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#684 - Preferring the Least Harmful Way, 26-Jan-2000

1999 Wrap-Up, Part 5

March 23, 1999, the Los Angeles Unified School District adopted a
path-breaking new policy on pesticides in schools. The City of
Los Angeles operates the largest public school system in the
country. The policy says, in part:

"It is the policy of the Los Angeles Unified School District
(District) to practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM)....

"Pesticides pose risks to human health and the environment, with
special risks to children. It is recognized that pesticides cause
adverse health effects in humans such as cancer, neurologic
disruption, birth defects, genetic alteration, reproductive harm,
immune system dysfunction, endocrine disruption, and acute
poisoning. Pests will be controlled to protect the health and
safety of students and staff, maintain a productive learning
environment, and maintain the integrity of school buildings and
grounds. Pesticides will not be used to control pests for
aesthetic reasons alone. The safety and health of students, staff
and the environment will be paramount.

"Further, it is the goal of the District to provide for the
safest and lowest risk approach to control pest problems while
protecting people, the environment, and property. The District's
IPM [Integrated Pest Management] Policy incorporates focusing on
long-term prevention and will give non-chemical methods first
consideration when selecting appropriate pest control techniques.
The District will strive to ultimately eliminate the use of all
chemical controls.

"The Precautionary Principle is the long-term objective of the
District. The principle recognizes that:

"1. No pesticide product is free from risk or threat to human
health, and

"2. Industrial producers should be required to prove that their
pesticide products demonstrate an absence of the risks enumerated
in paragraph two (2) rather than requiring that the government or
the public prove that human health is being harmed.

"This policy recognizes that full implementation of the
Precautionary Principle is not possible at this time and may not
be for decades. But the District commits itself to full
implementation as soon as verifiable scientific data enabling
this becomes available."

To us, what seems most important about this policy is that it
commits the Los Angeles school district to selecting the least
harmful way to manage pests. Where two pest control techniques
are available, the least harmful will be selected. This is a
simple, but powerful way to make decisions about technologies
that can degrade human health and the environment.

Our hat is off to Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) -- a
coalition of over 130 organizations working to reduce the damage
from pesticides in California. For further information about CPR
and its other work, contact them at 49 Powell Street, Suite 530,
San Francisco, CA 94102; tel. (415) 981-3939; or E-mail:
pests@igc.org, or see www.igc.org/cpr.

For example, see their June, 1999, report FIELDS OF POISON, which
documents the shocking failure of California health authorities
to control the poisoning of farm workers by pesticides. CPR
published this study with the Pesticide Action Network North
America (PANNA), the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, and
the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. The report (in
English and Spanish) is available on the web at
fieldsAvail.dv.html .


We reported incorrectly last week (REHW #683) that Montana health
officials buried in a landfill the carcasses of 80 elk that had
been slaughtered because they were suspected of carrying a form
of "mad cow disease." In actual fact, before the landfill plan
could be carried out, local opposition swelled and in early
January, a portable incinerator was brought in from North Dakota
and the 80 elk carcasses were incinerated at a cost of $50,000
which was provided by an Emergency Environmental Fund in the
governor's budget. The ashes were buried on the farm where the
elk had been raised.

The elk had been slaughtered by state officials because they were
suspected of harboring chronic wasting disease (CWD), a form of
"mad cow disease" that strikes elk and deer. There is no test for
CWD in living elk, so Montana officials -- who had found symptoms
of the disease in one of the 80 elk last fall -- took action
consistent with the precautionary principle. Subsequent tests
revealed symptoms of CWD in three of the 80 animals, so the
entire herd was, in fact, at risk of spreading the disease to elk
in the wild, if any of them escaped from captivity. These were
the first confirmed cases of CWD among elk in Montana.[1] CWD has
not been found in wild elk in Montana though it is present in
wild deer and elk in parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

The Attorney General of Montana, Joe Mazurek, called for a
precautionary halt in the licensing of new game farms in Montana,
and a ban on importing elk and deer into the state, to protect
two of Montana's local industries, cattle ranching and
hunting.[2] The State of Massachusetts has reportedly banned elk
farming because confinement creates conditions conducive to
transmission of CWD, with the potential for spreading the disease
into the wild if a confined animal escapes. Again, this is an
expression of the precautionary principle in action. So far as we
know, no other state has banned elk farming.

* * *

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Canadian health
authorities in August advised blood centers to refuse blood
donations from people who had spent six or more cumulative months
in England between Jan. 1, 1980 and Dec. 31, 1996, on the
assumption that everyone who spent substantial time in England
during that period is potentially infected with the human form of
mad cow disease and that it can be transmitted through blood.[3]
This, too, was a precautionary action because no evidence exists
that the human form of mad cow disease has ever been transmitted
through a blood transfusion. However, as the JOURNAL OF THE
studies cannot exclude this possibility."

* * *

A recent report in SCIENCE magazine argues that the transmission
of infectious diseases from wildlife to humans has reached
epidemic proportions worldwide during the past two decades, and
that the problem is being exacerbated greatly by "globalization"
of the economy.

** HIV-1, the virus that gives rise to AIDS, is now believed to
have originated in one or more species of chimpanzee.[5,6]
Chimpanzee meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Africa to
such an extent that the extinction of all wild chimpanzee
populations is now a real possibility.[6] Chimps are killed to
supply the dinner tables of logging camps where forests are being
cut down to provide lumber for export to the wealthy nations of
the world. It is not known when the HIV-1 virus made the leap
from chimps to humans, but AIDS was first reported in humans in
1983. Worldwide, about 35 million humans have now been infected
with the HIV-1 virus.[6]

** An influenza virus that originated in chickens killed at least
four humans in Hong Kong in 1997.[7] After this avian flu virus
made the leap to humans, it did not propagate efficiently from
human to human, but this was just a matter of luck. Pigs and some
primates can also carry influenza viruses that can make the leap
to humans with deadly effect.

** The emergence of Lyme disease in the northeastern U.S.
resulted from changes in the habitat of deer carrying the deer
tick, which then transmitted the disease to humans.[4]

** Global warming has extended the range of mosquitoes carrying
malaria and dengue fever in South America, Central America and
Asia. In the early 1990s, dengue fever (known as "breakbone
fever" because it is so painful) made its appearance in Texas
along the border with Mexico.[4]

The transmission of infectious diseases from wildlife to humans
is being greatly enhanced by international shipments of food and
fiber, domesticated animals, and timber. This is one of the huge
uncounted costs of "globalizing" our economies. Biological
contaminated wastes, such as landfill leachate and runoff, and
ballast water from ships, contribute to the problem as well.

The globalized economy is introducing alien species to many parts
of the world at an unprecedented rate. The introduction of alien
species is putting evolutionary processes on "fast forward." For
example, in the past, new insects appeared in the Hawaiian
Islands at the rate of one every 50,000 years. In recent decades,
new species of insects have appeared in the Islands at the rate
of 15 to 20 per year.[8] Stanford biologist Peter Vitousek
estimates that the introduction of alien species is now the
second-largest cause of species extinction, after habitat
loss.[8] Vitousek and some of his colleagues view the shuffling
of the world's species as a global change as important as global
warming but easier to control because it could be done without
disrupting modern lifestyles (or provoking the wrath of the oil

Vitousek argues that humans can take thoughtful action to
minimize the damage caused by introduced species. For example,
citizens can be warned by governments that a new species of plant
or animal has appeared and citizens could then mobilize to locate
and remove the invading species. We are not powerless in the face
of modern trends, but we must first recognize that concerted
action is necessary and possible. We believe thoughtful action
might include taking steps to slow the rate at which the world's
economies are being "globalized." Selecting leaders who have not
embraced the cult of "free trade" would be an important step we
could take.

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


[1] Erin P. Billings, "Three game farm elk had wasting disease,"
MISSOULIAN January 11, 2000, pg. unknown. See http://-
January/11-798-news03.txt .

[2] Missoulian State Bureau, "Gubernatorial Candidate Urges
Caution," MISSOULIAN January 15, 2000, pg. unknown. See http://-
January/15-452-news11.txt .

[3] "Frequent travelers to UK banned from donating blood,"
1, 1999, pg. unknown. See http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/-
oct99/s100199g.htm .

[4] Peter Daszak and others, "Emerging Infectious Diseases of
Wildlife--Threats to Biodiversity and Human Health," SCIENCE Vol.
287 (January 21, 2000), pgs. 443-449.

[5] Feng Gao and others, "Origin of HIV-1 in the chimpanzee PAN
TROGLODYTES TROGLODYTES," NATURE Vol. 397 (February 4, 1999),
pgs. 436-441.

[6] Robin A. Weiss and Richard W. Wrangham, "From PAN to
Pandemic," NATURE Vol. 397 (February 4, 1999), pgs. 385-386.

[7] Kanta Subbarao and others, "Characterization of an Avian
Influenza A (H5N1) Virus Isolated from a Child with a Fatal
Respiratory Illness," SCIENCE Vol. 279 (January 16, 1998), pgs.

[8] Peter M. Vitousek and others, "Biological Invasions as Global
Environmental Change," AMERICAN SCIENTIST Vol. 84
(September-October 1996), pgs. 468-478.

Descriptor terms: wildlife; pesticides in schools; schools and
pesticides; occupational safety and health; farm workers;
pesticide policies; substitution principle; precautionary
principle; alternatives assessment; mad cow disease; chronic
wasting disease; cwd; aids; hiv-1; africa; chimpanzees;
mosquitoes; debgue fever; malaria; emerging infectious diseases;
infectious diseases; lyme disease; influenza; globalization;
species extinction; alien species; introduced species; species

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