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#471 - The Four Horsemen -- Part 1, 06-Dec-1995

There are dozens or hundreds of small environmental problems, but there
are only four really big ones that we know of today. If we could solve
these four, we might lick more than 90% of the world's known
environmental threats. The four are:

(1) burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), leading to
global warming and the creation of killer air pollution (fine
particles; see REHW #440, #373);

(2) use of chlorine as an industrial feedstock, leading to destruction
of the earth's ozone shield and the widespread poisoning of humans and
wildlife by reproductive toxins and hormone-mimicking, gender-bending
chemicals, plus widespread damage to the immune systems and nervous
systems of humans and other species by a host of solvents, pesticides,
and other chlorinated industrial compounds;

(3) the mining and distribution of uranium and its byproducts, leading
to an unsolvable problem of long-lived radioactive waste, and an ever-
growing likelihood of enormous violence--acts of terrorism causing
100,000 or more deaths in one instant;

(4) so-called "development" that degrades and diminishes biodiversity,
leading to major, irreversible loss of species, destabilizing all life.

These are the four horsemen[1] of the environment, and as 1995 slouches
to a close, all four are upon us. This week we'll discuss the first

Fossil Fuels and Global Warming

** The world's scientific community this year acknowledged that global
warming has begun and that humans are an important cause.[2] Later this
month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) is expected to release its new 2000-page report, which
circulated in draft form this summer. (Copies of the final report will
be available from Sandra Vaughn-Cook at the U.S. Global Change Research
Program in Washington, D.C.; phone (202) 651-8250.) As CHEMICAL &
ENGINEERING NEWS (C&EN) describes it, the IPCC final report says:

** Average air temperature of the earth has increased somewhere between
0.5 and 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880; during the same period, the
level of the world's oceans has risen 3.9 to 9.8 inches; glaciers are
melting, especially glaciers in the southern hemisphere where some have
disappeared completely during the past 20 years; moreover, the
shrinking of glaciers has accelerated in recent years. Coral reefs are
blanching (turning white) and some are dying because of unusually high
ocean temperatures. And if this year's trend continues, 1995 will stack
up as the hottest year since record-keeping began in this country in

"There is also a general consensus that higher temperatures projected
for the next century will cause more frequent and intense heat waves,
wide-scale ecological disruptions, a decline of agricultural production
in the tropics and subtropics, and continued acceleration of sea-level

In sum, there is now a scientific consensus that global warming is
occurring, and that its future effects will be significant; "wide-scale
ecological disruptions" are going to be uncomfortable and expensive.
What's agreed-upon is bad. But what's being discussed credibly is
catastrophic. CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS --a publication of the
American Chemical Society, not known for wild-eyed environmentalism --
discusses the possible disintegration of the Antarctic ice pack.[3] If
the ice pack should slide into the ocean, the oceans would rise 74
meters (240 feet) in short order. Coastal cities would drown, and vast
areas of agricultural land would disappear.

As we go to press, Congress is haggling over budget cuts --ranging from
25% to 41% --that will greatly diminish the U.S.'s ability to conduct
scientific studies of global warming, perhaps on the theory that no
news is good news --or perhaps because the oil and coal corporations
pumped $1.2 million dollars into Congressional re-election war chests
in the first 6 months of 1995, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics in Washington, D.C.

Chlorinated Chemicals

During 1995, bad news continued to accumulate about the ill effects of
chlorinated chemicals on wildlife and humans, and on global ecosystems
such as the earth's protective ozone layer. Unfortunately, corporate
producers and users of such chemicals seem incapable of restraining
themselves; therefore with help from their indentured government they
continue to resist the obvious need for a phase-out of chlorine as an
industrial feedstock.

Example: propiconazole. "Modern" farmers use this chlorinated compound
as a fungicide (i.e., it kills fungus). It is a member of a class of
chemicals called imidazole derivatives. One of the characteristics of
imidazole derivatives is that, in mammals, they suppress the production
of certain sex hormones.[4] This effect is so powerful that some
imidazole derivatives have been considered for use as male
contraceptives in humans because they sterilize men.[5]

In wildlife, propiconazole greatly enhances the toxic action of
organophosphate pesticides such as malathion, chlorpyrifos, and
diazinon. In birds (partridge, Japanese quail, house sparrows, and tree
sparrows, among others) and in honey bees, the presence of
propiconazole increases the potency of organophosphate pesticides six-
fold to 18-fold.[6] Because birds and honey bees move from place to
place, they can encounter organophosphate pesticides in one locale and
imidazole-derivative fungicides in a different locale. Even though no
government "standards" may have been violated at either locale, the
combined effects on the birds and the bees may be lethal. (This is one
reason why "risk assessments" give false and misleading assurances of
"safety" for individual chemicals, because they can never take into
consideration the combined effects of multiple chemicals. See REHW

In Norway, researchers suspected that propiconazole might disrupt the
natural balance of microscopic organisms in a stream that received
runoff from propiconazole-treated fields. Under experimental
conditions, they showed that propiconazole at 5 parts per billion (ppb)
completely eliminated algae from a stream. Algae provide the first link
at the bottom of the food chain.[7]

U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] considers propiconazole a
"Class C" carcinogen, in other words a "possible" carcinogen in humans,
based on limited data from laboratory experiments on animals.[8]

One might think that --knowing facts such as these --rational people
would be working hard to phase out such potent endocrine-disrupting,
carcinogenic poisons. But one would be wrong. In June, 1995, Ciba-
Geigy, the Swiss chemical giant operating from an office in Greensboro,
North Carolina, sought permission from EPA to leave propiconazole
residues on oats at 100 ppb. Mmmmm, good. Ciba-Geigy also has a request
pending before EPA to allow propiconazole residues at the level of 1500
ppb on "stone fruit" crops --peaches, apricots, plums, and prunes. On
November 15 of this year, EPA proposed a new pesticide rule that would
legalize propiconazole residues on mint leaves and stems, and on
mushrooms. In other words, the use of this poison is expanding, not
declining. Some would consider this clear evidence that government is
incapable of acting in the public interest. Others would conclude from
the same evidence that corporations are inherently incapable of acting
in the public interest and the government they have bought and
refashioned in their own image is merely aping their amoral behavior.
Either way, chances for discussing a phaseout of chlorinated chemicals
seem more remote than they did just a year ago.

** A study reported in October that major portions of North America and
other continents are experiencing increased levels of ultraviolet-B
light from the sun, because of depletion of the ozone layer by
chlorinated chemicals.[9] The study found that nearly the entire
continental United States (everything north of Tallahassee, Florida) is
experiencing ultraviolet-B light in greater than natural amounts. Much
of the rest of the planet poleward of 30 degrees is, or soon will be,
experiencing excessive ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun --including
large parts of continental Europe, South America, New Zealand,
Australia, and southern Africa.

The optimistic view is that the Montreal Protocol--the international
treaty designed to get DuPont's deadly CFCs off the market by this year
--will allow the ozone hole to heal itself within 50 to 100 years. This
view assumes 100 percent compliance with the Montreal Protocol.

But in September, reliable sources indicated that an enormous "black
market" in CFCs has appeared. According to Ozone Action, an advocacy
group in Washington, D.C., up to 22,000 tons (44 million pounds) of
black market CFCs are entering the U.S. each year as people resist
investing in CFC-free equipment. Furthermore, the black market isn't
the only loophole in the law. "The real crime is what's legal," says
John Passacantando, executive director of Ozone Action. "The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to celebrate Ozone Layer
Awareness Week, and assures us that December 31, 1995 is the last day
CFCs can be manufactured in the U.S. Taking into account two Clean Air
Act provisions which allow production after 1995, U.S. companies may
still produce 60,000 tons of CFCs [per year], which is almost 75
percent of 1993 production levels. That's a long way from the public
perception of what a ban means," Passacantando says.[10] As we go to
press, Congress is debating whether to thumb its nose at the Montreal
Protocol by repealing the sections of the Clean Air Act that ban
domestic sales of CFCs. (Foreign sales of CFCs by U.S. corporations
will remain legal in any case.)

[Next week: The other two horsemen.]

--Peter Montague


[1] We have used this sexist language because, as a general rule, the
male of the human species seems far more responsible for creating, and
resisting solutions to, these problems than does the female.

[2] Bette Hileman, "Climate Observations Substantiate Global Warming
Models," C&EN [CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS] Vol. 73, No. 48 (November
27, 1995), pgs. 18-23.

[3] "Higher temperatures in Antarctica have led to disintegration of
some ice shelves," C&EN [CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS] Vol. 73, No. 48
(November 27, 1995), pg. 20.

[4] Allan Pont and others, "Ketoconazole Blocks Testosterone
Synthesis," ARCHIVES OF INTERNAL MEDICINE Vol. 142 (November 1982),
pgs. 2137-2140.

[5] Gerald A. LeBlanc, "Are Environmental Sentinels Signaling?"
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 103, Number 10 (October 1995),
pgs. 888-890.

[6] Gail Johnston and others, "Interactive Effects Between EBI
Fungicides (Prochloraz, Propiconazole and Penconazole) and OP
Insecticides (Dimethoate, Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon and Malathion) in the
Vol. 13, No. 4 (1994), pgs. 615-620.

[7] Karl Jan Aanes and Torleif Baekken, "Acute and long-term effects of
propiconazole on freshwater invertebrate communities and periphyton in
unknown (1994, Supplement 13), pgs. 179-193.

[8] FEDERAL REGISTER Vol. 60, No. 220 (November 15, 1995), pgs. 57375-
57377. Available on-line from wais.access.gpo.gov.

[9] Dan Lubin and Elsa H. Jensen, "Effects of clouds and stratospheric
ozone depletion on ultraviolet radiation trends," NATURE Vol. 377 No.
6551 (October 26, 1995), pgs. 710-713; and see Sasha Madronich, "The
radiation equation," NATURE Vol. 377 No. 6551 (October 26, 1995), pgs.

[10] Matthew L. Wald, "Smuggling of Polluting Chemicals is Described,"
NEW YORK TIMES September 17, 1995, pg. 30. And see Julie Edelson
Halpert, "Freon Smugglers Find Big Market," NEW YORK TIMES April 30,
1995, pgs. 1, 31. And see Associated Press, "A Black Market in
Coolants," NEW YORK TIMES October 26, 1994, pg. A22.

Descriptor terms: fossil fuels; coal; oil; natural gas; global warming;
energy; chlorine; chlorinated hydrocarbons; solvents; pesticides; cfcs;
ozone depletion; uranium; plutonium; nuclear weapons; nuclear war;
terrorism; proliferation; development; biodiversity; species loss;
ipcc; united nations; oceans; glaciers; coral reefs; agriculture; food;
agricultural productivity; drought; propiconazole; fungicides; money in
politics; congress; imidazole derivatives; wildlife; carcinogens;
sterilants; birth control; ciba-geigy; endocrine disrupters; endocrine
system; ultraviolet radiation;