Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

Precaution Reporter

Rachel's Precaution Reporter #132 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, March 05, 2008printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

The Delayed Introduction of Unleaded Petrol
In New Zealand (as in the U.S.), the dangers of toxic lead in gasoline were known for decades, but safer substitutes were not adopted, partly because of "the absence of a precautionary principle as part of risk management policy in regard to children's health, even when all the evidence pointed in this direction."
A Tower of Issues
"If you look at these things [radio towers], it's pretty convincing that you've got a real question mark here, and that it would pay to err on the precautionary side," BRACT member Joseph DiGennaro said at a meeting on Monday.
For Sarkozy and Dubya, A Shared Playbook
"This [new French] law essentially authorizes people to be detained for crimes they might commit in the future, not the crime they have already committed, a stunning extension of the precautionary principle."
Public Urged to Lead on Environmental Safety
Speakers urged the government to use what they called the "precautionary principle," an approach to environmental protection that puts public health first. New Jersey, they said, needs to make the public's health and safety the top priority because the state has more than 15,000 contaminated sites, as well as some of the nation's highest rates for cancer and chronic lung disease.
Why Precaution Is Needed
Human activities are now ruining the Earth as a place suitable for human habitation. Because of this new reality, a new way of making decisions is needed. That's why the precautionary principle has emerged in recent years, to help people defend the future.
Precaution: A New Way to Make Decisions
The precautionary principle is a new way of making decisions, quite different from the current way.
Sunset of the Precaution Reporter Revisited
Last week we announced the sunset of Rachel's Precaution Reporter without explanation. Here's a bit more detail.


From: Scoop.co.nz (Wellington, New Zealand)
[Printer-friendly version]


Unleaded petrol became mandatory in New Zealand in 1996, but a newly published study led by the University of Otago, Wellington reveals there was a 20 year delay as a result of deliberate lobbying by the lead additives industry, poorly informed and vacillating politicians, and a bureaucracy which lacked technical expertise.

This novel study of pollution and politics analyses the literature and reports from 1974 to 1996 and finds that there was clear international evidence that lead in petrol was a known serious health risk, particularly for children. It has recently been published in the international journal 'Environmental Health'.

Despite this evidence, the study shows that successive New Zealand Governments and the bureaucracy consistently claimed that there was no urgency to introduce unleaded petrol in this country.

"A major reason for this procrastination was industry lobbying of Government. The lead additive supplier, Associated Octel, which was owned by major oil companies, provided counter information over 20 years in order to undermine international scientific studies," says lead researcher Dr Nick Wilson from the University of Otago's Department of Public Health in Wellington.

Modifications in the early 1980s to the one refinery in the country, owned by the NZ Refining Company, also limited the ability to supply unleaded petrol. These changes were made after it was already well- known that leaded petrol was a health risk.

The study found other fundamental and significant reasons for the long delays were:

** the absence of a precautionary principle as part of risk management policy in regard to children's health, even when all the evidence pointed in this direction.

** weak policy machinery and lack of technical expertise within the Ministry of Energy and the Department of Health

** a closed and negative attitude by the bureaucracy and Government to input from the wider community, including scientists and non- government organisations.

"The New Zealand experience shows yet again the weakness in decision- making processes that comes about when no single government agency akin to the US Environmental Protection Agency has overall responsibility for an important environmental health issue."

Even when there was international and New Zealand evidence in the late 1970s and early 1980s that lead might be a threat to child health and development, nothing was done. Authorities still continued to claim that international research did not apply to this country, despite scientific advice to the contrary from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

"There was a credibility/denial gap a kilometre wide between scientists and governments on this issue," says Dr Wilson. "It was exceedingly na�ve to think that industry would voluntarily remove lead from petrol without regulation. The manufacturers of the lead additives even wrote to the Department of Health suggesting that air monitoring should not occur near busy intersections as it was alarmist."

A co-author of the study, Dr John Horrocks, from the Wellington Institute of Technology, says that "the faith of politicians and officials that New Zealand was 'clean and green' and 'well- ventilated', to use some of their phrases, has also held back progress on other forms of air pollution."

"There are some lessons here from the lead additives story. We seem to think we are a special case, even though vehicle emissions are known to cause as many premature deaths in New Zealand as road crashes. Until recently New Zealand had some of the world's dirtiest diesel. Though the Clean Air Council recommended in 1974 that vehicles pass emission tests, the most that older polluting cars have to do is to meet a feeble visible smoke test, finally introduced in 2006.

"Just as it took too long to get rid of lead, it is going to take more than a decade to clean up the vehicle fleet," he says.

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments


From: The Northender (Oyster Bay, N.Y.)
[Printer-friendly version]


By Brian Brennan

A small but determined group of Bayville residents is not giving up on blocking a T-band, digital turnkey radio system from being erected on the water tower at 34 School Street, or on existing commercial antennas removed from the tower.

The village board of trustees voted in April to okay the new system, under pressure from Nassau County, which said the equipment was necessary to enhancing the county's first responder system.

The system would consist of two electromagnetic microwave dishes and four radio frequency (RF) antennas. These would be joining as many as 52 RF antennas that have been placed on the tower by commercial wireless companies since the early 1990s. The village puts yearly rental revenue from the companies at around $200,000.

Opponents fear the effects of the microwave radiation, especially as the water tower is caddy corner to the Bayville Primary School. They have formed a coalition called Bayville Residents Against Cell Tower (BRACT) and filed a lawsuit against the village. They are represented by the Coalition of Landlords, Homeowners and Merchants.

BRACT argues that it has not been satisfactorily proved that RF waves are not harmful to human health; and that policymakers must therefore operate on the so-called precautionary principle. The principle -- now the rule in environmental policy in several countries and a few American municipalities -- states that an activity must not be carried out until it has been demonstrated that it is not harmful to public or environmental health.

"If you look at these things, it's pretty convincing that you've got a real question mark here; that it would pay to err on the precautionary side," BRACT member Joseph DiGennaro said at a meeting on Monday. Dr. DiGennaro has spent nearly 40 years as a professor of environmental, community and personal health at Hunter, Lehman and Nassau Community colleges, and at Hofstra University. He and his wife JoTina are spearheading BRACT's efforts.

"We're fighting a couple of things here, I think," said JoTina DiGennaro. "I don't think people are completely aware of what the situation is and how dangerous it is. I think some people are very, very attached to their cell phones, which is fine, but you can't put that above our own health and the health of our children."

BRACT is not satisfied with the findings of a study conducted for the village by the Planning and Research Consulting Associates (PARC Associates) because it was paid for by Motorola, which won the contract to erect the new system.

The study found that the radiation generated by the tower would be less than one-tenth the level allowed by US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines.

"The expected increases of electromagnetic radiation levels are small in Bayville, because the energy radiated by the proposed antennas would go far overhead," the report reads. "It would be very weak when it reaches a few people in Mill Neck. There should be no fear of microwave or other Radio Frequency exposure to adults or small children living in Bayville or attending either Bayville school."

At a meeting last year, Bayville Mayor Victoria Siegel said that the village commissioned the study on its own and that it was only agreed after the fact that Motorola would pay for it.

The findings of the study are in keeping with those of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) that risks to human health are negligible, though both bodies continue to examine the issue.

However, those who lobby against cell towers in residential neighborhoods argue that federal research has been inadequate and underfunded; and that telecommunications industry lobbyists have wielded undue influence in policy making. They also highlight a perceived inappropriateness in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- rather than a health agency -- regulating RF standards.

There is a stumbling block to the regulation of wireless facilities by local and state governments in the form of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The act prohibits municipalities from barring RF applications on the basis of environmental effects, so long as the applicants are in compliance with FCC regulations.

According to the text of the act, "As written, the purpose of the requirement is to prevent telecommunications siting decisions from being based upon unscientific or irrational fears that emissions from telecommunications sites may cause undesirable health effects. In a surprising number of public hearings on the issue of cellular siting, individuals appear and complain of allegedly harmful health effects, although the authors know of no studies substantiating such claims."

The act supports the position of the Bayville Board of Trustees, who have insisted that their powers of refusal in cases of wireless applicants are limited.

BRACT, on the other hand, say that their case is a strong one, in view of the deed by which a Mona Williams donated the land on which the tower stands to the village in December of 1950.

The deed states that "no commercial enterprises shall be permitted thereon and, in addition, no use of the premises shall be made or permitted which would be offensive, dangerous or obnoxious to the owners or any owner (now or hereafter) of land within a radius of one- quarter of a mile of the premises..."

Mayor Siegel has said that the village refused to rent space on the tower until informed by legal counsel that the restrictions written into the deed had expired.

That they really have expired is disputed by some who point to an April 1954 indenture.

The indenture says that the restrictions would only be in place through 1978 if the property passed out of village hands, but adds, "So long as said parcel more particularly described hereinabove is owned by [Bayville], said restrictive covenants shall be deemed in full force and effect."

The mayor has said that the village could only legally remove contractees' antennas if it relocated the antennas to another location within its borders.

With the federal government behind them, it does not seem likely that the commercial customers would go quietly.

Nor will the county. The Suozzi administration was harsh in its criticism last year of Bayville and 23 other municipalities that it accused of hampering necessary safety enhancements.

The new system, the county argued, would allow Nassau to have its own unique frequency, rather than having to continue to sharing a UHF band with municipalities in New Jersey. Sharing the band, the county claimed, has forced its emergency personnel to transmit at levels that do not interfere with co-users, but that limit radio traffic capacity.

The county insists that the new coverage would be far more comprehensive and reliable, and allow for solid interoperability throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York City, and the areas three miles out into Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean

Copyright 2006 Northender.com

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments


From: Yale Daily News
[Printer-friendly version]


By Daniel Nichanian

Always eager to intensify the extremism of his rhetoric, the increasingly unpopular French President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking to regain approval by coupling a despicable criminal justice reform with a stunning disregard for the law.

Earlier this year, Sarkozy pushed through a bill that allows for "dangerous" detainees to be held in a detention facility after they have completed their sentences. A commission of three magistrates has the authority to order them back in jail for a year after examining the threat they pose; the decision can be renewed indefinitely.

The Left immediately appealed to the Constitutional Council, France's supreme authority on constitutional matters. The Council upheld the law last week, but ruled against its retroactive application to detainees already serving their sentences. This prompted Sarkozy to take the unprecedented step of asking one of the country's top magistrates (who almost immediately rebuffed him) to find a way to circumvent this decision, pledging that the law would be applied retroactively when all was said and done.

This law essentially authorizes people to be detained for crimes they might commit in the future, not the crime they have already committed, a stunning extension of the precautionary principle. "What is important for me is that we don't let monsters free after they have served their sentences," said Sarkozy in his answer to the Constitutional Council.

A sentence of 15 years in prison can now be transformed into lifelong detention with little publicity and possibility of appeal. To make matters worse, judges will undoubtedly be influenced by the pressure of knowing that they will be the first ones blamed if a detainee whose liberation they allowed ends up in the news once again.

Unfortunately, this debate confirms how difficult it is to oppose "law and order" reforms. No politician wants to be known as an advocate of criminal rights, while countless candidates campaign on the need to toughen criminal law. As a result, there is a seemingly never-ending drift towards stricter punishments with barely any push-back.

This pattern has been playing out in the United States for a long time, and has recently been extended from issues of crime to terrorism. Democrats trying to reform wiretapping laws are denounced for bringing aid and comfort to terrorists, and George Bush's "with us or against us" doctrine has been applied to domestic contestation as much as to international relations. Now, the French Right is taking pages from the GOP's playbook: One of Sarkozy's ministers accused the Left of "choosing to be on the side of assassins."

In fact, throughout this entire episode, the French president has displayed just how much he has learned from the Bush administration.

First, Sarkozy is placing himself above the rule of law by announcing his intention to circumvent the Constitutional Council, and his arrogance is strikingly similar to that of Bush's tenure. Through his signing statements, secret programs and contempt for international conventions, Bush has accustomed us to an executive that openly disregards legality, and does so with such aplomb that it often seems too obvious to be possible. Thankfully, Sarkozy is not yet as versed in this art as his American counterpart, and his attempt at a judicial coup was met with widespread indignation over the past week, even by figures in his own party.

Second, Sarkozy has learned to counter difficult periods by resorting to a continual drumbeat of outrageous proposals that destabilize his opponents and drag the discussion back to his home turf -- order and immigration. This strategy was amazingly successful during last year's presidential election and the first few months of his presidency, just as it has been working for U.S. Republicans over the past few years. (Read: exploiting Iraq during the 2002 midterms or Bush's fear- mongering in 2004.)

The French president enjoyed soaring approval ratings during the months following his election, and nothing seemed to burst the Sarkozy bubble. But what his stigmatization of immigrants and his assaults on the country's secular tradition could not accomplish, the staging of his private life finally did: Fueled by the soap opera of Sarkozy's recent marriage to model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, the president's plunge into depths of unpopularity has been as brutal as it has been unexpected.

Now less than a month from potentially devastating local elections, Sarkozy is using his same old strategy of running on law and order and constantly coming up with new provocations to mask his failures.

But Sarkozy should remember where Bush's tactics got him; soon he could be headed for the same fate.

Daniel Nichanian is a senior.

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments


From: The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
[Printer-friendly version]


By Jim Wright, Staff Writer

From testing schools for PCBs in window caulk to ridding those schools of caustic cleaning supplies, the public must play a larger role in making their communities safer, speakers said at a major environmental conference on Monday.

"When the people lead, the leaders will follow," Robert Spiegel of the Edison Wetlands Association said at the conference, held at Seton Hall University.

He described growing concerns over potentially hazardous levels of PCBs -- polychlorinated biphenyls -- in caulk in public schools built between 1930 and 1980 statewide. The carcinogen is considered particularly dangerous to children because it is also thought to impair brain development.

"I don't think we need to wait to see how bad all the schools are or for government to tell us they don't know the full extent of the problem," Spiegel said. "We know it has been a problem around the country where they've tested [for PCBs]. We know there's the potential for the problem in New Jersey."

Speakers urged the government to use what they called the "precautionary principle," an approach to environmental protection that puts public health first. New Jersey, they said, needs to make the public's health and safety the top priority because the state has more than 15,000 contaminated sites, as well as some of the nation's highest rates for cancer and chronic lung disease.

"All we are focused on and all we are asking for is precaution," said keynote speaker Lois Marie Gibbs, who helped sound the alarm about the massive Love Canal toxic waste site near Niagara Falls three decades ago.

"We want government to take precautionary steps because we do not know enough about the science of exposure to chemicals and human health in this country or worldwide," said Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

As an example, she cited a bill currently before the New York Legislature that says the only kind of cleaning agents that can be used in public school must be "green," or non-caustic.

"Right now they use this toxic, horrible, horrible stuff, and children put their faces or their hands on their desks," she said.

Brenda Holzinger, president of the Environmental Education Fund, said that although New Jersey has the Global Warming Response Act and many other progressive policies, other states and nations have taken the lead on applying the precautionary principle.

She said when the state is dealing with toxic chemicals and pollution, it should be guided by the idea "that if we think there is harm, if we have uncertain information, let's go slowly and take precautions."

E-mail: wright@northjersey.com

Copyright 2008 North Jersey Media Group

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #132, Mar. 05, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Here is a short PowerPoint presentation that explains why the precautionary principle is needed: there are three trends that are destroying the Earth as a place suitable for human habitation.

Because of these new conditions, we need a new way of making decisions. That's why the precautionary principle has emerged in recent years.


Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #132, Mar. 05, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Here is a very brief set of PowerPoint slides that explains the precautionary principle and compares it to the existing way of making decisions.


Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #132, Mar. 05, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Last week we announced that Rachel's Precaution Reporter would cease publication with issue #183 (Feb. 25, 2009), but we gave no explanation. The reason was, I had been laid up for 48 hours with food poisoning and didn't have what it took to write an explanatory article, but still wanted to give our readers a year's notice. Thus the brevity.

Here's the missing explanation, which accompanied our notice that our other publication, Rachel's News, will cease publication Feb. 26, 2009: http://www.precaution.org/lib/08/prn_sunset.htm --P.M.

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments


  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?

  We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we  
  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
  their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
  to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

  Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
  provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
  principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- 
  please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

  Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org

  Tim Montague   -   tim@rachel.org


  To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Precaution
  Reporter send any Email to one of these addresses:

  Full HTML edition: rpr-subscribe@pplist.net
  Table of Contents (TOC) edition: rpr-toc-subscribe@pplist.net

  In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
  you want to subscribe.

  To unsubscribe, send any email to rpr-unsubscribe@pplist.net
  or to rpr-toc-unsubscribe@pplist.net, as appropriate.


Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (18)