Rachel's Democracy & Health News #952

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, March 27, 2008................Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

Sierra Club Removes Leadership of Its Florida Chapter
  The national board of the Sierra Club has removed the leadership of
  its Florida Chapter, which was highly critical of the board's decision
  to lend its name and logo to the Clorox Company's marketing campaign
  for a new line of cleaning products.
Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation
  As the wealth and income gaps widen in the U.S., so does the gap in
  life expectancy between rich and poor. Inequality is now the #1
  public health problem in the U.S.
Caving To Industry, FDA Delays Safety Standards for Decades
  A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals
  that 97% of Americans are contaminated with a sunscreen ingredient
  called oxybenzone linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell
  damage. At the request of industry lobbyists such as Supreme Court
  Chief Justice John Roberts, who represented the Cosmetic Toiletry and
  Fragrance Association, the agency has delayed sunscreen safety
  standards for nearly 30 years.
We've Been Here Before, and It Wasn't Pretty the First Time
  During the medieval ages, a great warming (similar to our own
  present circumstance) profoundly changed civilizations from the Norse
  to the Khmer. Archeologists call it the Medieval Warm Period, and it
  created a "silent and oft-ignored killer": drought.
Two N.H. Communities Enact Laws Recognizing Rights of Nature
  Two more towns have passed local laws declaring that nature has
  rights and corporations don't.
Hair Dyes Found To Increase Cancer Risk
  Hairdressers and barbers are at increased risk of developing cancer
  because of their use of hair dyes.
Swimming in Chemicals
  Mark Schapiro's new book reveals how the European Union is
  demanding that multinationals manufacture safer products, while
  products developed and sold in the United States are increasingly
  equated with serious health hazards, and are banned from Europe and
  other parts of the world.


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News, Mar. 27, 2008
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By Peter Montague[1]

The Sierra Club's national board voted March 25 to remove the
leaders of the Club's 35,000-member Florida chapter, and to suspend
the Chapter for four years. It was the first time in the Club's 116-
year history that such action has been taken against a state Chapter.

The leadership of the Florida Chapter had been highly critical of
the national board's decision in mid-December 2007 to allow The Clorox
Company to use the Sierra Club's name and logo to market a new line of
non-chlorinated cleaning products called "Green Works." In return,
Clorox Company will pay Sierra Club an undisclosed fee, based partly
on product sales. The Clorox Company logo will appear on the products
as well. A 2004 report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Education Fund named The Clorox Company as one of the nation's most
chemically dangerous.

The Clorox deal has angered and embittered Club members all across the
country, not just in Florida. Since the deal was announced in January,
2008, the Club's national leadership has deflected many requests by
Club members to see the text of the legal agreement signed with
Clorox. Johanna O'Kelley, the Club's director of Licensing & Cause-
Related Marketing, will say only that the amount of money involved is
"substantial." Carl Pope, the Club's executive director, has said that
money was not the driving factor behind the deal: "Our focus was on
consumers who otherwise would not migrate to a safer product because
they wouldn't be sure it wasn't green scamming," Mr. Pope has written.
The idea is that the Clorox logo will convince people the products
will work, and the Sierra Club logo will convince people the products
are environmentally preferable.

Third parties are already benefiting from the deal. John Ulrich, who
heads the Chemical Industry Council of California, claims broadly
that, "the chemical industry is moving toward developing and marketing
safer, more eco-friendly products, pointing to Oakland-based Clorox
Co.'s new line of 'green' cleaning products that have been endorsed by
the Sierra Club," according to a recent news report. As he spoke,
Mr. Ulrich was using the Sierra Club-Clorox deal to try to deflect
attention away from a new report showing that the chemical industry
sickens and kills thousands of Californians each year, costing the
state an estimated $2.6 billion in medical expenses and lost wages.

With 2007 revenues of $4.8 billion, The Clorox Company is best-known
for its namesake chlorine bleach. The company also manufactures and
sells other cleaning products, including Pine-Sol, Clorox Clean-Up,
Formula 409, Liquid Plumr, Armor All, plus STP auto-care products,
Fresh Step and Scoop Away cat litter, Kingsford charcoal, Hidden
Valley and K C Masterpiece salad dressings and sauces, Brita water-
filtration systems, and Glad bags, wraps and containers. With 7,800
employees worldwide, the company manufactures products in more than
two dozen countries[2] and markets them in more than 100 countries.

In its most recent 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange
Commission, Clorox acknowledges,

"The Company is currently involved in or has potential liability with
respect to the remediation of past contamination in the operation of
some of its currently and formerly owned and leased facilities. In
addition, some of its present and former facilities have been or had
been in operation for many years and, over that time, some of these
facilities may have used substances or generated and disposed of
wastes that are or may be considered hazardous."


"The Company handles and/or transports hazardous substances, including
but not limited to chlorine, at its plant sites, including the rail
transit of liquid chlorine from its point of origin to our
manufacturing facilities. A release of such chemicals, whether in
transit or at our facilities, due to accident or an intentional act,
could result in substantial liability."

The Clorox Company seems an especially unlikely partner for Sierra
Club because many environmental organizations in the U.S., including
many members of the Sierra Club, have been working to eliminate
chlorine chemistry for the past 15 years. Supporters of the deal point
out that it is a step toward that goal. Critics are asking who's next
for partnerships? DuPont? Dow? Monsanto?

According to postings on the Club's "Clubhouse" web site,

(1) the Club's Corporate Relations Committee examined the proposed
deal with Clorox and rejected it, but was overridden by the national
board of directors;

(2) The Club's Toxics Committee was not consulted before the deal was

(3) The Club's Corporate Financial Acceptance Policy says, in part,
"The Club will not endorse products."

Among grass-roots Club members, the process for making the decision,
as much as the decision itself, is cause for anger and dismay. The
Club has 1.3 million dues-paying members, many of who are active
volunteers in their local communities. Volunteers and paid national
staff sometimes have different perspectives on what's most important
to the Club.

When grass-roots members pointed out that Clorox was fined $95,000
for violating U.S. pesticide laws just as the deal with the Club was
being brokered, staffer Johanna O'Kelley dismissed Clorox's
culpability, saying their violation was "a technicality."

According to a report in the Palm Beach, Florida, Post newspaper,
"Many past and present chapter leaders have declined to speak publicly
about the dispute, with some saying they fear punishment from the
national organization. In a recent letter, the club instructed leaders
not to 'seek public media coverage of this internal board decision.'"

On the Club's "Clubhouse" web site, several Club members have called
for a full national membership referendum on the Clorox deal, but so
far the national staff in San Francisco has not adopted that


[1] Disclosure: Peter Montague is a member of the Sierra Club.

[2] In its 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission
dated June 30, 2007, The Clorox Company listed these subsidiaries:
1221 Olux, LLC Delaware; A & M Products Manufacturing Company
Delaware; Andover Properties, Inc. Delaware; The Armor All/STP
Products Company Delaware; BGP Switzerland S. a. r. l. Switzerland;
Brita Canada Corporation Nova Scotia; Brita Canada Holdings
Corporation Nova Scotia; Brita GP Ontario; Brita LP Ontario; Brita
Manufacturing Company Delaware; The Brita Products Company Delaware;
Chesapeake Assurance Limited Hawaii; Clorox Africa (Holdings) Pty.
Ltd. South Africa; Clorox Africa Pty. Ltd. South Africa; Clorox
Argentina S.A. Argentina; Clorox Australia Pty. Ltd. Australia; Clorox
(Barbados) Inc. Barbados; Clorox Brazil Holdings LLC Delaware; Clorox
do Brasil Ltda. Brazil; Clorox Car Care Limited United Kingdom; Clorox
(Cayman Islands) Ltd. Cayman Islands; Clorox de Centro America, S.A.
Costa Rica; Clorox Chile S.A. Chile; Clorox China (Guangzhou) Ltd.
Guangzhou, P.R.C.; Clorox de Colombia S.A. Colombia; Clorox Commercial
Company Delaware; The Clorox Company of Canada Ltd. Canada (Federal);
Clorox Diamond Production Company Delaware; Clorox Dominicana, C. por
A. Dominican Republic.

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From: New York Times, Mar. 23, 2008
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By Robert Pear

WASHINGTON -- New government research has found "large and growing"
disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans,
paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

Life expectancy for the nation as a whole has increased, the
researchers said, but affluent people have experienced greater gains,
and this, in turn, has caused a widening gap.

One of the researchers, Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the
Department of Health and Human Services, said "the growing
inequalities in life expectancy" mirrored trends in infant mortality
and in death from heart disease and certain cancers.

The gaps have been increasing despite efforts by the federal
government to reduce them. One of the top goals of "Healthy People
2010," an official statement of national health objectives issued in
2000, is to "eliminate health disparities among different segments of
the population," including higher- and lower-income groups and people
of different racial and ethnic background.

Dr. Singh said last week that federal officials had found "widening
socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy" at birth and at every
age level.

He and another researcher, Mohammad Siahpush, a professor at the
University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, developed an index to
measure social and economic conditions in every county, using census
data on education, income, poverty, housing and other factors.
Counties were then classified into 10 groups of equal population size.

In 1980-82, Dr. Singh said, people in the most affluent group could
expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group
(75.8 versus 73 years). By 1998-2000, the difference in life
expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it
continues to grow, he said.

After 20 years, the lowest socioeconomic group lagged further behind
the most affluent, Dr. Singh said, noting that "life expectancy was
higher for the most affluent in 1980 than for the most deprived group
in 2000."

"If you look at the extremes in 2000," Dr. Singh said, "men in the
most deprived counties had 10 years € o shorter life expectancy than
women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years)."
The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was
more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).

The Democratic candidates for president, Senators Hillary Rodham
Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have championed
legislation to reduce such disparities, as have some Republicans, like
Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

Peter R. Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said:
"We have heard a lot about growing income inequality. There has been
much less attention paid to growing inequality in life expectancy,
which is really quite dramatic."

Life expectancy is the average number of years of life remaining for
people who have attained a given age.

While researchers do not agree on an explanation for the widening gap,
they have suggested many reasons, including these:

** Doctors can detect and treat many forms of cancer and heart disease
because of advances in medical science and technology. People who are
affluent and better educated are more likely to take advantage of
these discoveries.

** Smoking has declined more rapidly among people with greater
education and income.

** Lower-income people are more likely to live in unsafe
neighborhoods, to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior and to eat
unhealthy food.

** Lower-income people are less likely to have health insurance, so
they are less likely to receive checkups, screenings, diagnostic
tests, prescription drugs and other types of care.

Even among people who have insurance, many studies have documented
racial disparities.

In a recent report, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that
black patients "tend to receive less aggressive medical care than
whites" at its hospitals and clinics, in part because doctors provide
them with less information and see them as "less appropriate
candidates" for some types of surgery.

Some health economists contend that the disparities between rich and
poor inevitably widen as doctors make gains in treating the major
causes of death.

Nancy Krieger, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health,
rejected that idea. Professor Krieger investigated changes in the rate
of premature mortality (dying before the age of 65) and infant death
from 1960 to 2002. She found that inequities shrank from 1966 to 1980,
but then widened.

"The recent trend of growing disparities in health status is not
inevitable," she said. "From 1966 to 1980, socioeconomic disparities
declined in tandem with a decline in mortality rates."

The creation of Medicaid and Medicare, community health centers, the
"war on poverty" and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 all probably
contributed to the earlier narrowing of health disparities, Professor
Krieger said.

Robert E. Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at
the conservative Heritage Foundation, said one reason for the growing
disparities might be "a very significant gap in health literacy" --
what people know about diet, exercise and healthy lifestyles. Middle-
class and upper-income people have greater access to the huge amounts
of health information on the Internet, Mr. Moffit said.

Thomas P. Miller, a health economist at the American Enterprise
Institute, agreed.

"People with more education tend to have a longer time horizon," Mr.
Miller said. "They are more likely to look at the long-term
consequences of their health behavior. They are more assertive in
seeking out treatments and more likely to adhere to treatment advice
from physicians."

A recent study by Ellen R. Meara, a health economist at Harvard
Medical School, found that in the 1980s and 1990s, "virtually all
gains in life expectancy occurred among highly educated groups."

Trends in smoking explain a large part of the widening gap, she said
in an article this month in the journal Health Affairs.

Under federal law, officials must publish an annual report tracking
health disparities. In the fifth annual report, issued this month, the
Bush administration said, "Over all, disparities in quality and access
for minority groups and poor populations have not been reduced" since
the first report, in 2003.

The rate of new AIDS cases is still 10 times as high among blacks as
among whites, it said, and the proportion of black children
hospitalized for asthma is almost four times the rate for white

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month
that heart attack survivors with higher levels of education and income
were much more likely to receive cardiac rehabilitation care, which
lowers the risk of future heart problems. Likewise, it said, the odds
of receiving tests for colon cancer increase with a person's education
and income.

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From: Environmental Working Group, Mar. 25, 2008
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A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that
97% of Americans are contaminated with a widely-used sunscreen
ingredient called oxybenzone that has been linked to allergies,
hormone disruption, and cell damage.

A companion study published just one day earlier revealed that this
chemical is linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are
exposed during pregnancy. Oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer, a
chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.

Although oxybenzone is most common in sunscreen, companies also use
the chemical in at least 567 other personal care products.

Environmental Working Group identified nearly 600 sunscreens sold in
the U.S. that contain oxybenzone, including products by Hawaiian
Tropic, Coppertone, and Banana Boat (see the full list of 588
sunscreens here) as well as 172 facial moisturizers, 111 lip
balms, and 81 different types of lipstick.

The Food and Drug Administration has failed miserably in its duty to
protect the public from toxic chemicals like oxybenzone in personal
care products. At the request of industry lobbyists, including Supreme
Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who represented the Cosmetic
Toiletry and Fragrance Association, the agency has delayed final
sunscreen safety standards for nearly 30 years. FDA issued a new draft
of the standards last October under pressure from EWG, but continues
to delay finalizing them at the behest of the regulated industry.

EWG research shows that 84% of 910 name-brand sunscreen products offer
inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients, like
oxybenzone, with significant safety concerns.

The last safety review for oxybenzone was done in the 1970s, and does
not reflect a wealth of information developed since that time
indicating increased toxicity concerns and widespread human exposure.
A recent review in the European Union found that sufficient data were
not available to assess if oxybenzone in sunscreen was safe for

Environmental Working Group again calls on FDA to review the safety of
oxybenzone, given this new data on widespread contamination of the
U.S. population, and to finalize its sunscreen safety standards so
that consumers can be certain that sunscreen products they purchase
are safe and effective.

CDC study of oxybenzone signals concern

Top scientists from CDC published results March 21, 2008 from a
national survey of 2,500 Americans, age 6 and up, showing that
oxybenzone readily absorbs into the body and is present in 97% of
Americans tested (Calafat 2008). Oxybenzone, also known as
benzophenone-3, was detected in the urine of nearly every study
participant. Typically, women and girls had higher levels of
oxybenzone in their bodies than men and boys, likely a result of
differences in use of body care products including sunscreens.

A companion study released a day earlier revealed that mothers with
high levels of oxybenzone in their bodies were more likely to give
birth to underweight baby girls (Wolff 2008). Low birth weight is a
critical risk factor linked to coronary heart disease, hypertension,
type 2 diabetes, and other diseases in adulthood (Lau 2004).

Oxybenzone damages and penetrates the skin

Among common sunscreen chemicals, oxybenzone is most likely to be
associated with allergic reactions triggered by sun exposure. In a
study of 82 patients with photoallergic contact dermatitis, over one
quarter showed photoallergic reactions to oxybenzone (Rodriguez 2006);
another study reported 1 in 5 allergic reactions to photopatch tests
resulted from exposure to oxybenzone (Bryden 2006).

Sunlight also causes oxybenzone to form free radical chemicals that
may be linked to cell damage, according to 2 of 3 studies (Allen 1996;
Serpone 2002; Hanson 2006).

A less visible but more alarming concern, this chemical absorbs
through the skin in significant amounts, as indicated by the CDC
study. A previous biomonitoring study reported that 96% of 6 to 8 year
old girls had detectable amounts of oxybenzone in their urine (Wolff
2007). An earlier study detected oxybenzone in the urine of all 30
adult participants (Ye 2005).

Studies on human volunteers indicate a wide variation in the level of
oxybenzone absorbed into the body, with some individuals absorbing at
least 9% of the applied dose, as measured in excretions in urine
(Hayden 1997; Janjua 2004; Sarveiya 2004; Gonzalez 2006). Volunteers
continued to excrete oxybenzone many days after the last application
of the chemical, an indication of its tendency to accumulate in fatty
tissues in the body (Gonzalez 2006).

In addition to its ability to absorb into the body, oxybenzone is also
a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals
penetrate the skin (Pont 2004).

Oxybenzone may disrupt the human hormone system

Studies on cells and laboratory animals indicate that oxybenzone and
its metabolites, the chemicals the body makes from oxybenzone in an
attempt to detoxify and excrete it, may disrupt the hormone system.
Under study conditions, oxybenzone and its metabolites cause weak
estrogenic (Nakagawa 2002; Schlumpf 2001, 2004; Kunz 2006; van Liempd
2007) and anti-androgenic (Ma 2003) effects. Oxybenzone displays
additive hormonal effects when tested with other sunscreen chemicals
(Heneweer 2005). Laboratory study also suggests that oxybenzone may
affect the adrenal hormone system (Ziolkowska 2006).

One human study coapplying 3 sunscreen active ingredients (oxybenzone,
4-MBC, and octinoxate) suggested a minor, intermittent, but
statistically significant drop in testosterone levels in men during a
one-week application period (Janjua 2004). Researchers also detected
statistically significant declines in estradiol levels in men; other
hormonal differences detected could not be linked to sunscreen use due
to differences in baseline hormone levels before and during treatment.

Outdated health protections do not take into account these and other
adverse effects

A 2006 European Union review concluded that a rigorous exposure
assessment of oxybenzone was impossible, due to lack of information
about the levels of absorption into the body (SCCP 2006). The levels
of contamination reported in this latest CDC study indicate that
absorption may be significant, consistent with previous, small-scale
biomonitoring reports. A decades-old evaluation by FDA, as well as
more recent review by the cosmetics industry's own safety panel, do
not consider concerns regarding hormone disruption, nor the
implications of the ability of oxybenzone to penetrate the skin (FDA
1978; CIR 1983, 2002). At present, no health-based standards exist for
safe levels of oxybenzone in the body.

Additional cautions must be employed when considering the effects of
oxybenzone on children. The surface area of a child's skin relative to
body weight is greater than adults. As a result, the potential dose of
a chemical following dermal exposure is likely to be about 1.4 times
greater in children than in adults (SCCNFP 2001). In addition,
children are less able than adults to detoxify and excrete chemicals,
and children's developing organ systems are more vulnerable to damage
from chemical exposures, and more sensitive to low levels of
hormonally active compounds (NAS 1993; Janjua 2004). Children also
have more years of future life in which to develop disease triggered
by early exposure to chemicals (NAS 1993). Despite these well-
documented concerns regarding children's sensitivity to harmful
substances, no special protections exist regarding ingredients in
personal care products marketed for babies and children.

The fraction of oxybenzone that is not absorbed into the human body
often contaminates water, washed from the skin during swimming and
water play or while bathing (Lambropolou 2002; Danovaro 2008).
Wastewater treatment removes only a fraction of this sunscreen
chemical (Li 2007), resulting in detection of oxybenzone in treated
wastewater, in lake and sea waters due to recreational use or to
discharges from water treatment facilities, and even in fish (Balmer
2005; Cuderman 2007; Li 2007). Studies show oxybenzone can trigger
outbreaks of viral infection in coral reefs (Danovaro 2008), and can
cause feminization of male fish (Kunz 2006). Despite significant
ecological concerns, there are no measures in place to protect
sensitive ecosystems from damage caused by this contaminant.

EWG to FDA: Oxybenzone investigation is long overdue

FDA last reviewed the safety of oxybenzone in the 1970s, publishing
its evaluation in 1978, at the same time it announced plans to develop
comprehensive standards for sunscreen safety and effectiveness (FDA
1978). 30 years later, the Agency has yet to issue final regulations.
Instead, it encourages manufacturers to follow draft guidelines that
the Agency has delayed finalizing at the behest of the sunscreen
industry. As a result, sunscreen manufacturers in the U.S. are free to
market products containing ingredients like oxybenzone that have not
been proven safe for people.

Found in over half of the 910 name-brand sunscreen products we
reviewed, oxybenzone is tied to significant health concerns that must
be scrutinized. Instead, FDA's refusal to re-examine this ingredient
keeps sunscreens containing oxybenzone on the market. Petitions for
review of newly developed sunscreen ingredients approved for use in
other countries, and with far fewer health concerns, have been met
with similar inattention, blocking Americans' access to better

FDA foot-dragging has left the U.S. without enforceable standards for
sunscreen safety and effectiveness for decades. EWG demands that FDA
finalize the latest version of its monograph on sunscreen products
immediately, and launch an investigation into the safety of the
sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone.


More EWG comments on FDA's sunscreen monograph

EWG report on sunscreen safety

View name-brand products that contain oxybenzone:

Sunscreens (588 products)

facial moisturizer/treatment

other products with SPF

lip balm



anti-aging creams


fragrance for women

Although oxybenzone is most common in sunscreen, companies also use
the chemical in at least 567 other personal care products.



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SCCNFP (Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food
Products). 2001. Opinion on the Evaluation of Potentially Estrogenic
Effects of UV-filters adopted by the SCCNFP during the 17th Plenary
meeting of 12 June 2001. Opinion: European Commission -- The
Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for

SCCP (Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products). 2006. Opinion
concerning Benzophenone-3. Opinion: European Commission -- The
Scientfic Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products
Intended for Consumers.

Schlumpf M, Cotton B, Conscience M, Haller V, Steinmann B,
Lichtensteiger W. 2001. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV
screens. Environmental health perspectives 109(3): 239-244.

Schlumpf M, Schmid P, Durrer S, Conscience M, Maerkel K, Henseler M,
et al. 2004. Endocrine activity and developmental toxicity of cosmetic
UV filters--an update. Toxicology 205(1-2): 113-122.

Serpone N, Salinaro A, Emeline AV, Horikoshi S, Hidaka H, Zhao JC.
2002. An in vitro systematic spectroscopic examination of the
photostabilities of a random set of commercial sunscreen lotions and
their chemical UVB/UVA active agents. Photochemical & Photobiological
Sciences 1(12): 970-981.

Van Liempd SM, Kool J, Meerman JH, Irth H, Vermeulen NP. 2007.
Metabolic profiling of endocrine-disrupting compounds by on-line
cytochrome p450 bioreaction coupled to on-line receptor affinity
screening. Chemical research in toxicology 20(12): 1825-1832.

Wolff MS, Engel SM, Berkowitz GS, Ye X, Silva MJ, Zhu C, et al. 2008.
Prenatal phenol and phthalate exposures and birth outcomes.
Environmental health perspectives 116: Available online March 20,

Wolff MS, Teitelbaum SL, Windham G, Pinney SM, Britton JA, Chelimo C,
et al. 2007. Pilot study of urinary biomarkers of phytoestrogens,
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115(1): 116-121.

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Ziolkowska A, Belloni AS, Nussdorfer GG, Nowak M, Malendowicz LK.
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Copyright 2007, Environmental Working Group.

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From: Toronto Globe and Mail, Mar. 22, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Andrew Nikiforuk

Book review of: THE GREAT WARMING: Climate Change and the Rise and
Fall of Civilizations By Brian Fagan (Bloomsbury, 282 pages, $29.95)

While the Arctic melts and our glaciers disappear, one by one, like
guests at a late-night party, Canada's political elites remain the
only guys too drunk to recognize that the climate is changing. Let's
face it: Global warming probably will never sober up Conservative or
Liberal leaders as long as tar-sands taxes fill the federal treasury,
lower the GST and give the loonie a petro swagger. And they are not
the first group of rulers to ignore the weather.

During the medieval ages, a great warming similar to our fossil-
fuelled meltdown profoundly changed civilizations from the Norse to
the Khmer. Archeologists call it the Medieval Warm Period, and it
served up a "silent and oft-ignored killer": drought. The dry-out even
parched much of present-day Alberta.

In a book that reads like climate deja vu, well-known University of
California anthropologist Brian Fagan shows that the Medieval Warm
Period humbled political elites and demolished their well-engineered
empires with equanimity.

Fagan says we're now entering another era of extreme aridity, and that
the challenges of adapting to water shortages and crop failures won't
be easy. Although elites can ignore the climate, Fagan says, the
climate won't ignore them. It never has.

Fagan begins his tidy and fascinating climate fable with a look at how
a great warming from the 10th to the 15th century really rearranged
Europe. There, a rise of one or two degrees actually favoured abundant
crops and even established wine industries in southern England and

Reliable harvests, however, encouraged much peasant begetting. Rising
human population, much like a pine beetle epidemic, leads to
unprecedented forest clearing. Forests, then as now "the mantle of the
poor," served as a communal form of ecological insurance that provided
game, herbs, firewood and grazing space for animals.

But during the great warming, Europeans chopped down their ancient
forests to grow more meat, honey and flour. When the Little Ice Age
came, along with the Black Death, Rinderpest and other climate-driven
surprises, Europe lost a third of its population. There simply was no
mantle for misfortune.

The medieval warming changed the global map for the Norse, too. Thanks
to warmer weather, they rowed out of the fjords of crowded Norway and
founded a number of Club Viking destinations. Thanks to favourable ice
conditions, Club Viking even settled Greenland and explored the
Canadian Arctic, where they encountered the Thule, an Inuit people on
the move due to ice-free water. Trade in walrus ivory and iron made
the two cultures temporary global partners until temperatures started
to drop again.

But for much of the world, the great warming basically served up
"megadroughts" and an ever-diminishing larder. In California, for
example, sustained aridity killed off oak trees, source of the
carbohydrate-rich acorn for the Chumash people. (Just prior to the
Spanish conquest, aboriginals harvested 60,000 metric tons of acorns,
a bounty greater than the state's current sweet corn production.) But
drought reminded the Chumash that counting on acorns to provide 50 per
cent of dinner could quickly translate into a crash diet.

Drought, the product of the tempestuous Pacific marriage between ocean
and atmosphere, also emptied the pueblos in Chaco Canyon. While a
decade-long dry spell pumped people, plants and animals out of the
southwest of North America (as well as Alberta), it also dried up the
lowlands of the Guatemala peninsula, taking down the Maya.

Jared Diamond, the author of Collapse, has covered this territory
well, but Fagan adds some critical details. In a land of unpredictable
rainfall, Mayan rulers constructed elaborate and huge water reservoirs
in Tikal and other fabled cities, becoming "Lords of the Water

The elites, who considered themselves divinely infallible, had no real
sense of tragedy, and that's just when the climate served up a super
drought. In the face of hunger and thirst, ordinary people abandoned
their rulers, who squatted alone on blood-stained pyramids. The
implosion of the Maya, Fagan says, "is a sobering reminder of what can
happen when societies subsist off unpredictable water sources, and
through their efforts, put more demands on the water supply than it
can sustain."

Droughts also humbled Asia during the great warming. In northern
China, the Yellow River basin (Huang He) has always made too much or
not enough water for nearly half of China's people. The Medieval Warm
Period delivered some spectacular droughts and mass famine. Thanks to
industrialization and Maya-like water managers, China remains "even
more vulnerable to catastrophe today."

Fagan, a veteran chronicler of how climate can undo a society's best-
laid plans, cements his lucid and often surprising observations on
this climate event with much scientific data collected from ice cores
and tree rings. He admits that there is still much debate about what
caused the great warming, and nobody really knows how hot it actually
got. But no one doubts that the dramatic event turned a grape-like
bunch of civilizations into raisins.

In his final chapter, Fagan explains why climate history matters, and
it's not inspiring reading. Britain's esteemed Hadley Centre for
Climate Change recently documented a 25-per-cent increase in global
drought since the 1990s. Right now, about 3 per cent of the planet is
drying up. Global warming will soon place a third of the Earth in
extreme drought and force another half of the world's land mass to
taste "moderate drought." Such abiding dryness will "challenge even
small cities, to say nothing of thirsty metropolises like Los Angeles,
Phoenix and Tucson." Even Las Vegas could lose a craps game or two.

But history in a virtual age remains an impoverished teacher, much
like truth speaking. The good news, Fagan says, is that highly nomadic
communities with diverse food supplies often read the weather signs
and move. The bad news is that elites try to super-manage their way
out of droughts, with disastrous results for ordinary people.

Fagan's account of how dry spells humbled the Khmer of Angkor Wat and
probably propelled Genghis Khan out of the Mongolian steppes certainly
won't move imperial mountains in Ottawa. But for ordinary readers,
Fagan's book serves as another warning about a true marvel: It only
takes a temperature change of a Celsius degree or two to rapidly
unsettle the order of things.

Andrew Nikiforuk's next book, The Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future
of the Continent, will be published this fall.

Copyright 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.

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From: The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Mar. 21, 2008
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Two towns in New Hampshire this month passed local laws recognizing
the rights of nature and specifically restricting the rights of

Nottingham, N.H. passed The Nottingham Water Rights and Local Self -
Government Ordinance at a town meeting March 15th. The ordinance
establishes strict liability for culpable corporations and government
entities that permit and facilitate the privatization and
corporatization of water within the town.

The ordinance also strips corporations of constitutional protections
within the town. The Town of Nottingham thus becomes the 11th
municipality in the nation to refuse to recognize corporate
constitutional "rights," and to prohibit corporate rights from being
used to override the rights of human and natural communities.

The vote in Nottingham was 175 to 111 for the ordinance.

When a few people at the end of the meeting, attempted to use an
obscure local law to recall the vote in seven days, after over 75% of
the voters had left, the action was defeated by over 60% of the people
remaining. These two significant votes proclaim Democracy is alive and
well in Nottingham.

At Town Meeting on the same day in Barnstead, voters amended their
Water Rights Ordinance; which was passed almost unanimously at their
Town Meeting two years ago; to include the Rights of Nature.

Barnstead, NH , became the 12th municipality in the nation to
recognize the Rights of Nature. Barnstead voted overwhelmingly on
Saturday, March 15th, to add the Rights of Nature to their ordinance
which has been in place since March 2006, when they became the first
municipality to deny corporate assumed privileges to corporate
entities withdrawing water for resale, within the town.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) of
Chamberburg, Pennsylvania has been spearheading efforts by local
communities to assert control over corporations.

Ben Price, Projects Director for the Legal Defense Fund, had this to
say, "The people have asserted their right and their duty to protect
their families, environment, and future generations. In enacting this
law, the community has gone on record as rejecting the legal theory
behind Dillon's Rule, which erroneously asserts that there is no
inherent right to local self-government. The American Revolution was
about nothing less than the fundamental right of the people to be the
decision-makers on issues directly affecting the communities in which
they live. They understood that a central government, at some distance
removed from those affected, acts beyond its authority in empowering a
few powerful men -- privileged with chartered immunities and rights
superior to the people in the community -- to deny citizens' rights,
impose harm, and refuse local self-determination.

"The peoples of the Towns of Nottingham and Barnstead have acted in
the best tradition of liberty and freedom, and confronted injustice in
the form of a state-permitted corporate assault against the consent of
the sovereign people," he said.

CELDF's New Hampshire organizer, Gail Darrell, spoke to the success of
the amendments on Monday.

"The People of Barnstead have agreed to acknowledge that the natural
world needs an advocate -- that advocate is us. The water which we all
share is now protected by all of us who live here. We have decided
that protecting the essence of all life is a good way to protect the
health, safety and wellbeing of the community."

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From: The Independent (London, U.K.), Mar. 26, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Hairdressers and barbers are at increased risk of developing cancer -
because of their use of hair dyes. And the risks could extend to
personal use of the dyes, according to international experts.

A review of the evidence by a panel of the International Agency for
Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, has found a "small but
consistent risk of bladder cancer in male hairdressers and barbers".

A second review of the evidence on personal use of hair dyes found
some studies suggesting a possible association with bladder cancer and
with lymphoma and leukaemia.

But the panel found that the evidence was inadequate and concluded
that personal use of hair dyes was "not classifiable as to its
carcinogenicity to humans".

The panel was composed of 17 scientists who met last February to
consider the latest evidence and update advice last issued by the
agency in 1993.

Modern hair dyes are classified as permanent, semi permanent or
temporary dyes. The permanent or oxidative hair dyes represent 80 per
cent of the market and consist of colourless "intermediates" and
couplers that, in the presence of peroxide, form the dyes by chemical

Dark hair dyes tend to contain the highest concentration of the
colouring ingredients. The use of some such colourants was
discontinued in the 1970s after positive cancer tests in rats.

Dr Robert Baan of the IARC and colleagues say in The Lancet Oncology:
"A small but consistent risk of bladder cancer was reported in male
hairdressers and barbers. Because of few supporting findings by
duration or period of exposure, the working group considered these
data as limited evidence of carcinogenicity and reaffirmed
occupational exposures of haridressers and barbers as 'probably
carcinogenic to humans'."

The full report will be published as Volume 99 of the IARC

Copyright independent.co.uk

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From: Now, Mar. 21, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


An Excerpt from 'Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products'

The following is an excerpt from investigative reporter Mark
Schapiro's book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products
and What's at Stake for American Power. Schapiro's book reveals
how the European Union is demanding that multinationals manufacture
safer products, while products developed and sold in the United States
are increasingly equated with serious health hazards, and are banned
from Europe and other parts of the world.

Fall & Rise of the Environmental Mohicans

Since the end of World War II, molecules thrown together in heretofore
unheard of combinations have given rise to new products inconceivable
a couple of generations ago. Those nonstick perfluorinated substances,
for example, have added new levels of convenience, and those
polybrominated flame retardants have added new safety. But like the
luster of technology that was slowly fading inside those four walls of
the Atomium, what was being found in our circulatory systems also
offered a glimpse into the legacy left behind by the inventiveness of
the chemical age. The chemical imprints in our blood have prompted a
reassessment, in Europe, of chemistry's magic.

For a quarter-century, the Bruno family and other Europeans have
relied on principles of regulation based substantially on those of the
United States for their protection from chemical hazards. The Toxic
Substances Control Act, or TSCA, was passed by Congress in 1976 six
years after President Richard Nixon created the EPA. TSCA was the
first effort by any government to attempt to assert some level of
oversight over the vast amount of chemicals that had been introduced
into the marketplace since the end of World War II. The new law took
effect in 1977. In those days environmental policy in Europe was
largely in the hands of individual governments. TSCA had the effect of
prompting the continent's major chemical powers -- West Germany,
France, and the UK -- to harmonize their varying regulations to
conform more closely to those of TSCA. The rest of the European
Community's then nine other members quickly followed.

TSCA's primary innovation at the time was in requiring that all
chemicals developed from that point on be subject to review for their
toxicity before reaching the market. That sounds good, except for one
major caveat: TSCA exempted all chemicals already on the market from
review. The EPA made up a list of all chemicals already for sale as of
December 1979 and called it the TSCA Inventory. Some sixty-two
thousand chemicals were grandfathered into the market, with no testing
or review. These included thousands of potentially highly toxic
substances, including the likes of ethyl benzene, a widely used
industrial solvent suspected of being a potent neurotoxin; whole
families of synthetic plastics that are potential carcinogens and
endocrine disrupters; and thousands of other substances for which
there was little or no information.

Twenty-eight years later, according to the EPA itself, 95 percent of
all chemicals have never undergone even minimal testing for their
toxicity or environmental impact. Researchers at University of
California-Berkeley's School of Public Health estimate that forty-two
billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce daily -- enough
chemicals to fill up 623,000 tanker trucks everyday, a string of
trucks that could straddle the United States twice if placed end to
end. Fewer than five hundred of those substances, according to a
report the school produced for the state of California, have undergone
any substantive risk assessments.

Even for those few new chemicals that industry does bring to market,
the record is not reassuring. The EPA requires that a premarket
notification (PMN) be supplied for the agency's review ninety days
before commercial-scale manufacturing of new chemicals begins.
Manufacturers are supposed to include production volume, intended
uses, and available exposure and toxicity data. Theoretically, this
permits the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) to
determine whether regulatory action is warranted before the chemicals
hit the market. But according to their own figures, 85 percent of the
notifications submitted annually contain no health data.

There has been abundant criticism of inadequacies in TSCA for more
than two decades. A legion of NGOs, scientists, and even government
agencies has been devoted to advocating TSCA's reform. The Government
Accountability Office concluded in 2005 that the agency has inadequate
test data to make safety assessments and has permitted the chemical
industry too much leeway in keeping information from public view by
indiscriminate assertion of proprietary information. The requirements
that EPA include the "costs to industry" in determining whether a
substance presents an "unreasonable threat to public health" and that
it impose the "least burdensome regulation" (to industry) was a bar
that the GAO found too high for effective protection from chemicals'
potential harm. One result of these rules was that the EPA has banned
just five chemicals since the agency's creation a quarter century ago.
That includes the family of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), millions
of tons of which were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers
and electrical equipment until they were found to cause acute skin
lesions, were a likely contributor to liver damage, and were
carcinogenic. PCBs are also highly persistent: though the EPA banned
them in 1977, residues are still turning up in drinking water and in
the soil.

The other chemicals banned by EPA were halogenated
chlorofluoroalkanes, because of their contributions to acid rain after
the United States signed the Montreal Protocol; dioxins, a byproduct
of chemical manufacturing released into the air and linked to skin
lesions in those exposed as well as cancer and liver damage; and
hexavalent chromium, an additive to paints and coatings that was
strongly linked to lung cancer among exposed workers (and that is on
the EU's list of banned substances in electronics). There was,
briefly, a sixth substance on the EPA's banned list: asbestos. In
1989, the EPA declared a ban on what amounted to more than 90 percent
of all uses of asbestos, which it classified as a "known carcinogen."
But industry challenged the agency and in 1991 a federal court vacated
the ban, asserting that the EPA had not met TSCA's requirements for
proof of harm balanced against the benefits of asbestos, and had not
demonstrated that the ban was the "least burdensome alternative" for
eliminating the "unreasonable risk" of exposure to the carcinogenic
substance. More than thirty million pounds of asbestos is still sold
in the United States each year, used as insulation in an array of
products including brake shoes and industrial tiles. The agency has
not acted to ban a chemical since that decision.

One of TSCA's most significant weaknesses, according to Joseph Guth, a
biochemist and lawyer who works as legal director of the Science and
Environmental Health Network, is that by making it easier to hang onto
old chemicals rather than develop new ones, it provides no incentive
for developing less toxic alternatives. "TSCA rewards ignorance," Guth
said. "The chemical companies give you function and they give you
price. What they don't give you is safety or environmental effects.
That is a complete black box. The data gaps are massive. So, let's say
you want to develop a more effective and safer chemical. There is no
information out there to prove that yours is better or safer for human
health or the environment. There's no competitive pressure to improve
it.... The current system impedes the ability of innovations to
penetrate the market."8 Consumers, in other words, have no means of
expressing their potential preference for less toxic alternatives.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz called this
inequality of knowledge between consumers and producers "information
asymmetry," and pegged it as one of the central flaws of market
capitalism.9 The absence of even minimal toxicity data works to
insulate the industry from the normal supply-demand dynamic of the
market. In a country that prides itself on its entrepreneurial
ingenuity, the United States is hitching its faith to a system that
reinforces stasis and a potentially dangerous status quo.

The bio-monitoring results in America and in Europe are the clinching
evidence of TSCA's ineffectiveness. "All our exposure assumptions have
been proven wrong," Malcolm Woolf, staff counsel to the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee, told me. "Because we did not
act under TSCA, the assumption is that chemicals have been certified
safe. But it's exactly the opposite: They haven't been certified
anything."10 TSCA is now derisively referred to among its many critics
as the "Toxic Substances Conversation Act." The chemical industry has
wielded considerable power in Washington to keep it that way. Over the
past decade, the industry has been either the second or third biggest
lobbying force on Capitol Hill, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics. Between 1996 and 2006, the industry made $35 million in
contributions to federal election campaigns, and spends between $2
million and $5 million each year on lobbying in Washington (not
including the significant amount of lobbying by the industry in state

Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician and epidemiologist, served as assistant
administrator for the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic
Substances from 1993 to 1998, when she left to become a professor of
environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health
at Johns Hopkins University. By the mid-1990s, she told me, the flaws
in TSCA had become abundantly clear. "Suddenly all of us were
realizing, 'there were thousands of chemicals out there, and we didn't
know what they were. We weren't able to get the data, weren't able to
assess the risks, nothing." Goldman recalls a party held in Washington
in 1996 to celebrate TSCA's twenty-year anniversary. "I'll never
forget. Someone from the chemical industry got up to salute TSCA, and
said, 'This is the perfect statute. I wish every law could be like
TSCA.'" She laughed, "It was then I knew for sure there was something

Copyright 2008 JumpStart Productions

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  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
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  often considered separately or not at all.

  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
  because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
  health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
  rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
  workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
  intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
  therefore ruled by the few.  

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