Rachel's Precaution Reporter #148
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From: Progressive Librarians Guild .......................[This story printer-friendly]
June 16, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: "The Precautionary Principle can act as a policy guide in which to critically debate the risks and benefits of wireless technology."]

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 technologies.[7]


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, 2008).

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.


From: Metroactive .........................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 25, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: "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."]

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 safety.

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 initiatives.

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 here.

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 E.U.

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, D.C.

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


From: Greenwire ..........................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 23, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 regulations.

'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 only.

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 dangerous.

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 have.

"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."


From: GreenFutures ........................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 16, 2001


[Rachel's introduction: The precautionary principle is being successfully applied in all sorts of controversial decisions.]

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 politicians.

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 factors.

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- makers.

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 sustainability

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 Lavelle


From: International Herald Tribune ........................[This story printer-friendly]
June 24, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: 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."]

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 States.

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 environment.

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


From: Yale Environment 360 ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
June 23, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: "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."]

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 regulate.

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 substances.

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 questions.

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 cases?

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 such.

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 risks.

Copyright 2008 Yale University


From: EurActiv ...........................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 23, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: "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.]

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 opinion.


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 theology.

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 unethical.

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 farming."


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

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