Rachel's Democracy & Health News #948
Thursday, February 28, 2008
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #948 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
February 28, 2008
THE LINK BETWEEN TOXIC CHEMICALS AND GLOBAL WARMING
[Rachel's introduction: If we could all climb out of our foxholes for a moment and look around, we might see a huge opportunity spreading out before us: the solutions to global warming and toxic chemicals are both being thwarted by one group of people: coal company executives and their helpmates.]
By Peter Montague
As never before, opportunity is knocking for activists. The solutions to global warming and chemical contamination are both peeking over the horizon and they look very much alike. The timing is perfect for building a global coalition to promote waste-free green chemistry (or clean production), end the rush toward coal-burning power plants, stuff the nuclear genie back into the bottle, power the future with sustainable solar energy, and advance environmental justice worldwide. From all this can flow many millions of truly green jobs.
Global warming and chemical contamination are two sides of the same coin, and solutions to both are now converging. Activists fighting coal, fighting nuclear, fighting dangerous waste technologies (landfills, incinerators and incinerators-in-disguise), fighting for the cleanup of superfund sites and brownfields and toxic emissions, fighting all the chemicals-and-health fights (childhood cancers, autism, diabetes, asthma, Parkinson's and so many other environment- linked diseases), and fighting for justice, joined with activists promoting solar, wind and biofuels, promoting tidal power and geothermal, promoting green jobs, clean production and green chemistry -- could now work together toward a common purpose. The combination would create a mountain of political power.
To curb global warming, we can transition as rapidly as possible to renewable solar, geothermal and tidal power, and to end chemical contamination we can transition as rapidly as possible to green chemistry. But to do either of these things, we first must get around one huge obstacle: the coal industry. I know that some influential people are saying that fossil fuels are over, that oil has peaked and coal is dead, but there's more to it than that.
Yes, perhaps oil has reached -- or soon will -- peak production and will be declining in volume each year, which foretells steadily rising prices (as we have seen -- a 10-fold increase since 2000). But coal is not dead. Coal executives are planning to turn coal into liquid fuels and into chemical feedstocks to replace oil. If they succeed, they will entrench coal for the next 100 years, derailing the drive toward green chemistry and clean production, and eliminating the incentives for renewable energy. This is a strategic fork in the road to the future. Which will we choose? This is a moment in history when activism can make a crucial difference.
There is still a huge (though surprisingly uncertain) amount of coal in the ground, especially in the U.S., and we would be naive to think that the people who own that coal are going walk away from it emptyhanded. Until it is all used up, they plan to (a) burn it for electricity, (b) turn it into liquid fuels (diesel, kerosene and jet fuel), or (c) turn it into chemical feedstocks (to create plastics, pesticides, solvents, etc.)-- or they will sell it to China, which will then burn it, liquify it, or turn it into chemicals. Peabody Energy of St. Louis, the largest private coal company in the world, opened an office in Beijing in 2005 because Chinese coal mines cannot keep up with demand, and U.S. coal exports are now helping fill that gap.
With coal-fired electric power now being fought to a standstill by a swarm of grass-roots activists all across the U.S., coal-to-liquids (CTL) and coal-to-chemicals are the most promising paths to salvation for the coal industry. Private chemical companies can build coal-to- chemical plants on their existing premises without getting any special licenses of the kind required for electric utilities. Eastman Chemical (formerly a part of Eastman Kodak) already derives 20% of its chemical feedstocks from coal and is thinking about pushing that up to 40%. General Electric -- which sells coal gasification equipment needed for both coal-to-liquids and coal-to-chemicals -- wants to sell coal gasifiers to electric utilities, "But in the near term, turning coal to chemicals offers the most significant opportunities," says Edward C. Lowe, general manager of gasification for GE Energy.
Coal-to-liquids and coal-to-chemicals both use heat and pressure to break the molecular bonds in coal, producing gases (mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen), which can be recombined to make various fuels and chemical feedstocks for paints, food additives, fertilizers, plastics, and all manner of other modern molecules. Germany commercialized these chemical processes before World War II, but after the war cheap oil shoved coal-gas technology to the back burner. Now oil is growing expensive and the chemical industry is paying roughly $40 billion per year for petroleum-based feedstocks, so that's a huge new market for Big Coal to penetrate. If they succeed, they're saved, if not, they're sunk. Their back is to the wall.
Coal-to-chemicals plants will try to bury their waste carbon dioxide (CO2) in the ground, just the way coal-fire power plants say they want to do -- so coal-to-chemicals and coal-to-liquid-fuels could provide a laboratory for the untried "carbon capture and storage (CCS)" technologies needed to create so-called "clean coal." If they can convince people that CCS works -- and will keep working safely for thousands of years into the future -- they're saved; if not, they're sunk. Current U.S. energy policy is providing large taxpayer subsidies to coal-with-CCS, starving the research budget for renewable energy.
The Wall Street Journal reported late last year that western chemical companies are now flocking to China to participate in coal- to- chemicals projects, some of which have an experimental carbon burial (CCS) component. Because of cheap labor and lax regulations, such plants cost 30% to 50% less to build in China than in the U.S. Several Chinese companies already use coal to manufacture vinyl chloride monomer, the building block of PVC ("vinyl") plastic, and American and European chemical firms want some of that action. "No one's made any real commitments yet, says the editor of Chemical Week magazine, "but it's clear that this is the beginning of a wave." (Get more data about coal gasification in China and worldwide from these slides.)
Coal-to-liquids and coal-to-chemicals will not develop in the U.S. without a knock-down fight. This is where a big coalition of toxics, environmental health, energy, and green jobs and environmental justice activists could weigh in: Stopping coal-to-chemicals is essential to create space for the emergence of clean production, green chemistry, renewable energy and green jobs with justice. We are not going to have a coal-based chemical industry and a green chemical industry. We'll have one or the other, not both. And the same is true for electric power: if the public can be convinced that "clean coal" is really clean and really safe, incentives for renewables will dry up. We'll have coal or renewables, not both.
Here's the thing. The Achilles' heel of the coal-to-chemicals industry, the coal-to-liquid-fuels industry, and the coal-fired electric power industry is carbon dioxide. Compared to petroleum-based fuels, coal-based fuels produce twice as much CO2 per gallon. With Wall Street already looking askance at all coal-based technologies because of the near-certainty that carbon emissions will face expensive regulation one of these days, plans to bury CO2 in the ground take on new urgency for the coal corporations. With it, they may have a future; without it, they're sunk. To stop coal, activists just have to frighten the money.
Rarely in history have activists on such a a broad range of issues been offered such a clear strategic opportunity to work together to kill a deadly, wasteful dinosaur like the coal-to-liquids, coal-to- chemicals and coal-to-electricity industries, simultaneously opening up a future of green possibilities for ourselves, for the world, and for our children.
 Claudia H. Deutsch, "Chemical Companies Look to Coal as an Oil Substitute," New York Times April 18, 2006.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #948 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
February 28, 2008
NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: THE SUNSET OF RACHEL'S NEWS
[Rachel's introduction: A year from now, it will be time for a change. Pete Seeger helps explain what I'm thinking. -- P.M.]
By Peter Montague
A year from now, Feb. 26, 2009, we will publish Rachel's News #1000 and it will be our last. I turn 70 this year and I've been doing this for 22 years (weekly, or bi-weekly -- I've tried both formats for long stretches). Now it's time for something completely different -- longer articles, perhaps a very short book, op-eds for daily newspapers, videos for YouTube, focused gatherings with activists to learn their ideas about direction and strategy, who knows?
Why, you ask? Here's the long answer...
Near the end of Lewis Lapham's video, "The American Ruling Class," there is an absolutely wonderful scene that might help explain what I'm thinking.
Pete Seeger and a young man named Mike (who, throughout the video, has been on a quest to find and join the American ruling class) are walking through the woods on a dirt road. It is fall and the leaves are bright with color. Pete -- who was 86 when the video was shot in 2005, wearing old jeans, a plaid shirt and a bright red watch cap -- is picking a tune on his 5-string banjo, singing his song from 1969, "Quite Early Morning." It goes like this:
Don't you know it's darkest before the dawn And it's this thought keeps me moving on If we could heed these early warnings The time is now quite early morning If we could heed these early warnings The time is now quite early morning
Some say that humankind won't long endure But what makes them so doggone sure? I know that you who hear my singing Could make those freedom bells go ringing I know that you who hear my singing Could make those freedom bells go ringing
And so keep on while we live Until we have no, no more to give And when these fingers can strum no longer Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger And when these fingers can strum no longer Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger
So though it's darkest before the dawn These thoughts keep us moving on Through all this world of joy and sorrow We still can have singing tomorrows Through all this world of joy and sorrow We still can have singing tomorrows
* * *
After the song, Mike turns to Pete and says, "No offense but do you really think you can change things, much less the world, by walking down a country road singing a song -- or by singing a song anytime anywhere for anybody, for that matter?"
Pete smiles broadly and says, "I suppose not. But I'm gonna make darn sure the world's isn't gonna change me."
Then he pauses and turns to Mike and tells him a little story. "It's like this," says Pete. "Imagine a big see-saw and one end is on the ground because it's got a basket half-full of rocks on that end. The other end is up in the air because it's got a basket on it one- quarter full of sand, and some of us have got teaspoons -- we're trying to fill that basket.
"Of course most people are kind of scoffing at us: They say, 'Don't you see it's leakin just as quick as you're puttin it in? People like you been tryin for centuries, but it's never gonna change.' And we say, 'You might be right but we think we're getting more people with teaspoons all the time and one of these days that whole see-saw is gonna go zoooooooop! and our end will suddenly reach the ground and people will say, 'Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?'"
Pete Seeger pauses and says, "Us and all our little teaspoons... over the centuries."
Then he smiles and says, "Who knows? Hah!" and starts back singing "Quite Early Morning" and ambling contentedly down that country road.
As for me, I'm just looking for a different teaspoon. --P.M.
From: The Huffington Post ................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 25, 2008
GOVERNMENT CONCEDES VACCINE-AUTISM CASE IN FEDERAL COURT
[Rachel's introduction: An 18-month-old child with an undiagnosed disease (mitochondrial disorder) developed symptoms of autism after receiving 9 vaccinations simultaneously, 2 of which contained mercury. The government has conceded that the vaccinations "significantly aggravated" the child's mitochondrial disorder, producing the autism-like symptoms.]
By David Kirby
After years of insisting there is no evidence to link vaccines with the onset of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the US government has quietly conceded a vaccine-autism case in the Court of Federal Claims.
The unprecedented concession was filed on November 9, and sealed to protect the plaintiff's identify. It was obtained through individuals unrelated to the case.
The claim, one of 4,900 autism cases currently pending in Federal "Vaccine Court," was conceded by US Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and other Justice Department officials, on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services, the "defendant" in all Vaccine Court cases.
The child's claim against the government -- that mercury-containing vaccines were the cause of her autism -- was supposed to be one of three "test cases" for the thimerosal-autism theory currently under consideration by a three-member panel of Special Masters, the presiding justices in Federal Claims Court.
Keisler wrote that medical personnel at the HHS Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation (DVIC) had reviewed the case and "concluded that compensation is appropriate."
The doctors conceded that the child was healthy and developing normally until her 18-month well-baby visit, when she received vaccinations against nine different diseases all at once (two contained thimerosal).
Days later, the girl began spiraling downward into a cascade of illnesses and setbacks that, within months, presented as symptoms of autism, including: No response to verbal direction; loss of language skills; no eye contact; loss of "relatedness;" insomnia; incessant screaming; arching; and "watching the florescent lights repeatedly during examination."
Seven months after vaccination, the patient was diagnosed by Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, a leading neurologist at the Kennedy Krieger Children's Hospital Neurology Clinic, with "regressive encephalopathy (brain disease) with features consistent with autistic spectrum disorder, following normal development." The girl also met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) official criteria for autism.
In its written concession, the government said the child had a pre- existing mitochondrial disorder that was "aggravated" by her shots, and which ultimately resulted in an ASD diagnosis.
"The vaccinations received on July 19, 2000, significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder," the concession says, "which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of ASD."
This statement is good news for the girl and her family, who will now be compensated for the lifetime of care she will require. But its implications for the larger vaccine-autism debate, and for public health policy in general, are not as certain.
In fact, the government's concession seems to raise more questions than it answers.
1) Is there a connection between vaccines, mitochondrial disorders and a diagnosis of autism, at least in some cases?
Mitochondria, you may recall from biology class, are the little powerhouses within cells that convert food into electrical energy, partly through a complex process called "oxidative phosphorylation." If this process is impaired, mitochondrial disorder will ensue.
The child in this case had several markers for Mt disease, which was confirmed by muscle biopsy. Mt disease is often marked by lethargy, poor muscle tone, poor food digestion and bowel problems, something found in many children diagnosed with autism.
But mitochondrial disorders are rare in the general population, affecting some 2-per-10,000 people (or just 0.2%). So with 4,900 cases filed in Vaccine Court, this case should be the one and only, extremely rare instance of Mt disease in all the autism proceedings.
But it is not.
Mitochondrial disorders are now thought to be the most common disease associated with ASD. Some journal articles and other analyses have estimated that 10% to 20% of all autism cases may involve mitochondrial disorders, which would make them one thousand times more common among people with ASD than the general population.
Another article, published in the Journal of Child Neurology and co- authored by Dr. Zimmerman, showed that 38% of Kennedy Krieger Institute autism patients studied had one marker for impaired oxidative phosphorylation, and 47% had a second marker.
The authors -- who reported on a case-study of the same autism claim conceded in Vaccine Court -- noted that "children who have (mitochondrial-related) dysfunctional cellular energy metabolism might be more prone to undergo autistic regression between 18 and 30 months of age if they also have infections or immunizations at the same time."
An interesting aspect of Mt disease in autism is that, with ASD, the mitochondrial disease seems to be milder than in "classic" cases of Mt disorder. In fact, classic Mt disease is almost always inherited, either passed down by the mother through mitochondrial DNA, or by both parents through nuclear DNA.
In autism-related Mt disease, however, the disorder is not typically found in other family members, and instead appears to be largely of the sporadic variety, which may now account for 75% of all mitochondrial disorders.
Meanwhile, an informal survey of seven families of children with cases currently pending in Vaccine Court revealed that all seven showed markers for mitochondrial dysfunction, dating back to their earliest medical tests. The facts in all seven claims mirror the case just conceded by the government: Normal development followed by vaccination, immediate illness, and rapid decline culminating in an autism diagnosis.
2) With 4,900 cases pending, and more coming, will the government concede those with underlying Mt disease -- and if it not, will the Court award compensation?
The Court will soon begin processing the 4900 cases pending before it. What if 10% to 20% of them can demonstrate the same Mt disease and same set of facts as those in the conceded case? Would the government be obliged to concede 500, or even 1,000 cases? What impact would that have on public opinion? And is there enough money currently in the vaccine injury fund to cover so many settlements?
When asked for a comment last week about the court settlement, a spokesman for HHS furnished the following written statement:
"DVIC has reviewed the scientific information concerning the allegation that vaccines cause autism and has found no credible evidence to support the claim. Accordingly, in every case under the Vaccine Act, DVIC has maintained the position that vaccines do not cause autism, and has never concluded in any case that autism was caused by vaccination."
3) If the government is claiming that vaccines did not "cause" autism, but instead aggravated a condition to "manifest" as autism, isn't that a very fine distinction?
For most affected families, such linguistic gymnastics is not so important. And even if a vaccine injury "manifested" as autism in only one case, isn't that still a significant development worthy of informing the public?
On the other hand, perhaps what the government is claiming is that vaccination resulted in the symptoms of autism, but not in an actual, factually correct diagnosis of autism itself.
4) If the government is claiming that this child does NOT have autism, then how many other children might also have something else that merely "mimics" autism?
Is it possible that 10%-20% of the cases that we now label as "autism," are not autism at all, but rather some previously undefined "look-alike" syndrome that merely presents as "features" of autism?
This question gets to the heart of what autism actually is. The disorder is defined solely as a collection of features, nothing more. If you have the features (and the diagnosis), you have the disorder. The underlying biology is the great unknown.
But let's say the government does determine that these kids don't have actual "autism" (something I speculated on HuffPost a year ago). Then shouldn't the Feds go back and test all people with ASD for impaired oxidative phosphorylation, perhaps reclassifying many of them?
If so, will we then see "autism" cases drop by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people? Will there be a corresponding ascension of a newly described disorder, perhaps something like "Vaccine Aggravated Mitochondrial Disease with Features of ASD?"
And if this child was technically "misdiagnosed" with DSM-IV autism by Dr Zimmerman, how does he feel about HHS doctors issuing a second opinion re-diagnosis of his patient, whom they presumably had neither met nor examined? (Zimmerman declined an interview).
And along those lines, aren't Bush administration officials somewhat wary of making long-distance, retroactive diagnoses from Washington, given that the Terry Schiavo incident has not yet faded from national memory?
5) Was this child's Mt disease caused by a genetic mutation, as the government implies, and wouldn't that have manifested as "ASD features" anyway?
In the concession, the government notes that the patient had a "single nucleotide change" in the mitochondrial DNA gene T2387C, implying that this was the underlying cause of her manifested "features" of autism.
While it's true that some inherited forms of Mt disease can manifest as developmental delays, (and even ASD in the form of Rhett Syndrome) these forms are linked to identified genetic mutations, of which T2387C is not involved. In fact little, if anything, is known about the function of this particular gene.
What's more, there is no evidence that this girl, prior to vaccination, suffered from any kind of "disorder" at all- genetic, mitochondrial or otherwise. Some forms of Mt disease are so mild that the person is unaware of being affected. This perfectly developing girl may have had Mt disorder at the time of vaccination, but nobody detected, or even suspected it.
And, there is no evidence to suggest that this girl would have regressed into symptoms consistent with a DSM-IV autism diagnosis without her vaccinations. If there was such evidence, then why on earth would these extremely well-funded government attorneys compensate this alleged injury in Vaccine Court? Why wouldn't they move to dismiss, or at least fight the case at trial?
6) What are the implications for research?
The concession raises at least two critical research questions: What are the causes of Mt dysfunction; and how could vaccines aggravate that dysfunction to the point of "autistic features?"
While some Mt disorders are clearly inherited, the "sporadic" form is thought to account for 75% of all cases, according to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. So what causes sporadic Mt disease? "Medicines or other toxins," says the Cleveland Clinic, a leading authority on the subject.
Use of the AIDS drug AZT, for example, can cause Mt disorders by deleting large segments of mitochondrial DNA. If that is the case, might other exposures to drugs or toxins (i.e., thimerosal, mercury in fish, air pollution, pesticides, live viruses) also cause sporadic Mt disease in certain subsets of children, through similar genotoxic mechanisms?
Among the prime cellular targets of mercury are mitochondria, and thimerosal-induced cell death has been associated with the depolarization of mitochondrial membrane, according to the International Journal of Molecular Medicine among several others. (Coincidently, the first case of Mt disease was diagnosed in 1959, just 15 years after the first autism case was named, and two decades after thimerosal's introduction as a vaccine preservative.)
Regardless of its cause, shouldn't HHS sponsor research into Mt disease and the biological mechanisms by which vaccines could aggravate the disorder? We still do not know what it was, exactly, about this girl's vaccines that aggravated her condition. Was it the thimerosal? The three live viruses? The two attenuated viruses? Other ingredients like aluminum? A combination of the above?
And of course, if vaccine injuries can aggravate Mt disease to the point of manifesting as autism features, then what other underlying disorders or conditions (genetic, autoimmune, allergic, etc.) might also be aggravated to the same extent?
7) What are the implications for medicine and public health?
Should the government develop and approve new treatments for "aggravated mitochondrial disease with ASD features?" Interestingly, many of the treatments currently deployed in Mt disease (i.e., coenzyme Q10, vitamin B-12, lipoic acid, biotin, dietary changes, etc.) are part of the alternative treatment regimen that many parents use on their children with ASD.
And, if a significant minority of autism cases can be linked to Mt disease and vaccines, shouldn't these products one day carry an FDA Black Box warning label, and shouldn't children with Mt disorders be exempt from mandatory immunization?
8) What are the implications for the vaccine-autism debate?
It's too early to tell. But this concession could conceivably make it more difficult for some officials to continue insisting there is "absolutely no link" between vaccines and autism.
It also puts the Federal Government's Vaccine Court defense strategy somewhat into jeopardy. DOJ lawyers and witnesses have argued that autism is genetic, with no evidence to support an environmental component. And, they insist, it's simply impossible to construct a chain of events linking immunizations to the disorder.
Government officials may need to rethink their legal strategy, as well as their public relations campaigns, given their own slightly contradictory concession in this case.
9) What is the bottom line here?
The public, (including world leaders) will demand to know what is going on inside the US Federal health establishment. Yes, as of now, n=1, a solitary vaccine-autism concession. But what if n=10% or 20%? Who will pay to clean up that mess?
The significance of this concession will unfortunately be fought over in the usual, vitriolic way -- and I fully expect to be slammed for even raising these questions. Despite that, the language of this concession cannot be changed, or swept away.
Its key words are "aggravated" and "manifested." Without the aggravation of the vaccines, it is uncertain that the manifestation would have occurred at all.
When a kid with peanut allergy eats a peanut and dies, we don't say "his underlying metabolic condition was significantly aggravated to the extent of manifesting as an anaphylactic shock with features of death."
No, we say the peanut killed the poor boy. Remove the peanut from the equation, and he would still be with us today.
Many people look forward to hearing more from HHS officials about why they are settling this claim. But whatever their explanation, they cannot change the fundamental facts of this extraordinary case:
The United State government is compensating at least one child for vaccine injuries that resulted in a diagnosis of autism.
And that is big news, no matter how you want to say it.
NOTE: Full text of the government's statement is posted here.
David Kirby is the author of "Evidence of Harm -- Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, A Medical Controversy" (St. Martins Press 2005.
From: Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund ..........[This story printer-friendly]
February 25, 2008
MAHANOY TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA, BANS CORPORATE SLUDGE DUMPING
[Rachel's introduction: Another Pennsylvania municipality outlaws chemical bodily trespass, strips corporations of their claim to "rights," recognizes the rights of nature, and asserts the civil rights of residents to sue corporations as state actors.]
The Board of Supervisors for Mahanoy Township in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania on Feb.1, 2008, enacted a law that bans corporations from dumping sewage sludge as "fertilizer" and for "mine reclamation," while declaring that within the community corporations possess no constitutional "rights," privileges or immunities intended for people.
The Ordinance takes the offense in challenging corporate managers in Pennsylvania and around the nation, who effortlessly wield constitutional "rights" and legal privileges to dictate corporate values and nullify local laws.
In adopting the law, Mahanoy Township also became the second local government in the country to define liability and impose penalties for chemical bodily trespass, following the lead of the Town of Halifax, Virginia, where an ordinance banning corporate mining and bodily trespass became law on February 7, 2008.
The people of Mahanoy Township included a provision that recognizes the right of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish within the Township, joining eight other communities that have asserted environmental protection as an enforceable right rather than a matter of discretionary convenience.
The Mahanoy Township law
1) Bans corporations from engaging in the land application of sewage sludge;
2) Bans persons from using corporations to engage in the land application of sewage sludge;
3) Provides for the testing of sewage sludge prior to land application by individuals, with testing costs to be borne by the applicant;
4) Prohibits chemical bodily trespass upon residents of the Township;
5) Establishes strict liability and burden of proof standards for chemical trespass;
6) Removes claims to legal rights and protections from corporations within the Township;
7) Recognizes and provides for enforcement of rights of residents, natural communities and ecosystems;
8) Subordinates sludge hauling and disposing corporations to the People of Mahanoy Township;
9) Adopts Pennsylvania regulations as locally enforceable concerning the land application of sewage sludge by individuals.
In the Ordinance, the Township Board of Supervisors declared that if state and federal agencies -- or corporate managers -- attempt to invalidate the Ordinance, a Township-wide public meeting would be hosted to determine additional steps to expand local control and self- governance within the Township.
Adoption of the Ordinance came after years of consideration by the municipality, several community educational forums and a weekend Democracy School, where the Township hosted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to discuss its rights-based strategy for confronting corporate and state preemptions of community self- governance.
Sharon Chiao, Chairperson for the Mahanoy Township Board of Supervisors commented that "we feel the Township has the right to accept or deny it. This is to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens and the environment of our Township."
Ben Price, Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the organization that helped draft the Ordinance said,
"Passage of this Ordinance is especially significant at this time, since neighboring East Brunswick Township has been sued by the Pennsylvania Attorney General for adopting a similar Ordinance. Acting as private litigator for agribusiness and sludge corporations, under authority of a State statute lobbied for heavily by these industries, the PA Attorney General recently filed a legal brief requesting the court overturn East Brunswick's Ordinance without giving the community its day in court.
In that brief, a key argument for nullifying the local law makes this stunning assertion in bold print: "There is no inalienable right to local self-government." It's a point of view we see played out every day in communities across Pennsylvania and the United States. By enacting their new Ordinance, the community government of Mahanoy Township has outshone its State counterpart by recognizing that the consent of the governed is a prerequisite for just governments and law."
CONTACT: Ben Price, Projects Director (717) 243-6725; firstname.lastname@example.org
From: Chemical & Engineering News (pg. 13) ...........[This story printer-friendly]
February 25 2008
WHAT ARE OUR PHARMACEUTICALS DOING TO THE ENVIRONMENT?
[Rachel's introduction: People and animals excrete pharmaceuticals and their metabolites, which then find their way into the environment through a variety of routes -- treated wastewater, agricultural runoff, and biosolids and manure that are used as fertilizers.]
By Bethany Halford
No one ever planned for fish to take birth control pills. But they are. As treated wastewater flows into rivers and streams every day, fish all over the world get a tiny dose of 17a-ethinylestradiol, a synthetic steroidal estrogen that's used in birth control pills. They also get a little sip of the anticonvulsant carbamazepine, a nip of the antidepressant fluoxetine, and a taste of hundreds of other drugs that we take to make our lives better.
Every drug begins its life as a promise -- a promise to fight disease or improve our quality of life. It wends its way through the discovery process and clinical trials until it ends up in our bodies, ready to do its job.
But that's not the end of the story. A drug doesn't simply disappear once it has served its purpose. People and animals excrete pharmaceuticals and their metabolites, which then find their way into the environment through a variety of routes -- treated wastewater, agricultural runoff, and biosolids and manure that are used as fertilizers. Pharmaceuticals also enter the environment when people dispose of medications by flushing them down the toilet or pouring them down the drain.
What to do with your unused pharmaceuticals.
Concentration-wise, pharmaceuticals represent just a small fraction of the thousands of man-made chemicals in the environment, including everything from pesticides to personal care products. Even though medications have been in the environment for as long as people have been taking them, it's only through the advent of advanced analytical instrumentation and techniques that scientists have been able to detect them in the wild.
The small concentrations, however, belie the potentially powerful effects of these compounds. Pharmaceuticals are specifically designed to elicit a biological response at very low levels, and scientists are increasingly becoming aware of how medications let loose on the environment may have effects no one ever anticipated.
By far, the most dramatic example of this kind of pharmaceutical pollution has been the effect of estrogenic compounds on fish. In the 1990s, scientists working in the U.K. noted that male fish living downstream from wastewater treatment plants were becoming feminized. They were making proteins associated with egg production in female fish, and they were developing early-stage eggs in their testes. Feminized male fish have now been observed in rivers and streams in the U.S. and Europe.
Research led by John Sumpter, an ecotoxicologist at England's Brunel University, linked the feminizing phenomenon to the presence of estrogenic compounds, such as the synthetic birth control compound 17a-ethinylestradiol and the natural hormone 17beta-estradiol, in the water (Environ. Sci. Technol. 1998, 32, 1549). Municipal wastewater treatment plants don't completely break down these estrogenic compounds or their metabolites. For example, 17a-ethinylestradiol is excreted in the form of glucuronide and sulfate conjugates. Bacteria in the wastewater treatment process cleave these conjugate groups, regenerating the original estrogenic compound.
"It doesn't take a lot of estrogen to feminize male fish," says Karen A. Kidd, a biology professor at the Canadian Rivers Institute, University of New Brunswick. "If you can measure the estrogen in the water, then that's enough to cause an effect, and we can measure it at very low parts-per-trillion concentrations."
Kidd recently spearheaded a research project to study the overall impact of estrogenic compounds on fish (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2007, 104, 8897). "No one knew what feminization meant for the fish population," Kidd explains. "Can feminized males still successfully reproduce, or is there going to be an impact on the number of fish in the rivers? That's the big question we set out to address."
FOR THREE SUMMERS, Kidd and her colleagues spiked a lake in Canada's Experimental Lakes Area with 17a-ethinylestradiol at a concentration of 5 ppt -- a concentration that has been measured in municipal wastewaters and in river waters downstream of discharges. During the autumn that followed the first addition of the estrogenic compound, the researchers observed delayed sperm cell development in male fathead minnows -- the freshwater equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. A year later, the male fathead minnows were producing eggs and had largely stopped reproducing. The minnow population began to plummet. The decline continued for an additional three years until the fish had all but disappeared from the lake.
The fathead minnow wasn't the only fish to feel the effects of the trace amounts of birth control. The population of lake trout, which feed on smaller fish, fell by about 30%. "The numbers of lake trout dropped not because of direct exposure to the estrogens but because they lost their food supply," Kidd says.
But Kidd's story is not all doom and gloom. In 2006, three years after her team stopped adding 17a-ethinylestradiol to the lake, the fathead minnow population rebounded. "So given enough time, once you remove the estrogens from a system, the fish can recover to their original population size," Kidd notes.
Although estrogenic compounds may have the most dramatic effect on fish, they aren't the only pharmaceuticals that have been implicated in the pollution of aquatic environments. Laboratory studies have shown that the antidepressant fluoxetine, or Prozac, can slow the development of fish and frogs. The anticonvulsant carbamazepine affects the emergence of mosquito-like insects that are a popular food source for certain fish.
"The challenge is that we don't have a good understanding of" a lot of drugs that are being used, Kidd says. "We've looked at only a handful of the drugs that are actually used and discharged into our waters. There are just a lot of unknowns in this field right now."
And it's not just aquatic organisms that are feeling the effects of pharmaceutical pollution. One study traced massive die-offs of vultures in Asia to the veterinary use of diclofenac, a nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory (Nature 2004, 427, 630).
Diclofenac is frequently used to treat domestic livestock in India and Pakistan. When these animals die from disease or injury, they're typically left for scavengers. An international team of scientists, led by J. Lindsay Oaks of Washington State University, found that the vultures were consuming these carcasses and dying from renal failure and visceral gout caused by diclofenac poisoning.
Scientists also worry that the massive amounts of antibiotics used to treat livestock may be creating antibiotic-resistant microbes. "There's a whole other source of pharmaceutical pollution that really needs attention, and that's livestock use, which generates an estimated 500 million tons of waste each year," says Dana W. Kolpin, a research hydrologist at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who studies emerging contaminants in the environment.
Kolpin points out that livestock manure is full of antibiotics, synthetic and biogenic hormones, and other veterinary medicines. Farmers use sludge generated by sewage treatment plants as a fertilizer and a source of nutrients for crops, but this material also contains excreted medications.
SCIENTISTS KNOW that these pharmaceuticals can travel into the environment as agricultural runoff and soil contaminants. A new report from chemistry professor Chad A. Kinney of Colorado State University, Pueblo, shows that earthworms living in the contaminated soil can take up some of these pharmaceuticals, notably the antibiotic trimethoprim, albeit in small amounts (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es702304c). "It shows there is uptake into earthworms that leads to a potential pathway up the food chain, as earthworms are a major food source for many higher organisms," says Kolpin, who was a coauthor of the report. Studies have also shown that pharmaceuticals can be taken up into crop plants (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2006, 54, 2288).
Researchers continue to suss out the subtle effects of pharmaceuticals on the environment, such as antibiotic resistance and changes in feeding and mating behaviors. But getting a handle on the whole problem is a huge task. Not only do researchers need to consider the parent compounds in their analyses, but they also have to look at metabolites and at the transformation products that are formed either during treatment or from natural processes taking place in the environment, such as microbial degradation and photolysis.
"If you just look at the parent compound, that's only giving you a piece of the story," Kolpin explains. "Each compound can break down and form new environmental contaminants, which can become much more mobile and much more persistent."
"Sometimes there are cases for which the biodegradation product is more toxic than the parent compound," adds Diana Aga, an analytical chemist at State University of New York, Buffalo, who is developing tools to detect trace levels of pharmaceuticals.
Scientists also have to keep in mind that pharmaceuticals aren't isolated in the environment, Kolpin notes. They could be acting in concert with a surfactant, another pharmaceutical, or some other environmental contaminant.
The Food & Drug Administration requires pharmaceuticals to undergo an environmental risk assessment before they can go on the market. These tests are performed on both terrestrial and aquatic organisms, but they're usually short-term tests that measure how much of a compound is required to kill an organism outright or stunt its growth within a matter of days.
"If we're going to identify the compounds that are going to be problematic, we need to be looking for the right things," says Bryan Brooks, an environmental science professor at Baylor University. For example, he explains, it takes a lot of 17a-ethinylestradiol to kill an aquatic organism, so by current testing standards, the compound would appear to have a very low potential risk. But feminization of male fish -- something those short-term tests would have never detected -- occurs at very low concentrations of the drug.
THE BIG QUESTION is whether pharmaceutical pollution has any impact on human health. While trace amounts of pharmaceuticals do find their way into drinking water, studies indicate that the concentrations are far too small to elicit any appreciable effect.
Fetal exposure to certain pharmaceuticals is also a cause for concern. An extreme example would be exposure to thalidomide or to a chemotherapeutic drug, says Christian G. Daughton, chief of the environmental chemistry branch at the Environmental Protection Agency's National Exposure Research Laboratory. He adds, however, that "the doses that a fetus would get from its mother ingesting several liters of water a day are still orders of magnitude below the dosages that are known to cause effects."
Daughton says that toxicologists are now trying to understand the effects of continual sustained exposure to multiple chemicals, each present at a very low level. "It could be that the chemical stress that's put on any organism is the result of minute stresses of a multitude of chemicals," whether they're synthetic or naturally occurring compounds, he says.
Francesco Pomati, a toxicologist at Australia's University of New South Wales, and colleagues at Italy's University of Insubria recently discovered that a low-concentration mixture of 13 drugs -- including a chemotherapeutic agent and several antibiotics -- can inhibit the growth of human embryonic kidney cells in vitro (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2006, 40, 2442). It's important to note, however, that the concentrations used were those found in the environment, not in drinking water.
"Studies conducted to date suggest that it is highly unlikely that the quantities of pharmaceuticals detected in the environment would be harmful to human health," says Ken Johnson, senior vice president with Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America.
"I think it's unambiguous that the trace pharmaceuticals we're seeing in drinking water have no human health problems so far," adds Shane Snyder, an environmental toxicologist at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. A few months ago, Snyder published an analysis of water from 20 drinking water utilities across the U.S. These utilities were treating water known to contain wastewater that had come from a sewage treatment plant upstream.
Notably, Snyder's team did not detect any of the estrogenic compounds that have been implicated in the feminization of fish in either the source water or the treated drinking water. They did find that drinking water from at least half of the treatment facilities contained ibuprofen, carbamazepine, the antiepileptic dilantin, and the antianxiety drug meprobamate, but each occurred in extremely low concentrations -- in the parts-per-trillion range.
"The treatment processes we have are highly effective," Snyder concludes. He points out that we're seeing more pharmaceuticals in our environment because we're getting better at detecting them, not necessarily because there are more of them. It's therefore important, he says, to develop toxicologically based limits for pharmaceuticals in our water. "If we ignore concentration and say presence or absence is our litmus test, then there will be no end to that," Snyder says. "Detection does not infer health risk and nondetection does not ensure safety."
Snyder's study also assessed the removal of pharmaceuticals from drinking water, using both conventional and advanced drinking water treatment processes. Conventional treatments, such as coagulation, flocculation, and filtration, were basically ineffective. Chlorination proved to be better, removing about half of the compounds considered in the study. Advanced treatments, such as ozonation, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membranes, worked well, but these methods are expensive, and they're generally used to treat drinking water, not wastewater.
"YOU HAVE TO keep in mind that sewage treatment plants were originally designed a long time ago to improve the aesthetic quality of treated sewage and to reduce the incidence of disease -- to reduce odor and make the water look better and get rid of bacteria and viruses," EPA's Daughton says. "They were never engineered to remove synthetic substances."
Whether or not sewage treatment plants should be equipped to remove pharmaceuticals is a matter of some controversy. "There's this huge risk-benefit equation that's very difficult to address," Daughton explains.
"I think for a lot of drugs out there, we are probably more concerned than we should be," says Alistair Boxall, an environmental chemist at the University of York, in England. "I think there are examples of substances that perhaps we do need to look at a bit further, but I'm not convinced we should be putting advanced treatment mechanisms on every sewage treatment plant just to get rid of pharmaceuticals."
Snyder agrees. "I would be very cautious about building energy- intensive wastewater treatment plants," he tells C&EN.
"With regard to pharmaceuticals in the environment, I do believe that we have the treatment technologies available to address these problems," says Nancy G. Love, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan University. "The challenge comes in improving the engineering implementation of the technologies" to make them more cost-effective, she adds.
Even though pharmaceutical pollution is a problem we are equipped to deal with, the solution may not be so simple if the contaminants are causing antibiotic resistance, Love says. "We do not necessarily have the technology to design antibiotics that are not vulnerable to generating antibiotic-resistant characteristics in microbes. And if pollution is an inducer of antibiotic resistance, then we have a larger problem on our hands than we realize."
Scientists working in this area agree that more research needs to be done on all aspects of pharmaceuticals' effects in the environment. "We need to determine which compounds or sets of compounds are the worst players, and then we need to make the decision whether these things need to be removed before they get into the environment," USGS's Kolpin says. "There's more information needed before any sort of policy or regulatory decision can be made. Otherwise, I'm afraid it will be ineffective or unnecessary."
Copyright 2008 American Chemical Society
From: U.S. News & World Report ........................[This story printer-friendly]
February 27, 2008
THE SMALLEST OF POLLUTANTS ARE LINKED TO OUTSIZE HEALTH RISKS
[Rachel's introduction: Scientists are increasingly concerned about air pollution's tiniest constituents -- virus-size particles produced by combustion. These ultrafines are ubiquitous near roadways and are emerging as one of the most dangerous components of air pollution, which kills an estimated 60,000-plus Americans a year. That's more than the number killed annually by automobile accidents.]
By Adam Voiland
Sitting in traffic triples a person's short-term heart-attack risk. Living in a city with heavy air pollution such as Los Angeles is as risky for the heart as being a former smoker. And having a house near a highway ups the risk of hardened arteries by some 60 percent. In each case, tiny "ultrafine" particles in the air may be a key culprit.
While air pollution comes in many forms, scientists are increasingly concerned about its most minute constituents -- virus-size particles produced by combustion. These ultrafines, which measure no more than 0.1 micrometer in diameter, are ubiquitous near roadways and are emerging as one of the most dangerous components of air pollution, which kills an estimated 60,000-plus Americans a year. That's more than the number killed annually by automobile accidents.
The tiny particles are worrisome for several reasons. For one, they tend to be rich in potentially toxic organic compounds and other reactive chemicals. Their size, moreover, allows them to travel deep into the lungs, lodge there for long periods, and stress the body in a variety of ways, researchers theorize. They may even slip into the bloodstream, where they can do further damage. In comparison, so- called fine particulates, which can be up to 25 times wider than ultrafines, are snared more easily by protective hairlike structures in the nose and throat. Not that fine particulates are benign: Last year, a study of older women in the New England Journal of Medicine linked a 10-microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in fine particulate pollution -- approximately the difference between Pittsburgh and cleaner Anchorage -- to a 76 percent increase in the cardiovascular death rate.
More recent data seem to confirm researchers' suspicions that smaller particles are even worse. With Environmental Protection Agency funding, a team co-led by Jesus Araujo, an environmental cardiologist at UCLA, zoomed in on the ultrafines and found that mice exposed to those particles developed more atherosclerotic plaque than mice breathing fine particulates only -- and did so faster. "Much, much faster," says Araujo. In addition, HDL, or good cholesterol, didn't work as well in ultrafine-exposed animals, Araujo's team will report in the March 14 Circulation Research. Other recent experiments have found troubling cardiovascular changes in human volunteers following exposure to ultrafines.
Such findings are bad news for people with heavy exposure to traffic. Diesel vehicles are particularly potent sources of both fine and ultrafine particles, and their fumes, recent studies show, have adverse effects on the heart. European researchers found, for example, that exercising men who inhaled fresh diesel fumes at levels that can occur near major roads experienced rapid reduction in blood flow to the heart and a one-third drop in a protective protein that prevents dangerous clotting. "The effect was about the same as what we see with secondhand smoke," explains Nicholas Mills, the University of Edinburgh cardiologist who led the research.
At risk. The elderly, young children, and those with pulmonary and cardiovascular problems are most at risk from particulate air pollution. However, particles affect everybody. Recent Taiwanese research shows, for example, that inflammation, oxidative stress, and other cardiovascular warning signs are detectable among urban teens breathing polluted air as well.
While fine particulate matter and certain smog-generating emissions are regulated, ultrafine particles are not. "There's no doubt particulate matter is the elephant in the room," says Dan Costa, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency's air research program. Since 1997, the agency has been cracking down on fine particulates, and their levels have generally been falling nationwide. A new rule, phased in last year, requires trucks to use cleaner- burning diesel fuel and should help reduce both fines and ultrafines. But it may be a decade, Costa says, before scientists amass enough evidence on ultrafines to justify directly limiting them.
A third to a half of ultrafine exposure comes from driving. "If you have otherwise healthy habits and don't smoke, driving to work is probably the most unhealthy part of your day," says Scott Fruin, an environmental scientist at the University of Southern California. The tiny particles can also slip into homes, especially those near busy roads. Cooking with a poorly ventilated stove can be another source of exposure to ultrafines, he says. Some fireplaces also generate particulates. However, so-called HEPA filters can help clear indoor air of particulates, including ultrafines.
Avoiding exposure. Exercising near traffic increases one's exposure, since heavy breathing draws particles deep into the body. Murray Mittleman, a cardiologist at Harvard University, suggests that people -- especially those with heart conditions -- try to exercise away from major roadways. Masks probably won't have much of an effect on the tiny ultrafines, says Fruin, but might stop larger particles. (Some U.S. Olympians, in fact, have been advised to wear face masks in heavily polluted Beijing.) Two government websites, airnow.gov and epa.gov/airtrends, can help people plan outdoor activities.
Still, there's no reason to live in complete fear of particulates; the risk for any individual remains quite small. That tripling of heart attack risk due to traffic exposure, for example, sounds frightening but is similar to the increased short-term risk posed by exercise or even sexual activity, says Robert Brook, a University of Michigan cardiologist. "The absolute risk -- meaning the risk you have every single time you are exposed to air pollution, exercise, or have intercourse -- is still very, very low," he says. "But when you multiply that by the tens of millions of people being exposed to polluted air all of the time, you end up getting large numbers of people who are affected."
Araujo, for one, isn't taking any chances. He used to bike frequently in heavy traffic. However, after seeing what happened to his mice, he says: "You won't find me stuck behind bus tailpipes anymore."
Smallest air pollution particles hurt heart most
Air Pollution Kicks Men Where it Counts
From: Christian Science Monitor ...........................[This story printer-friendly]
February 28, 2008
WILL U.S. BECOME WORLD'S NUCLEAR-WASTE DUMP?
[Rachel's introduction: "If we establish a precedent for importing very large quantities of foreign nuclear waste, we're going to make the US and Utah the dumping ground for the rest of the world."]
By Mark Clayton, staff writer of the Christian Science Monitor
The federal government is weighing a Utah company's request to import large amounts of low-level radioactive waste from Italy -- a step critics say could lead the United States to become a nuclear garbage dump for the world.
If approved, the company would ship up to 20,000 tons of metal piping, sludge, wood, contaminated clothing, and other mildly radioactive material from Italian nuclear-power plants to Tennessee, process most of it, then dispose of the remainder in Utah. It would be by far America's largest import of nuclear waste.
The proposal, which entered a 30-day public-comment period on Feb. 11, is gathering opposition from environmentalists, regulators, and congressmen. It would not only pave the way for more such imports, critics say, but also give nations less incentive to take care of their own nuclear waste.
"If this massive quantity from Italy is accepted, it just blows the doors wide open for nuclear waste to come in from all over the world," says Tom Clements, Southeast nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, an environmental group in Washington. "The NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has an obligation to deal with the waste generated in this country first and not accept foreign waste that fills up existing sites."
Critics misrepresent how much material would be ultimately disposed of in Utah, counter officials of EnergySolutions, the Salt Lake City company proposing to import the Italian waste. Most material would be recycled or incinerated in Tennessee. Just 8 percent of the original volume would travel to Utah, the company wrote in a letter to the NRC.
"EnergySolutions does not believe the United States should be responsible for the world's nuclear waste," company spokesman Mark Walker writes in response to e-mailed questions from a reporter. But as reliance on nuclear power grows worldwide, "the US is in a leadership role to provide technical solutions."
Whether such imports will become a regular practice remains a question. The company "has no plans" to open its Utah disposal site "to wholesale disposal for the world's nuclear waste," Mr. Walker writes. But in a recent prospectus, the company envisions "specialized decommissioning and disposal services" for Europe and the United Kingdom.
Only 10 of 18 nations surveyed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year have disposal options for low-level nuclear waste and none has options for all classes of such waste.
Critics say import regulations are weak because Congress never foresaw that the US would import large volumes of radioactive waste. "There is no indication in [legislative action or NRC regulatory action] that there was any intention that the United States would ever become a welcome repository of foreign-generated radioactive waste," Rep. Bart Gordon (D) of Tennessee, chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology wrote earlier this month in a letter to Dale Klein, NRC chairman.
While the US has long permitted low-level radioactive waste imports, most have been small compared with the EnergySolutions request. Of 24 such waste-import license applications over the years, NRC records show 13 granted, according to an analysis by the House committee. The EnergySolutions plan is 25 times bigger than the largest import from outside North America, that analysis shows.
EnergySolutions says its plan is not out of line with past licenses. The company cites a 2006 license to import 6,000 tons of waste from Canada -- about one-third the size of its Italy request.
Yet the Italy proposal would be "the first attempt by a US waste processing company to import large amounts of [low-level radioactive waste] as part of an agreement to decommission foreign nuclear reactors," Representative Gordon writes. If granted, "many other such license applications will follow" rather than forcing nations to deal with their own waste.
That could be a problem, since the space available in US low-level waste sites would fill up in the long run if the US nuclear industry expands, as many expect.
"The uncertainties surrounding disposal costs and availability and other limitations in [low-level radioactive waste] management are taking on even greater significance as the United States embarks on developing new nuclear power plants, which would eventually create even more" low-level waste, the GAO reported last year.
At present, the US has 104 commercial nuclear power plants each generating on average about 12,000 cubic feet of low-level nuclear waste -- about 15 million cubic feet annually, the GAO says. The US has three facilities that accept the least-toxic "Class A" radioactive waste.
But the site in Barnwell, S.C., is nearly full and in June will be closed to waste from all but three states. The site in Richland, Wash., is accepting only limited amounts. That leaves EnergySolutions' site at Clive, Utah, which took more than 99 percent of the nation's low-level waste in 2006. There appears to be "sufficient disposal capacity" for "Class A" waste, but "uncertain future access" for other categories, the GAO says.
Walker says the EnergySolutions facility has "at least 20 years of capacity" and that the Italian material represents less than 1 percent of the annual average amount disposed at the site.
While the NRC keeps an eye on disposal site capacity, Chairman Klein in a letter last month noted that the NRC's environmental and public- health review of the application to import Italian waste "is limited to ensuring that the import and transportation of the waste to the disposal facility is conducted safely" and that other regulatory limits for the facility "will not be exceeded."
Even so, the NRC has sought details about material to be imported and assurances that it will meet US standards for low-level waste disposal. EnergySolutions, in a December letter, revealed to NRC that three of the eight Italy sites from which it expects to get material "may be comparable" to US Superfund sites, akin to sites identified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as among America's most toxic waste sites.
In the end, though, it is largely up to states to decide whether such shipments make sense for them, the NRC spokesman says.
"Is there a place willing and able to accept the material -- that's where we consult the states in question, Tennessee and Utah," says NRC spokesman David McIntyre. "If the states say 'no,' we wouldn't let it in."
So far, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has not put a halt to the EnergySolutions plan. Yet concern seems to be growing in Utah, including the state's three-man Radiation Control Board, whose members are appointed by the governor. At its December meeting, two members expressed unhappiness with the Italian waste import plan. A statement by the board reflecting opposition to it is expected, some observers say, although it is unclear what effect that might have.
Activists are also ramping up calls for public opposition.
"We see this as the camel's nose under the tent," says Vanessa Pierce, executive director of Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, a coalition of environmental groups. "If we establish a precedent for importing very large quantities of foreign nuclear waste, we're going to make the US and Utah the dumping ground for the rest of the world."
Copyright 2008 The Christian Science Monitor
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