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Precaution Reporter

Rachel's Precaution Reporter #133 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, March 12, 2008printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Green Bill of Rights Is Cornerstone of Environmental Handbook
In Canada, the 11 largest environmental groups are urging their federal government to adopt a "precautionary" principle for addressing environmental issues by acting to resolve problems even when there is scientific uncertainty.
SARS - Five Years Later
"SARS ushered in significant improvements to the health-care system [in Ontario], not the least of which is adoption of the 'precautionary principle.' That dictates hospitals take measures erring on the side of caution in the face of a potential public health threat rather than waiting for scientific proof."
Concern in Europe On Cellphone Ads for Children
"I believe in the principle of precaution," Ms. Bachelot said in an interview. "If there is a risk, then children with developing nervous systems would be affected. I've alerted parents about the use of mobile telephones because it's absurd for young children to have them."
Outspoken Scientist Dismissed From Panel On Chemical Safety
What happens to a scientist who believes her knowledge warrants a precautionary approach to a toxic chemical? For her ethical stance, she is smeared by the chemical industry and then U.S. EPA removes from an advisory panel. In the mainstream media, this is not being discussed as an attack on precaution (and science), but that's exactly what it is.
Huge Fish Farm Rejected
A jubilant COAST spokesman said: "We welcome this democratic decision by the councillors of North Ayrshire Council to apply the 'precautionary principle' by refusing the massive fish farm next to the no-take zone."
Core Projects May Not Need Green Nod
"The EIA [environmental impact assessment] notification has already been significantly diluted in 2006 towards facilitating the clearance of projects. Today, its text and implementation are clearly directed towards mitigation and management of impacts rather than the precautionary principle and rejection of projects with critical impacts," the official added.
Medical Students Celebrate 58 Years of Student Activism
The American Medical Students Association is hosting an all-day conference on climate change, environmental justice, occupational medicine, children's environmental health, toxics and the precautionary principle, obesity and the built environment, international environmental health and improving the sustainability of healthcare.


From: Canwest News Service
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By Mike De Souza

Ottawa -- A Canadian bill of green rights is one of the cornerstones of a new federal road map towards environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's officials and opposition MPs were told Friday.

The message was delivered by leaders of the country's 11 largest environmental groups who met with Harper's office and other federal leaders to deliver a pocket-sized 28-page summary of their plans. The proposal -- Tomorrow Today: How Canada can make a world of difference -- recommended several new measures and policies for Canadians to address climate change, energy use, food production, toxic substances, water, forests and oceans, including a new tax of at least $30 per tonne on greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 that would rise to $75 per tonne by 2020.

"This is quite simply the most ambitious, the most comprehensive vision for environmental progress that has been produced in a generation, and we're very pleased to be hear this morning to launch this document," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence at a news conference with the other groups.

Environment Minister John Baird has said he's open to improving government accountability, but wants to ensure that there are concrete actions to clean up the environment and not just talk. Montreal Gazette file

They described their road map as a "shortlist" of the most essential federal environmental priorities with accountability near the top of the list through an "ecorights" bill that could restore public trust in the government.

"By enacting this kind of statute, the federal government would be able to earn the trust of Canadians on an issue where, right now, they have either lost it, or they are very close to losing it entirely," said Will Amos, a staff lawyer at Ecojustice, an environmental law organization that was formerly known as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

"Canadians point to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a feature of their Canadian identity, and Canadians consistently point to a clean environment as another component of their identity."

Although many Canadians might assume that their environmental rights are already protected, Amos said that there are gaps in existing federal laws that would be filled by a new green bill of rights.

In their document, available at tomorrowtodaycanada.ca, the environmental groups also urged the government to adopt a "precautionary" principle for addressing environmental issues by acting to resolve problems even when there is scientific uncertainty. The road map also calls on the government to ensure that it eliminates potential environmental risks for future generations in the same way that it is trying to eliminate the federal debt. Finally, it recommends that Canada should be a good global citizen by taking action at home, sharing best practices and ensuring that polluters pay the real cost of actions that damage ecosystems and communities.

"One reason we have entrenched environmental problems like poor air quality and accelerating climate change is that we do not pay the full environmental and social costs of the products and services we buy," said the road map.

"Not paying for the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels gives automobiles an unfair competitive advantage over public transit; not recognizing the environmental costs that pesticides and fertilizers create makes organic foods appear more expensive than they really are; solar and wind power are clean, but must compete with coal whose deadly air emissions are not factored into the price of electricity."

The document was released as federal MPs debated a confidence motion introduced by the NDP that denounced the government for not adequately addressing the threat of global warming. The motion, to be voted on on Monday, could trigger an election if adopted in Parliament where the opposition parties hold the majority, but the federal Liberals have said they will not support it to avoid a spring vote.

Environment Minister John Baird has said he's open to improving government accountability, but wants to ensure that there are concrete actions to clean up the environment and not just talk.


Copyright Canwest News Service 2008

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From: The Mirror (Scarborough, Ontario)
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By Lisa Queen

Five years ago today, Chi Kwai Tse arrived at The Scarborough Hospital, Grace Division with an unknown respiratory illness, the same one that had killed his mother two days earlier.

No one knew it at the time but he was infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a deadly new disease that would spread to others as Tse was left untreated for 16 hours in the hospital's emergency department.

What started with the 44-year-old, who died six days later, would springboard the Greater Toronto Area into medical and financial devastation through two outbreaks, including SARS II which broke out at North York General Hospital.

Justice Archie Campbell's commission into SARS pointed to Tse's hours in Scarborough Grace's ER as the kick-start of the outbreak.

"During these hours, he transmitted SARS to two other patients, sparking a chain of infection that spread through the Scarborough Grace Hospital, then to other hospitals through patient transfers and ultimately killed 44 and sickened more than 330 others," said the report, which urged officials to learn from SARS or face catastrophe when the next pandemic strikes.

At a press conference March 4 to mark the fifth anniversary of SARS, Health Minister George Smitherman announced Ontario's new Health Protection and Promotion Agency -- modelled on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- will be named after Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's former chief medical officer of health for Toronto, whose reassuring public appearances helped calm a terrified city and province during the SARS crisis.

"SARS shocked us out of a complacency we didn't even know we had," she said.

The mandate of the agency, which will be located steps from Queen's Park on College Street, includes providing scientific advice to the health community, carrying out population health assessment and public health research, operating laboratory services and providing emergency management.

Smitherman also used the press conference to assure Ontario residents the province is in a much better position to fight a future pandemic, at the same time admitting there is still more work to do.

"We've made good strides, we've been applying lessons learned, and we can never be satisfied with the progress that we've made," he said.

In addition to the new agency, Smitherman said Ontario has and continues to make improvements to public health such as stockpiling 55 million N95 masks to stop the spread of airborne diseases and hiring 10 disease-tracking experts at public health labs. There was only one such expert when SARS began.

But while critics acknowledge the improvements since SARS, many warn Ontario is not prepared for the next pandemic.

As recently as December, Conservative health critic Elizabeth Witmer pointed out the province's auditor general warned the province's lack of preparedness could result in 12,000 deaths, two million outpatient hospital visits and 52,000 hospitalizations should an influenza pandemic occur.

"The McGuinty government continues to demonstrate a lack of urgency to put in place a system to protect Ontarians from an eventual pandemic. In doing so, the premier is ignoring the lessons of SARS and the warnings of many health experts," Witmer said in a statement.

Others are also alarmed.

Carol Oates, president of Local 24 of the Ontario Nurses Association at Rouge Valley Health System, said she doesn't believe there are enough nurses to handle another outbreak.

And she worries about the emotional strain a pandemic would have on health-care workers, who lived in terror of contracting SARS and passing the disease on to their families.

"I don't think we could stand the emotional strain. Everybody in the hierarchy thinks they're ready but I don't know if that is the case on the front line," she said.

"I speculate we're no further ahead, other than some paper work in place. I question whether we would be ready on a dime based on manpower."

An emergency department doctor from The Scarborough Hospital, who did not want to be named, said while negative-pressure rooms have been built for patients with potentially contagious respiratory diseases, they are usually full.

That backlog means other patients who show up in the ER with unexplained coughs and fever -- as Tse did five years ago -- can spend hours in the waiting room before a negative-pressure room becomes free.

"If you have someone coming in with stomach pains and (someone else) with a fever and a cough, the patient with the fever and cough would wait the longest," the physician said.

In early 2007, 36 emergency room doctors at The Scarborough General wrote two letters to management voicing concerns about an impending infection control crisis in the ER and fears a mass exodus of nurses was crippling the department.

Former CEO Dr. Hugh Scott, who left last year following a court challenge, said management was doing everything possible to address the doctors' concerns including hiring several new nurses.

This week, hospital supervisor Rob Devitt and acting CEO John Wright said The Scarborough Hospital and the health-care system are much better equipped to handle a pandemic than they were when SARS hit.

For example, in addition to new negative-pressure rooms and ongoing construction of a larger and modern emergency department, staff are tested every two years to make sure their N95 masks fit properly.

But Wright admitted the negative-pressure rooms are routinely occupied and the emergency department full of waiting patients.

Devitt pointed out every hospital is struggling to cope with chronic care patients such as the frail elderly taking up acute care hospital beds, which prevents emergency department patients being admitted upstairs to medical wards.

Wright said no precautions can be foolproof.

"Is there a health system in the world that is invulnerable? Nowhere," he said.

Ontario Nurses Association President Linda Haslam-Stroud said SARS ushered in significant improvements to the health-care system, not the least of which is adoption of the "precautionary principle." That dictates hospitals take measures erring on the side of caution in the face of a potential public health threat rather than waiting for scientific proof.

At the same time, she complained about inadequate numbers of front line health-care workers and a lack of sufficient negative-pressure rooms.

"I don't think we are there yet but we have take some giant steps forward. I can't say to you with all certainty that all is perfect but I think we've come a long way in (five) years," Haslam-Stroud said.

"We still have a ways to go. I would say we were at a one (on a scale assessing Ontario's pandemic readiness) pre-SARS. Now, we're at a 6 1/2."

In his commission's report, Campbell warned how close the disease brought Ontario to the brink of collapse. More importantly, he warned of the dangers of failing to learn from SARS' mistakes.

"SARS had Ontario's health system on the edge of a complete breakdown. The wonder is not that the health system worked so badly during SARS but that it worked at all," he said.

"SARS may be the last wake-up call we get before the next major outbreak of infection, whether it turns out to be an influenza pandemic or some other health crisis.... The tragedy of SARS, these stories of unbearable loss and systemic failure give the public every reason to keep the government's feet to the fire in order to complete the initiatives already undertaken to make us safer from infectious disease."

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From: New York Times
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By Doreen Carvajal

PARIS -- The MO1 beginner mobile phone is not as cuddly as a teddy bear, but manufacturers of the curvy crimson-and-blue handset for 6- year-olds promise a similarly warm and fuzzy relationship. They boast about socialization, emotional health and the comforts of "peace of mind."

And yet such shiny child-size phones are stirring some parental and government unease, particularly at a time when the mobile telephone industry is reaching deeper into saturated markets to tap customers with chubby hands capable of cradling both dolls and phones.

Already, the category of young customers -- tweens and teens -- is driving subscriber growth in the United States, according to IDC, a technology research firm in Massachusetts, which projects that 31 million new young users will join the market from 2005 to 2010.

The year 2006 was the turning point when the industry started focusing not just on teenagers and adults but also on tweens -- children between middle childhood and adolescence, about 8 to 12 years old -- and even children as young as 5. Bright new "kiddie" telephones began appearing on the market that can speed-dial grandma and grandpa with a click of a button.

The MO1 -- developed by Imaginarium, a toy company, and Telefonica in Spain -- prompted some parent groups in Europe to demand a government ban on marketing to children. Here in France, the health minister recently issued a warning against excessive mobile phone use by young children.

The objections are driven in part by a lack of knowledge over the long-term health effects of mobile phone use. But they also appear to reflect an instinctive worry about whether parents should be giving young children cellphones at all. Jovenes Verdes, an environmental advocacy group for young people in Spain, argues that "the mobile telephone industry is acting like the tobacco industry by designing products that addict the very young."

While there is no specific evidence that mobile telephones pose a health threat to young users, researchers worry that there is still only scanty scientific information about the long-term impact of radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile telephones on the developing brains and tissues of children.

In France the health minister, Roselyne Bachelot, has taken such concerns public, issuing an alert in January urging parents to limit use, reducing children's telephone calls to no more than six minutes. Her announcement followed a similar warning by the Health and Radio Frequencies Foundation, a government-backed research group created two years ago to study the impact of radio frequency fields on humans.

"I believe in the principle of precaution," Ms. Bachelot said in an interview. "If there is a risk, then children with developing nervous systems would be affected. I've alerted parents about the use of mobile telephones because it's absurd for young children to have them."

The French foundation is moving now to organize a broad international research project to study the potential risks for children. More studies are developing in other countries. The Mobile Telecommunication and Health Research Program in Britain, which is financed by the state and local telecommunications industry, is in the early stage of organizing a children's study.

Another project, called Cefalo, is under way in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland to explore whether mobile telephone use increases the risk of brain tumors for children.

In January, the National Research Council in the United States also delivered a report -- commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration -- that reviewed existing scientific studies around the world and urged further research on the impact of mobile phone use on children and pregnant women.

"This clearly is a population that is going to grow up with a great deal of larger exposure than anybody else because the kids use the phones all the time," said Frank Barnes, a professor of engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder who led the study. "And you've got growing bodies and brains, so if there is going to be an impact, that's likely to be a more sensitive population than others." Every year, the average age of novice mobile phone users is dropping, hitting 10 years old last year, according to Scott Ellison, an IDC analyst who forecasts that the 9-and-under market will increase to nine million users in the United States and $1.6 billion in revenue by 2010.

Telephone use is also getting more precocious in Europe, according to a Eurobarometer survey of almost 1,000 children in 29 countries, most of whom had telephones after age 9.

The youth market is particularly enticing because these customers treat their mobile telephones more like a companion than a device -- or like a "doudou" or stuffed animal -- as AFOM, the French mobile telephone operators trade association, described it in a report on customers' habits in a summer survey. In general, young customers chatter more on the phone, spending more on the latest games, ring tones and wallpapers.

Governmental authorities around the world have taken different approaches to the health issue. The Health Council of the Netherlands concluded in 2002 that there was no special risk for children, while health authorities in Britain, Russia and France all urge precautions.

The current government view in the United States is that a review of scientific literature "indicates that there is no real suggestion that children are inherently more sensitive to radio frequency radiation," according to an F.D.A. spokeswoman, Karen Riley. But "since children are still developing and have more life span left," she added, "it is not unreasonable to continue to investigate this issue."

When it comes to children, mobile operators and manufacturers have avoided the health issue and focused more on protecting them from pornographic material or bullying messages and photographs on mobile telephones.

In December, Telefonica, which helped develop the MO1 and a more sophisticated version for young children, the Win1, announced a code of conduct for responsible use of mobile telephones by young customers. Orange and Vodafone also signed on, but the accord focused on controlling the visits of minors to sexual content.

French mobile operators -- which are facing pressure on the issue -- have been meeting with parent groups through their trade association, AFOM, which has pledged not to market telephones for young children. The mobile telephone industry considers telephones safe for children, according to Michael Milligan, secretary general of the Brussels-based Mobile Manufacturers Forum, which represents all the big makers.

"It's really up to parents whether they let children use mobile phones." Mr. Milligan said. "Most parents recognize the enormous safety aspects of mobile phones."

Nokia, the world's leading manufacturer of hand-held telephones, said that it shared that view. "There has been a lot of work done on the effects of mobile exposure over a significant period of time, and there is no scientific consensus that there should be any reason for the impact to be any different on children," said Mark Durrant, a spokesman for Nokia at its headquarters in Finland.

In Europe, scientists are close to wrapping up a broad seven-year study of adults in 13 countries -- including Japan, Israel and much of Western Europe -- that ultimately could give more impetus and financing to research on children. In what is called the Interphone study, scientists have evaluated more than 6,000 people with different forms of cancer and brain tumors to determine whether there is a link to mobile telephone use.

The early results from some individual nations in the Interphone study have already prompted a few participating scientists to speak of a need for caution.

"Simple measures should be taken to lower the exposure," said Siegal Sadetzki, who heads the Israeli group in the Interphone study and advocates hands-free devices and limitations on use among younger children. "I'm not against cellphones at all. This is a technique that is here to say. But we have to learn how to use this technique with reason."

The Israeli study, published last May in The American Journal of Epidemiology, detected no increased risk of cancer among a smaller group of patients with tumors of the salivary glands, which are near the ear. But when the group was divided between moderate and heavy telephone users, the risk of cancer increased for people who spoke for prolonged periods and used the phone on the same side of the head.

Lead researchers caution, though, that they need to look at the total results from their wider pool of people.

For most parents, decisions about cellphones are driven by other concerns. When his daughter Morgan was 12 years old, Greg Pozgar of Claysburg, Pa., resisted buying a mobile phone for her, mostly because he was worried she might run up a huge bill.

"My biggest concern was whether my children were responsible enough to handle it," he said. "It's not just a toy."

Morgan received her first phone as a Christmas gift and went on to become a champion of text messaging at age 13 in a national $25,000 competition organized last year by the telephone manufacturer LG.

As it turns out, she does not indulge in a lot of talking on the phone, but she does send and receive up to 7,000 text messages a month. Mr. Pozgar -- who has been coaching football for 17 years -- has noticed that lately more of his 8- and 9-year-old players are packing mobile telephones.

"I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing," he said. "But how does a kid that old seem responsible enough with not losing or breaking it. My gosh, they can barely remember to tie their shoes."

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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From: Los Angeles Times
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By Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Under pressure from the chemical industry, the Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed an outspoken scientist who chaired a federal panel responsible for helping the agency determine the dangers of a flame retardant widely used in electronic equipment.

Toxicologist Deborah Rice was appointed chair of an EPA scientific panel reviewing the chemical a year ago. Federal records show she was removed from the panel in August after the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying group for chemical manufacturers, complained to a top- ranking EPA official that she was biased.

The chemical, a brominated compound known as deca, is used in high volumes worldwide, largely in the plastic housings of television sets.

Rice, an award-winning former EPA scientist who now works at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, has studied low doses of deca and reported neurological effects in lab animals. Last February, around the time the EPA panel was convened, Rice testified before the Maine Legislature in support of a state ban on the compound because scientific evidence shows it is toxic and accumulating in the environment and people.

Chemical industry lobbyists say Rice's comments to the Legislature, as well as similar comments to the media, show that she is a biased advocate who has compromised the integrity of the EPA's review of the flame retardant.

The EPA is in the process of deciding how much daily exposure to deca is safe -- a controversial decision, expected next month, that could determine whether it can still be used in consumer products. The role of the expert panel was to review and comment on the scientific evidence.

EPA officials removed Rice because of what they called "the perception of a potential conflict of interest." Under the agency's handbook for advisory committees, scientific peer reviewers should not "have a conflict of interest" or "appear to lack impartiality."

EPA officials were not available for comment Thursday.

Environmentalists accuse the EPA of a "dangerous double standard," because under the Bush administration, many pro-industry experts have served on the agency's scientific panels.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, reviewed seven EPA panels created last year and found 17 panelists who were employed or funded by the chemical industry or had made public statements that the chemicals they were reviewing were safe. In one example, an Exxon Mobil Corp. employee served on an EPA expert panel responsible for deciding whether ethylene oxide, a chemical manufactured by Exxon Mobil, is a carcinogen.

Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, called it "deeply problematic from the public interest perspective" for the EPA to dismiss scientists who advocate protecting health while appointing those who promote industry views.

Lunder said it is unprecedented for the EPA to remove an expert for expressing concerns about the potential dangers of a chemical.

"It's a scary world if we create a precedent that says scientists involved in decision-making are perceived to be too biased," she said.

Rice was unavailable for comment Thursday.

In addition to her testimony for the Maine Legislature, Rice has been quoted in media reports saying there is enough scientific evidence to warrant bans on deca. "We don't need to wait another five years or even another two years and let it increase in the environment, while we nail down every possible question we have," she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last March.

In a May letter to an assistant administrator at the EPA, Sharon Kneiss, a vice president of the American Chemistry Council, called Rice "a fervent advocate of banning" deca and said she "has no place in an independent, objective peer review." She told the EPA that Rice's role on the panel "calls into question the overall integrity" of the EPA's evaluation of chemicals and that Rice may have influenced the other panelists in their review of deca.

Top EPA officials met with the industry group's representatives in June and promised to take action, according to a letter that EPA Asst. Administrator George Gray sent to the group last month. In that letter, Gray said the EPA found "no evidence" that Rice "significantly influenced the other panelists."

Environmentalists are concerned that Rice's removal could result in a less protective standard.

After EPA officials dismissed her from the five-member panel, they removed her comments from the panel's report on deca and removed all mention of her. Three months later, at the request of the chemical industry group, the EPA added a note to the panel report that Rice was removed "due to a perception of a potential conflict of interest" and that none of her comments were considered in their review of the chemical.

EPA documents show that Rice's comments while serving on the panel focused on technical, scientific issues. For example, she advised the EPA to consider the cumulative effects of not just deca, but chemicals with similar neurological effects.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he was disturbed by Rice's dismissal and the Environmental Working Group's findings about pro- industry panelists.

"If this information is accurate, it raises serious questions about EPA's approach to preventing conflicts of interest on its expert scientific panels," Waxman said.

The conflict of interest policies of another environmental institute, the National Toxicology Program, also has come under fire. Last March, a major consultant for a federal center that evaluates reproductive hazards of chemicals was fired after The Los Angeles Times reported that the firm had financial ties to 50 chemical companies or associations.

Rice specializes in neurotoxins -- chemicals that harm developing brains. Before she went to work for the state of Maine, she was a senior toxicologist at the EPA's National Center for Environmental Research, where she had a major role in setting the EPA's controversial guideline for exposure to mercury in fish.

In 2004, the EPA gave Rice and four colleagues an award for what it called "exceptionally high-quality research" for a study that linked lead exposure to premature puberty in girls.

Many toxicologists and other environmental scientists have said they are highly concerned about flame retardants known as PBDEs, polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

In laboratory tests, PBDEs have been found to skew brain development and alter thyroid hormones, slowing the learning and motor skills of newborn animals.

Two of the compounds, called penta and octa, were banned in 2004. Before the ban, amounts in human breast milk and wildlife were doubling in North America every four to six years, a pace unmatched for any contaminant in at least 50 years. Now they are decreasing.

Scientists had initially thought that the deca compound was not accumulating in people and animals as the other PBDEs were. But it appears that deca turns into other brominated substances when exposed to sunlight, and now many scientists say it, too, is building up in the environment worldwide. Deca has similar effects on animals' developing brains as the banned PBDEs.

The chemical industry contends that low doses pose no danger and that the compound is necessary to prevent fires in many consumer products. In addition to TVs and other electronics, deca is used in furniture textiles, building materials and automobiles. About 56,000 tons were used worldwide in 2001, mostly in the United States and Asia.

Only Maine and Washington state restrict use of deca; both passed laws last year that phase out some uses. Similar bills have been introduced in California but have not passed.


Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

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From: The Banner (Arran, Scotland)
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A decision to reject a giant fish farm plan on Arran has been greeted with elation by objectors including the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST).

North Ayrshire Council's council chambers were packed on Tuesday for the planning meeting, with people opposed to the siting of the salmon fish farm by Marine Harvest at Clauchlands near to a recently announced no-take zone in Lamlash Bay.

The meeting was highly charged and the matter debated for nearly two hours and although the recommendation was to grant the application, the committee voted by 9-2 to recommend refusal. The matter now goes to the Crown Estate. An unresolved objection from Scottish Natural Heritage, which is a statutory consultee, remains.

Arran councillor Margie Currie had voted in favour of the application and expressed disappointment, as did Marine Harvest.

If the go-ahead had been given the fish farm would have been one of Scotland's largest.

COAST has campaigned for years for a no-take zone in Lamlash Bay to allow for the regeneration of marine life, particularly scallops.

A jubilant COAST spokesman said: 'We welcome this democratic decision by the councillors of North Ayrshire Council to apply the 'precautionary principle' by refusing the massive fish farm next to the no-take zone.

'We look forward to a secure future of the marine environment for future generations of islanders.'

Copyright The Arran Banner 2006/2007

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From: LiveMint.com
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By Padmaparna Ghosh

New Delhi: In an effort to accelerate big-ticket infrastructure projects, the government is considering changes in existing environmental laws including a withdrawal of mandatory environmental clearance ahead of modernization of airports and ports. However, greenfield projects that are developed from scratch (the airport and port projects will largely require redevelopment) will continue to require this clearance.

While companies welcomed this change, environmental activists say it will dilute India's already weak environmental laws.

The changes being considered also include one that will address a long-time complaint of activists by making it mandatory for environmental consultants to register with the Quality Council of India, an independent body created by the government. This will prevent the recurrence of incidents where some environmental consultants have managed to obtain clearances for projects on the basis of reports that have been subsequently found to be fraudulent.

A Change Too Many?

The changes will be incorporated in the ongoing review of the Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA notification, which was last modified in 2006. It was first notified in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and has been revised 15 times since. The EIA is the report on the basis of which the government gives the environmental clearance to projects.

The changes, which are currently being considered by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), are expected to be released for public scrutiny on 8 March, according to officials associated with the process who did not wish to be identified.

Companies say the changes will speed things up in the infrastructure business where delays are common.

"As of now, there are 700 industrial projects waiting to be put on the agenda of the clearance committee. It is a welcome move because infrastructure projects need to be put on the fast track. Moreover, if the project has already been inspected once, then there is no need to re-scrutinize it," said K.P. Nyati, head, environment policy division, Confederation of Indian Industry, an industry lobby group.

Environmental activists do not agree. "This is a critical issue. The Chennai airport is being modernized and expanded and there is a lot of protest. The expansion will dislocate a lot of people as well as affect a neighbouring river, which would involve a clearance," said Leo Saldanha, coordinator, Environment Support Group, an activist group.

A senior official at the civil aviation ministry who did not wish to be identified said while it would still be difficult to get environmental clearance for large airports being built from scratch, the relaxation would help the cause of several airports that are being upgraded across the country.

Several existing but unused airstrips in the country are likely to be developed into airports through the so-called public-private partnership model (where the government and a private sector firm partner) over the coming years.

"The EIA notification has already been significantly diluted in 2006 towards facilitating the clearance of projects. Today, its text and implementation are clearly directed towards mitigation and management of impacts rather than the precautionary principle and rejection of projects with critical impacts," the official added.

MoEF is yet again going ahead with amendments in a non-transparent manner. "Project proponents in any case see the environment clearance process as an impediment," said Kanchi Kohli, member, Kalpvriksh Environment Support Group, an activist group.

The change regarding the mandatory registration of consultants hasn't gone downwell with either companies or activists.

Several consultants have executed fraudulent or inadequate EIAs; some have even copied EIAs used in the past. Mint has reported several such cases (see box). The registration process could prevent a recurrence of such instances.

Nyati, however, said this might not be the correct measure right now.

"We (CII) proposed that the registration process reach a critical mass of consultants before the process is made mandatory. Till then, it should be encouraged. For instance, if a project proponent has the EIA done by a registered consultant, then the project will be fast tracked," added Nyati, who is also on the registration committee under the QCI. He expects that the critical mass will be reached in four months.

Others say that just registration is not adequate. "We have been demanding this for a long time but just a list doesn't solve everything. It is like the case of PAN (permanent account number) cards and income tax. Just because someone has a PAN card doesn't mean he will not evade tax," said Saldanha.

The ministry official agreed with this.

He said registration could end up being more of an exercise in documentation.

Another change that has been proposed is a common set of standards, or terms of reference (TOR), for those projects, classified as Category B, that require a clearance only from the state government.

At present, each project has an individual set of TORs for getting an EIA.

While agreeing that the overall quality of EIA consultants is not up to the mark, Nyati said: "QCI will eventually improve the quality of EIA consultants. We propose that generalized TORs be set by the authorities for certain sectors, so that even not so good EIA consultants have a certain guideline to follow."

Tarun Shukla contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 HT Media

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More than 1,500 future physicians are expected to attend the American Medical Student Association's (AMSA) 58th annual convention, set for March 12-16, 2008 at the Hyatt Regency Houston in Houston, Texas.

Premedical and medical students, international medical students, residents and interns, physicians and other activists from across the country will assemble for "healthcare (r)evolution," a five day conference of innovative workshops and organizational policymaking relating to top health care issues. This year's convention focuses on a new era of physician advocacy -- the evolution of physicians-in- training and their impact on the future and the awareness of the profession.

Pre-Conference Symposium

On Wednesday, March 12, AMSA will host an all-day conference on health effects of the environment. Topics will include climate change, environmental justice, occupational medicine, children's environmental health, toxics and the precautionary principle, obesity and the built environment, international environmental health and improving the sustainability of healthcare.


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