Rachel's Democracy & Health News #957

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

Thursday, May 1, 2008...................Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

Autism Risk Linked To Mercury Emissions from Power Plants
  A new study links mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants to
  autism in children.
Forget Nuclear
  We are told the nuclear power industry is making a dramatic
  comeback. However, the facts are otherwise; nuclear power is being
  shunned by Wall Street investors. Here's why.
Indigenous Environmental Network Statement on Fossil Fuels
  The only way humans can eliminate their main contribution to global
  warming is to leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. The
  Indigenous Environmental Network is providing leadership for all of us
  on this issue.
Is Ethanol Getting a Bum Rap?
  Corn-based ethanol is only a minor contributor to rising food
  prices worldwide. However, there are far better crops than corn for
  making ethanol to fuel motor vehicles. One prime candidate is
  switchgrass, a perennial prairie plant.
Unwelcome Guest: PBDEs in Indoor Dust
  New research reveals that house dust is a major source of exposure
  not only to lead and pesticides but also -- more recently -- to
  hormone-disrupting flame retardants (PBDEs).
The Oceans Feel Impacts from Acid Rain
  Chemicals from power plants and farming especially affect coastal


From: ScienceDaily, Apr. 25, 2008
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How do mercury emissions affect pregnant mothers, the unborn and
toddlers? Do the level of emissions impact autism rates? Does it
matter whether a mercury-emitting source is 10 miles away from
families versus 20 miles? Is the risk of autism greater for children
who live closer to the pollution source?

A newly published study of Texas school district data and industrial
mercury-release data, conducted by researchers at The University of
Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, indeed shows a
statistically significant link between pounds of industrial release of
mercury and increased autism rates. It also shows -- for the first
time in scientific literature -- a statistically significant
association between autism risk and distance from the mercury source.

"This is not a definitive study, but just one more that furthers the
association between environmental mercury and autism," said lead
author Raymond F. Palmer, Ph.D., associate professor of family and
community medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. The
article is in the journal Health & Place.

Dr. Palmer, Stephen Blanchard, Ph.D., of Our Lady of the Lake
University in San Antonio and Robert Wood of the UT Health Science
Center found that community autism prevalence is reduced by 1 percent
to 2 percent with each 10 miles of distance from the pollution source.

"This study was not designed to understand which individuals in the
population are at risk due to mercury exposure," Dr. Palmer said.
"However, it does suggest generally that there is greater autism risk
closer to the polluting source."

The study should encourage further investigations designed to
determine the multiple routes of mercury exposure. "The effects of
persistent, low-dose exposure to mercury pollution, in addition to
fish consumption, deserve attention," Dr. Palmer said. "Ultimately, we
will want to know who in the general population is at greatest risk
based on genetic susceptibilities such as subtle deficits in the
ability to detoxify heavy metals."

The new study findings are consistent with a host of other studies
that confirm higher amounts of mercury in plants, animals and humans
the closer they are to the pollution source. The price on children may
be the highest.

"We suspect low-dose exposures to various environmental toxicants,
including mercury, that occur during critical windows of neural
development among genetically susceptible children may increase the
risk for developmental disorders such as autism," the authors wrote.

Study highlights

** Mercury-release data examined were from 39 coal-fired power plants
and 56 industrial facilities in Texas.

** Autism rates examined were from 1,040 Texas school districts.

** For every 1,000 pounds of mercury released by all industrial
sources in Texas into the environment in 1998, there was a
corresponding 2.6 percent increase in autism rates in the Texas school
districts in 2002.

** For every 1,000 pounds of mercury released by Texas power plants in
1998, there was a corresponding 3.7 percent increase in autism rates
in Texas school districts in 2002.

** Autism prevalence diminished 1 percent to 2 percent for every 10
miles from the source.

** Mercury exposure through fish consumption is well documented, but
very little is known about exposure routes through air and ground
water. There is evidence that children and other developing organisms
are more susceptible to neurobiological effects of mercury.


"We need to be concerned about global mercury emissions since a
substantial proportion of mercury releases are spread around the world
by long-range air and ocean currents," Dr. Palmer said. "Steps for
controlling and eliminating mercury pollution on a worldwide basis may
be advantageous. This entails greener, non-mercury-polluting

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated environmental
mercury releases at 158 million tons annually nationwide in the late
1990s, the time period studied by the Texas team. Most exposures were
said to come from coal-fired utility plants (33 percent of exposures),
municipal/medical waste incinerators (29 percent) and
commercial/industrial boilers (18 percent). Cement plants also release

With the enactment of clean air legislation and other measures,
mercury deposition into the environment is decreasing slightly.


Dr. Palmer and his colleagues pointed out the study did not reflect
the true community prevalence rates of autism because children younger
than school age are not counted in the Texas Education Agency data
system. The 1:500 autism rates in the study are lower than the 1:150
autism rates in recent reports of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.

Furthermore, the authors note that distance was not calculated from
individual homes to the pollution source but from central points in
school districts that varied widely in area.

Data sources

Data for environmentally released mercury were from the United States
Environmental Protection Agency Toxics Release Inventory. Data for
releases by coal-fired power plants came from the same inventory and
from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality. Data for school
district autism came from the Texas Education Agency.

Journal reference: Palmer, R.F., et al., Proximity to point sources of
environmental mercury release as a predictor of autism prevalence.
Health & Place (2008), doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2008.02.001.

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From: Rocky Mountain Institute, Apr. 28, 2008
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By Amory B. Lovins, Imran Sheikh, and Alex Markevich

Nuclear power, we're told, is a vibrant industry that's dramatically
reviving because it's proven, necessary, competitive, reliable, safe,
secure, widely used, increasingly popular, and carbon-free -- a
perfect replacement for carbon-spewing coal power. New nuclear plants
thus sound vital for climate protection, energy security, and powering
a growing economy.

There's a catch, though: the private capital market isn't investing in
new nuclear plants, and without financing, capitalist utilities aren't
buying. The few purchases, nearly all in Asia, are all made by central
planners with a draw on the public purse. In the United States, even
government subsidies approaching or exceeding new nuclear power's
total cost have failed to entice Wall Street.

This non-technical summary article compares the cost, climate
protection potential, reliability, financial risk, market success,
deployment speed, and energy contribution of new nuclear power with
those of its low- or no-carbon competitors. It explains why soaring
taxpayer subsidies aren't attracting investors. Capitalists instead
favor climate-protecting competitors with less cost, construction
time, and financial risk. The nuclear industry claims it has no
serious rivals, let alone those competitors -- which, however, already
outproduce nuclear power worldwide and are growing enormously faster.

Most remarkably, comparing all options' ability to protect the earth's
climate and enhance energy security reveals why nuclear power could
never deliver these promised benefits even if it could find free-
market buyers -- while its carbon-free rivals, which won $71 billion
of private investment in 2007 alone, do offer highly effective climate
and security solutions, sooner, with greater confidence.

Uncompetitive Costs

The Economist observed in 2001 that "Nuclear power, once claimed to be
too cheap to meter, is now too costly to matter" -- cheap to run but
very expensive to build. Since then, it's become several-fold costlier
to build, and in a few years, as old fuel contracts expire, it is
expected to become several-fold costlier to run. Its total cost now
markedly exceeds that of other common power plants (coal, gas, big
wind farms), let alone the even cheaper competitors described below.

Construction costs worldwide have risen far faster for nuclear than
non-nuclear plants, due not just to sharply higher steel, copper,
nickel, and cement prices but also to an atrophied global
infrastructure for making, building, managing, and operating reactors.
The industry's flagship Finnish project, led by France's top builder,
after 28 months' construction had gone at least 24 months behind
schedule and $2 billion over budget.

By 2007, as Figure 1 shows, nuclear was the costliest option among all
main competitors, whether using MIT's authoritative but now low 2003
cost assessment,[1] the Keystone Center's mid-2007 update (see Figure
1, pink bar), or later and even higher industry estimates (see Figure
1, pink arrow).[2]

Cost of New Delivered Electricity

Cogeneration and efficiency are "distributed resources," located near
where energy is used. Therefore, they don't incur the capital costs
and energy losses of the electric grid, which links large power plants
and remote wind farms to customers.[3] Wind farms, like solar
cells,[4] also require "firming" to steady their variable output, and
all types of generators require some backup for when they inevitably
break. The graph reflects these costs.

Making electricity from fuel creates large amounts of byproduct heat
that's normally wasted. Combined-cycle industrial cogeneration and
buildingscale cogeneration recover most of that heat and use it to
displace the need for separate boilers to heat the industrial process
or the building, thus creating the economic "credit" shown in Figure
1. Cogenerating electricity and some useful heat from currently
discarded industrial heat is even cheaper because no additional fuel
is needed.[5]

End-use efficiency lets customers wring more service from each
kilowatthour by using smarter technologies. As RMI's [Rocky Mountain
Institute's] work with many leading firms has demonstrated, efficiency
provides the same or better services with less carbon, less operating
cost, and often less up-front investment. The investment required to
save a kilowatt-hour averages about two cents nationwide, but has been
less than one cent in hundreds of utility programs (mainly for
businesses), and can even be less than zero in new buildings and
factories -- and in some retrofits that are coordinated with routine

Wind, cogeneration, and end-use efficiency already provide electrical
services more cheaply than central thermal power plants, whether
nuclear- or fossil-fuelled. This cost gap will only widen, since
central thermal power plants are largely mature while their
competitors continue to improve rapidly. The high costs of
conventional fossil-fuelled plants would go even higher if their large
carbon emissions had to be captured.

Uncompetitive CO2 Displacement

Nuclear plant operations emit almost no carbon -- just a little to
produce the fuel under current conditions.[6] Nuclear power is
therefore touted as the key replacement for coal-fired power plants.
But this seemingly straightforward substitution could instead be done
using non-nuclear technologies that are cheaper and faster, so they
yield more climate solution per dollar and per year. As Figure 2
shows, various options emit widely differing quantities of CO2 per
delivered kilowatt-hour.

Operating CO2 emitted per delivered kWh

Coal is by far the most carbon intensive source of electricity, so
displacing it is the yardstick of carbon displacement's effectiveness.
A kilowatt-hour of nuclear power does displace nearly all the 0.9-plus
kilograms of CO2 emitted by producing a kilowatt-hour from coal. But
so does a kilowatt-hour from wind, a kilowatt-hour from recovered-heat
industrial cogeneration, or a kilowatt-hour saved by end-use
efficiency. And all of these three carbon-free resources cost at least
one-third less than nuclear power per kilowatt-hour, so they save more
carbon per dollar.

Combined-cycle industrial cogeneration and building-scale cogeneration
typically burn natural gas, which does emit carbon (though half as
much as coal), so they displace somewhat less net carbon than nuclear
power could: around 0.7 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.[7] Even
though cogeneration displaces less carbon than nuclear does per
kilowatt-hour, it displaces more carbon than nuclear does per dollar
spent on delivered electricity, because it costs far less. With a net
delivered cost per kilowatt-hour approximately half of nuclear's,
cogeneration delivers twice as many kilowatt-hours per dollar, and
therefore displaces around 1.4 kilograms of CO2 for the same cost as
displacing 0.9 kilograms of CO2 with nuclear power.

Figure 3 compares different electricity options' cost-effectiveness in
reducing CO2 emissions. It counts both their cost-effectiveness, in
delivering kilowatthours per dollar, and their carbon emissions, if

Coal-fired CO2 emissions displaced per dollar spent on electrical

Nuclear power, being the costliest option, delivers less electrical
service per dollar than its rivals, so, not surprisingly, it's also a
climate protection loser, surpassing in carbon emissions displaced per
dollar only centralized, non-cogenerating combined-cycle power plants
burning natural gas.[8] Firmed wind-power and cogeneration are 1.5
times more cost-effective than nuclear at displacing CO2. So is
efficiency at even an almost unheard-of seven cents per kilowatt-hour.
Efficiency at normally observed costs beats nuclear by a wide margin
-- for example, by about ten-fold for efficiency costing one cent per

New nuclear power is so costly that shifting a dollar of spending from
nuclear to efficiency protects the climate several-fold more than
shifting a dollar of spending from coal to nuclear. Indeed, under
plausible assumptions, spending a dollar on new nuclear power instead
of on efficient use of electricity has a worse climate effect than
spending that dollar on new coal power!

If we're serious about addressing climate change, we must invest
resources wisely to expand and accelerate climate protection. Because
nuclear power is costly and slow to build, buying more of it rather
than of its cheaper, swifter rivals will instead reduce and retard
climate protection.

Questionable Reliability

All sources of electricity sometimes fail, differing only in why, how
often, how much, for how long, and how predictably. Even the most
reliable giant power plants are intermittent: they fail unexpectedly
in billion-watt chunks, often for long periods. Of all 132 U.S.
nuclear plants built (52 percent of the 253 originally ordered), 21
percent were permanently and prematurely closed due to reliability or
cost problems, while another 27 percent have completely failed for a
year or more at least once. Even reliably operating nuclear plants
must shut down, on average, for 39 days every 17 months for refueling
and maintenance. To cope with such intermittence in the operation of
both nuclear and centralized fossil-fuelled power plants, which
typically fail about 8 percent of the time, utilities must install a
roughly 15 percent "reserve margin" of extra capacity, some of which
must be continuously fuelled, spinning ready for instant use. Heavily
nuclear-dependent regions are particularly at risk because drought, a
serious safety problem, or a terrorist incident could close many
plants simultaneously.

Nuclear plants have an additional disadvantage: for safety, they must
instantly shut down in a power failure, but for nuclear-physics
reasons, they can't then be quickly restarted. During the August 2003
Northeast blackout, nine perfectly operating U.S. nuclear units had to
shut down. Twelve days of painfully slow restart later, their average
capacity loss had exceeded 50 percent. For the first three days, just
when they were most needed, their output was below 3 percent of
normal. The big transmission lines that highly concentrated nuclear
plants require are also vulnerable to lightning, ice storms, rifle
bullets, and other interruptions. The bigger our power plants and
power lines get, the more frequent and widespread regional blackouts
will become. Because 98-99 percent of power failures start in the
grid, it's more reliable to bypass the grid by shifting to efficiently
used, diverse, dispersed resources sited at or near the customer.
Also, a portfolio of many smaller units is unlikely to fail all at
once: its diversity makes it especially reliable even if its
individual units are not.

The sun doesn't always shine on a given solar panel, nor does the wind
always spin a given turbine. Yet if properly firmed, both wind-power,
whose global potential is 35 times world electricity use, and solar
energy, as much of which falls on the earth's surface about every 70
minutes as humankind uses each year, can deliver reliable power
without significant cost for backup or storage. These variable
renewable resources become collectively reliable when diversified in
type and location and when integrated with three types of resources:
steady renewables (geothermal, small hydro, biomass, etc.), existing
fuelled plants, and customer demand response. Such integration uses
weather forecasting to predict the output of variable renewable
resources, just as utilities now forecast demand patterns and
hydropower output. In general, keeping power supplies reliable despite
large wind and solar fractions will require less backup or storage
capacity than utilities have already bought to manage big thermal
stations' intermittence. The myth of renewable energy's unreliability
has been debunked both by theory and by practical experience. For
example, three north German states in 2007 got upwards of 30% of their
electricity from wind-power -- 39% in Schleswig-Holstein, whose goal
is 100% by 2020.

Large Subsidies to Offset High Financial Risk

The latest U.S. nuclear plant proposed is estimated to cost $12-24
billion (for 2.2-3.0 billion watts), many times industry's claims, and
off the chart in Figure 1 above. The utility's owner, a large holding
company active in 27 states, has annual revenues of only $15 billion.
Such high, and highly uncertain, costs now make financing
prohibitively expensive for free-market nuclear plants in the half of
the U.S. that has restructured its electricity system, and prone to
politically challenging rate shock in the rest: a new nuclear
kilowatt-hour costing, say, 16 cents "levelized" over decades implies
that the utility must collect about 27 cents to fund its first year of

Lacking investors, nuclear promoters have turned back to taxpayers,
who already bear most nuclear accident risks and have no meaningful
say in licensing. In the United States, taxpayers also insure
operators against legal or regulatory delays and have long subsidized
existing nuclear plants by about 1-5 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2005,
desperate for orders, the politically potent nuclear industry got
those subsidies raised to about 5-9 cents per kilowatt-hour for new
plants, or about 60-90 percent of their entire projected power cost.
Wall Street still demurred. In 2007, the industry won relaxed
government rules that made its 100 percent loan guarantees (for 80
percent debt financing) even more valuable -- worth, one utility's
data revealed, about $13 billion for a single new plant. But rising
costs had meanwhile made the $4 billion of new 2005 loan guarantees
scarcely sufficient for a single reactor, so Congress raised
taxpayers' guarantees to $18.5 billion. Congress will be asked for
another $30+ billion in loan guarantees in 2008. Meanwhile, the
nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has concluded that defaults
are likely.

Wall Street is ever more skeptical that nuclear power is as robustly
competitive as claimed. Starting with Warren Buffet, who just
abandoned a nuclear project because "it does not make economic sense,"
the smart money is heading for the exits. The Nuclear Energy Institute
is therefore trying to damp down the rosy expectations it created. It
now says U.S. nuclear orders will come not in a tidal wave but in two
little ripples -- a mere 5-8 units coming online in 2015-16, then more
if those are on time and within budget. Even that sounds dubious, as
many senior energy industry figures privately agree. In today's
capital market, governments can have only about as many nuclear plants
as they can force taxpayers to buy.

The Micropower Revolution

While nuclear power struggles in vain to attract private capital,
investors have switched to cheaper, faster, less risky alternatives
that The Economist calls "micropower" -- distributed turbines and
generators in factories or buildings (usually cogenerating useful
heat), and all renewable sources of electricity except big hydro dams
(those over ten megawatts). These alternatives surpassed nuclear's
global capacity in 2002 and its electric output in 2006. Nuclear power
now accounts for about 2 percent of worldwide electric capacity
additions, vs. 28 percent for micropower (2004-07 average) and
probably more in 2007-08.

An even cheaper competitor is end use efficiency ("negawatts") --
saving electricity by using it more efficiently or at smarter times.
Despite subsidies generally smaller than nuclear's, and many barriers
to fair market entry and competition, negawatts and micropower have
lately turned in a stunning global market performance. Micropower's
actual and industry-projected electricity production is running away
from nuclear's, not even counting the roughly comparable additional
growth in negawatts, nor any fossil-fuelled generators under a
megawatt (see Figure 4).[9]

Low- or no-carbon worldwide electrical output (except large

The nuclear industry nonetheless claims its only serious competitors
are big coal and gas plants. But the marketplace has already abandoned
that outmoded battleground for two others: central thermal plants vs.
micropower, and megawatts vs. negawatts. For example, the U.S. added
more wind-power capacity in 2007 than it added coal-fired capacity in
the past five years combined. By beating all central thermal plants,
micropower and negawatts together provide about half the world's new
electrical services. Micropower alone now provides a sixth of the
world's electricity, and from a sixth to more than half of all
electricity in twelve industrial countries (the U.S. lags with 6

In this broader competitive landscape, high carbon prices or taxes
can't save nuclear power from its fate. If nuclear did compete only
with coal, then far above-market carbon prices might save it; but coal
isn't the competitor to beat. Higher carbon prices will advantage all
other zero-carbon resources -- renewables, recovered heat
cogeneration, and negawatts -- as much as nuclear, and will partly
advantage fossil-fueled but low-carbon cogeneration as well.

Small Is Fast, Low-Risk, and High in Total Potential

Small, quickly built units are faster to deploy for a given total
effect than a few big, slowly built units. Widely accessible choices
that sell like cellphones and PCs can add up to more, sooner, than
ponderous plants that get built like cathedrals. And small units are
much easier to match to the many small pieces of electrical demand.
Even a multimegawatt wind turbine can be built so quickly that the
U.S. will probably have a hundred billion watts of them installed
before it gets its first one billion watts of new nuclear capacity, if

Small, quickly built units also have far lower financial risks than
big, slow ones. This gain in financial economics is the tip of a very
large iceberg: micropower's more than 200 different kinds of hidden
financial and technical benefits can make it about ten times more
valuable (www.smallisprofitable.org) than implied by current prices
or by the cost comparisons above. Most of the same benefits apply to
negawatts as well.

Despite their small individual size, micropower generators and
electrical savings are already adding up to huge totals. Indeed, over
decades, negawatts and micropower can shoulder the entire burden of
powering the economy.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the utilities' think-
tank, has calculated the U.S. negawatt potential (cheaper than just
running an existing nuclear plant and delivering its output) to be two
to three times nuclear power's 19 percent share of the U.S.
electricity market; RMI's more detailed analysis found even more.
Cogeneration in factories can make as much U.S. electricity as nuclear
does, plus more in buildings, which use 69 percent of U.S.
electricity. Wind-power at acceptable U.S. sites can cost-effectively
produce at least twice the nation's total electricity use, and other
renewables can make even more without significant land-use,
variability, or other constraints. Thus just cogeneration, wind-power,
and efficient use -- all profitable -- can displace nuclear's current
U.S. output roughly 14 times over.

Nuclear power, with its decade-long project cycles, difficult siting,
and (above all) unattractiveness to private capital, simply cannot
compete. In 2006, for example, it added less global capacity than
photovoltaics did, or a tenth as much as wind-power added, or 30-41
times less than micropower added. Renewables other than big hydro dams
won $56 billion of private risk capital; nuclear, as usual, got zero.
China's distributed renewable capacity reached seven times its nuclear
capacity and grew seven times faster. And in 2007, China, Spain, and
the U.S. each added more wind-power capacity than the world added
nuclear capacity. The nuclear industry does trumpet its growth, yet
micropower is bigger and growing 18 times faster.

Security Risks

President Bush rightly identifies the spread of nuclear weapons as the
gravest threat to America. Yet that proliferation is largely driven
and greatly facilitated by nuclear power's flow of materials,
equipment, skills, and knowledge, all hidden behind its innocent-
looking civilian disguise. (Reprocessing nuclear fuel, which the
President hopes to revive, greatly complicates waste management,
increases cost, and boosts proliferation.) Yet acknowledging nuclear
power's market failure and moving on to secure, least-cost energy
options for global development would unmask and penalize proliferators
by making bomb ingredients harder to get, more conspicuous to try to
get, and politically costlier to be caught trying to get. This would
make proliferation far more difficult, and easier to detect in time by
focusing scarce intelligence resources on needles, not haystacks.

Nuclear power has other unique challenges too, such as long-lived
radioactive wastes, potential for catastrophic accidents, and
vulnerability to terrorist attacks. But in a market economy, the
technology couldn't proceed even if it lacked those issues, so we
needn't consider them here.


So why do otherwise well-informed people still consider nuclear power
a key element of a sound climate strategy? Not because that belief can
withstand analytic scrutiny. Rather, it seems, because of a
superficially attractive story, an immensely powerful and effective
lobby, a new generation who forgot or never knew why nuclear power
failed previously (almost nothing has changed), sympathetic leaders of
nearly all main governments, deeply rooted habits and rules that favor
giant power plants over distributed solutions and enlarged supply over
efficient use, the market winners' absence from many official
databases (which often count only big plants owned by utilities), and
lazy reporting by an unduly credulous press.

Isn't it time we forgot about nuclear power? Informed capitalists
have. Politicians and pundits should too. After more than half a
century of devoted effort and a half-trillion dollars of public
subsidies, nuclear power still can't make its way in the market. If we
accept that unequivocal verdict, we can at last get on with the best
buys first: proven and ample ways to save more carbon per dollar,
faster, more surely, more securely, and with wider consensus. As often
before, the biggest key to a sound climate and security strategy is to
take market economics seriously.


Mr. Lovins, a physicist, is cofounder, Chairman, and Chief Scientist
of Rocky Mountain Institute, where Mr. Sheikh is a Research Analyst
and Dr. Markevich is a Vice President. Mr. Lovins has consulted for
scores of electric utilities, many of them nuclear operators. The
authors are grateful to their colleague Dr. Joel Swisher PE for
insightful comments and to many cited and uncited sources for research
help. A technical paper preprinted for the September 2008 Ambio (Royal
Swedish Academy of Sciences) supports this summary with full details
and documentation (www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid257.php#E08-01). RMI's
annual compilation of global micropower data from industrial and
governmental sources has been updated through 2006, and in many cases
through 2007, at www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid256.php#E05-04.


1. This is conservatively used as the basis for all comparisons in
this article. The approximately 2-3 cents/kWh nuclear "production
costs" often quoted are the bare operating costs of old plants,
excluding their construction and delivery costs (which are higher
today), and under cheap old fuel contracts that are expected to rise
by several-fold when most of them expire around 2012.

2. All monetary values in this article are in 2007 U.S. dollars. All
values are approximate and representative of the respective U.S.
technologies in 2007. Capital and operating costs are levelized over
the lifespan of the capital investment.

3. Distributed generators may rely on the power grid for emergency
backup power, but such backup capacity, being rarely used, doesn't
require a marginal expansion of grid capacity, as does the
construction of new centralized power plants. Indeed, in ordinary
operation, diversified distributed generators free up grid capacity
for other users.

4. Solar power is not included in Figure 1 because the delivered cost
of solar electricity varies greatly by installation type and financing
method. As shown in Figure 4, photovoltaics are currently one of the
smaller sources of renewable electricity, and solar thermal power
generation is even smaller.

5. A similar credit for displaced boiler fuel can even enable this
technology to produce electricity at negative net cost. The graph
conservatively omits such credit (which is very site-specific) and
shows a typical positive selling price.

6. We ignore here the modest and broadly comparable amounts of energy
needed to build any kind of electric generator, as well as possible
long-run energy use for nuclear waste management or for extracting
uranium from low-grade sources.

7. Since its recovered heat displaces boiler fuel, cogeneration
displaces more carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour than a large gas-
fired power plant does.

8. However, at long-run gas prices below those assumed here (a
levelized 2007-$ cost of $7.72 per million BTU, equivalent to assuming
that this price escalates indefinitely by 5%/year beyond inflation-
yielding prices far above the $7-10 recently forecast by the Chairman
of Chesapeake, the leading independent U.S. gas producer) and at
today's high nuclear costs, the combined-cycle plants may save more
carbon per dollar than nuclear plants do. This may also be true even
at the prices assumed here, if one properly counts combined-cycle
plants ability to load-follow, thus complementing and enabling
cleaner, cheaper variable renewable resources like wind power. Natural
gas could become scarce and costly only if its own efficiency
opportunities continue to be largely ignored. RMI's 2004 study Winning
the Oil Endgame (www.oilendgame.com) found, and further in-house
research confirmed in detail, that the US could save at least half its
projected 2025 gas use at an average cost roughly one-tenth of the
current gas price. Two-thirds of the potential savings come from
efficient use of electricity and would be more than paid for by the
capacity value of reducing electric loads.

9. Data for decentralized gas turbines and diesel generators exclude
generators of less than 1 megawatt capacity.

Correction: April 28, 2008: Due to new data, footnotes 1 and 8 have
been edited to reflect this new information.

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Institute

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From: Censored News, Apr. 25, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


At the Seventh Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues

As part of the "Road of Destruction" campaign of the Indigenous
Environmental Network (IEN), Indigenous grassroots representatives
from communities traveled to New York City, New York to make a
statement to the Indigenous Peoples of the world and world government
leaders and UN agencies on the issue of climate change and fossil

The following statement (intervention) was read to the Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues on Tuesday, April 22, 2008.

All statements were limited to 3 minutes and even though our
collective statement should have been much longer, we respected the
policy and limited our words to the 3 minute limit.

Our delegation recognized many of the other statements given by
Indigenous peoples from around the world. However, we recognized the
link to fossil fuels was not being highlighted.

Casey Camp-Horinek, of the Ponca Nation was selected by the IEN
delegation to read the intervention. As a member of concerned Ponca
tribal members, Casey Camp has been fighting for environmental and
health issues in the shadow of the international headquarters of the
Conoco-Phillips refinery and the Carbon Black coke processing plant.

After the statement was read, Casey asked for all Indigenous Peoples
that are affected by oil, gas, coal and fossil fuel development, to
please stand up. Almost the whole assembly stood up. This visual
action demonstrated the need of CO2olonalism and petro politics to be

IEN with support of Indigenous organizations throughout the world are
demanding the Permanent Forum to call for an EMERGENCY WORLD SESSION
of the UN General Assembly to address this issue (please see the
Recommendation at the end of the statement below). Climate change is
an Indigenous rights issue!


April 2008

Topic: Climate

Submitted by the Indigenous Environmental Network, with support of
global endorsements: Centre for Organisation Research & Education
(Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Policy and Human Rights in India's
Eastern Himalayan Territories Center for Organization Research and
Education (CORE), Federation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Asia,
Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, Western
Shoshone Defense Project, Cabildo Wayuu Noona, International Indian
Treaty Council, Asociacion Indigena Ambiental, Seventh Generation

Thank you, Madame Chair, for the opportunity to address the Permanent
Forum on Indigenous Issues. I'm Casey Camp-Horinek a member of the
Ponca Nation of Oklahoma.

I represent the Indigenous Environmental Network, which includes the
following affiliate organizations and Canadian First Nations
governments that are with me today: Pa Tha Tah, REDOIL [Resisting
Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands], Mikisew Cree First
Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Tribal Campus Climate
Challenge Youth delegation, Dooda' Desert Rock, Fort Berthold
Environmental Awareness Committee, Passamaquoddy Bay Defenders, Black
Mesa Water Coalition, Tulalip Youth, Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe

We cannot deny that the dangers of climate change violate the human
rights of Indigenous Peoples. Climate change threatens our food
systems and ability to practice our ceremonies, forces removals from
our traditional lands and territories, and creates disproportionate
health impacts on Indigenous Peoples. Climate change is more than an
environmental issue to Indigenous Peoples. Our cultures are in crisis
-- the inability of governments to address the issue of climate change
is tantamount to cultural genocide for our Peoples. The UN and
relevant international agencies must address these human rights
violations immediately. We cannot wait; climate change is a real issue
in the communities we are from. We must build upon the discussion of
impacts, and take action to create real solutions to climate change
and global warming now.

Madame Chair, while there is a very justifiable increase of global
interest on studying climate issues and debates on its solutions, it
is business as usual with the expansion of oil, coal and other fossil
fuel development within our homelands. The international scientific
community, led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which
was established through a resolution of the UN General Assembly, has
concluded that the burning of oil, gas, liquid natural gas, and coal,
as fossil fuels, is the primary source of human-induced climate change
and global warming. The Earth has already warmed by 0.76 degrees
Celsius (nearly 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Most scientists warn that a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6
degrees Fahrenheit) could have serious consequences. Above the 2
degrees level, scientists are saying this is the tipping point where
temperatures and weather events will be out of control, with an
acceleration of climate changes and global warming. Concerned
scientists are now saying we are almost at that tipping point, within
10 years.

For the well being of Mother Earth and future generations, the world
must move more aggressively than it is now, towards a rigorous plan
towards a zero fossil-fuel emissions level by 2050. Conventional
fossil-fuel supplies are limited, even if we tear up Mother Earth to
extract every last drop of oil and shard of coal. Tearing up the
sacredness of our Mother Earth to get to the last drops of oil is not
sustainable and violates every principle of our Indigenous Original

As Indigenous Peoples gathered here at the Seventh Session of the
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, we are in
solidarity with many other Indigenous Peoples of every region of our
Mother Earth in demanding a worldwide moratorium on new exploration,
extraction, and processing of fossil fuels on Indigenous Peoples land
and territories.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by
the General Assembly on September 13, 2007 and consecrates fundamental
rights of Indigenous Peoples. Articles 10, 26, 27, 29, and 32 justify
the following recommendation:

1) The Permanent Forum, through ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council]
call on the UN General Assembly to convene an emergency world session
to fully explore, with all branches of the UN, and relevant treaty
bodies, in particular UNCERD, the multiple impacts of climate change
and its link to fossil fuel development and the human rights of
Indigenous Peoples, to include the topics of, but not limited to
social, economic, cultural, environmental, health, food security, land
and water rights, and treaty rights.

Thank you.

Return to Table of Contents


From: BusinessWeek Magazine, May 1, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


Corn-based fuel isn't the villain critics contend, but shifting to
other crops is critical

By John Carey

Ethanol is taking a tumble. Once hyped as a magic brew for reducing
both oil addiction and global warming, alcohol made from corn kernels
is now being accused both of triggering a global food crisis and doing
more ecological harm than good. Ethanol critics, ranging from
environmental groups to pig farmers facing high feed prices, blame
mandates from Washington and Brussels stating that billions of gallons
of fuel must come from ethanol or other plant-based fuels. These
critics are now fighting to get those laws repealed. "What started as
an energy policy is leading to spreading hunger and political
instability around the world," charges Lester Brown, president of the
Earth Policy Institute. Companies are piling on, too. The Grocery
Manufacturers of America has substantially stepped up its lobbying
efforts to reduce the corn in gasoline.

There are grains of truth in this backlash, experts say. "There are
bad biofuels and good biofuels," says Daniel Sperling, director of the
Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at
Davis. Corn-based ethanol ranks as mediocre. Yet it is only a minor
cause of high food prices, and better biofuels are on the horizon. The
transition to these superior fuels will get a boost from policies now
being developed, with California leading the way.

First, a reality check on corn ethanol, which isn't quite the villain
critics make it out to be. Last year, American farmers grew a record
13.1 billion bushels of corn on 85 million acres. Of that, 22% went to
make about 7 billion gallons of ethanol. That still left enough corn
to supply the domestic market, increase exports to record levels, and
stockpile a 10% surplus. McKinsey principal Bill Caesar estimates
farmers will be able to keep increasing corn-based ethanol production
to 15 billion gallons in 2015 (a level of output mandated by federal
policy) without reducing the amount going for food and feed, and
without increasing acres planted. The secret: continuing improvements
in yields.

Of course, it's impossible to divert nearly one-quarter of the corn
crop to fuel without causing prices to rise. Corn is now around $5.50
per bushel, more than double its price in 2005. But this has had a
relatively small impact on the broader runup in global food prices.
Higher corn costs add 2 cents to a box of corn flakes, or 11 cents to
a gallon of milk from corn-fed cows. Corn prices have little to do
with the increases in rice and wheat, and only a small connection to
soybean price jumps. "Biofuels are a very, very small factor" in
rising food costs, says David Morris, vice-president of the Institute
for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit group that tries to strengthen
communities politically and economically around the world. Absent corn
ethanol, food prices would still be up dramatically because of soaring
global demand, fast-rising prices for oil and natural gas used to make
fertilizer, and climatic factors such as Australia's drought. It's
also worth noting that these high crop prices save taxpayers billions
of dollars in reduced subsidies to farmers -- far more than is spent
subsidize ethanol.

Certainly, a rapid rise in food prices brings misery to poor
countries. But over the long haul, "it's not obvious that high grain
prices are inherently bad," asserts Nathanael Greene, senior policy
analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Years of cheap,
subsidized grain in the U.S. and Europe have left farmers in the
developing world unable to compete. They can't invest in better seed,
machinery, or cultivation practices (page 26). As a result, global
average yields for corn, wheat, and rice are less than half what the
world's top 10% of farmers achieve. While American corn farmers
produce 150 bushels per acre, farms in the developing world often get
only 30. "If there is a crime against humanity, it is these low
yields," not biofuels, says Richard Hamilton, CEO of Ceres Inc., a
Thousand Oaks (Calif.) startup developing biofuel crops. Those low
yields will improve if farmers make more money. In the long term,
"high prices will lead these countries to produce more of their own
food," says Morris, easing the supply shortages.

Ethanol critics also may forget other benefits. For one, the billions
of gallons of ethanol are moderating oil prices by "easing energy
bottlenecks," says Francisco Blanch, head of global commodity research
at Merrill Lynch (MER). Blanch figures that oil prices would be at
least 15% higher than they are, if not for today's output of ethanol.
And given the dependence of the whole food supply chain on oil and
gas, "food prices might be higher if we were not producing biofuels,"
says venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. The stacks of corn going into
ethanol "act as a large cushion," adds Illinois farmer John Reifsteck.
As corn prices climb, ethanol companies make less money. When corn
becomes too valuable to convert to biofuels, the grain will go back
into feed and food.


Still, corn ethanol is far from perfect. It barely helps in the fight
against global warming, because of the carbon emissions from all the
fossil-fuel energy needed to make it. "Everyone agrees corn is not the
right crop," says Merrill Lynch's Blanch. Brazilian sugarcane is more
efficient. It doesn't grow in the Amazon region, so it doesn't cause
rainforest destruction, and it can be turned into other, more valuable
fuels. On Apr. 23, Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, Calif.,
announced plans, with Brazilian partners, to make biodiesel, jet fuel,
and bio-gasoline from sugarcane.

Even better is biofuel from feedstocks that don't eat into food
supplies, displace crops, or cause greenhouse gas emissions from
plowing up forests or prairies. One prime candidate is switchgrass, a
perennial prairie plant. Thanks to nine-foot-deep roots, switchgrass
in test plots in the American Southeast thrived last summer despite an
historic drought. The growth and decay of those deep roots also adds
carbon to soil, making switchgrass cultivation a boon to fighting
global warming. Ceres figures that its new commercial strain of the
plant, with improved yields, could be grown on former tobacco, cotton,
and rice fields across the southern U.S. "There are a lot of available
acres out there," says Ceres' Hamilton.

Instead of throwing out biofuels, the key is to speed up the
transition from corn to crops that offer more benefits. There's a
surprisingly simple way to do it: Judge fuels on how much greenhouse
gas is emitted during their entire production and transport, including
emissions caused by converting land from food crops and other uses to
fuel crops. Then ratchet down the amount of carbon that's allowed.

This low-carbon fuel standard approach sets the market free to pick
the best fuels to meet the standard. It immediately rules out biofuels
from palm oil plantations carved out of the rainforest, for instance.
It would also steer farmers away from corn because of corn ethanol's
lack of substantial greenhouse gas benefits. "Almost all of the
pathways for using food crops to make energy will look very bad with a
carbon metric," explains UC Davis' Sperling, who has worked on the
approach. "The low-carbon fuel standard is one of the most outstanding
policy instruments we have ever developed," he says. Make this
approach widespread, and it should be possible to have our biofuels
and eat our crops, too.

Blame energy costs, not ethanol, for your grocery bill

Has ethanol contributed to the surge in food prices? Not very much,
concludes a group of agricultural economists at Texas A&M University
in an Apr. 10 report from the school's Agricultural & Food Policy
Center. "The underlying force driving changes in the agricultural
industry, along with the economy as a whole, is overall higher energy
costs," the researchers conclude, not biofuels. In addition, reducing
the amount of ethanol the government requires each year "does not
result in significantly lower corn prices," they say. That's because
the ethanol industry is here to stay, since it is now being driven
largely by market forces rather than by the government's renewable-
fuel mandate.

Carey is a senior correspondent for BusinessWeek in Washington .

Copyright 2000-2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Return to Table of Contents


From: Environmental Health Perspectives, May 1, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Kellyn S. Betts

Researchers have known for years that house dust is a major exposure
route for lead and certain pesticides. Now attention is turning to
another class of dustborne chemicals -- polybrominated diphenyl ether
(PBDE) flame retardants. A growing body of research documents that
PBDEs and other brominated flame retardants (BFRs) released from many
different consumer products can accumulate in people's homes, cars,
and workplaces. Moreover, certain segments of the population have
extremely high concentrations of these substances in their bodies.
However, hard data on the human health impact of these exposures are
only just beginning to emerge, with many studies focusing on thyroid

PBDEs have been used extensively in the highly flammable plastic
components of consumer goods including couches, mattresses, carpet
padding, televisions, computers, cushions, car stereos, navigation
systems, car seats, and padded dashboards. By 2001, a sufficient
volume of data documenting PBDEs' persistence, toxicity, and tendency
to bioaccumulate had emerged that Europeans were calling for two PBDE
formulations -- pentaBDE and octaBDE -- to be banned. Both
formulations are mixtures of individual PBDE compounds, or congeners;
they are named on the basis of the average number of bromine atoms
making up the majority of each mixture. PentaBDE was used in
cushioning material whereas octaBDE was used primarily in electronics
including televisions, computers, and cell phones.Europe went on to
ban both PBDEs in August 2004, and the bromine and flame retardant
industries also voluntarily ceased production in North America by the
end of that year. PentaBDE and octaBDE are now candidates for
inclusion in the United Nation's Stockholm Convention on Persistent
Organic Pollutants (POPs), which globally bans chemical substances
that bioaccumulate through the food web and pose a risk to humans and
the environment.

A third PBDE, an additive known as decaBDE, is used in electronic
devices and textile backing. It remains in use today in North America,
but was banned on 1 April 2008 by the European Court of Justice. The
Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF), an industry group, is
contesting that ruling, and writes on its website: "After 10 years of
scientific research and more than 588 studies conducted and/or
reviewed, both the environment and human risk assessment reports
concluded that there is no significant risk [for decaBDE]." However,
animal research suggests the compound may be carcinogenic and links it
with developmental toxicity.

PBDEs in the U.S. Population

PBDEs differ from most other POPs in two important and interrelated
ways. The first is source of exposure. Whereas food is the main source
of most of the persistent pollutants that people take up -- including
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, and pesticides such as DDT
-- study after study suggests that consumer products are the main
sources of PBDEs that have been documented in indoor dust. For this
reason, researchers have begun to call PBDEs "indoor POPs." The major
role played by household dust helps explain another aspect of these
compounds that makes them unlike other POPs: their uneven distribution
in human populations.

In the 15 February 2008 issue of Environmental Science & Technology,
Andreas Sjodin, a chemist with the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), and colleagues published data from the National
Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) depicting the first
nationally representative analysis of U.S. citizens' blood for PBDEs.
The publication of these data, which are based on blood samples
collected in 2003 and 2004, makes the United States the first country
in the world to have nationally representative data on the flame

The new findings suggest that U.S. citizens harbor levels of PBDEs
that are much higher -- between 7.1 and 35 times, considering the
median concentrations of BDE-47, the congener detected most frequently
-- than Europeans, based on smaller, nonrepresentative studies.
BDE-47, which is associated with the pentaBDE formulation, was found
in 98.8% of samples tested. The NHANES data document that the youngest
Americans participating in the study (aged 12-19 years) tended to have
the highest overall concentrations of PBDEs in their blood as a group,
while individual older Americans were disproportionately likely to
have very high concentrations.

The NHANES data follow the same distribution seen in previous PBDE
studies, says Linda Birnbaum, director of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's (EPA) Experimental Toxicology Division. Up to 10%
of the population has significantly higher levels in their fat or
blood than the rest of the population, and 5% of the population has
PBDE levels more than 7 times the median -- the outlier population.

"PBDEs are very unusual in that we have seen some people with levels
fifty times higher than the median," Birnbaum explains. The gap
between the body burdens of people with the highest levels of exposure
and median levels of exposure is much smaller for most other
persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals, she explains. For example,
about 5% of the population has levels of PCBs and dioxin that are 2
times the median, and 1% has levels that are 3 times the median, she
says. The NHANES PBDE data show that the 5% of the population with the
highest concentrations of BDE-47 harbor concentrations of the compound
that are more than 7 times higher than the geometric mean.

The CDC researchers didn't report the average concentrations of the
top 1% of the NHANES PBDE survey's participants, but they say the
highest value of total PBDEs reported in NHANES was 3,680 ng/g. This
is more than 12 times higher than the 95th percentile of total PBDEs
in the NHANES data, which was 291 ng/g, and it makes clear that the
most highly exposed members of the U.S. population take up much
greater quantities of the compounds, says Myrto Petreas, chief of the
California Department of Toxic Substances Control's Environmental
Chemistry Branch. Many studies have documented what Birnbaum calls
"super highly exposed people" with similarly high -- or higher -- PBDE
concentrations who have no known risk factors for excessive PBDE

This raises the question of what happens to people who are members of
the outlier population but are not aware of it, particularly children,
points out Mary Turyk, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois
at Chicago School of Public Health. "People can be outliers with
levels of BFRs tens times higher [or more] and nobody knows who, why,
where, and when -- a sort of Russian roulette," says Janna Koppe, an
emeritus professor of neonatology at the University of Amsterdam. The
NHANES data suggest that millions of Americans could be affected by
decisions they made as unwitting consumers over the past several
decades, Petreas says.

Exposure Through Dust

Because consumers tend to keep products such as carpeting, couches,
and cars for years, if not decades, many homes and offices continue to
have potential sources of penta-, octa-, and decaBDE, and their
existence is likely to persist for many years, says Tom Webster,
associate chairman of the Boston University School of Public Health's
Environmental Health Department. Additionally, Bob Luedeka, executive
director of the Polyurethane Foam Association, says a recent report on
flame retardants by the Freedonia Group, a market research firm,
provides some evidence suggesting pentaBDE is being produced in China
and may enter North America in furniture from that country.

Petreas points out that PBDEs can also be emitted from landfills where
products are dumped. If products containing PBDEs are incinerated,
they can release brominated dioxins and furans. Research published in
the 15 August 2007 issue of Environmental Science & Technology
documents the presence of polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and
dibenzofurans in air samples from areas in developing nations such as
China where electronics are improperly recycled by burning.

Scientists have shown that some PBDEs can volatilize into the air, and
research published over the past year by teams led by Manolis
Mandalakis at the University of Crete and Stuart Harrad of the
University of Birmingham documents high levels of the flame retardants
inside automobiles, Internet cafes, and offices. Research published by
Webster and colleagues in the 1 July 2007 issue of Environmental
Science & Technology also found high levels of PBDEs in air from
homes, particularly in "personal air" sampled near breathing zones,
which Webster says indicates a "personal dust cloud" -- the so-called
Pigpen effect. In a review published in the January 2008 issue of the
Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, Matthew
Lorber of the EPA estimated that more than 80% of PBDE exposure is
from nonfood sources, mainly exposure to house dust containing PBDEs,
from both unintentional ingestion and dermal contact.

In the 1 March 2007 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a
group led by Webster published the first research to definitively link
PBDE concentrations in house dust with concentrations in the people
living in those homes. Scientists believe the distribution of PBDEs in
people's house dust largely mirrors the patterns found in North
Americans' blood, says Heather Stapleton, an environmental
toxicologist at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment
and Earth Sciences. She says the highest concentration she and
collaborator Webster have found is 540,000 ng/g house dust (data
unpublished), which is just a bit higher than previously recorded
levels in dust from a U.K. home and an airplane presented at the
Fourth International Workshop on Brominated Flame Retardants, held
24-27 April 2007 in Amsterdam.

The first evidence that PBDEs in dust are readily available and
biologically active was published in the 1 April 2008 issue of
Environmental Science & Technology by a team led by Janice Huwe of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture Biosciences Research Laboratory. The
research "demonstrates experimentally and quite conclusively -- using
real-world house dust -- that [PBDEs in dust are] very readily taken
up into an animal," says Birnbaum, who was senior author on the
report. "People often think if something is a particulate or bound to
dust, it is not going to be getting into our bodies very well.... We
now know that the PBDEs in the dust being found in our homes and our
offices can be taken up by our bodies," she concludes. Notably, the
research refutes the earlier belief that the large size of decaBDE
molecules prevents their being taken up and renders them biologically
unavailable. It is conceivable that other POPS might behave in the
same way if they were found in high levels inside people's homes,
Birnbaum says.

At the April 2007 BFR workshop, Joe Allen, who was then a graduate
student in environmental health at the Boston University School of
Public Health, presented information about the use of X-ray
fluorescence (XRF) to determine which household items contain bromine,
a marker for the presence of PBDEs. XRF has been used for years to
analyze house paint for the presence of lead, and it is the first
technique to appear promising for pinpointing the consumer products
that contain bromine.

The handheld XRF analyzers now available are "really the only way to
determine if a product may have PBDEs, without actually taking a
'biopsy' of the product, which is plainly not feasible for any in-home
research study," says Allen, now a staff scientist at the consultancy
Environmental Health & Engineering. He says the work he has done to
date, which has been accepted for publication in Environmental Science
& Technology, suggests that furniture and televisions are the primary
sources of the PBDE levels in U.S. house dust.

However, just how PBDEs from consumer goods end up in dust remains
what Stapleton calls "one of the big unknowns." It is also unclear
what it is about house dust that makes PBDEs stick to it.

Routes of Exposure

Since no one intentionally eats dust, how is exposure occurring?
Earlier this year, a team led by Stapleton and Webster provided new
insight into this riddle by looking at it in a fresh way. Acting on a
hunch, they decided to measure whether PBDEs stick to people's hands.
Their research, slated for publication in the 1 May 2008 issue of
Environmental Science & Technology, documents that people can have
"surprisingly" high quantities of PBDEs on their hands, Stapleton
says. If people put their hands in their mouths, the PBDEs on their
skin may be inadvertently ingested.

Miriam Diamond of the University of Toronto Geography Department says
people may be taking up PBDEs on their skin simply by touching
household objects. Diamond's research has demonstrated that minuscule
oil droplets broadcast into home air from activities such as cooking
can deposit on almost any household surface to produce a thin, sticky
film that can trap indoor chemicals. She documented that levels of
PBDEs in films on indoor windows were up to 20 times greater than
similar films on the outside of those windows in an article published
in Environmental Science & Technology on 1 February 2004.

Such organic films can build up on nearly all indoor surfaces,
including surfaces that have not been previously treated with PBDEs --
"any indoor surface where you can get a build-up of dust [is
susceptible]," says Tom Harner, a research scientist at Environment
Canada. The way Harner envisions it, after PBDEs volatilize into the
indoor air -- however that happens -- they are likely to eventually
land on a surface with an organic film. In other words, any surface
containing a film is a potential -- albeit temporary -- sink, he says.
When someone touches such a surface, a portion of the organic film and
the POPs it contains can be transferred to his or her hands because
human hands naturally absorb oils, Harner points out.

Stapleton and Webster say that smoking, nail biting, and eating oily
finger foods such as French fries, nuts, and sandwiches with unwashed
hands are all routes by which people may unwittingly consume PBDEs.
Their research suggests that "hygiene and behavior can have a big
impact on [people's] body burden," as Stapleton puts it.

Differential Exposures

Children under the age of 12 weren't included in the NHANES PBDE
study, but the CDC is currently testing pooled samples of blood from
children aged 3-11 years to get a better handle on U.S. levels in this
age group, says Larry Needham, chief of the Organic Analytical
Toxicology Branch of the CDC's National Center for Environmental
Health. The most comprehensive data collected thus far on children's
PBDE levels are from pooled samples from Australia. In research
presented at the April 2007 BFR workshop, Leisa-Maree Toms of the
University of Queensland and her colleagues reported that the PBDE
concentrations in blood taken from children aged 0-4 years were more
than 4 times higher than PBDEs in people over age 16. However, pooled
data won't show if some individual children have extraordinarily high
level of PBDEs in their blood, Stapleton points out.

Lorber estimates that children take in approximately 7 times more
PBDEs each day than adults because they spend so much time putting
their hands in their mouths. Stapleton's new work showing that PBDEs
attach themselves to people's hands suggests the gap may be even
larger. In fact, Stapleton says the dose of PBDEs that toddlers can
take up by putting their hands in their mouths is approximately equal
to the amount infants receive from breastfeeding, which was previously
believed to be the greatest source of exposure that a person could
receive over the course of his or her lifetime.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the NHANES data show that adults
aged 60 and above were more than twice as likely to have PBDE
concentrations in their blood that landed them in the high outlier
population. "This suggests that older people's ability to [eliminate]
the PBDE compounds is decreased, or that they are getting greater
exposure, perhaps because they spend more time indoors," Stapleton

The NHANES data show that men and women tend to have differing
proportions of some PBDE compounds in their blood, suggesting the
sexes may metabolize PBDEs differently, Stapleton says. "Maybe females
are more vulnerable to effects from PBDEs because of that," she points
out, noting that women generally have higher thyroid hormone
fluctuations and are more susceptible to disorders and cancer of the

Some researchers wonder if there could be a connection between PBDE
exposure and thyroid cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects
women. The U.S. National Cancer Institute's 2006 Annual Report to the
Nation on the Status of Cancer documents that thyroid cancer incidence
rates among women have increased since 1981, a time frame that roughly
mirrors when PBDEs have been found in the environment.

"Over the past ten years, the incidence of thyroid cancer in women has
been increasing faster than any other cancer in either women or men,"
says Pamela Horn-Ross, associate director of the Northern California
Cancer Center. However, "there has been little research to date on the
relationship between PBDE exposures and cancer in humans," adds Peggy
Reynolds, a senior research scientist at the same center.

Health Effects

Most of our current understanding about how PBDEs affect living
organisms comes from animal toxicity studies. "The major PBDE
toxicities seen in laboratory tests are toxicities to the liver and
thyroid," says June Dunnick, a toxicologist with the NIEHS. "The
National Toxicology Program [NTP] is conducting a cancer study to
determine the carcinogenic potential of lower-molecular-weight
polybrominated diphenyl ethers [which are associated with the pentaBDE
and octaBDE formulations]. Cancer potential is one of the unanswered
questions about this set of chemicals, and no one has addressed this
issue to date."

The only carcinogenicity study of a PBDE compound was conducted for
decaBDE by the NTP in the 1970s, but the way decaBDE was added to test
animals' food may have led to limited absorption of the chemical, says
Birnbaum. Nevertheless, the study revealed that rodents exposed to
high doses of decaBDE developed tumors in their livers and thyroid

Experiments conducted over the past decades show that exposure to
PBDEs can cause endocrine disruption in amphibians, birds, fish, mice,
and rats, including effects on thyroid, ovarian, and androgen
functioning, says Birnbaum. When pregnant fish, mice, and rats are
exposed to PBDEs, the flame retardants can cause neurodevelopmental
effects in their offspring related to cognition, learning, memory, and
the ability to respond to novel stimuli. These changes are also seen
when infantile animals are exposed to PBDEs. PBDEs have also been
linked to alterations in sperm morphology and function as well as to
ovarian toxicity in developing animals.

The concentrations associated with these health effects in animal
studies are less than 10 times higher than the PBDE concentrations
that are now being reported in the most highly exposed segment of
North Americans, Birnbaum says. We need more well-designed
epidemiologic studies to see if these same effects are occurring in
people, says Sjodin.

Meanwhile, recent studies are beginning to sketch out evidence of
human health effects. At the April 2007 BFR workshop, Turyk presented
the first evidence that PBDEs can alter thyroid hormone levels in
humans. Turyk's data came from a cohort of mostly older men and women
who ate Great Lakes fish. She says she is mainly seeing an association
between elevated PBDE concentrations and increased T4 (thyroxine) in
men's blood.

"We are seeing subtle changes in some of the thyroid hormone levels
that appear to be related to PBDE body burden after controlling for
possible confounding by age, body mass index, lipids, and
medications," Turyk explains. She stresses that she excluded people
with existing thyroid disease and those taking hormones, and that the
link is independent of the cohort population's levels of PCBs and DDE
(the chief metabolite of DDT). PBDE exposure has been inversely
correlated with T4 levels in animal studies, Birnbaum points out.

Similarly, workers exposed to PBDEs by working in or living near a
recycling center in China were more likely to have elevated levels of
thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) compared with other citizens,
according to a study led by Jing Yuan of Huazhong University of
Science and Technology published 15 March 2008 in Environmental
Science & Technology. Elevations of TSH are indicative of stress on
the thyroid system, Birnbaum says.

A study published in the March 2008 issue of EHP by Maria
Athanasiadou of Stockholm University and colleagues documents for the
first time that hydroxylated PBDE metabolites can bioaccumulate in
human blood serum. Hydroxylated metabolites of PBDEs were shown in the
July 2000 issue of Toxicological Sciences to compete with thyroid
hormones in blood to access transport proteins, although it is not
clear if this also happens in humans, says Timo Hamers, an
environmental toxicologist at Amsterdam's Institute for Environmental
Studies. Research presented at the April 2007 BFR workshop by Rocio
Fernandez Canton of Utrecht University also documents that
hydroxylated PBDEs are antiandrogenic.

Even small perturbations of thyroid hormones can have a negative
influence on early fetal brain development, according to a study
published in September 2003 in Clinical Endocrinology by Victor Pop of
Tilburg University. Pop's findings document that women who at 12 weeks
gestation had low T4 concentrations -- though still within what is
considered to be the normal range -- bore children who demonstrated
impaired mental and motor functioning at 1 to 2 years of age. (This
study examined thyroid perturbation in general, not in relation to
PBDE exposure.)

Researchers have known for several years that babies can have
detectable levels of PBDEs in their blood. In a study published in the
July 2003 issue of EHP, researchers led by Anita Mazdai of the
Indiana University School of Medicine reported that the concentrations
of PBDEs in umbilical cord blood from a group of 12 infants ranged
from 14 to 460 ng/g lipid and correlated well with the concentrations
in their mothers. More recently, a team led by Lynn Goldman of the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health collected cord blood
from a cohort of 297 Baltimore babies who have concentrations of PBDEs
similar to those of the Indiana babies, including a few samples with
levels much higher than the median for this group. Goldman is
investigating what may be an association between PBDE concentrations
and thyroid hormones in the Baltimore cohort.

Elevated PBDE concentrations in mothers' milk were correlated with
cryptorchidism (undescended testes) in their children in a study
published in the October 2007 issue of EHP by Katharina Maria Main
of Rigshospitalet University. At 4.16 ng/g, PBDE concentrations
associated with cryptorchidism in that study were much lower than
those reported in the Mazdai study. Turyk points out that the PBDE
levels associated with the cryptorchidism reported in the Main
study"are seven times lower on average than those in our adult

Koppe says, "it is certainly possible that there is a link between
PBDE exposure in the fetus and cryptorchidism." However, in a letter
published in the May 2008 issue of EHP, she notes that 4 of 33
Finnish boys and 1 of 28 Danish boys with cryptorchidism had mothers
with diabetes, a known major cause of congenital malformations. Main
counters that although the original analysis did not correct for
diabetes, a reanalysis of the data omitting diabetic mothers still
returned a significant association between PBDEs in breast milk and
cryptorchidism [for the complete exchange, see Correspondence, p. A195
this issue].

More BFR Research in the Future

Elaine Ron, a senior investigator and epidemiologist at the National
Cancer Institute, says her institute is trying to find a way to
explore whether there could be a link between PBDEs and papillary
thyroid cancer, the form that has been increasing most rapidly, in any
of the cohorts currently being studied for thyroid cancer risk
factors. "Thyroid cancer is pretty much of an enigma. We know that
radiation can increase risk quite dramatically depending upon the age
of exposure, but other risk factors are not very clear," Ron says.

A number of studies are gearing up to further investigate how maternal
PBDE exposures affect thyroid function in children. For example, the
Chemicals, Health and Pregnancy (CHirP) study, being led by a team of
researchers from the University of British Columbia has just finished
recruiting 150 pregnant women and will assess levels of both PBDEs and
thyroid hormones, says Glenys Webster, the study's director. "We now
know that small changes in thyroid hormone levels -- especially during
early pregnancy -- may affect neurological development in children.
Since everyone is exposed to PBDEs, even small effects on thyroid
hormones may therefore be of concern for public health," she says.

Koppe notes that if mothers with low T4 levels are identified early on
in their pregnancies, the reduction can be compensated for to minimize
its effects. Webster adds that if her study ferrets out developmental
effects, her next step would be to try to find funding for a case-
control study to examine children for possible links to attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, and learning disabilities.

Research such as the CHirP study is important because the thyroid
perturbations documented to date in people "may not be clinically
significant in an individual, but could contribute to overall disease
burden in the population," Turyk says.

Besides PBDEs, the CHirP study will also measure participants'
concentrations of PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, and polyfluorinated
compounds including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and
perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Stapleton says she is also planning to
participate in a similar study being funded by the CDC. In 2006,
Stapleton helped the National Institute of Standards and Technology
produce an official Standard Reference Material that documents the
presence in house dust of 33 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 30
PCBs, and 4 chlorinated pesticides in addition to 15 PBDE compounds.

Over the past year, a number of researchers reported finding at least
five other bromine-containing flame retardants in household dust in
the same skewed patterns that have been documented for PBDEs.
Stapleton says she, too, detected flame retardants besides PBDEs on
people's hands. The implications are significant, she points out,
"once you start to think about all the chemicals in dust that [people]
are exposed to."

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From: Oceanus Magazine, May 2, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Mike Carlowicz

The release of sulfur and nitrogen into the atmosphere by power plants
and agricultural activities is making seawater more acidic, especially
in coastal waters, according to a study published September 2007 in
the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Acid rain isn't just a problem of the land; it's also affecting the
ocean," said Scott Doney, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution (WHOI) and lead author of the study. "That effect is most
pronounced near the coasts, which are already some of the most heavily
affected and vulnerable parts of the ocean due to pollution,
overfishing, and climate change."

Farming, livestock husbandry, and the combustion of fossil fuels
releases excess sulfur dioxide, ammonia, and nitrogen oxides to the
atmos-phere, where they are transformed into nitric acid and sulfuric
acid. A portion of these compounds is blown offshore, where they enter
the ocean and alter its chemistry.

The acids lower seawater's pH and strip it of carbonate ions.
(Ultimately, so does ammonia, a base, which is converted to nitrates
and nitric acid.) That hampers the ability of marine organisms -- such
as sea urchins, shellfish, corals, and certain types of plankton -- to
harness calcium carbonate to make hard outer shells or "exoskeletons."
These organisms provide essential food and habitat to other species,
so their demise could affect entire ocean ecosystems.

Ocean acidification is already a concern because excess carbon dioxide
from fossil fuels produces the same effects. Though carbon dioxide
remains the dominating factor, "no one has really addressed the role
of acid rain and nitrogen," Doney said.

Doney collaborated on the project with Natalie Mahowald, Jean-FranÇois
Lamarque, and Phil Rasch of the National Center for Atmos-pheric
Research, Richard Feely of the Pacific Marine Environmental
Laboratory, Fred Mackenzie of the University of Hawaii, and Ivan Lima
of WHOI.

The research team analyzed data on agricultural, fossil fuel and other
atmospheric emissions. They built theoretical and computational models
of the ocean and atmosphere to simulate where the nitrogen and sulfur
emissions were likely to have the most impact. Then they ground-
truthed their model's results with field observations in coastal
waters by other scientists. The most heavily affected areas tend to be
downwind of eastern North America, western Europe, and east and south

In January 2008, the editors of Discover magazine recognized the
research as one of its "100 Top Science Stories of 2007."

Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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