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#579 - 1997 Snapshots -- Part 2, 31-Dec-1997

First some good news from 1997:

** One drink a day of wine, beer, or hard liquor can be good for your
health, at least if you are between the ages of 35 and 69, according to
a study published in the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE in December,
1997.[1] The study examined 238,206 men and 251,420 women who described
their drinking habits in 1982 and were then followed until 1991. During
the 9-year study period, 46,000 deaths occurred in the two groups.
Those who took one drink a day had a death rate 20% lower than those
who abstained. One drink was defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of
beer, or one cocktail.

The study found a 30% increase in breast cancer among women who took at
least one drink a day (compared to women who drank no alcohol);
however, in the death toll, this was offset by reduced deaths from
heart disease. (Some researchers have speculated that alcohol promotes
breast cancer in women by increasing the absorption of organochlorine
compounds, such as pesticides, by raising their solubility. Ethanol
(alcohol) is an excellent solvent for many drugs and is often used as a
vehicle for medicinal mixtures.)[2]

An editorial in the same issue of the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE
[3] cautions that alcohol is a well-established cause of illness,
violence, social disorder, and death. Alcohol contributes to at least
100,000 deaths each year in the U.S. --many of them youthful and
violent.

** Men who have sex twice a week have a 50% reduced risk of dying,
compared to men who have sex only once a month, according to a study
published in the BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL in December.[4] In an earlier
study, frequency of sexual intercourse was linked to decreased
mortality (death) in men, and enjoyment of intercourse was linked to
decreased mortality in women.[5]

The 1997 study reported the experiences of 2512 men living in six
villages in Wales. The men were enrolled in the study ten years ago.

It is possible that this study confuses cause and effect. Men who are
mortally ill may not feel much like having sex, and this might explain
the findings.[6] However, the authors of the study believe their
results are consistent with previous studies.

If their findings are confirmed by further study, the authors suggest a
public health campaign to promote an active sex life. "Intervention
programmes could also be considered, perhaps based on the exciting 'At
least five a day' campaign aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable
consumption --although the numerical imperative may have to be
adjusted," they wrote.

And now a little bad news:

** During 1997, the United Nations issued its first-ever GLOBAL
ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK report, summarizing environmental trends around the
world.[7] Here are some highlights from the 264-page document:

"Chemical pollutants are emerging world-wide as a pervasive
environmental concern of highest priority. Environmental emergencies
involving chemicals appear to be steadily increasing, and mounting
evidence is being put forth about serious health risks posed by
persistent organic pollutants."[7,pg.24]

"The increasing, pervasive use and spread of chemicals to fuel economic
development is causing major health risks, environmental contamination,
and disposal problems."[7,pg.10]

According to the U.N. report, "The Way Ahead" includes these trends:

"In many countries, there are trends toward decentralization of
environmental responsibilities from national to subnational
authorities, an increasing role for the transnational corporation in
environmental stewardship and policy development..."[7,pg.9]

Indeed, evidence of these trends surfaced in the U.S. in 1997.

** A coalition of mainstream environmental groups had helped pass The
Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 --a pesticide reform law --but in
1997 it became clear that this latest attempt to "regulate" corporate
behavior has failed.

The 1996 law was a huge compromise. The mainstream environmentalists
(chiefly Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] and the Environmental
Working Group [EWG] in Washington, D.C.) gave up the Delaney Clause --a
feature of the old law that completely prohibited carcinogenic
pesticides from appearing in certain processed foods, such as apple
sauce intended for children. Under the new law, the Delaney clause was
scrapped in favor of numerical "risk assessments" of the cancer-causing
potential of pesticides. The pesticide corporations wanted this change
(scrapping Delaney in favor of risk assessment) very badly because the
Delaney clause was an absolute ban, whereas risk assessment offers lots
of wiggle room. As Dr. John Wargo of Yale University says, "[R]isk
estimates may be easily manipulated to trivialize or exaggerate
hazards."[8]

In return for abandoning the Delaney prohibition, the 1996 law gave
environmentalists something THEY wanted very badly: a requirement that
new pesticide "tolerances" (the amount allowed to remain in food on the
dinner plate) must be reduced by a fudge factor of 10 to protect
children's health.

The environmentalists put a lot of faith in that 10-fold lowering of
pesticide tolerances. They hoped it would protect children despite
these other shortcomings in the new law:[8]

** EPA has already established 10,000 different tolerances for
pesticides without the fudge factor of 10 for children; it will be a
long, long time (several decades, most likely) before those tolerances
are revised.

** Children are exposed to pesticides in many ways that are not
regulated by EPA. EPA's "tolerances" only affect pesticides on food.
But children can encounter pesticides in drinking water, the home,
schools, day-care centers, lawns, gardens, playgrounds, ball fields,
golf courses, swimming pools, in paints, and in treated lumber. EPA
does not consider these other exposures when setting "tolerances" for
pesticides in food, and the new law doesn't change that fact.

** Children are also exposed to non-pesticide chemical hazards in air,
water, food, and soil. Under the new pesticide law EPA does not
consider these other exposures when setting "tolerances" for pesticides
in food.

** The new law prohibits states from adopting regulations that are more
strict than the new federal law. Thus states lost an important right
with passage of the new law. Many pesticides that have been banned over
the past 20 years were first restricted or prohibited by states. Such
early, precautionary action by states is now illegal.

** Despite the passage of the 1996 "pesticide reform" law, it is still
true that:

(a) EPA does not know who is using what pesticides in what quantities
on which crops in which locations. There is simply no record of
pesticide use in this country (except for a state program in
California), and the new law does not change that fact.

(b) How contaminated is the environment with pesticides? EPA has little
or no idea. The new law does not change this.

(c) How are we (or our children) exposed to pesticides in different
environments? EPA has little idea and the new law is silent on such
questions.

(d) What adverse effects from pesticides are likely? EPA has not even
established standardized ways of testing for various effects (e.g.,
nervous system; immune system; and genetic damage). After more than 20
years of effort, EPA remains astonishingly ignorant about the health
effects of pesticides.

(e) The new law requires EPA to consider risks from chemicals that are
toxic by "the same mechanism" but in the vast majority of cases, the
mechanisms of toxicity are unknown or only poorly understood --so this
feature of the new law is virtually meaningless.

But that new fudge factor of 10 was written into the law by aggressive
environmentalists, in the hope that such a fudge factor would at least
partially compensate for all the other shortcomings of U.S. pesticide
law.

But it was not to be. In late 1997 the NEW YORK TIMES revealed that EPA
has been ignoring the new requirement for a fudge factor of 10 to
protect children.[9] In 90 decisions on new pesticides since the
"reform" law was passed, EPA has applied the fudge factor of 10 in only
9 instances, and has applied a safety factor of three in 10 more cases.
Thus in 71 out of 90 decisions (79%), EPA has simply ignored the intent
of the new law. Jay J. Vroom, president of the American Crop Protection
Association (a pesticide industry trade group) says, "[W]hat the agency
has done so far in applying the tenfold margin of safety... is
reasonable."[9]

Naturally, the environmental community that fought hard for the new
"reform" law is aghast at the way EPA turned the tables on them. "The
EPA has failed to comply with the clear intent and requirements of the
law," said Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group. "The [EPA]
Office of Pesticide Programs and its oversight body, the Scientific
Advisory Panel, have exhibited a singular lack of commitment to the new
mandate of the Food Quality Protection Act." NRDC's Al Meyerhoff, who
helped the Clinton administration write much of the new "reform" law,
said, "We are witnessing the slow dismantling of the new statute, and
it is a sad sight."[9]

Actually, it seems to us, the really sad sight is mainstream
environmentalists continuing to tweak regulations in a hopeless attempt
to protect our children from pesticides.

Do they not think that the mountain of campaign contributions flowing
into the White House and Congress from pesticide companies has any real
effect?

Do they really not see that the underlying problem here is the ability
of pesticide corporations (among others) to influence the government as
it suits them?

Will these mainstream environmentalists continue to seek public support
on the false premise that they are tackling fundamental problems? Or
will they acknowledge that they have been working in a regulatory arena
created BY corporations, FOR corporations[10] --an arena in which the
fundamental problem of illegitimate corporate power cannot be
addressed?

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

=====

[1] Michael J. Thun and others, "Alcohol consumption and mortality
among middle-aged and elderly U.S. adults," THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF
MEDICINE Vol. 337, No. 24 (December 11, 1997), pgs. 1705-1714.

[2] Eric Dewailly and others, "Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) and
Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene (DDE) Concentrations in the Breast
Milk of Women in Quebec," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH Vol. 86,
No. 9 (September 1996), pgs. 1241-1246.

[3] John D. Potter, "Hazards and Benefits of Alcohol," THE NEW ENGLAND
JOURNAL OF MEDICINE Vol. 337, No. 24 (December 11, 1997), pgs. 1763-
1764.

[4] George Davey Smith and others, "Sex and death: are they related?
Findings from the Caerphilly cohort study," BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL
Vol. 315 (December 20-27, 1997), pgs. 1641-1644.

[5] Erdman B. Palmore, "Predictors of the Longevity Difference: A 25-
Year Follow-Up," GERONTOLOGIST Vol. 22, No. 6 (1982), pgs. 513-518.

[6] Matthew Hotopf and Simon Wessely, "The earth may move, but let's
keep our feet on the ground," BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL Vol. 315
(December 20-27, 1997), pg. 1645.

[7] Veerle Vandeweerd and others, GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL OUTLOOK (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1997). ISBN (PBK) 0-19-521349-1.

[8] John Wargo, "Recent Legal Reform: Hardly Enough to Protect Children
from Pesticides" an essay published at the same time as, and
distributed with, Dr. Wargo's book, OUR CHILDREN'S TOXIC LEGACY (New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996). ISBN 0-300-06686-4.

[9] John H. Cushman, Jr., "Environmental Agency Under Fire on Safety
Rules," NEW YORK TIMES December 29, 1997, pg. A16.

[10] See the final chapter of Lawrence Goodwyn, THE POPULIST MOMENT
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), and see Gabriel Kolko, THE
TRIUMPH OF CONSERVATISM (New York: The Free Press, 1963).

Descriptor terms: diet and health; wine; liquor; beer; breast cancer;
sex and health; unep; united nations environment programme;
corporations; food quality protection act of 1996; fqpa; nrdc; delaney
clause; carcinogens; risk assessment; pesticides; environmental working
group; ewg; natural resources defense council; regulation;