Rachel's Precaution Reporter #136

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2008.............Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

Pesticides: A Toxic Time Bomb in Our Midst
  Levine has written a pragmatic book for physicians, health workers,
  and the general public.... His own perspective as a health
  professional with a concern for the public health and a fondness for
  the "precautionary principle," which assumes that a chemical is
  harmful unless there is good evidence to the contrary, is not hidden.
Asking a Judge To Save the World, and Maybe a Whole Lot More
  "Although [the lawsuit] sounds bizarre, the case touches on a
  serious issue that has bothered scholars and scientists in recent
  years -- namely how to estimate the risk of new groundbreaking
  experiments and who gets to decide whether or not to go ahead."
What Is Nanotechnology and Should We Be Concerned About It?
  "Industry and government are belatedly conducting safety tests that
  will take several years to reach firm conclusions. Therefore we've
  applied the precautionary principle."
River Contains Radioactivity
  "In order to conform to the precautionary principle, further
  investigations are in process."
Lessons from Quebec on How To Ban Lawn and Garden Pesticides
  Across Canada, 140 municipalities have adopted bylaws restricting
  the use of pesticides on public and private property.
Major Challenges Facing Petrochemical Industry
  Chemical industry executives fear that Europe's new chemicals
  policy, REACH -- the registration, evaluation and authorisation of
  chemicals -- reflects an effort by environmental activists "to bring
  their own version of the precautionary principle, a thinly disguised
  synonym for product substitution, to the global arena".
Demon Seed
  "Curiously when it comes to GMOs they [Africans] adopt the highly
  precautionary European standard, which makes it impossible to put
  these products on the market at all. I take that as evidence that this
  is not an authentic African response, it's a response imported from


From: JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), Apr. 2, 2008
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By Arnold Schecter

Review of "Pesticides: A Toxic Time Bomb in Our Midst," By Marvin J.
Levine (264 pp, $49.95; Wesport, CT, Praeger Press, 2007; ISBN-13:

This is a well-written and informative book about a relatively little
known area of expertise for most physicians -- chemicals in the
environment and their impact on health.

The book is devoted to pesticides, which includes herbicides,
insecticides, weed killers, rodenticides, bacteriocides, fungicides,
and other chemicals frequently called "pesticides." It is reasonably
well-referenced text. However, some statements regarding health damage
could benefit from more textual references to justify the statements

Levine has written a pragmatic book for physicians, health workers,
and the general public. It is relatively easy reading for physicians
but demands a bit more attention than a vacation book intended for
beach reading. His own perspective as a health professional with a
concern for the public health and a fondness for the "precautionary
principle," which assumes that a chemical is harmful unless there is
good evidence to the contrary, is not hidden. Frequently and
throughout this volume, the author attempts to balance industry and
environmental points of view and actions. And he notes the eternal
conflict between the need for economic productivity and reasonably
priced food, with the possible short- and long-term damage to human
health from the use or misuse of various chemicals. He favors
"integrated pest management," a balanced method of control using far
less pesticides than is common at this time.

The book emphasizes farm workers, children, pregnant women,
individuals with asthma, and elderly individuals as being more
sensitive than the general population to the effects of pesticides.
The book also discusses policy issues and political actions sometimes
based on lobbying, as well as specific scientific and biological
aspects of pesticides. Chapters include those on the presence of
pesticides in foods, schools, homes, air, water, and soil; the
international trade in pesticides; and suggested remedies. A number of
case studies relate to health damage from pesticides or, in one case,
to fear of potential but not actual chemical exposure and damage.

The past 60 years are characterized as those when use of synthetic
pesticides became common in agriculture, providing a means of
producing more crops on a given plot of land than had previously been
possible. The author notes that there are more than 17 000 pesticides
currently registered in the United States, with more than 800 active
ingredients that have contributed to acute and chronic health
problems. However, as resistance to pesticides and damage to wildlife
and humans was noted, the public and Congress, stimulated by Rachel
Carson's book, Silent Spring, began to see the need for laws and
regulations to protect the public and wildlife. Many of these laws are
described in some detail and illustrated with respect to a variety of
chemicals and a number of US government agencies, such as the
Environmental Protection Agency.

While cancer was once the major focus of government regulatory
agencies, endocrine disruption -- especially from fetal and nursing
exposure -- as well as reproductive and developmental alterations have
recently become areas of concern. Brain damage has also been described
from in utero exposure to some pesticides, especially the "persistent
organic pollutants" (POPs). These include dichloro-diphenyl-
trichloroethane (DDT), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and
other chemicals. Although the author does not make note of them, some
brominated flame retardants are considered POPs with persistence,
bioconcentration, and deleterious health effects similar to those of
other POPs, especially PCBs, at least in laboratory animals.

Levine states that annual pesticide use in the United States is
approximately 8.8 pounds per capita, or 2.2 billion pounds of active
ingredients (if wood preservatives and disinfectants are also
considered). He notes that some of the chlorinated hydrocarbons or
organochlorines such as diledrin, chlordane, aldrin, and heptachlor
break down very slowly and can remain in the environment for years or
decades. Organophosphates, now common in agriculture, on the other
hand, break down much more rapidly but also are more toxic to humans.

Levine also notes that because agricultural workers, including
children, are heavily exposed to pesticides and usually have little
knowledge of their dangers as well as of how to protect themselves,
they are at particularly high risk. Lack of good sanitary conditions
and health care likewise contributes to this public health problem.
Schoolchildren are also a special group at risk because of the lack of
knowledge on the part of those applying pesticides, frequently
untrained school employees rather than certified pesticide workers.

State laws and regulations are sometimes more stringent than federal
laws, although state laws must set standards at least at the level set
by the federal government. With constant lobbying on both sides of the
issue, the "how safe is safe" frequently changes over time.

The author notes the high industry costs of bringing a product to
market and the myriad regulations that must be followed. But he also
points out that just because a product is being produced and sold, it
does not necessarily follow that it has been tested sufficiently for
possible serious health effects. Also, while the term "inert
ingredients" was once commonly used, it simply identified ingredients
not meant to do what the product was sold to do, and did not indicate
that they were not toxic. This term is no longer considered
appropriate, and "other ingredients" is now the preferred term.

This book is an interesting and well-written volume that should be
useful in providing an up-to-date introduction to pesticides from a
variety of aspects, ranging from objective scientific principles to
subjective policy directives. Despite some repetition and the
occasional need for more extensive scientific citations, it was
enjoyable and informative.

Arnold Schecter, MD, MPH, Reviewer University of Texas School of
Public Health Dallas arnold.schecter@utsouthwestern.edu

Copyright 2008 American Medical Association

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From: New York Times, Mar. 29, 2008
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By Dennis Overbye

More fighting in Iraq. Somalia in chaos. People in this country can't
afford their mortgages and in some places now they can't even afford

None of this nor the rest of the grimness on the front page today will
matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in federal court
in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle
accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva
this summer might produce a black hole or something else that will
spell the end of the Earth -- and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely -- though they have done some
checking just to make sure.

The world's physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the
Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate
energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the
Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial
recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and
symmetries of nature.

But Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the
European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the
chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny
black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out
something called a "strangelet" that would convert our planet to a
shrunken dense dead lump of something called "strange matter." Their
suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact
statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Although it sounds bizarre, the case touches on a serious issue that
has bothered scholars and scientists in recent years -- namely how to
estimate the risk of new groundbreaking experiments and who gets to
decide whether or not to go ahead.

The lawsuit, filed March 21 in Federal District Court, in Honolulu,
seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting CERN from proceeding
with the accelerator until it has produced a safety report and an
environmental assessment. It names the federal Department of Energy,
the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the National Science
Foundation and CERN as defendants.

According to a spokesman for the Justice Department, which is
representing the Department of Energy, a scheduling meeting has been
set for June 16.

Why should CERN, an organization of European nations based in
Switzerland, even show up in a Hawaiian courtroom?

In an interview, Mr. Wagner said, "I don't know if they're going to
show up." CERN would have to voluntarily submit to the court's
jurisdiction, he said, adding that he and Mr. Sancho could have sued
in France or Switzerland, but to save expenses they had added CERN to
the docket here. He claimed that a restraining order on Fermilab and
the Energy Department, which helps to supply and maintain the
accelerator's massive superconducting magnets, would shut down the
project anyway.

James Gillies, head of communications at CERN, said the laboratory as
of yet had no comment on the suit. "It's hard to see how a district
court in Hawaii has jurisdiction over an intergovernmental
organization in Europe," Mr. Gillies said.

"There is nothing new to suggest that the L.H.C. is unsafe," he said,
adding that its safety had been confirmed by two reports, with a third
on the way, and would be the subject of a discussion during an open
house at the lab on April 6.

"Scientifically, we're not hiding away," he said.

But Mr. Wagner is not mollified. "They've got a lot of propaganda
saying it's safe," he said in an interview, "but basically it's

In an e-mail message, Mr. Wagner called the CERN safety review
"fundamentally flawed" and said it had been initiated too late. The
review process violates the European Commission's standards for
adhering to the "Precautionary Principle," he wrote, "and has not been
done by 'arms length' scientists."

Physicists in and out of CERN say a variety of studies, including an
official CERN report in 2003, have concluded there is no problem. But
just to be sure, last year the anonymous Safety Assessment Group was
set up to do the review again.

"The possibility that a black hole eats up the Earth is too serious a
threat to leave it as a matter of argument among crackpots," said
Michelangelo Mangano, a CERN theorist who said he was part of the
group. The others prefer to remain anonymous, Mr. Mangano said, for
various reasons. Their report was due in January.

This is not the first time around for Mr. Wagner. He filed similar
suits in 1999 and 2000 to prevent the Brookhaven National Laboratory
from operating the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. That suit was
dismissed in 2001. The collider, which smashes together gold ions in
the hopes of creating what is called a "quark-gluon plasma," has been
operating without incident since 2000.

Mr. Wagner, who lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, studied physics and
did cosmic ray research at the University of California, Berkeley, and
received a doctorate in law from what is now known as the University
of Northern California in Sacramento. He subsequently worked as a
radiation safety officer for the Veterans Administration.

Mr. Sancho, who describes himself as an author and researcher on time
theory, lives in Spain, probably in Barcelona, Mr. Wagner said.

Doomsday fears have a long, if not distinguished, pedigree in the
history of physics. At Los Alamos before the first nuclear bomb was
tested, Emil Konopinski was given the job of calculating whether or
not the explosion would set the atmosphere on fire.

The Large Hadron Collider is designed to fire up protons to energies
of seven trillion electron volts before banging them together.
Nothing, indeed, will happen in the CERN collider that does not happen
100,000 times a day from cosmic rays in the atmosphere, said Nima
Arkani-Hamed, a particle theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study
in Princeton.

What is different, physicists admit, is that the fragments from cosmic
rays will go shooting harmlessly through the Earth at nearly the speed
of light, but anything created when the beams meet head-on in the
collider will be born at rest relative to the laboratory and so will
stick around and thus could create havoc.

The new worries are about black holes, which, according to some
variants of string theory, could appear at the collider. That
possibility, though a long shot, has been widely ballyhooed in many
papers and popular articles in the last few years, but would they be

According to a paper by the cosmologist Stephen Hawking in 1974, they
would rapidly evaporate in a poof of radiation and elementary
particles, and thus pose no threat. No one, though, has seen a black
hole evaporate.

As a result, Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho contend in their complaint,
black holes could really be stable, and a micro black hole created by
the collider could grow, eventually swallowing the Earth.

But William Unruh, of the University of British Columbia, whose paper
exploring the limits of Dr. Hawking's radiation process was referenced
on Mr. Wagner's Web site, said they had missed his point. "Maybe
physics really is so weird as to not have black holes evaporate," he
said. "But it would really, really have to be weird."

Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist whose work helped fuel the
speculation about black holes at the collider, pointed out in a paper
last year that black holes would probably not be produced at the
collider after all, although other effects of so-called quantum
gravity might appear.

As part of the safety assessment report, Dr. Mangano and Steve
Giddings of the University of California, Santa Barbara, have been
working intensely for the last few months on a paper exploring all the
possibilities of these fearsome black holes. They think there are no
problems but are reluctant to talk about their findings until they
have been peer reviewed, Dr. Mangano said.

Dr. Arkani-Hamed said concerning worries about the death of the Earth
or universe, "Neither has any merit." He pointed out that because of
the dice-throwing nature of quantum physics, there was some
probability of almost anything happening. There is some minuscule
probability, he said, "the Large Hadron Collider might make dragons
that might eat us up."

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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From: Natural Life, Apr. 2, 2008
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By Wendy Priesnitz

Q: I've just heard that an organic certification agency has added
nanotechnology to its list of forbidden things. What is it and should
I be concerned about it?

A: Nanotechnology is a powerful platform for manipulating matter at
the level of atoms and molecules in order to alter their properties.
Nanomaterials are defined as particles having one or more dimensions
of 100nm or less. One nanometer (nm) is one millionth of a millimeter
and one billionth of a meter -- or approximately one 80,000th of the
width of a human hair. A strand of DNA is 2.5nm wide and a red blood
cell 7,000 nm.

The fundamental properties of matter change at the nanoscale.
According to research conducted at the University of Rochester's
Department of Environmental Medicine and published in Environmental
Health Perspectives in 2005, altered properties can include color,
solubility, material strength, electrical conductivity, magnetic
behavior, mobility (within the environment and within the human body),
chemical reactivity and biological activity.

The manufacture of products using nanotechnology has exploded in
recent years, creating something akin to a gold rush mentality. More
than 720 products containing nanomaterials are now on the market. They
include sunscreens and cosmetics, food additives, temperature-
moderating clothing, food packaging, agricultural fertilizers,
computer chips and mobile phones, inks, computer storage devices and
displays, football stadium lights, tennis racquets, burn dressings and
dental binding agents. Nanotechnology proponents envision it being
used in the future to create cheaper ways of producing electricity
from the sun, earlier and better diagnostics and treatment of diseases
and water purification in developing countries. Currently, there is an
estimated $9 billion a year worth of research being done.

There is no doubt that nanotechnology will have a massive impact on
all industries and sectors of the economy, society and ecology.
Opinion is divided as to whether these changes will be positive or
negative. But there is enough concern that The Soil Association in the
U.K. -- one of the world's pioneers of organic agriculture --
announced in January that it has banned human-made nano- materials
from the organic cosmetics, foods and textiles that it certifies. A
2007 survey by 15 governments estimates there are at least 70 nanotech
food- related applications already on the market and most major food
and beverage corporations are investing in nanotech R&D.

In a statement, The Soil Association explained its motivation: "Our
concern with nanoparticles lies in the fact that the properties of
materials at this size can differ significantly from those at larger
scales. Nanoparticles are so small they can sometimes bypass the
body's natural protective boundaries such as skin...Industry and
government are belatedly conducting safety tests that will take
several years to reach firm conclusions. Therefore we've applied the
precautionary principle."

And that's the problem: Products containing nanomaterials have been
released commercially in the absence of regulatory oversight and in
spite of warnings from some of the oldest and most respected
scientific bodies in the world, such as the U.K.'s Royal Society and
the Royal Academy of Engineering, which published a report in 2004
urging tighter controls on the industry, suggesting that nanomaterials
be treated like new chemicals.

In particular, the report highlighted the potential risk of "free"
nanoparticles that it said could escape into the atmosphere, be
inhaled and have an effect on health, in the same way that ultra fine
particles that are a by-produce of forest fires, volcanoes and
processes like welding and vehicle combustion can be harmful to
health. Professor Mark Welland, head of the University of Cambridge
Nanoscale Science Laboratory, says that we know inhaled nanoparticles
found in the bloodstream have dispersed throughout the brain. But, he
adds, it is not known if this poses a health risk. According to a 2006
report prepared under the auspices of the U.S. Congress by that
country's National Research Council, there is also evidence that
engineered nanoparticles can have adverse effects on the health of
laboratory animals, enter human cells and trigger chemical reactions
in soil, interfering with biological and ecological processes. That
report also urged precaution to protect the health and safety of
workers, the public and the environment.

Oxford University's Dr. Alexis Vlandas is Nanotechnology spokesperson
for International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global
Responsibility also worries about nanoparticles entering the human
body. He says, "A much more proactive effort is needed to understand
the complex phenomena (bio-accumulation, degradation, unforeseen
chemical reactions, etc.) which could lead to negative impact on human
health or the environment."

Nevertheless, there is still no legal requirement anywhere in the
world for manufacturers to conduct new safety tests on nano-scale
ingredients. Nor is there any requirement for manufacturers to
demonstrate that they do not present a negative impact to the
environment or to indicate the presence of nano-scale ingredients on
product labels. In fact, there is not even an internationally accepted
nomenclature, set of definitions and measurement systems for
nanotechnology, although that is being worked on. And, finally, the
social, economic and ethical challenges posed by nanotechnologies have
yet to be addressed.

Nowhere are untested nanomaterials entering consumer products faster
than in the personal care and cosmetics industries. And their use is
of concern because these products are used daily and are designed to
be used directly on the skin. They may be inhaled and are often
ingested. While the jury is still out on whether nanomaterials can
enter intact skin, studies show that broken skin is an ineffective
barrier. This suggests that the presence of acne, eczema or shaving
wounds is likely to enable the uptake of nanoparticles into the body.
Furthermore, in preparing its 2006 report Nanomaterials, Sunscreen and
Cosmetics: Small Ingredients, Big Risks, Friends of the Earth (FOE)
found that many cosmetics and personal care products contain
ingredients that intentionally act as "penetration enhancers," raising
concerns they may increase the likelihood of skin uptake of
nanomaterials and possible entry into the blood stream.

Nano-scale carbon molecules called "fullerenes" or "buckyballs" are
among the ingredients currently being used in face creams and
moisturizers. They have been found to cause brain damage in fish. Even
low levels of exposure to fullerenes have been shown to damage human
liver cells. Chemistry professor Tony Ryan of the University of
Sheffield in England has questioned their safety. "I wouldn't put
buckyballs anywhere near my face," he says. "We need to understand
more about the toxicology. One of the potential dangers...is: Are we
creating a new asbestos? The asbestosis response is based on the shape
of the particle. Part of the issue is in the shape of the molecule and
how they're introduced. We just need to be careful about the risk
versus the benefit."

Nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are used to make
sunscreens transparent but, says FOE, they have been shown to be
photoactive, producing free radicals and causing DNA damage to skin
cells when exposed to UV light. In 2007, Consumer Reports asked an
outside lab to test for nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium
dioxide in eight sunscreens that listed either compound on their
label. All eight contained the nanoparticles, yet only one disclosed
their use.

The ETC Group, a pioneering Ottawa-based organization working on
global issues like biotechnology, conservation of agricultural
biodiversity and food security, takes a strong stand on
nanotechnology. It cautions that while it offers opportunities for
society, it also involves profound ethical, social and environmental
risks, not only because it is an enabling technology to the biotech
industry, but also because it involves atomic manipulation and will
make possible the fusing of the biological world and the mechanical.
In 2003, the ETC Group called for a moratorium on research involving
molecular self-assembly and self-replication until the ramifications
have been studied.

They're not the only organization calling for a moratorium. FOE-US has
called for a moratorium on all commercial release of nanotechnological
materials and products. They say, "Given the serious risks and impacts
associated with nanotechnology's introduction, public involvement in
decision making regarding nanotechnology and the introduction of a
regulatory regime based on the precautionary principle must be
prerequisites to further commercialization of nanoproducts."

In July of 2007, an international coalition of consumer, public
health, environmental, labor, and civil society organizations spanning
six continents called for strong, comprehensive oversight of
nanotechnology and its products. Over 40 groups released a paper
entitled Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and
Nanomaterials, citing risks to the public, workers and the environment
and demanding a moratorium on it pending research and regulation.

"Even though potential health hazards stemming from exposure have been
clearly identified, there are no mandatory workplace measures that
require exposures to be assessed, workers to be trained or control
measures to be implemented," explains Bill Kojola of the AFL-CIO,
which was part of the coalition. "This technology should not be rushed
to market until these failings are corrected and workers assured of
their safety."

"Nanomaterials are entering the environment during manufacture, use
and disposal of hundreds of products, even though we have no way to
track the effects of this potent new form of pollution," agrees Ian
Illuminato of FOE. "By the time monitoring catches up to commerce, the
damage will already have been done."

There is also a concern that nano- technology will provide the tools
for continuous surveillance, with implications for civil liberties.
And then there's the growing nano arms race, which could create a
whole new generation of weapons of mass destruction including nano-
biological weaponry. Over a decade ago, retired U.S. Admiral David
Jeremiah told a conference on nanotechnology and global security that
nanotechnology will prove more significant than nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, public pressure seems to be goading governments into
action. The Environment, Healthy and Safety Division of the
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has made the
safety of nanomaterials a priority. Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia
the U.K. and the U.S. have created working groups to look into the
implications of nanotechnology commercialization.

However, the amounts of money being spent are minuscule in comparison
to the $6 billion spent last year by governments worldwide on
nanotech. (The U.S. government's $5 billion between 2001 and 2006 is
the biggest publicly funded science endeavor since the Apollo moon
landing, with the largest portion funding military applications.)

In Canada, the Consumers Council has recently received a $60,000 grant
from Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs to study the impact of
nanotechnology on consumers and to improve the capacity of consumers
to advocate re- garding regulatory decisions.

Here's hoping other organic certification agencies follow The Soil
Association's lead and add nanotech to their lists of outlawed
ingredients. Meanwhile, we think that product manufacturers and
distributors must bear the burden of proof to demonstrate the safety
of their products: If there is no independent health and safety data
review for a nanotech product, then their products shouldn't be sold.

For references and contacts accompanying this article, read the
March/April issue of Natural Life. Author Wendy Priesnitz is the
Editor of Natural Life Magazine and a journalist with 30 years of
experience. She has also authored nine books. Read her blog.

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From: News24 (Cape Town, South Africa), Apr. 1, 2008
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By Michael Hamlyn

Johannesburg -- Government officials have admitted they are worried
about the safety of drinking water drawn from the Wonderfonteinspruit,
which has been contaminated with radioactivity for 40 years.

Giving a written reply to a Parliamentary question, Water Affairs
Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said that while there was reason for
concern, the 40-year-old problem had not produced any conclusive
results, or any reason for immediate action.

"However, in order to conform to the precautionary principle, further
investigations are in process," she said.

She told her questioner, Gareth Morgan of the Democratic Alliance, in
her reply published on Monday that studies undertaken by the various
organisations over a period of time concluded that the radioactivity
levels in the river water in the area were well within the water
quality safety standards.

Risk of exposure varies

"However, there is a concern regarding elevated levels of uranium and
heavy metals in the sediment," she said.

"The risk of exposure to humans and animals can be increased if the
sediments are stirred up and are in suspension during swimming or when
cattle are drinking from the river."

The Wonderfonteinspruit starts near Randfontein in the north and moves
all the way down south to Potchefstroom.

Hendricks said the most-recent comprehensive study, done by the Water
Research Commission in 2006, concluded that the present status would
remain as long as the sediment stayed "wet" and that, chemically, the
water was fit for consumption.

This conclusion was supported by the recent Brenk Report commissioned
by the national nuclear regulator in 2007.

Unfortunately that report in question is based on only a few samples
taken and the interpretations in the study are seen as premature at
this stage.

Nevertheless, a public health study looking at blood and urine samples
compared 36 individuals exposed to the "contaminated"
Wonderfonteinspruit with 24 individuals exposed to the "clean" Mooi
River in 2002 and, in essence, no difference was found in the

"The department has paid serious attention to the concerns raised and,
as a result, has consulted widely.

Hot-spot areas will be targeted

"There are a number of different views on the subject and all are
being evaluated," said the minister.

A technical working group has been established and has appointed a
team of specialists who will identify and rank hot-spot areas targeted
for remedial action.

"This team of specialists will also provide the regulators with a
remediation plan for identified hot spots," said Hendricks.

"The regulators intend to embark on the clean-up action in
collaboration with the mining interest group in the area."

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From: Radio CKFR (Kelowna, B.C., Canada), Mar. 28, 2008
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By David Suzuki Foundation

OTTAWA -- A new report on Quebec's current provincial ban on the use
and sale of several lawn pesticides urges other provinces to follow
Quebec's lead.

"Quebec has paved the way for provincial action to protect citizens
from harmful pesticides. Other provinces can build on Quebec's
experience," says Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with
the David Suzuki Foundation. "Lawn and garden pesticides pose needless
risks to health and the environment."

The David Suzuki Foundation and Equiterre, a leading environmental
group in Quebec, teamed up to produce Pesticide Free? Oui! -- An
Analysis of Quebec's Pesticides Management Code. The report assesses
the strengths and weaknesses of the Quebec regulation, recommends
measures to improve the Code and encourages other provinces to adopt
similar policies to ban lawn and garden pesticides. The study also
suggests areas of improvement to bolster the Quebec ban and its

Passed in 2003 and fully implemented in 2006, Quebec's Pesticides
Management Code prohibits the use of 20 pesticide active ingredients
on public and private lawns across Quebec, and the retail sale of
products containing these ingredients. The prohibited active
ingredients are found in approximately 200 pesticide products,
including the popular lawn herbicide 2,4-D.

According to the report, the Code's strengths include its prohibition
on sales of the targeted pesticides -- as well as their use -- and its
strong basis in the precautionary principle (a rule that states that
in the absence of scientific consensus, protection of health and the
environment is paramount).

"Quebec has realized dramatic reductions in household pesticide use,
but there's more to be done," says Lova Ramanitrarivo, project leader
with Equiterre and principle author of the report. "In particular, the
ban should extend to all lawn and garden pesticides and enforced more

Key recommendations for Ontario and other provinces considering bans
on cosmetic pesticides include:

** using the precautionary principle as the guiding rule;

** structuring the ban with reference to a "white list" of products
authorized for sale and use;

** extending the ban to all cosmetic uses of pesticides, province-
wide; and,

** developing a thorough and effective enforcement program.

Quebec is currently the only province that restricts the use and sale
of pesticides registered by the federal Pest Management Regulatory
Agency. The Government of Ontario has committed to introduce
legislation banning the cosmetic use of pesticides this spring. The
Government of Prince Edward Island is also studying the issue. Across
Canada, 140 municipalities have adopted bylaws restricting the use of
pesticides on public and private property. Municipalities, however,
generally lack jurisdiction to regulate pesticide sales.

At present, there are approximately 1,000 commercial pesticide
products for sale in Canada that cannot be sold in other nations
because of health and environmental concerns.

Copyright 2008 Astral Media

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From: ICIS news, Mar. 28, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


WASHINGTON -- As several thousand executives gather in San Antonio,
Texas, this weekend for the annual International Petrochemical
Conference, industry leaders say they are facing a raft of challenges
from climate change, energy costs, security mandates and a rising tide
of global regulatory initiatives.

Sponsored by the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA),
the 33rd annual petchems meeting also comes at a time when the US
industry is anticipating what NPRA president Charles Drevna calls "one
of the most politically uncertain years that we have experienced in a
long time".

The outcome of the US national elections on 4 November this year could
significantly alter the regulatory landscape and business environment
for chemical companies.

"The US Congress began this year to consider climate change
legislation that could dramatically impact feedstock supplies and cost
to operate in the US," Drevna said, referring to bills pending in the
Senate that would impose a cap and trade emissions control mandate on
US manufacturing, transportation, power generation and natural gas

The controversial cap and trade legislation is aimed at reducing
industrial and vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other
greenhouse gases (GHG) in hopes of halting and perhaps reversing
global warming.

Chemical companies worry that a federal mandate to force emissions
reductions will among other things cause a stampede of power companies
away from coal to natural gas as a fuel, putting major additional
demand and pricing pressure on that principal feedstock for the US
petrochemicals industry.

"US natural gas prices remain high," Drevna noted, with gas in the
$9/m Btu range compared with $2/m Btu in 1999, "and little is being
done on Capitol Hill to open up domestic exploration to increase

Cap and trade legislation -- seen as having little chance of becoming
law while Republican George Bush is president -- is seen as more
likely if Democrats capture the White House and increase their
majorities in both the House and Senate.

"Climate change, chemical risk management and security policies will
undoubtedly affect our future business practices," Drevna said, "and
what those policies will look like will in large part depend on the
outcome of the November elections."

In addition to cap and trade, many in Congress want a major rewrite
for the principal US chemicals regulatory system, the Toxic Substances
Control Act (TSCA). That statute has not seen any major changes since
first enacted in 1976, and some on Capitol Hill argue it should be
recast along the lines of the European Union's REACH programme.

Drevna warns that REACH -- the registration, evaluation and
authorisation of chemicals -- reflects an effort by environmental
activists "to bring their own version of the precautionary principle,
a thinly disguised synonym for product substitution, to the global

Security issues also pose an increasing risk for US chemicals with a
new effort afoot in the US Congress to revise the year-old federal
mandate for antiterrorism precautions at high-risk chemical
facilities. The pending legislation would authorise federal regulators
to impose inherently safer technology (IST) measures on high-risk
facilities on the theory that less toxic feedstocks and lower
intensity production processes would make such sites less attractive
as terror targets.

NPRA spokesman Bill Holbrook said the association's member firms are
concerned about the IST provisions, which he termed "simply additional
new environmental rules masquerading as so-called security standards".

More than 3,200 industry officials attending this year's conference
will hear presentations on petrochemical technology and innovation
advances and supply chain challenges. The political uncertainties will
be reviewed by pollsters Peter Hart and Frank Luntz along with former
US House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Among industry executives at the IPC will be 1,200 international
officials representing 48 countries, Holbrook said.

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From: Reason Magazine, Mar. 28, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


How fear of life-saving technology swept through Africa

By Kerry Howley

In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan
Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn
from the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to
other countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in
need. The Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its
distribution, and stopped another shipment on its way to the country.
"Simply because my people are hungry," President Levy Mwanawasa later
said, "is no justification to give them poison."

The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn
produced -- and consumed -- comes from seeds that have been engineered
to resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified.
Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding
promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would
invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the
technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food
aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and
seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans,
destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to
immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared
where it is most needed. As Robert Paarlberg notes in his new book,
Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa
(Harvard University Press), in 2004 the Sudanese government "took time
out from its genocidal suppression of a rebellion in Darfur to issue a
memorandum requiring that all food aid brought into the country should
be certified as free of any GM ingredients."

Starved for Science includes forwards by both Jimmy Carter and Norman
Borlaug, the architect of Asia's Green Revolution and the man credited
with saving more human lives than anyone else in history. Paarlberg, a
Professor of Political Science at Wellesley and a specialist in
agricultural policy, wants the West to help small African farmers
obtain promising technologies just as it helped Asia discover
biological breakthroughs in the 60s and 70s. Instead, he says, a
coalition of European governments and African elites are promoting a
Western vision of rustic, low-productivity labor.

reason: Was there a particular experience with African farmers that
led you to write this book?

Robert Paarlberg: Partly it was the strong impression made on me by my
own visits to rural Africa, working with African organizations,
working with USAID, working with International Food Policy Research
Institute. I started visiting small farms in Africa 15 years ago. I'd
seen a lot of poor farmers in Asia and Latin America but absolutely
nothing like this. There was simply no uptake of any modern
productivity-enhancing technologies at all in some cases. And I
wondered why I hadn't been aware of this. And then, when I saw more
and more narrative in the NGO community and the donor community that
was frankly hostile to science, I thought "I have to put this down and
write a book for younger people in the donor community who may not
remember the importance of technology uptake in Asian agriculture 40
years ago."

reason: You suggest that your understanding of modern ideas about food
production arises from interactions with your students. What is it
that they want?

Paarlberg: My students know just what kind of food system they want: a
food system that isn't based on industrial scale monoculture. They
want instead small farms built around nature imitating polycultures.
They don't want chemical use; they certainly don't want genetic
engineering. They want slow food instead of fast food. They've got
this image of what would be better than what we have now. And what
they probably don't realize is that Africa is an extreme version of
that fantasy. If we were producing our own food that way, 60 percent
of us would still be farming and would be earning a dollar a day, and
a third of us would be malnourished. I'm trying to find some way to
honor the rejection that my students have for some aspects of modern
farming, but I don't want them to fantasize about the exact opposite.

reason: Can you give an example of a genetically modified seed or
organism, something in use today?

Paarlberg: Bt crops have been engineered to contain a gene from a
naturally occurring soil bacterium that expresses a certain protein
that cannot be digested by caterpillars. Mammals can digest the
protein with absolutely no problem, but caterpillars cannot. When the
caterpillars eat the plant, they die.

What's wonderful about this is that it's so precisely targeted at the
insects eating the plant. The other insects in the field aren't
affected. Using conventional corn instead of Bt corn, you have to
spray the whole field and you end up killing a lot of non-targeted
species. With this variety, you don't have to spray.

reason: That sounds less scary than "Genetically Modified Organism."

Paarlberg: The book makes the argument that the overregulation of this
technology in Europe and the anxieties felt about it in the United
States are not so much a reflection of risks, because there aren't any
documented risks from any GM crops on the market. I explain that
reaction through the absence of direct benefit. The technology is
directly beneficial to only a tiny number of citizens in rich
countries -- soybean farmers, corn farmers, a few seed companies,
patent holders. Consumers don't get a direct benefit at all, so it
doesn't cost them anything to drive it off the market with
regulations. The problem comes when the regulatory systems created in
rich countries are then exported to regions like Africa, where two
thirds of the people are farmers, and where they would be the direct

reason: How pervasive are genetically modified foods in the U.S.?

Paarlberg: Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in
the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is
genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store
shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from
genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.

reason: Are there documented safety risks that merit caution?

Paarlberg: There aren't any. It's like the first ten years of aviation
without a plane crash.

reason: What about environmental risks? Don't GM crops affect
surrounding plantlife?

Paarlberg: The only impacts they have different from conventional
crops are beneficial to the environment. They allow you to control
weeds and insects with fewer sprayings of toxic chemicals. And they
don't require as many trips through the field with your diesel
tractor, so you burn less fossil fuel. And there is more carbon
sequestered because you're not tilling the soil the way you otherwise

There are environmental impacts; there is gene flow. The pollen from a
genetically modified maize plant will flow into a neighboring field
and will fertilize the crops in that neighboring field. Some of the
seeds, as a consequence, will contain the transgene, but that's no
different from pollen from a conventional maize plant flowing into the
next field. It's only if you decide arbitrarily to define gene flow
from genetically modified crops as "contamination" and flow from all
other crops as natural. Only then does it start to become describable
as an adverse effect.

The worst environmental damage ever done by American agricultural was
the dustbowl of the 1930s, when we plowed up the southern plains to
grow wheat, and all the topsoil blew away. The way we increased
production back then was to expand crop area, which was
environmentally disastrous. It was a calamity. That was the way we
tried to increase production before we had high yielding crops, before
we had high yielding wheat varieties, before we had hybrid maize,
before we learned to increase the productivity of the land already
under cultivation.

reason: Can you give us a sense of what an average African farmer in,
say, Zambia, is currently working with?

Paarlberg: It would be a woman and her children primarily, and they
would plant not a hybrid maize, but a traditional openly pollinated
variety, and they would time the preparation of the soil and planting
as best they could for when they thought the rains would come. But the
rains might not come in time, or they might be too heavy and wash the
seeds out of the ground. It's a risky endeavor. They can't afford
fertilizer, and it's too risky to use fertilizer because in a drought
the maize would shrivel up and the fertilizer would be wasted. They
don't have any irrigation. As a consequence, even in a good year their
yields per hectare will be only about one third as high as in Asian
countries, 1/10 as high as in the United States.

reason: Just as it used to be in Asia.

Paarlberg: Everywhere!

reason: Right, everywhere. But Asia has moved on in recent memory. The
Green Revolution introduced new biological breakthroughs to Asian
agriculture to the point where no one today thinks of South Korea as a
rural backwater. Why was Africa not a part of this?

Paarlberg: One reason is that Africa is not easily irrigated. The big
irrigated crops like rice aren't to be found in Africa and the big
investments in the Green Revolution went into improving Asian crops
like rice. The crops Africans grow weren't the crops that were being
improved during the green revolution.

But I don't blame it all on the Asia-focus of the original green
revolution; we have had plenty of time to invest in scientific
research for Africa's crops, and to make investments in rural public
goods like roads or power to make it affordable for African farmers to
purchase fertilizer. But African governments have not done that job.
In my book I show that typically African governments will spend less
than 5 percent of their budget on agriculture even though that's where
two thirds of their citizens work. And if you don't have larger public
sector investments than that, there is just not going to be any uptake
in the countryside. But then I go around and show that you can't blame
African governments, entirely, because prosperous donor countries are
no longer supporting agriculture in Africa.

reason: No African government other than South Africa's has made it
legal to plant GMOs. You call this "out of character" for the same

Paarlberg: They have not yet enacted the law, set up the biosafety
committee, and granted approval, which is the laborious process that
[the United Nations Environmental Program] and the European
governments have coached them into adopting.

It's interesting. In no other area are governments in Africa
particularly concerned about hypothetical environmental risks. They
know better than to invoke the precautionary principle when it comes
to unsafe food in open air markets. They know that they need to first
get rid of actual food shortages and raise income; then and only then
can they afford to impose the same extremely high standards of food
safety on open air markets that are imposed on supermarkets in Europe.
Yet curiously when it comes to GMOs they adopt the highly
precautionary European standard, which makes it impossible to put
these products on the market at all. I take that as evidence that this
is not an authentic African response, it's a response imported from

reason: So the romanticization of bucolic farm landscapes unmarred by
scientific advance has an American and European pedigree.

Paarlberg: It's not what we do at home -- only two percent of
agricultural products in the US are organically grown. And many of
those that are organically grown are grown on industrial scale organic
farms in California that don't bear any resemblance to small bucolic
farms. But it's the image we promote in our new cultural narrative.
It's something that affects the way we give foreign assistance.

reason: Many of the anti-agricultural science gurus you mention in
your book have a spiritual dimension. Can you talk a bit about
Sylvester Graham?

Paarlberg: Sylvester Graham, the father of the modern graham cracker,
was opposed to the modern flour milling industry. He didn't like the
industrialization of bread production, and he wanted women to go back
to grinding flour. He was a religious man, a minister, and he had all
of the narrow minded prejudices we might associate with a New England
clergyman from the 19th century. He thought that women should stay in
the home, he believed people should be vegetarians because that would
keep their sexual appetite back. We sometimes forget what goes along
with the food purist zealotry. It's often zealotry about more than
just a certain kind of food to eat.

In Zambia today there are expatriate Jesuits from the United States
who have come to believe genetic engineering is against God's
teaching, though this is not a belief that is embraced by the Vatican.
They believe that all living things, including plants, have a right
not to have their genetic makeup modified. Of course we have been
modifying the genetic makeup of plants ever since we domesticated them
10,000 years ago, but these particular fathers are focused only on
genetic engineering.

reason: Isn't it paternalistic to blame Europeans for the decisions of
African governments? Is this something African elites are at least as
complicit in?

Paarlberg: It's a codependency. The African elites depend upon Europe
for financial assistance, they depend upon European export markets,
they depend on NGOs for technical assistance, it's just easier for
them to follow the European lead than to go against that lead. And to
some extent the European governments depend upon having dependents in
Africa that will, despite the difficult experience of colonization,
continue to imitate and validate and honor European culture and taste.

reason: What exactly have European NGOs done to discourage
productivity in farming? You quote Doug Parr, a chemist at Greenpeace,
arguing that the de facto organic status of farms in Africa is an
opportunity to lock in organic farming, since African farmers have yet
to advance beyond that.

Paarlberg: Some of it is well intentioned. The organic farming
movement believes this is an appropriate corrective to the chemical
intensive farming that they see in Europe. In Europe, where prosperous
consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic products, it
sometimes makes sense to use a more costly production process. So they
think, "Well it's the wave of the future here in Europe, so it should
be the future in Africa as well."

So they tell Africans who don't use enough fertilizer that instead of
using more they should go to zero and certify themselves as organic.
That's probably the most damaging influence -- discouraging Africans
from using enough fertilizer to restore the nutrients they mine out of
their soil. They classify African farmers as either certified organic,
or de facto organic. Indeed, many are de facto organic. And their goal
is not to increase the productivity of the organic farmers, but to
certify them as organic.

I just find that to be lacking in moral clarity.

reason: But there are functioning organic farms. If I decide to buy
only organic food from Africa, what will I be buying?

Paarlberg: It wouldn't be grown by small fair-trade-type poor farmers.
It would be grown through a vertically integrated, probably European,
company that would bring in the machinery, bring in the seeds, bring
in the fertilizers, set up a production system that would more nearly
resemble a colonial-era plantation than a small independent African

reason: We've seen similar resistance to GMOs in India and Brazil,
both of which now have legalized the use of genetically modified
crops. What happened?

Paarlberg: Farmers were planting them illicitly before the final
approval -- that's one reason they were forced into the approval. The
technology worked so well that farmers were planting them on their own
and you couldn't criminalize all Brazilian soybean growers so you had
to approve them. Similarly in India, Bt cotton spread on its own and
performed so well that the government was eventually shamed into
approving it.

reason: You aren't just calling for people to get out of the way. You
want increased aid for agricultural research. But why would any of
this require aid? If it's going to prove profitable, shouldn't the
incentive for private investment be there?

Paarlberg: The farmers who need the technology in Africa don't have
enough purchasing power to be of interest to private companies. Or
they're growing crops that aren't a part of a commercial seed market
that would interest private seed companies. The only way to reach
them, really, is to consider the crops that they grow, for example
tropical white maize or cassava. It's a little bit like the orphan
disease problem. It's really something that has to be done as a public
good by the public sector.

That's how the green revolution proceeded in India in the 1960s. It
was a wonderful success, and it wasn't really driven by the private
sector. It was driven by philanthropic foundations and public
investment. Also you need not just seed improvement, but more rural
farm-to-market roads, electrification, and things that really
governments and only governments are incentivized and capable of

There was a time, before scare stories about technology spread, when
the concern was a much more legitimate one: that we've handed this
technology over to private companies to develop, and they won't have
any incentive to get it to Africa. And to some extent that's still a
legitimate concern. There was never any fear that Brazilian farmers or
Canadian farmers wouldn't be able to get the technology, because
they're big commercial growers. The concern was originally that
Africans would want the technology but wouldn't be able to get it
because they didn't have the purchasing power or the investment
climate that could attract private companies.

reason: The book is 200 pages of frustration. Are there any glimmers
of hope ahead?

Paarlberg: Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced
that they would be going forward with the drought-tolerant maize
project that I describe in chapter 5 of my book. I'm very pleased that
the Gates Foundation has seen the opportunity that this new technology
provides. It would be too bad if drought tolerant corn were being
grown in Iowa in 2010 and not available to the farmer who really
needed it in Africa.

Drought in Africa pushes small farmers back into poverty whenever it
strikes. They have to sell off all their household possessions to buy
the food their families need until the next season. It blocks the
escape from poverty that they might otherwise achieve. Anything that
puts a safety net under crop yields is going to protect small African
farmers from that periodic decapitalization and let them start
accumulating assets for a change.

Kerry Howley is a senior editor at reason.

Copyright 2008 Reason Magazine.

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