Rachel's Precaution Reporter #148

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008.............Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

Progressive Librarians Guild Statement on Wifi in Libraries
  "The Precautionary Principle can act as a policy guide in which to
  critically debate the risks and benefits of wireless technology."
Toxic Shock
  "Europeans operate according to the precautionary principle, which
  means if there's an accumulation of scientific evidence suggesting
  potential harm, the government is empowered to act. Compare that to
  the U.S. approach, which calls for a very high level of absolute, or
  irrefutable, scientific proof."
New European Disclosure Law Shifts 'Burden of Proof' To Industry
  Shifting the burden of proof is one of the most important elements
  of the precautionary principle: Chemicals should be tested for safety
  before marketing. No data? No market.
The Science of Playing Safe
  The precautionary principle is being successfully applied in all
  sorts of controversial decisions.
As Nanotechnology Gains Ground, So Do Concerns
  Stavros Dimas, the European Union's environment commissioner, last
  week emphasized both the potential benefits and dangers of
  nanotechnology, saying it was the duty of regulators "to ensure that
  society benefits from novel applications of nanotechnologies" while
  "fully applying the precautionary principle."
Nanotech: The Unknown Risks
  "While U.S. regulators generally presume products to be safe until
  proven harmful, the EU's new REACH legislation demands that
  manufacturers demonstrate the safety of their chemicals."
Ethics of Agricultural Technologies Under Scrutiny
  "Europe can perhaps afford to make a fuss about food safety and ask
  for the precautionary principle to be respected as the continent still
  has enough food to eat but this is not the case for all regions of the
  world," said Professor Wilhem Gruissem.


From: Progressive Librarians Guild, Jun. 16, 2008
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Often unaware of the potential risks to both library staff and the
public, libraries have adopted wireless technology as a means to
bridge the Digital Divide and in order to fulfill their mission under
the Library Bill of Rights.

Research on the health effects of wireless technologies (2.4GHz and
5.0GHz bands)[1] and electromagnetic (microwave) radiation indicates
wireless technology, among other effects, may cause immune
dysfunction, increased risk of brain tumors and acoustic neuromas,
childhood cancers, breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease (European
Environment Agency, Bioinitiative Working Group, 2007), and
genotoxicity.[2] Research also indicates that public health standards
are inadequate in offering guidance on the use of wireless
technologies in community spaces.

The Precautionary Principle can act as a policy guide in which to
critically debate the risks and benefits of wireless technology. The
European Environmental Agency, Bioinitiative Working Group and the
International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety through the
Benevento Resolution[3] have called for the application of the
Precautionary Principle in the use of wireless technology. In the
United States, the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle
(1998) states

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the
environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause
and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically..."

Therefore, exposure to wireless technologies in the above bandwidths
is a public health issue that library workers should address
philosophically as a profession and directly in terms of daily library
operations, programs, and services. European library workers have
taken steps calling for such an examination based on the current
research on health effects of wireless. The Bibliotheque Nationale de
France[4] has forgone installation of a public wireless system and the
staff of the Sainte Genevieve Library (Paris V) has called for a
discussion on wireless technology safety in university and public
libraries based in part on the conclusions reached by the European
Environmental Agency BioInitiative Working Group (2007,4, 26):

Although this RF target level does not preclude further rollout of WI-
FI technologies, we also recommend that wired alternatives to WIFI be
implemented, particularly in schools and libraries so that children
are not subjected to elevated RF levels until more is understood about
possible health impacts. This recommendation should be seen as an
interim precautionary limit that is intended to guide preventative
actions; and more conservative limits may be needed in the future.

Based on this information, Progressive Librarians Guild recommends
that via their professional organizations, information workers address
the risks of wireless technology in public spaces, take steps in
learning about the risks of wireless in terms of exposure and impact
on library services, monitor wireless technology in their
facilities,[5] critically evaluate and adopt alternatives to wireless
technology[6] especially in children's sections of libraries, create
warning signage on risks of wifi throughout their libraries, and act
as a community resource in the public education on wireless


1. Wireless-B, or "IEEE 802.11b" standard operates on the 2.4 GHz
band. Wireless-G, or IEEE 802.11g, uses the same frequency band, but
is capable of higher speeds. Wireless-A (IEEE 802.11a) uses the 5.0
GHz band, a higher data transfer. Wireless-N, using both 2.4 and 5.0
GHz bands, with proposed data transfer capability exceeding wired
networks. See Wireless Standards.

2. Genotoxic or genotoxicity: capable of causing damage to DNA. See
Lai, below, a review of the literature on wireless and genotoxicity.

3. Benevento uses 0 to 300 GHz as a baseline for recommendations.

4. 2400 MHz mentioned in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France press
release is synonymous with 2.4 GHz.

5. Inexpensive AC gauss meters which measure 1-5 GHz can be found on
the Web at stores such as EMF Safety Superstore.

6. For example, one alternative is the Panasonic HD-PLC power line
network adapter uses electrical wiring (power outlet) as a link
between a PC and modem. The adaptor is available through amazon.com.

7. Thanks to Carolyn Raffensperger and Ted Schettler at the Science
and Environmental Health Network, Rebekah Azen, SJSU SLIS students
Abe Ignacio, and Milton John Kleim, Jr. for their comments.


American Library Association. Library Bill of Rights. 1948, 1996
(accessed May 29, 2008).

Anders Ahlbom, et al. "Epidemiology of Health Effects of
Radiofrequency Exposure: CNIRP (International Commission for Non-
Ionizing Radiation Protection." Environmental Health Perspectives 112
no. 17(2004): 1741-1754 (accessed May 27, 2008).

Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Consensus Statement on
Electromagnetic Radiation Draft, October 10, 2006 (accessed May 22,

Environmental Research Foundation. Precaution Reporter #67, December
6, 2006 (accessed May 22, 2008).

European Environmental Agency. "Radiation Risk from Everyday Devices
Assessed." September, 2007 (accessed June 1, 2008)

European Environmental Agency, BioInitiative Working Group.
Bioinitiative: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure
Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF) August 31, 2007
(accessed May 22, 2008).

The French National Library Renounces WiFi," Press Release, April 4,
2008. English: "La Bibliotheque Nationale renonce au Wi-Fi," 4 Avril
2008, (accessed May 27, 2008).

Harremoës, Poul, eds., et al. Late Lessons from Early Warnings: the
Precautionary Principle 1896-2000. Environmental Issue Report No. 22,
European Environment Agency, January 10, 2002 (accessed June 1, 2008).

EEE. "Wireless Fidelity -- WiFi" (accessed May 22, 2008).

International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety. Benevento
Resolution, Benevento, Italy, on February 22, 23 & 24, 2006 (accessed
May 22, 2008).

Labor Institute, NYC. Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs): A Training
Workbook for Working People. New York: New York. Occupational Safety
and Health Training and Education Program, 199?.

Lai, Henry."Evidence for Genotoxic Effects -- RFR and ELF DNA
Damage." European Environmental Agency, BioInitiative Working Group.
Bioinitiative: A Rationale for a Biologically-Based Public Exposure
Standard for Electromagnetic Fields. August 31, 2007. Section 6, 1-43
(accessed May 22, 2008).

Lakehead University. "WiFi Policy." January 1, 2004 (accessed May
22, 2008).

Lee, S. et al. "2.45 GHz Radiofrequency Fields Alter Gene Expression
in Cultured Human Cells. "FEBS Letters (Federation of European
Biochemical Societies) 579 no. 21 (2005):4829-36.

Science and Environmental Health Network. The Precautionary
Principle (accessed May 22, 2008).

Thatcher, Diana. "Librarians: Keep Public Library Wi-Fi Free. Sante
Fe New Mexican June 8, 2008 (accessed June 8, 2008).

WEEP. "French Library Gives up WiFi." April 7, 2008 (accessed May
22, 2008).

World Health Organization. Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health:
Exposure to Extremely Low Frequency Fields. June, 2007 (accessed May
30, 2008).

Wingspread Consensus Statement on the Precautionary Principle,
January 26, 1998 (accessed May 22, 2008).

Copyright Progressive Librarians Guild, 1997-2008.

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From: Metroactive, Jun. 25, 2008
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Poisonous products banned in most nations are killing Americans and
threatening the economy

By Diane Solomon

MARK SCHAPIRO works at the Center for Investigative Reporting. His
work has appeared in Mother Jones and The New York Times Magazine, and
he is a regular guest on NPR. He spoke with Metro about his new book,
Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake
for American Power.

Metro: Most of us assume that if it's sold in a store, it's OK. You
say otherwise.

Mark Schapiro: Americans operate under the assumption that some
governmental authority out there is assessing whether the products we
encounter on a daily basis are safe. I'm sorry to report that's not
the case. We're confronted daily with hundreds of different chemicals
that are in everything from cosmetics to electronics to children's
toys to automobiles. Essentially, no one is out there assessing their

The European Union is doing something about the connection between
disease and chemical exposure. Tell us about that.

Increasing amounts of evidence suggest that many of the chemicals we
encounter in our daily lives are responsible for whole array of health
problems, like higher rates of cancer, higher endocrine troubles,
higher infertility in young women, declining sperm counts in young men
and birth defects.

I write about what the European response was to this information, and
I compared that to the U.S. response, and I'm afraid to report it's
not a very happy picture. The E.U. is acting upon the evidence,
whereas the U.S. has been doing essentially absolutely nothing.

The Centers for Disease Control went out and tested Americans. What
they found out is that all of us are walking around with 148 chemicals
in our bloodstream right now. These are chemicals that we never asked
to have in our bodies, but they're there. We're all walking around in
this soup of chemicals.

The E.U. took a look, and starting in 2005 banned all carcinogens,
mutagens and reproductive toxins from use in cosmetics and hair dye.
If you go to Europe and buy cosmetics, they don't have them in there.
If you go to an American store to buy cosmetics, chances are those
substances are still in them.

In Europe, companies are finding alternatives to these substances.
It's not like European women are running around not using cosmetics.
Industry is coming up with alternatives left and right because there's
a resurgence of research into green chemistry because of these

In 1981, you wrote in 'Circle of Poison' that U.S. corporations were
selling pesticides that were banned here in developing nations. Are we
now getting dumped on by E.U. companies?

We wrote Circle of Poison about the moral hypocrisy of determining
that chemicals that aren't good enough for Americans are OK to be
dumped on other people. Well, now we're the ones in that situation.

The E.U. is taking the lead on environmental protections and the U.S.,
for the first time in its history, is becoming a dumping ground for a
lot of products that are banned elsewhere in the world.

When I talk about what's at stake for American power, we're also
talking about the economic power of the U.S., because as the Europeans
move ahead with less toxic alternatives and more sustainable ways of
production, U.S. industry is being left behind. You can see this in
the dwindling market share of many American industries.

What's the difference between E.U. and U.S. approaches to identifying
and limiting risk from exposure to chemicals?

Europeans operate according to the precautionary principle, which
means if there's an accumulation of scientific evidence suggesting
potential harm, the government is empowered to act. Compare that to
the U.S. approach, which calls for a very high level of absolute, or
irrefutable, scientific proof. If you talk to any scientist and tell
them about this notion of absolute scientific proof, they'll tell you
it's impossible to reach when it comes to chemicals.

The U.S. also imposes very strict ideas of cost-benefit analysis
before any regulation is put into place. So the costs to industry are
set against the benefits to society.

There's been a complete paralysis at the EPA because of these
extremely strict rules and the EPA has not banned a chemical in at
least 20 years.

Any American probably thinks that asbestos is banned in the U.S. It's
not. The EPA tried to ban asbestos back in 1990 and the industry came
back with a lawsuit saying it didn't meet this strict requirement of
scientific irrefutability and didn't meet the cost-benefit requirement
so the ban was lifted.

The EU's regulations have been in effect for a while now -- are
companies going broke complying with them?

I investigated what happened when the companies began removing these
substances, to find out the economic impact. Number one, they all went
out and found alternatives. Two, the economic cataclysm that had been
predicted both by European industry and American industry never
happened. The loss of jobs never happened.

You have European industries now producing products that have
undergone a toxic screen and you've got American products that haven't
undergone a toxic screen. If you're given a choice as to which one to
buy you can weigh those products against one another and,
increasingly, the Europeans are beating us. Many of our industries are
now losing ground to European industry.

Might Silicon Valley's high-tech companies bring our jobs back because
there's less incentive for them to manufacture off-shore? They moved
operations to countries with lax labor and environmental standards
like Mexico and China, who've now banned chemicals that are legal

You've got it exactly. The Europeans passed a whole array of laws that
demanded that six toxic elements be removed from electronics. So what
happened? The Chinese and everybody else who manufactures for the
global market now produce according to the global standards set by the

Which means two things: One, the U.S. regulatory authorities have
become totally irrelevant to the production decisions of a major
American industry -- the high-tech industry. I've been down to
meetings in Silicon Valley and I've sat in with engineers as they
discussed and learned about these European laws. Now it's those
European laws that they have to pay attention to. They aren't paying
attention to the American laws, because the EPA isn't doing anything
about this.

Second, the companies that produce the no-name generic electronics
from China wouldn't make it on the European market. They aren't
interested in selling to the E.U. They want to sell to America and
maybe Cameroon and Paraguay -- places that have the minor
environmental controls that we have.

So for the first time in history, the U.S. is bundled into this
assemblage of countries that have minimal environmental regulations.
This is how we're becoming a dumping ground.

What's been the reaction to 'Exposed'? Is anything changing?

I've been invited to speak to state legislators in California,
Washington and Minnesota. I testified in March at Vermont's Senate
Health and Welfare Committee when they were considering their
phthalate ban.

Now some of the states are looking at that evidence and saying, "Hold
on -- we've got to do something about that." California and Vermont
were the first to ban phthalates from children's toys. They'll take
affect next year. Phthalates have been banned for almost 10 years in
the E.U.

States are desperate for some kind of leadership on the environmental
challenges that we face, and they're not finding it in Washington,

State officials all across the country are flying not to Washington
but to Brussels, which is the capital of the E.U., to get ideas on how
to handle some of these things.

What can we do about this?

Number one, you should be aware of this phenomenon and integrate this
into your buying decisions. When it comes to electronics, there's a
label on the back of them. If it has a "CE" on it that means it's been
approved by the E.U.'s regulatory process. The sad fact is that if
you're going to buy cosmetics, other than the small brand natural
cosmetics, you're going to be a lot safer buying European ones.

Of course you can make individual decisions, but there's no substitute
for holding politicians' feet to the fire when it comes to demanding
laws that require the removal of these kinds of substances, because in
the end that's what's going to force industry to make these changes.

Copyright 2008 Metro Newspapers

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From: Greenwire, Jun. 23, 2008
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By Sara Goodman, Greenwire reporter

The chemical industry is scrambling to comply with a sweeping new
European Union law requiring manufacturers to provide detailed
information about their products and their effects on the environment
and health.

"You have a very dramatic reform in chemical policy taking place in
the seat of the largest proportion of the global chemical market,"
said Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense
Fund, an advocacy group. "That is going to have a huge impact on the
global chemical arena."

The law -- Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, or
REACH -- was enacted last year, and its requirements are just starting
to affect European chemical manufacturers and importers. What happens
in Europe is important because the continent's chemical trade accounts
for about 40 percent of the global market, with 27 countries and
nearly half a billion people.

"REACH has a potential impact outside the E.U. -- it doesn't stop at
the borders," said Walter van het Hof, spokesman for Dow Chemical.

REACH requires companies to register chemicals manufactured in or
imported into Europe. They must include detailed information about the
chemical and whether it accumulates in the environment.

"It's using the concept of 'no data, no market,'" Denison said. "REACH
has acknowledged that there are tens of thousands of chemicals in
commerce that have never been assessed or tested. It recognized that
the legacy of old chemical policy needed to be tackled and addressed."

The registration system stipulates that as a condition for being in
the market, there must be at least a minimum amount of data available
in the public domain. Companies must preregister between June 1 and
Dec. 1, meaning they have to turn in basic information on chemicals.
If a company fails to meet this first deadline, it will not be allowed
to sell its wares.

Over the next decade, further requirements will be rolled out, giving
smaller companies more time than bigger companies to meet the new

'More modern way'

As a part of the rollout, companies will also be required to provide
information on how their chemicals are used throughout the supply
chain, including in final products.

"One of the big ideas behind REACH is to force a conversation between
those who make chemicals and those who use chemicals," said Daryl
Ditz, senior policy adviser at the Center for International
Environmental Law. "Chemical users are a lot less aware than chemical
[manufacturers]. There are a lot of American companies that don't know
a lot about REACH. For starters, they have to understand what
chemicals they rely on."

Requiring companies to provide information on the chemicals and prove
they are safe before they enter the marketplace is a dramatic shift
from the way chemicals were regulated in Europe and continue to be
regulated in the United States.

"It's reversing the burden of proof and shifting responsibility," Ditz
said. "It's a more modern way of going about regulating companies."

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) -- the 1976 law
governing roughly 82,700 chemicals in the United States -- the
government must prove a chemical poses a health threat before it can
act. However, it needs proof before it can require companies to
provide more information about the chemical -- in what both Ditz and
Denison called a Catch-22, or a situation in which regulators are
given no good choice.

Because the burden of proof is so onerous for the United States' chief
regulator, U.S. EPA, the agency relies on companies voluntarily giving
information, Ditz said. While some companies have provided
information, there is nothing to push them to do so, meaning the flow
of information has been very slow.

Since TSCA was enacted 32 years ago, EPA has used it to evaluate the
safety of 200 chemicals and banned five.

"It's not unrealistic to say that TSCA doesn't have any teeth," Ditz
said. "REACH is the European answer to the same problem. EPA is more
or less playing a game of 'pretty please,' asking chemical companies
to please give them data. Unlike that, REACH is backed by the law."

Mike Walls, managing director with the American Chemistry Council, a
trade group, disputed this evaluation of TSCA, saying he worries that
U.S. policymakers are not sufficiently evaluating the positive and the
negative aspects of REACH.

"It's unfortunate that there's this perception that REACH is now the
gold standard in chemical regulation," Walls said. "EPA has a robust
regulatory authority. We can do better in some cases, but that doesn't
mean that chemicals are unregulated or that there are significant
risks to human health in the environment that have gone unaddressed."

Walls pointed to a new program, the Chemical Assessment and Management
Program, or ChAMP, under which EPA made the commitment to get risk-
based decisions for all chemicals in commerce by 2012.

"ChAMP will allow U.S. EPA to reach risk-based priority assessments
and prioritize EPA's priorities on chemicals in a way that REACH
doesn't allow for," he said. "There's a recognition REACH is not the
only game plan around."

Deadlines loom

In addition to requiring data on all industrial chemicals, REACH also
establishes criteria for identifying "substances of very high
concern," which include those known to be carcinogens, cause other
health problems or persist in the environment. For these chemicals,
companies will be required to apply for authorization, which would
then allow them to manufacture the chemicals for specific purposes

One of REACH's biggest impacts will be on the amount of information it
will make available to the public, Denison said. That should help
promote better buying decisions on all levels, he said.

To meet the demands of providing extensive information, Dow has 23
teams gathering the data for the December deadline on as many as
10,000 chemicals, van het Hof said.

"There are definitely challenges for everybody involved in REACH --
companies, the government -- because everything is still really new,"
van het Hof said. "You have to find the right balance between keeping
it a workable system and making sure that all things, like
competitiveness and protecting companies' sensitive information, is
all handled well."

Companies are venturing into new territory as they figure out how to
meet these challenges, van het Hof said. One way is by forming
consortiums for common chemicals so that they can be tested and
registered just once.

"For us, it is [the] next step," he added. "We don't say it's all
great, though, because it brings complexity and effort with it."

There are concerns about compliance at smaller companies, Walls said.

"Clearly, no one's going out of business tomorrow because of REACH,"
Walls said. "But those impacts are still ones that have to be watched
for as REACH's full impact becomes known. Companies are having to make
strategic business decisions in planning for REACH's implementation,
and it can be harder for smaller companies to do that."

'Potential to drive market innovation'

As companies develop strategies to meet the REACH requirements, many
are acknowledging that the far-reaching impact of Europe's law will
also offer opportunities.

"We are implementing REACH as a global program across DuPont, and the
impact of REACH will be varied and widespread," said Rick Straitman, a
DuPont spokesman. "We see it as potential to drive market innovation.
There are chemicals that may be restricted under REACH, and it'll
provide the opportunity for a science company like DuPont to develop
replacement products to satisfy market needs."

REACH's acceptance by major companies -- combined with Europe's push
for the law despite resistance from the Bush administration and the
U.S. chemical industry -- shows a changing global political climate,
some say.

"The fact that Europe did this -- spent 10 years negotiating, passing
it and implementing it -- is a powerful political message," Ditz said.
"Congress, state governments are saying, 'Europeans did this; maybe we
need to face the same problem set and come up with our own solution.'"

Individual U.S. states are considering banning individual chemicals,
while several lawmakers have proposed legislation that would halt the
sale of specific chemicals.

The "Kid Safe Chemical Act" offered by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
last month is similar to REACH and would be the first effort to reform
TSCA by requiring chemical manufacturers to provide health and safety
information on chemicals used in products such as baby bottles and
food wrappings instead of presuming a substance is safe until proven

Because REACH's regulations are just starting to take effect and will
continue to roll out over the next 10 years, observers caution against
jumping to conclusions about the wide-reaching effects this law will

"Some of the aspects of REACH are still only on paper," said
Environmental Defense Fund's Denison. "It's just beginning to be
implemented, so it's a little premature to judge entirely what level
of impact it will have. But all of [the] pieces are in place to have a
very dramatic global impact."

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From: GreenFutures, Oct. 16, 2001
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By Jonathon Porritt

I am not a scientist. Yet I have spent much of my adult life having to
engage with a wide range of complex scientific issues that now
permeate the environmental agenda. From climate change and nuclear
power to endocrine disrupters and tropical deforestation, I have
wrestled long and hard to try to 'get the science sorted'.

And I wrestle too with my views about science itself, and its role in
our lives. As an environmentalist, I find myself locating modern
science at the very heart of today's destructive model of progress. At
the same time, I know just how much we rely on science to provide
answers to otherwise intractable problems. I am as ambivalent as the
next person -- in awe of what science seems to promise, yet fearful of
its impact on our lives. And critical of the scientific elites who
wield such influence in modern society.

So when Thames and Hudson invited me to write a book about science and
the environment (Playing Safe), it looked like a heaven-sent
opportunity to get to grips with this ambivalence by asking myself one
question: is modern science in a fit state to assist us in making that
crucial transition to a sustainable future for the whole of humankind?
At one level, the answer is as simple as the question: it's really not
very well adapted for the task. But there are a number of rather
complex reasons that lie behind that.

For one thing, we just don't trust scientists in the way we once did.
We have learned the hard way that for almost all 'scientific
breakthroughs', there is a corresponding downside, with the result
that people are much more wary about over-hyped scientific visions of
the future. We no longer see scientists as some kind of superior
breed, existing in a zone of uncluttered rationality, to whom we
should automatically defer as we once did to bishops -- or even

And we trust them less because we are not convinced of their
objectivity or independence. Government scientists are patently not
'value-free', often toeing whatever the official line may be in a way
that makes a mockery of so-called 'sound science'. He who pays the
piper calls the tune, and the biggest paymasters in many crucial areas
of science today are the world's multinational companies, for whom the
pursuit of sustainability remains rather less important than the
pursuit of profit.

The reek of money permeates "objective" research

In a devastating critique of the chemical industry in the United
States*, researchers looked in detail at just four of the most
commonly used chemicals in America, reviewing 161 studies of those
chemicals on file at the National Library of Medicine. Of the 43
industry-funded studies, only six came out with any unfavourable
findings. But of the 118 studies conducted by non-industry
researchers, 71 were unfavourable. It's hard not to detect the reek of
money around such findings. And it does rather call into question the
rather naive belief of some leading scientists that 'money does not
smell'; that the source of any research grant doesn't really matter,
since the integrity of the scientific method will provide a sure
defence against any skulduggery. It's worth bearing in mind that of
the 1,700 or so scientists researching herbicides in America, 90% are
employed by chemical companies.

In this respect, the contrast between the science of climate change
and the science of GM foods could not be more telling. Slowly but
surely, the evidence on the former is being gathered together under
the aegis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This body was set up by governments to advise governments on what's
happening, what's causing it, and what needs to be done about it.
Hundreds of scientists all around the world are involved; all papers
have to be published and peer reviewed; and there is total
transparency in the IPCC's workings. When its third Assessment Report
is published next year, governments can be assured that it will be as
near to an independent assessment as is possible in this still
relatively uncertain area of science.

Compare that approach (however frustrating it may be for
environmentalists who know we need to be moving so much faster) with
the use and abuse of scientific data surrounding GM crops. Much of the
research is done at the behest of the large biotech companies, is
rarely subject to peer review, and often never sees the light of day
at all, due to commercial confidentiality. Even government regulators
are kept in the dark, and research that should be done (for instance,
to test the horizontal transfer of genes from one species to another),
is often left undone.

We need 'civic' science instead of 'top-down' science Whilst the
growing public consensus on climate change is gradually leading to
more appropriate policy responses, the biotech industry in Europe has
all but imploded -- and is even at risk in America. Politicians would
do well to analyse the role that science has played in such starkly
different commercial and policy outcomes.

Trust lies at the very heart of the 'fitness of purpose' debate. So
too does education. Most scientists (particularly those in the employ
of government or the private sector) are still accustomed to the top-
down model of engaging with the general public. They speak, and we
listen. When we choose not to hear (or not believe what they are
saying), their reflex response is to accuse us of emotionalism,
stupidity or plain ignorance.

Against such a backdrop, the scientific establishment (as represented
by bodies such as the Royal Society's Committee for the Public
Understanding of Science) has consistently argued that what is needed
is yet more top-down education, filling those inadequate empty vessels
with copious draughts of 'sound science'. This so-called 'deficit
model' (implying that the problem is a lack of information coming down
from above) has only recently begun to give way to a much more
participative, dialogue-based one. One where people are given greater
opportunities to think things through for themselves; to listen and
reflect on conflicting positions.

This emerging model of 'civic science' emphasises the rather obvious
reality that science has to be an interactive process between experts
and non-experts, based on trust and mutual respect. Since Mo Mowlam
took over from Jack Cunningham at the Cabinet Office, there's been a
pronounced shift in that direction. Now the Department of Trade and
Industry is itself involved in a major public consultation on the
biosciences. The fieldwork is being conducted by MORI, using a number
of citizens' juries, along with a detailed survey of 1,000 people
drawn from the People's Panel set up by the Cabinet Office in 1998.

Helping them to help us

Such an approach was strongly endorsed by last year's report from the
Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and even the Committee
for the Public Understanding of Science has at last launched an
initiative to help scientists to understand the public -- which is
probably where they should have started in the first place!

Civic science inevitably slows things down. So too does the gradual
adoption of the so-called 'precautionary principle' in a growing
number of policy areas. A working definition of it goes something like
this: "The lack of definitive scientific evidence should not be used
as a reason for postponing measures to protect the environment or
human health, where there are threats of serious or irreversible
damage to either." So, as with sustainable development itself, the
precautionary principle can be interpreted in all sorts of different
ways to suit all sorts of different purposes!

That's one reason why it has become one of the most controversial
areas in environmental science today. The Economist has referred to it
as "the new mantra of the environment movement", claiming that it's
being used to stop legitimate new developments and to drive up
regulatory costs in a way that the evidence simply doesn't justify.
Many scientists have challenged its scientific validity, deeply
suspicious of the way in which it appears to threaten the authority of
cause-and-effect based science, shifting the balance of power between
'objective science' and other 'subjective' political and social

By contrast, Greenpeace sees it as the most effective way of combining
science and ethics, and promotes the principle as a long-overdue
corrective to the over-confident style of development that has
dominated the global economy for the last 50 years. Even such a noted
champion of trade liberalisation as Sir Leon Brittain (the former EU
trade commissioner) defended Europe's use of the precautionary
principle "to preserve our existing level of environmental and social
protection", subject only to its being more rigorously defined "to
prevent it from being evoked in an abusive way".

It is being successfully applied to all sorts of controversial
decisions, going right back to the late 1980s ban on dumping sewage
sludge in the North Sea, through to the more recent decision to stop
using certain antibiotics as growth-promoters in animal feeds, on the
grounds that residual traces in the food chain could increase
resistance to medicines based on the same antibiotics.

Alien principle: progress continues to fight precaution Just a couple
of months ago, the EU won a major victory over the US with the signing
of the Biosafety Protocol, which will permit countries to ban imports
of GM foods on a precautionary basis, if there are fears of potential
threats to either human health or the environment. That decision
represented a real breakthrough. But there are many other areas where
precaution remains an entirely alien dis- cipline to our decision-

From even this cursory analysis, using the 'fitness for purpose' test,
one can conclude that modern science must become more independent,
more participative and user-friendly, and much more precautionary. In
Playing Safe, I have identified a number of such directional shifts
that will be required if science is to play a more benign role in
effecting the transition to a genuinely sustainable society.

But for the moment, quite frankly, the signals are not good. There is
an arrogance about modern science that makes regulation by government
difficult and true public accountability all but impossible. Those
scientists who retain a vision of science directly serving humankind
(not least by securing the Earth's life- support systems on which
everything else depends) are overshadowed by those who would set
caution aside and quite simply 'let modern science rip'.

But for how much longer?

In contrast to the rather gloomy outlook above, the optimist in me
says we're on the brink of a profound transformation of all the
central institutions in our society, including both politics and
science, as we finally learn to internalise the real challenge of

Jonathon Porritt is Programme Director of Forum for the Future.

Playing Safe is published by Thames and Hudson, price £6.95, 020
7845 5000; www.thameshudson.co.uk

* Toxic Perception: How the chemical industry manipulates science,
bends the law and endangers your health, by Dan Fagin and Marriane

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From: International Herald Tribune, Jun. 24, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By James Kanter

BRUSSELS: Nanotechnology -- the science of engineering products or
substances down to one billionth of a meter in size -- has produced
breakthroughs for manufacturers of consumer goods, including clear
sunscreens, stain-resistant clothing and superstrong sports goods.

But the applications of nanotechnology could also be a boon for
developing new ways to cut waste, clean up pollution and improve the
energy efficiency of entire industries.

The problem is that some properties of these tiny particles are
unknown, and potentially harmful, and scientists are still trying to
determine whether their size affects their toxicity. For governments
and other authorities that view commercialization of nanotechnology as
a way to develop innovative environmental products and create new
industries, the concerns present huge challenges.

Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, last week emphasized
both the potential benefits and dangers of nanotechnology, saying it
was the duty of regulators "to ensure that society benefits from novel
applications of nanotechnologies" while "fully applying the
precautionary principle."

Ensuring public acceptance of nanotechnologies could be particularly
important in Europe, which has pledged to keep its economy humming
while finding ways of reducing planet-warming emissions by as much as
30 percent by 2020. And even as scientists and environmentalists warn
of the dangers of nanotechnology, authorities like the European
Commission are pledging support for a wide range of projects.

Those projects include efforts to increase supplies of fresh water,
which has become a scarce resource in southern European countries like
Spain, where warmer conditions are contributing to shortages. EU
officials say nanotechnology could be less expensive and more energy
efficient than current methods for water recycling and desalination,
which frequently rely on fossil fuels for power.

Using nanotechnology, water could be purified by using the equivalent
of very fine nets operating at a molecular scale or by using tiny
catalysts that speed up purification processes and, in some cases,
mimic the work of enzymes.

Officials also say renewable energies like solar power could be made
to work more efficiently using particles engineered through
nanotechnology that capture and convert greater amounts of sunlight
into electricity.

Financing for nanotechnology remains the greatest in the United

But the EU, Russia and Japan all are vying to be important players in
a global market that could be worth up to ?2 trillion, or $3.1
trillion, and create 10 million new jobs over the next decade,
according to the European Commission.

A substantial chunk of that market is likely to be for technologies
for energy production and for cleaning up the environment, said Pekka
Koponen, the managing director of Spinverse, a technology consulting
firm in Finland.

He said green applications for nanotechnology could be used to help
create energy-efficient fuel cells, solar cells and catalysts to
filter out harmful emissions from factories and vehicles. He also said
nanotechnology could be used to help recover oil from wells and tar
sands, and be used for refining.

"Not everyone would count that as environmentally friendly, but that
would at least save energy and cut back on emissions during oil
production," Koponen said.

Other analysts say the greatest near-term benefit of nanotechnologies
on energy use and the environment will be in reducing the weight of
cars and aircraft, though they caution that some of the most important
breakthroughs promised by nanotechnology still could be a decade or
more away.

But by then, without more rigorous testing, scientists warn the
technology could become as distrusted as genetically modified foods
and nuclear power.

"Our policies are badly lagging behind what many companies already are
doing," said Sylvia Speller, a professor of physics at the University
of Nijmegen in The Netherlands. "I can't see right now who's going to
pay for the damage if products turn out to harm people and the
environment," she said.

Speller said the small particles used in nanotechnology could pose new
risks to human health and the environment because they could penetrate
biological barriers designed to keep out larger particles. She said
she would not use products like sunscreens in her family that contain
such materials out of concern about the long-term effects.

Environmental groups like Friends of the Earth Europe acknowledge that
nanotechnology has the potential to deliver environmental benefits.

Even so, they have called for a moratorium on the release of so-called
nanomaterials until new laws are in place to protect the public.

Groups like Friends of the Earth also have called for more public
funds for testing, and rules that would make companies that market
products using nanomaterials liable for any damage to health and the

With so much at stake, regulators are proceeding cautiously.

In a report last week, the European Commission said that current
legislation for regulating chemicals, known as Reach, and other laws
were adequate for regulating nanotechnology -- for now.

But the commission also emphasized the need for more information on
the possible toxic effects on humans and the environment and said new
regulations could be needed, along with specific labeling for products
containing nanomaterials.

Copyright 2008 The International Herald Tribune

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From: Yale Environment 360, Jun. 23, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


Nanotechnology is booming. But concern is growing that its development
is outpacing our understanding of how to use it safely.

By Carole Bass

"It's green, it's clean, it's never seen -- that's nanotechnology!"

That exuberant motto, used by an executive at a trade group for
nanotech entrepreneurs, reflects the buoyant enthusiasm for
nanotechnology in some business and scientific circles.

Part of the slogan is indisputably true: nanotechnology -- which
involves creating and manipulating common substances at the scale of
the nanometer, or one billionth of a meter -- is invisible to the
human eye.

But the rest of the motto is open for debate. Nanotech does hold clean
and green potential, especially for supplying cheap renewable energy
and safe drinking water. But nanomaterials also pose possible serious
risks to the environment and human health -- risks that researchers
have barely begun to probe, and regulators have barely begun to

What's more, the potential damage could take years or even decades to
surface. So these tiny particles could soon become the next big thing
-- only to turn into the next big disaster.

Nano enthusiasts see it as the next "platform technology" -- one that
will, like electricity or micro-computing, change the way we do almost
everything. While that prediction is still unproven, there's no
question that nanotech is booming. Universities, industry, and
governments around the globe are pouring billions into creating and
developing nanoproducts and applications. A range of nanotechnologies
is already used in more than 600 consumer products -- from electronics
to toothpaste -- with global sales projected to soar to $2.6 trillion
by 2014.

Environmentalists, scientists, and policymakers increasingly worry
that nanotech development is outrunning our understanding of how to
use it safely. Consider these examples from last month alone:

An animal study from the United Kingdom found that certain carbon
nanotubes can cause the same kind of lung damage as asbestos. Carbon
nanotubes are among the most widely used nanomaterials.

A coalition of consumer groups petitioned the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency to ban the sale of products that contain germ-
killing nanosilver particles, from stuffed animals to clothing,
arguing that the silver could harm human health, poison aquatic life,
and contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Researchers in Singapore reported that nanosilver caused severe
developmental problems in zebrafish embryos -- bolstering worries
about what happens when those antimicrobial products, like soap and
clothing, leak silver into the waste stream.

The U.S. Department of Defense, in an internal memo, acknowledged that
nanomaterials may "present... risks that are different than those for
comparable material at a larger scale." That's an overarching risk
with nanomaterials: Their tiny size and high surface area make them
more chemically reactive and cause them to behave in unpredictable
ways. So a substance that's safe at a normal size can become toxic at
the nanoscale.

Australian farmers proposed new standards that would exclude
nanotechnology from organic products.

The European Union announced that it will require full health and
safety testing for carbon and graphite under its strict new chemicals
law, known as REACH (for Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation
of Chemical Substances). Carbon and graphite were previously exempt,
because they're considered safe in their normal forms. But the U.K.

study comparing carbon nanotubes to asbestos, along with a similar
report from Japan, raised new alarms about these seemingly harmless

Old Materials, New Risks The EU's move is a critical step toward
recognizing nanomaterials as a potential new hazard that requires new
rules and new information.

The raw materials of nanotechnology are familiar. Carbon, silver, and
metals like iron and titanium are among the most common. But at the
nanoscale, these well-known substances take on new and unpredictable
properties. That's what makes them so versatile and valuable. It also
makes them potentially dangerous in ways that their larger-scale
counterparts are not.

Yet governments are only beginning to grapple with those dangers.

Japan's labor department issued a notice in February requiring
measures to protect workers from exposure to nanomaterials: It may be
the world's first nano-specific regulation affecting actual practices.

Previously, Berkeley, California -- ever ready to stand alone -- had
adopted what is apparently the only nano-specific regulation in the
United States: a requirement that companies submit toxicology reports
about nanomaterials they're using.

At the federal level, the EPA launched a voluntary reporting program
in January; industry participation has been anemic. Both the EPA and
the Food and Drug Administration have so far declined to regulate
nanomaterials as such, saying they're covered under existing
regulations. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
has issued recommendations for handling nanomaterials, but the agency
has no enforcement power.

The European Union, by contrast, is taking a precautionary approach.

While U.S. regulators generally presume products to be safe until
proven harmful, the EU's new REACH legislation demands that
manufacturers demonstrate the safety of their chemicals. Just last
week, the EU released a document concluding that nanorisks "can be
dealt with under the current legislative framework," with some
modifications. For example, the document says that under REACH, when
companies introduce nanoforms of existing substances, they must
provide additional material about "the specific properties, hazards,
and risks" of the nanomaterials.

At this point, however, many of the most basic questions about those
nanohazards are unanswered. What materials are harmful, in what
particle sizes and shapes, under what conditions? Who is at risk:

Workers? People using nano-enabled products? Wildlife and ecosystems?

How should we measure exposures?

The U.S. government spends $1.5 billion a year on nano research. Less
than 5 percent of that is aimed at addressing these fundamental

Danger Signs What is known about nanohazards counsels caution.

Nanomaterials are so small that they travel easily, both in the body
and in the environment. Their tiny size and high surface area give
them unusual characteristics: insoluble materials become soluble;
nonconductive ones start conducting electricity; harmless substances
can become toxic.

Nanoparticles are easily inhaled. They can pass from the lungs into
the bloodstream and other organs. They can even slip through the
olfactory nerve into the brain, evading the protective blood-brain
barrier. It's not clear whether they penetrate the skin. Once they're
inside the body, it's not clear how long they remain or what they do.

What's more, current science has no way of testing for nano-waste in
the air or water, and no way of cleaning up such pollution.

The tiny cylinders known as carbon nanotubes, or CNTs, are among the
most widely used nanomaterials. These tubes, which come in different
sizes and shapes, lend extraordinary strength and lightness to bicycle
frames and tennis rackets; researchers are also investigating uses in
medicine, electronics and other fields. The recent UK study found that
long, straight CNTs, when injected into lab mice, cause scarring even
faster than asbestos. One of the investigators predicts the scarring
will lead to cancer; other experts are less sure. The study doesn't
prove whether it's possible to inhale enough CNTs to cause the same
results as the injections. But which workers want to serve as the test

Another red flag is silver. Manufacturers are lacing ordinary
household objects -- from toothpaste to teddy bears -- with
nanoparticles of silver, long known for its disinfecting powers. A
recent experiment on nanosilver-containing socks, touted as odor-
eating, found that silver particles leaked out into the wash water.

Once there, the silver could interfere with water-treatment efforts,
in part by killing good microbes as well as the nasty ones, and might
threaten aquatic life (a fear supported by the zebrafish study).

When Samsung started marketing a washing machine that emits silver
ions two years ago, a national association of wastewater treatment
authorities asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate
such equipment as pesticides. And indeed, EPA has required some
manufacturers to register nanosilver-containing products -- like
computer keyboards -- as pesticides or drop their germ-killing claims.

A farm-oriented pesticide law dating to 1947 is scarcely the right
tool for addressing the 21st-century hazards of nanotechnology. But
it's the only tool that EPA enforcers have, since the agency's
policymakers have explicitly declined to regulate nanomaterials as

What Price Convenience?

Of the hundreds of nano-enhanced products now on the market, many are
cosmetics, and many others, such as clothing and computer peripherals,
are spiked with silver for unnecessary antibacterial effects.

Convenience items, like stain-resistant sofas and static-free fleece,
are a third big category.

It would be easy to say, "Who needs this stuff? Just wash your hands
(or feet, in the case of the smell-resistant socks), clean up your
spills and keep the nano magic on the shelf until we know whether it's
safe." Indeed, some environmental groups are calling for a moratorium
on nano-containing products.

But nanotech also has a tremendous upside in medicine -- whether for
treating cancer or regrowing bones -- and in green applications, from
affordable solar cells to super-efficient water filtration. In any
case, this technology is not going away. The U.S. House of
Representatives voted on June 5 to reauthorize the $1.5 billion-a-year
National Nanotechnology Initiative; the Senate is expected to act in
the coming weeks.

The House bill mandates "a detailed implementation plan for
environmental, health, and safety research." That's an important step
forward, but it's not enough. As we hurtle into this very small
future, we need to pay much more attention to the potentially large

Copyright 2008 Yale University

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From: EurActiv, Jun. 23, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


Responding to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's request, the
EU executive's ethical advisory body will issue an opinion on modern
agricultural technologies by the end of 2008.

Stakeholders representing the public sector, NGOs and industry
gathered, on 18 June 2008, at a roundtable to debate on ethical
aspects of modern developments in agriculture technologies.

Under discussion throughout the day were the ethics of food security,
the sustainability of agriculture, global trade, biofuels, the EU's
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), GMOs and intellectual property
rights (IPR), all of which are set to be addressed by the Commission's


Sidebar: Background:

The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE)
examines, at the request of the Commission President or on its own
initiative, ethical questions arising from the rapid advances in
science and technology.

It issues ethical opinions, the aim of which are to provide expertise
in connection with the Commission's preparation and implementation of
Community legislation or policies.

The opinions are prepared by 15 independent experts representing
different fields, such as biology and genetics, medicine,
pharmacology, agricultural sciences, ICT, law, ethics, philosophy and

Before issuing its opinion, the group also organises public
roundtables to gather stakeholders' views on the issues


The aim of the meeting, organised by the European Group on Ethics in
Science and New Technologies (EGE), was to contribute to the group's
upcoming opinion on the issue.

The opinion is being prepared at the request of Commission President
Jose Manuel Barroso.


"The challenge is to develop European food supply respectful of
European values," said Graça Carvalho, principal adviser to the Bureau
of European Policy Advisers (BEPA), a Commission department reporting
directly to President Barroso. Therefore, "proper reflection on
[agricultural] technologies is necessary to make sure we respect
European values," she added.

"Hunger, poverty and malnutrition are unethical, in particular as we
know how to solve the problems," noted Rajeswari Raina, senior
research fellow at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. She
underlined that it is important to think whose deprivation modern
technologies can alleviate and who has access to them, adding: "There
is no evidence that plant breeding technology has so far helped to
alleviate hunger in the world."

Her comments were echoed by Donald Bruce, representing European
churches' bioethics group. He argued that if people cannot afford
genetically modified products, such as seeds, then the technology is

Meanwhile, Natalie Moll, executive director of green biotechnology at
EuropaBio, argued that the regulatory framework for modern
agricultural technologies should respect ethical values of equal
access to technology. Current central GM crop approval processes deny
people freedom of choice, she said.


Sidebar: Other related news:

France seeks solution to EU GMO deadlock

'Era of cheap food is over,' says EU

Mixed reactions to proposed EU farm sector reform

Commission hesitant to approve more GM crops


Professor Wilhem Gruissem, president of the European Plant Science
Organisation (EPSO) asked a number of questions about the relationship
between Europe's attitudes towards modern technologies and hunger in
the rest of the world. "Is it ethical for Europe to ignore hunger
problems in the rest of the world, to denounce new agricultural
technologies that bring benefits to poor farmers or withhold support
for novel crops and new agricultural technologies while people go
hungry elsewhere?," he asked.

Europe can perhaps afford to make a fuss about food safety and ask for
the precautionary principle to be respected as the continent still has
enough food to eat but this is not the case for all regions of the
world, he added. "Agricultural innovation is ethical," said Gruissem,
underlining that the challenge was rather to ascertain which
technologies are needed to improve food standards for all.

Ethical assessment of modern developments in agriculture has to deal
with the uncertainties of the long-term consequences of different
technologies, said Karsten Klint Jensen from the University of
Copenhagen. "We also need to assess our attitude to uncertainty and
precaution and well as to assess the prize of precaution," he added.

As for basing policy decisions on science, Erik Millstone, professor
of science and technology policy at the University of Sussex, argued
that "science is and remains profoundly uncertain and scientists can
have conflicting views on the same issue. Therefore, policy can't be
based on science only".

"Policy judgements are concerned with the acceptability of possible
risks in exchange for anticipated benefits, and those are socially
variable value judgements -- they are policy matters, not scientific
issue," said Millstone. He also noted that the current EU risk
assessment is framed by "a priori up-stream normative assumptions of
what is important".

As for professor Julian Kinderlerer, a member of EGE, he noted that
the relationship between the use of agriculture for food, feed, fuel
and fibre production needs to be considered by the group as well.

His comment was endorsed by Professor Goran Hermeren, EGE President,
who noted that the question of sustainability of agriculture is not
ethically neutral as there are conflicts between the goals of
agriculture regarding the use of arable land for either food, feed,
fuels or fibre.

We need to evaluate different methods, such as mechanical (machinery),
chemical (pesticides), genetic (GM crops) to know how they improve or
hinder food security, continued Hermeren. However, it is not only
about technical issues, he added. "It is ethically important to know
who has access to these methods, how they affect farming and access to

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