the French Right is taking
pages from the GOP's playbook: One of Sarkozy's ministers accused the
Left of "choosing to be on the side of assassins."

In fact, throughout this entire episode, the French president has
displayed just how much he has learned from the Bush administration.

First, Sarkozy is placing himself above the rule of law by announcing
his intention to circumvent the Constitutional Council, and his
arrogance is strikingly similar to that of Bush's tenure. Through his
signing statements, secret programs and contempt for international
conventions, Bush has accustomed us to an executive that openly
disregards legality, and does so with such aplomb that it often seems
too obvious to be possible. Thankfully, Sarkozy is not yet as versed
in this art as his American counterpart, and his attempt at a judicial
coup was met with widespread indignation over the past week, even by
figures in his own party.

Second, Sarkozy has learned to counter difficult periods by resorting
to a continual drumbeat of outrageous proposals that destabilize his
opponents and drag the discussion back to his home turf -- order and
immigration. This strategy was amazingly successful during last year's
presidential election and the first few months of his presidency, just
as it has been working for U.S. Republicans over the past few years.
(Read: exploiting Iraq during the 2002 midterms or Bush's fear-
mongering in 2004.)

The French president enjoyed soaring approval ratings during the
months following his election, and nothing seemed to burst the Sarkozy
bubble. But what his stigmatization of immigrants and his assaults on
the country's secular tradition could not accomplish, the staging of
his private life finally did: Fueled by the soap opera of Sarkozy's
recent marriage to model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, the president's
plunge into depths of unpopularity has been as brutal as it has been

Now less than a month from potentially devastating local elections,
Sarkozy is using his same old strategy of running on law and order and
constantly coming up with new provocations to mask his failures.

But Sarkozy should remember where Bush's tactics got him; soon he
could be headed for the same fate.

Daniel Nichanian is a senior.

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From: The Record (Hackensack, N.J.), Mar. 4, 2008
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By Jim Wright, Staff Writer

From testing schools for PCBs in window caulk to ridding those schools
of caustic cleaning supplies, the public must play a larger role in
making their communities safer, speakers said at a major environmental
conference on Monday.

"When the people lead, the leaders will follow," Robert Spiegel of the
Edison Wetlands Association said at the conference, held at Seton Hall

He described growing concerns over potentially hazardous levels of
PCBs -- polychlorinated biphenyls -- in caulk in public schools built
between 1930 and 1980 statewide. The carcinogen is considered
particularly dangerous to children because it is also thought to
impair brain development.

"I don't think we need to wait to see how bad all the schools are or
for government to tell us they don't know the full extent of the
problem," Spiegel said. "We know it has been a problem around the
country where they've tested [for PCBs]. We know there's the potential
for the problem in New Jersey."

Speakers urged the government to use what they called the
"precautionary principle," an approach to environmental protection
that puts public health first. New Jersey, they said, needs to make
the public's health and safety the top priority because the state has
more than 15,000 contaminated sites, as well as some of the nation's
highest rates for cancer and chronic lung disease.

"All we are focused on and all we are asking for is precaution," said
keynote speaker Lois Marie Gibbs, who helped sound the alarm about the
massive Love Canal toxic waste site near Niagara Falls three decades

"We want government to take precautionary steps because we do not know
enough about the science of exposure to chemicals and human health in
this country or worldwide," said Gibbs, executive director of the
Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

As an example, she cited a bill currently before the New York
Legislature that says the only kind of cleaning agents that can be
used in public school must be "green," or non-caustic.

"Right now they use this toxic, horrible, horrible stuff, and children
put their faces or their hands on their desks," she said.

Brenda Holzinger, president of the Environmental Education Fund, said
that although New Jersey has the Global Warming Response Act and many
other progressive policies, other states and nations have taken the
lead on applying the precautionary principle.

She said when the state is dealing with toxic chemicals and pollution,
it should be guided by the idea "that if we think there is harm, if we
have uncertain information, let's go slowly and take precautions."

E-mail: wright@northjersey.com

Copyright 2008 North Jersey Media Group

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From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #132, Mar. 5, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Here is a short PowerPoint presentation that explains why the
precautionary principle is needed: there are three trends that are
destroying the Earth as a place suitable for human habitation.

Because of these new conditions, we need a new way of making
decisions. That's why the precautionary principle has emerged in
recent years.


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From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #132, Mar. 5, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Here is a very brief set of PowerPoint slides that explains the
precautionary principle and compares it to the existing way of making


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From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter, Mar. 5, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Last week we announced that Rachel's Precaution Reporter would cease
publication with issue #183 (Feb. 25, 2009), but we gave no
explanation. The reason was, I had been laid up for 48 hours with food
poisoning and didn't have what it took to write an explanatory
article, but still wanted to give our readers a year's notice. Thus
the brevity.

Here's the missing explanation, which accompanied our notice that our
other publication, Rachel's News, will cease publication Feb. 26,
2009: http://www.precaution.org/lib/08/prn_sunset.htm --P.M.

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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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