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#892 -- Chemicals Policy 101, 01-Feb-2007


Rachel's Democracy & Health News #892

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, February 1, 2007..............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Featured stories in this issue...

How to Control Toxic Chemicals: The Ingredients of Good Policy
  How can we control dangerous chemicals? The chemicals-and-health
  movement in the U.S. is bursting with activity. In at least a dozen
  states and in Washington, D.C. various proposals are being considered.
  In this important essay, attorney Joe Guth highlights some of the
  central legal issues involved in writing a good law to control
Interview with Sandra Steingraber
  Sandra Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream and
  Having Faith. In addition to being a powerful writer and speaker,
  she is a biologist, cancer survivor, and mother. In this interview, as
  in her writing, she transforms the intensely personal into the
  intensely political.
White House Increases Its Capacity to Undermine Regulations
  While we have all been transfixed by the Iraq fiasco, President
  Bush has been planning a stealth move to consolidate control over
  health, safety and environmental regulations, making it even easier
  for money and politics to trump science and health. Now it's a done
An Atomic Threat Made in America
  Since 1945, the U.S. military has scattered "a vast amount" of
  nuclear weapons material across the globe, greatly increasing the
  chances of a rogue nuclear detonation. Will the military be smarter
  about deploying the new bio-tech and nano-tech weapons? (We're sorry,
  the answer is classifed.)
Toxic Chemicals Linked to Dust
  Researchers tested the breast milk of 46 first-time mothers in the
  Boston area. Though they only obtained dust samples from 11 of the
  women's homes, they found a statistically significant link between the
  levels of PBDEs [toxic flame-retardant chemicals] found in the breast
  milk and in the dust collected in their homes.
2006 Was Warmest Year Ever Recorded for the U.S.
  No surprise here: In the U.S. 2006 was the warmest year ever


From: Science & Environmental Health Network, Jan. 26, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Joseph H. Guth

The world is searching for better legal systems for controlling the
chemicals we place into commerce. Diverse chemicals laws already
exist, including California's Proposition 65, the federal Toxic
Substances Control Act (TSCA) and REACH, which the European Union
is working to implement later in 2007. But more are coming. Senator
Lautenberg and six other U.S. Senators introduced the Kids Safe
Chemicals Act (S.1391) in 2005, and NGO's [non-governmental
organizations] around the country are developing still other

While all these laws can seem complex and even impenetrable, they are
all built around something simple and yet profoundly important,
something that can be called the law's "core legal test."

All laws start with a central policy objective, and then have a
structure designed to further that objective. In any chemicals law,
the central policy objective is to keep undesirable chemicals off the
market or otherwise control them. To do this, the law must specify how
desirable chemicals are to be distinguished from undesirable
chemicals. This test, the test specified by the law for determining
whether a chemical is undesirable and therefore to be regulated, is
what we call the "core legal test."

As with all laws, such a core legal test can only be effectively
implemented and enforced if it is clear and unambiguous. The result of
ambiguity or vagueness in what a law requires is to grant
corresponding discretion to the executive (president or governor) and
the courts as to how the law should be implemented. Therefore, we
believe it is of central importance for advocates of chemicals policy
reform, especially those seeking a precautionary approach, to develop
a clearly articulated chemicals policy goal and to craft a clear,
unambiguous core legal test that will implement that goal.

Most if not all chemicals laws have the policy goal of regulating
chemicals that are deemed by the law to be "too unsafe/hazardous,"
though there are of course widely varying views on what that means.
Could other options for a central policy goal be considered? One might
be to eliminate all chemicals from commerce, regardless of whether
they are unsafe/hazardous. Another might be to dramatically shrink the
consumer economy. There may be still others. But for now, we assume
the broad goal of a chemicals law is to regulate chemicals that are
too unsafe/hazardous.

Our core legal test, then, must be one that identifies chemicals that
are too unsafe/hazardous. In this paper, we examine the connection
between the varying policy views reflected in the laws about what
makes a chemical too unsafe/hazardous and the core legal tests they
employ to implement those views. We first describe and define the
three key structural elements that must be present in any core legal
test in a chemicals policy (Section I). Then we examine the core tests
of TSCA, REACH, S.1391 (the Kids Safe Chemicals Act) and California's
Proposition 65 (Section II). We believe it will become apparent how
the structure of the core legal test, especially in the case of TSCA,
can make it very difficult for government to regulate chemicals.

While we do not specify here precisely what core legal test we think
would be best, any test we could support must reflect the policy
objectives of acting with precaution, responding to early warnings and
placing a high value on protection of the environment and human
health, including children, workers and fenceline communities. Perhaps
the most important element of any legal test for implementing a
precautionary approach to chemicals policy is to place the burden of
proof on industry to show that a chemical is safe/not hazardous before
introducing it into commerce. Hence, we have paid particular attention
to this issue.


The core legal test in a chemicals policy must specify three essential

a. Who bears the "burden of proof?"

b. What is the "standard of proof?"

c. What does the person with the burden of proof have to prove?

Let's define and examine the options for each element in turn.

A. Who Bears The Burden of Proof?

Who bears the burden of proof is the key element of a legal test. What
this means is: who has to show the test is met? There are only two
options: (1) the government seeking to regulate a chemical or (2) the
industry seeking to market the chemical.

(1) If the burden of proof is on government, then government must
prove that a chemical fails the chosen safety/hazard test in order to
regulate it. If insufficient information is available for government
to meet the core test, then the government cannot regulate it. Placing
the burden of proof on government represents a policy decision that in
the absence of any information at all, a chemical will be allowed on
the market. Placing the burden of proof on government motivates
industry not to produce information for fear it could lead to
government regulation.

(2) If the burden of proof is on industry, then industry must prove
that the chemical passes the safety/hazard test before it can be put
on the market. If insufficient information is available to prove the
chemical passes the test, then industry cannot market the chemical.
Placing the burden of proof on industry represents a policy decision
that in the absence of any information at all, a chemical cannot be
marketed. Placing the burden of proof on industry motivates industry
to produce information necessary to prove the chemical passes the
safety/hazard test.

Thus, when little or no safety/hazard data is available about a
chemical, who bears the burden of proof in and of itself determines
whether a chemical may be placed or remain on the market. Who bears
the burden also has enormous impact on whether industry voluntarily
produces safety/hazard information.

Note that who bears burden of proof need not be the same for all
chemicals in a chemicals law. For example, under REACH, the government
bears the burden of proof for most chemicals (Restriction), but
industry bears the burden once a chemical is classified as "highly
dangerous" (i.e., a CMR [carcinogen, mutagen, or reproductive
toxicant], PBT [peristent bioaccumulative toxicant], etc.) under the
Authorization provisions.

For a chemicals statute to provide the greatest protection for human
health and the environment, the burden of proof should be placed on
industry for as many chemicals as possible, preferably all chemicals.

B. What is the Standard of Proof?

In many cases, both parties have some evidence on their side. The
"standard of proof" refers to the degree to which the evidence must
favor a party in order for that party to prevail. The question is:
with what certainty must the party with the burden of proof show that
he or she is correct in order to pass the legal test? Must the person
have to show only some possibility that he or she might be right, or
must the person be extremely likely to be correct? There is a
continuum of possibilities for defining the standard of proof, subject
only to one's imagination.

Three standards of proof are common in the law, and these can be seen
in the chemicals policies discussed below.

In the most frequently used burden of proof, applying to almost all
civil [non-criminal] cases, the plaintiff must typically prevail by a
"preponderance" of the evidence. This can also be articulated as: the
plaintiff must be "more likely than not" to be correct, or the
plaintiff must have more than a 50% probability of being correct, or
the plaintiff must have more than 50% of the evidence on her side.

Higher standards of proof are also used. In a criminal case, the
government must show the accused is guilty "beyond a reasonable
doubt," which is much, much harder to prove, and might be thought of
as over 95% probability of being correct. An intermediate standard is
"a reasonable certainty," which is generally taken to be in between
the "preponderance" and "no reasonable doubt" standards, perhaps
something like a 75-85% probability of being correct. This is similar
to the "clear and convincing evidence" standard also used in some

Lower standards of proof are also known and can be appropriate. For
example, a law could require that a person show only that he or she
"may" be correct. This might be satisfied by evidence establishing
only a 10-20% probability of being correct.

The higher the standard of proof, the harder it is for the party
bearing the burden of proof to prove its case. Thus, the choice of a
standard of proof reflects a policy determination of what kinds of
mistakes by decision-makers we can most tolerate. For example, we
place a very high burden on government in criminal cases, because we
say that "it is better that 10 guilty people go free than that one
innocent person be convicted." If we wanted most guilty people to be
convicted and were not so concerned about wrongly convicting innocent
people, we could require the government to show only that a person
"may" be guilty. Exactly the same principles apply to what kinds of
errors we prefer for hazardous/unsafe chemicals, and the standard of
proof we therefore should adopt. Also, the standard of proof could
conceivably be different for different classes of chemicals.

For a chemicals statute to provide the greatest protection for human
health and the environment, whenever the burden of proof is placed on
industry, the standard of proof should be as high as possible (making
the test harder to meet). Whenever the burden of proof is placed on
government, the standard of proof should be as low as possible (making
the test easier to meet so that government can best act on early

C. What Has to be Proved to Meet the Test?

The last of the three elements is what the person with the burden of
proof has to prove.

As we will see in the next section, various chemicals laws require
proof most commonly of some or all of the following four factors in
different degrees and combinations:

(1) whether a chemical is a hazard to human health and/or the

(2) whether a chemical presents a risk to human health and/or the

(3) social/economic factors, such as cost-benefit criteria; and

(4) whether safer alternatives are available.

Other requirements are sometimes incorporated as well, as we will see.

There are many possibilities for what a person with the burden of
proof can be required to show, subject only to one's imagination.
Also, what has to be proved can be different for different classes of
chemicals. For example, under REACH once a chemical is classified as
"highly dangerous," industry must prove various elements under the
Authorization process.

Obviously, the more a person has to prove, the harder it is to meet
the legal test. To be protective of human health and the environment,
a statute should require industry to bear the burden to prove as much
as possible about whether a chemical presents a safety/hazard threat
to human health or the environment. However, we must consider one
consequence of placing the burden of proof on industry to prove
generally that a chemical is safe/not hazardous. Taken literally, this
could require generating information about all possible effects on
human health and the environment, which may be impractical or even
impossible. This probably means that the burden of proof on industry
is unlikely to be imposed as an open-ended requirement, but ultimately
would have to be imposed with respect to some initial baseline data
set, plus any additional information that becomes known or is required
by the government.

Let us clarify what is meant by some of the terms commonly used in
chemicals policies, and discuss a few implications.

(1) "Hazard" refers to whether a chemical inherently has a hazardous
property. Thus, asking whether a chemical is a carcinogen, a
reproductive toxin, an allergen, etc., is asking whether it is
hazardous. "Hazard" also refers to the potency of the chemical, i.e.,
the strength of its intrinsic ability to cause the hazard. These are
essentially scientific questions, although data gaps and uncertainty
can and do lead to differences in the scientific community as to
whether a body of evidence shows that a chemical is a hazard, as well
as to conflicts between environmental health advocates, industry and

Thus, for the purposes of a law, whether a chemical will be designated
as a "hazard" is essentially definitional. That is, the law will have
to provide the criteria that will be used to determine, for purposes
of the law, whether a chemical is classified as a hazard. This can be
spelled out in the statute itself, or this determination can be
delegated to an administrative agency such as EPA.

Various "authoritative bodies," such as the WHO, have created sets of
criteria that they use in making such determinations for their own
purposes. These authoritative bodies could be relied on in a chemicals
statute. For example, the Proposition 65 list is essentially a list of
carcinogens and reproductive toxins that have been classified as
hazards by such authoritative bodies.

(2) "Risk," or safety, refers to the degree of danger a chemical
presents, taking into account how it is used. This takes exposure into
account, so that: hazard x exposure = risk. Thus, lower exposures to a
chemical often causes less risk (i.e., is safer) than higher
exposures, even though the intrinsic hazard of the chemical does not
change. Quantifying risk is "risk assessment," which not only involves
all the uncertainties involved in hazard assessment, but also the
uncertainties involved in evaluating exposure, thresholds, cumulative
impacts, etc.

A chemicals law relying on a risk determination also has to spell out
the degree of risk that will be permitted. Terms such as "no harm,"
"unreasonable risk," "no significant risk," and "unacceptable risk"
are found in the laws. These terms must be defined in the law itself,
or by an administrative agency specified by the law.

(3) "Social/economic factors" refers to the social/economic value of
the product. These can be evaluated in a wide variety of ways, and can
be monetized or evaluated qualitatively. When these elements of proof
are present in a chemicals law, they are part of a cost-benefit test
in which economic factors are balanced against health and safety

(4) "Safer alternatives" is the subject of an enormous amount of
thought and work that we don't attempt to summarize here. Generally, a
"safer alternative" refers to a substitute for a chemical that is
safer/less hazardous for human health and the environment.
"Alternatives" should include non-chemical substitutes such as process
or design changes.


Let's look at the core legal tests of TSCA, Proposition 65, S.1391
(the Kids Safe Chemicals Act) and REACH. As you look at them, note how
they differ dramatically in who bears the burden of proof, the
standard of proof, whether the test is solely a safety/hazard test, a
risk test or a cost-benefit test (i.e., balancing social/economic
factors with health/safety), and whether the test deals with human
health and/or the environment.


1. TSCA test for government to regulate a chemical in commerce
(Section 6)

To regulate a chemical, EPA must (by a preponderance) show, on a
chemical by chemical basis, that:

(a) the chemical presents or will present an "unreasonable" risk to
health or the environment; and

(b) the regulatory action is the least burdensome way to protect
adequately against the unreasonable risk.

"Unreasonable risk" is a risk-benefit standard, so that the benefits
of regulation must outweigh both the costs to industry and the lost
economic and social value of the product. The agency must consider the
effects of the chemical on public health and the environment, the
benefits of the substance and the availability of substitutes, and the
economic consequences (after considering the national economy, small
business, technological innovation, the environment and public

(c) EPA may not regulate a chemical under TSCA unless it determines
that the risk cannot be protected against using other statutes (such
as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, etc.)


Quick Summary: TSCA Test for government to regulate a chemical

Burden of proof: on government

Standard of proof: preponderance

What is proved?: chemical-by-chemical, unreasonable risk exists or
will exist (cost-benefit balancing), least burdensome regulation, no
other statute possible


2. TSCA test for government to require more information about a
chemical on the market (Section 4)

To require new testing for a chemical, EPA must show (by a
preponderance) that:

(a) The chemical either

(1) may present an unreasonable risk to human health or the
environment, or

(2) the chemical is or will be produced in substantial quantities and
(i) enters or is reasonably likely to enter the environment in
substantial quantities or (ii) there is or may be significant or
substantial human exposure to the chemical.

(b) EPA must also demonstrate that the available environmental health
information is insufficient to make a reasonable determination of
whether there is a risk, and that testing is necessary to provide the
needed data.

Quick Summary of TSCA test for government to require more information
about a chemical

Burden of proof: on government

Standard of proof: preponderance

What is proved?: chemical-by-chemical, (i) unreasonable risk may exist
(cost-benefit balancing) or substantial production/exposure and (ii)
available information is insufficient and testing is necessary


Under Proposition 65, once the State determines that a chemical is a
carcinogen or reproductive toxin and puts it on the Prop. 65 list, the
warning requirement applies unless the person causing exposure meets
their burden of proof to show the exposure causes no significant risk.
Thus, the State must do the initial listing, but then the burden of
proof switches to the person causing an exposure to prove that there
is no significant risk.

1. Warning Requirement (H&SC Section 25249.6): No person may knowingly
and intentionally expose an individual to a chemical on the
Proposition 65 list without first giving the individual a clear and
reasonable warning, except as provided in Section 25249.10.

2. Exemption from Warning Requirement (H&SC Section 25249.10): The
warning requirement of Section 25249.6 shall not apply to an exposure
for which the person responsible can show the exposure poses no
significant risk assuming lifetime exposure at the level in question.

"Significant risk" has been defined by the State as a specified level
of cancer risk and as below the "no observed effect" level by
specified amounts for reproductive toxins. The burden is on the
defendant to make this showing (by a preponderance of the evidence).
This is essentially a risk assessment, except the burden is on the
defendant to prove the risk is not "significant". The defendant can
challenge the listing of the chemical as a hazard and can develop
evidence on all issues relevant to risk (hazard x exposure), including
what lifetime exposure is, absorption and metabolism by humans,
relevance of animal studies, etc. There are no economic elements to
this test.


Quick Summary of Prop 65

Burden of proof: on person causing exposure

Standard of proof: preponderance

What is proved?: product-by-product, no significant risk of cancer or
reproductive toxicity from lifetime exposure ("significant" defined in



Under this "Lautenberg proposal", to keep or place any chemical on the
market, EPA must determine that a manufacturer has proved that there
is a "reasonable certainty that no harm" will be caused by aggregate
exposure of a worker, sensitive subgroup or (with 10x safety factor) a
child, fetus or infant. Section 503 (c), (a). There are no economic
elements in this test.

The "reasonable certainty of no harm" test is also present in the Food
Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which amended FIFRA, the federal
pesticides law. In the FQPA, that test is interpreted to mean a one
per million risk for cancer or 1000-fold less than a reference dose
[often referred to as a "safe" dose] for other effects. If this
definition is also intended in S.1391, then the definition specifies
in a single phrase both the standard of proof and what is to be

In determining whether this standard is met, EPA shall consider (i)
environmental fate and transport, (ii) biological fate and transport,
(iii) acute, chronic and subchronic human health effects, (iv)
additive or synergistic effects, (v) ecotoxicity, (vi) presence of the
chemical in humans, food or drinking water and (vii) releases of the
chemical. Section 503(b) (2).

EPA shall identify a minimum data set for safety standard
determinations, and has the authority to create a tiering process for
data submissions. Section 503 (b) (3), (4).

EPA may "at its discretion" require any information of the types
specified above to be submitted. Section 503 (b) (1). This makes it
easy for EPA to require more information than industry has provided,
and is subject to court review only if EPA were to "abuse its


Quick Summary of Lautenberg proposal

Burden of proof: on industry

Standard of proof: reasonable certainty*

What is proved?: no harm to human health or environment*

*Note: This is interpreted in FQPA to mean a specified cancer risk and
exposure 1000-fold below a reference dose [often referred to as a
"safe" dose] for other effects.



REACH sets up two different safety/hazard tests, one for most
chemicals ("Restriction") and one for particularly hazardous chemicals

1. Restriction

Most chemicals will be regulated under Restriction. To "restrict" a
chemical (including any kind of regulation, from requiring labeling to
outright bans), E.U. [the European Union] will carry the burden of
proof to show that there exists:

an "unacceptable risk to human health or the environment" that is not
"adequately controlled" and that needs to be addressed at the
"[European] Community level."

While these terms are not well defined, it is clear that these
analyses must involve consideration of "socio-economic factors."
Articles, 68(1), 69(1), 71.


Quick Summary of REACH Restriction

Burden of proof: on government

Standard of proof: preponderance (presumably)

What is proved?: chemical by chemical, unacceptable risk to human
health or environment (cost-benefit balancing), no adequate control,
need for Community level action


2. Authorization

a. The E.U. government authorities will create a list of highly
hazardous substances, called Annex XIV substances (Articles 57, 58).
These substances are those that meet specific criteria for
classification as:

CMRs (carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins); PBT's (persistent,
bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals); vPvB's (very persistent, very
bioaccumulative chemicals); and Other equivalently hazardous

b. Annex XIV chemicals are banned from commerce, unless a manufacturer
seeks and obtains "authorization" (Article 56).

c. Annex XIV chemicals may remain on the market only if a manufacturer
applies for a time-limited authorization, maintains that application,
and then receives authorization to market the chemical. To obtain
authorization (Article 60), a manufacturer must prove, for each
authorized use, that:

(a) the chemical is "adequately controlled" (test only allowed for
some chemicals) or (b) that (i) the socioeconomic benefits of the
chemical for that use outweigh the risks and (ii) that there are no
suitable alternatives.


Quick Summary of REACH Authorization

Burden of proof: on industry

Standard of proof: preponderance (presumably)

What is proved?: chemical by chemical, (i) adequate control (for some
chemicals) or (ii) socioeconomic benefits outweigh risks and no
suitable alternatives



The core legal test of a chemicals law is usually articulated in just
a very few words deep inside the law. And yet it has a profound effect
on how the law functions, and is worthy of close attention by all
concerned with emerging new chemicals laws. For example, our quick
review of TSCA reveals why it is so hard to regulate chemicals in the
United States: the burden of proof is on government for all chemicals,
and the factors that government must prove are numerous.

For a chemicals law to best protect human health and the environment,
the most important feature of its core legal test is for the burden of
proof to be placed on industry for as many chemicals as possible, so
that such chemicals cannot be placed or kept on the market unless
industry proves that it meets the core legal test. Examples of laws
with a burden of proof on industry are Proposition 65, S.1391 and
REACH (Authorization).

The standard of proof embodied in the test should be as high as
possible so that society can be confident that the core legal test is
indeed met, and to reduce the frequency with which dangerous chemicals
are allowed onto the market despite the law. Finally, industry should
be required to prove as much as possible about whether their chemicals
are unsafe/hazardous and lack alternatives, and cost-benefit type
tests allowing economic factors to outweigh health and safety factors
(such as in REACH (Authorization) and TSCA) should be avoided.

Conversely, in cases in which the burden of proof remains on
government, so that chemicals are allowed on the market unless
government acts to regulate them, then the standard of proof should be
low, so that government can act on early warnings of harm. Similarly,
what government is required to show in order to regulate should focus
on environmental health and safety factors and avoid cost-benefit type
tests allowing economic factors to predominate.

Return to Table of Contents


From: The Collaborative on Health and the Environment, Feb. 1, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Steve Heilig

Steve Heilig: What first brought you into the environmental health

In 1979, between my sophomore and junior years in college, I was
diagnosed with bladder cancer. I was already a biology major, so I
read a lot about my disease in the medical and epidemiological

It didn't take me too long to learn that bladder cancer is considered
a quintessential environmental cancer. We have more evidence about the
environmental contributions to this disease than almost any other form
of cancer -- with data going back more than one hundred years.

I learned that 19th century English mill workers exposed to textile
dyes got bladder cancer. So did dogs. Indeed the first animal
experiments ever done to identify chemical carcinogens were conducted
on dogs exposed to bladder carcinogens.

I discovered long-standing evidence that exposure to dry-cleaning
solvents (perchloroethylene) is linked to bladder cancer. People who
live near certain kinds of toxic waste dumps have elevated rates of
bladder cancer. So do their pets.

I was then shocked to find out that, in spite of all this accumulated
knowledge, known and suspected bladder carcinogens have hardly ever
been banned from production, use, or disposal.

In short, there was a disconnect between what we knew about the causes
of my disease (a lot) and what preventive public health actions were
taken on the basis of this knowledge (almost none).

There was also a disconnect between what the research community knew
about environmental links to bladder cancer (a lot) and what patients
were being told by their doctors or by the perky little pamphlets one
picks up in their waiting rooms (almost nothing).

But I was only 20 years old when I started thinking about all these
things. Out of fear that the word "cancer" would somehow be stamped
into my academic transcript, I told no one about my diagnosis -- or my
ongoing research -- except for a few trustworthy professors. Frankly,
my biggest concern of the day was how to have sex without contracting
yet another bladder infection.

I also picked up a master's degree in creative writing before I went
on to do Ph.D. work in biology. Not because I planned a career as a
science writer but just because I wanted to. I didn't really make
long-range plans in those days.

It was only when the environmental breast cancer movement arose in the
early 1990s that I began openly talking about my own cancer
experience. By then, I was a biology professor with a published book
about environmental health in east Africa.

Throughout the 1990s, the work of radical breast cancer activists
opened up a critical space in our culture to talk about the role of
environmental toxicants in cancer causation. Scientific research was
redirected by their work. And trade publishers wanted books on the

So I left behind the lab bench and field research and a tenure-track
position to reinvent myself as a science writer. I decided that my
calling was to construct a bridge over the breach between what we
scientists know about environmental links to health and what the
public knows. I wanted to open up even more critical spaces in our
culture for that conversation.

It helped that I had a fellowship at Harvard, along with seven
research assistants, to accomplish my transformation from professor to

SH: What is the primary goal/mission of your work?

I see myself as a two-way translator between the public and scientific
community. I like to bring the ongoing debates of environmental health
before the public, and I like to bring the questions and concerns of
the public before the research community.

As an author, my goal is to seduce readers through some complex
scientific topic -- one that involves a lot of organic chemistry, say,
or molecular epidemiology. I try to do this by creating a compelling
story with characters, dialogue, imagery, and a plot on which to hang
the data.

To that end, I try to deploy the best techniques of creative non-
fiction writing to help my readers confront otherwise terrifying
topics -- such as cancer and birth defects. Then I present the science
as objectively and clearly as possible.

I believe deeply in dispassionate, hardheaded scientific analysis. I
also believe deeply in the transformative power of autobiography. In
the field of environmental health, there is a human life behind every
data point. There is a story to be told.

I see myself as bearing witness. Essentially, what I do as a writer is
say, "behold." Then I step back. I never tell people what to do or
what to think. Sometimes, my readers find this frustrating.

The field of biology is about the mystery of being alive. So is
poetry. I am always striving to find a vocabulary lovely enough to
honor the loveliness of biological systems.

What have been the most significant obstacles and successes you have
encountered and achieved in this work to date?

My books Living Downstream and Having Faith now have lives of their
own. They've been translated into other languages and released as
paperbacks. They're used as textbooks in college courses. Living
Downstream has been optioned for documentary film. That's all very

As a public speaker, I've had the chance to travel all over the world
with my books and have been invited into many communities where public
health is being threatened by an environmental problem. I've met with
Irish sheep farmers, Montana wheat farmers, Canadian autoworkers, and
those suffering from the effects of mountaintop removal in West

I consider it a success when my writings and public presentations are
useful to community organizing efforts. Recently, I worked on a
campaign back in my hometown community with Peoria Families Against
Toxic Waste. This group was fighting the expansion of a toxic waste
landfill that sits atop the drinking water aquifer. And much to
everyone's surprise, they won. The county board, contrary to all
prediction, voted against permitting the expansion.

Of course, books don't change the world. Only activism brings about
change. But it was nice to know that my books have provided these
citizen activists with some needed scientific arguments as they
conducted their public education campaign and testified at the

The biggest obstacle I've faced is fatalism and defeatism. Some people
are so afraid of the despair they anticipate feeling if they learn
about environmental problems that they decide not to think about it at
all. They justify their inattention by convincing themselves that the
problems are intractable and unsolvable anyway. Nothing will ever
change, so why deal with it?

In my experience, people who allege that the world will never change
-- that toxic pollution is an immutable fact of life -- are really
talking about themselves. They mean that they are unwilling to change.

That attitude -- giving up before you even start -- is harder to fight
than industry opposition.

Happily, though, I see less and less of that. People everywhere are
becoming conscious of environmental health.

SH: What is the number one change you would like to see for the future
of environmental health?

I'd like to see the Precautionary Principle become the basis of
environmental decision-making on every level, from United Nations
treaties to the lawn-care practices at the local public library.

SH: What or who continues to inspire you in your work?

Rachel Carson is my mentor in all this. I constantly reread her

The suffragettes and the abolitionists inspire me. They struggled.
They were mocked and persecuted. They worked really hard. And they
won. The writings of Illinois abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy especially
inspire me. My son is named after him.

Contemporary sources of inspiration include cancer activists Rita
Arditi, Judy Brady, and Beverly Lowe. I'm inspired by the work of the
Science and Environmental Health Network, which is the leading voice
for precaution in the United States (I'm also a board member.)

Every single organic farmer I've ever met inspires me.

Then there are all these grassroots organizations that blow me away.
Groups like Christians for a Healthy Macon County (in Decatur,
Illinois) and Mama86, a group of Ukrainian grandmothers who stage sit-
ins (formed in response the Chernobyl explosion).

SH: Any comments or suggestions for CHE [Collaborative on Health and
the Environment] itself?

I like the way Orion Magazine recently described CHE as a series of
"intimate conversations" between scientists and public health
advocates. I think that's exactly right.

In addition, CHE serves such an important role as a clearinghouse of
good, readable information on so many environmental health problems.
The peer-reviewed summary reports are just great. I've seen firsthand
the effect the CHE website has had in community organizing efforts.

The more outreach and publicity that CHE can do, the better. Folks in
far-flung and red-state communities need to be brought into the
conversations that CHE sets in motion.


The Collaborative on Health and the Environment
c/o Commonweal, PO Box 316, Bolinas, CA 94924

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From: The New York Times (pg. A1), Jan. 30, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Robert Pear

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much
greater control over the rules and policy statements that the
government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment,
civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr.
Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by
a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and
documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House
will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and
the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the
president's priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that
have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and
scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways
to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any
one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the
administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance
issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration.

In an interview on Monday, Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the
White House Office of Management and Budget, said, "This is a classic
good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and

Business groups welcomed the executive order, saying it had the
potential to reduce what they saw as the burden of federal
regulations. This burden is of great concern to many groups, including
small businesses, that have given strong political and financial
backing to Mr. Bush.

Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the executive
order, saying it gave too much control to the White House and would
hinder agencies' efforts to protect the public.

Typically, agencies issue regulations under authority granted to them
in laws enacted by Congress. In many cases, the statute does not say
precisely what agencies should do, giving them considerable latitude
in interpreting the law and developing regulations.

The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to
issue regulations, federal agencies must identify "the specific market
failure" or problem that justifies government intervention.

Besides placing political appointees in charge of rule making, Mr.
Bush said agencies must give the White House an opportunity to review
"any significant guidance documents" before they are issued.

The Office of Management and Budget already has an elaborate process
for the review of proposed rules. But in recent years, many agencies
have circumvented this process by issuing guidance documents, which
explain how they will enforce federal laws and contractual

Peter L. Strauss, a professor at Columbia Law School, said the
executive order "achieves a major increase in White House control over
domestic government."

"Having lost control of Congress," Mr. Strauss said, "the president is
doing what he can to increase his control of the executive branch."

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of
the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: "The executive
order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate
decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government's own
impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but
great news for special interests."

Business groups hailed the initiative.

"This is the most serious attempt by any chief executive to get
control over the regulatory process, which spews out thousands of
regulations a year," said William L. Kovacs, a vice president of the
United States Chamber of Commerce. "Because of the executive order,
regulations will be less onerous and more reasonable. Federal
officials will have to pay more attention to the costs imposed on
business, state and local governments, and society."

Under the executive order, each federal agency must estimate "the
combined aggregate costs and benefits of all its regulations" each
year. Until now, agencies often tallied the costs and the benefits of
major rules one by one, without measuring the cumulative effects.

Gary D. Bass, executive director of O.M.B. Watch, a liberal-leaning
consumer group that monitors the Office of Management and Budget,
criticized Mr. Bush's order, saying, "It will result in more delay and
more White House control over the day-to-day work of federal

"By requiring agencies to show a 'market failure,' " Dr. Bass said,
"President Bush has created another hurdle for agencies to clear
before they can issue rules protecting public health and safety."

Wesley P. Warren, program director at the Natural Resources Defense
Council, who worked at the White House for seven years under President
Bill Clinton, said, "The executive order is a backdoor attempt to
prevent E.P.A. from being able to enforce environmental safeguards
that keep cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants out of the air
and water."

Business groups have complained about the proliferation of guidance
documents. David W. Beier, a senior vice president of Amgen, the
biotechnology company, said Medicare officials had issued such
documents "with little or no public input."

Hugh M. O'Neill, a vice president of the pharmaceutical company
Sanofi-Aventis, said guidance documents sometimes undermined or
negated the effects of formal regulations.

In theory, guidance documents do not have the force of law. But the
White House said the documents needed closer scrutiny because they
"can have coercive effects" and "can impose significant costs" on the
public. Many guidance documents are made available to regulated
industries but not to the public.

Paul R. Noe, who worked on regulatory policy at the White House from
2001 to 2006, said such aberrations would soon end. "In the past,
guidance documents were often issued in the dark," Mr. Noe said. "The
executive order will ensure they are issued in the sunshine, with more
opportunity for public comment."

Under the new White House policy, any guidance document expected to
have an economic effect of $100 million a year or more must be posted
on the Internet, and agencies must invite public comment, except in
emergencies in which the White House grants an exemption.

The White House told agencies that in writing guidance documents, they
could not impose new legal obligations on anyone and could not use
"mandatory language such as 'shall,' 'must,' 'required' or
'requirement.' "

The executive order was issued as White House aides were preparing for
a battle over the nomination of Susan E. Dudley to be administrator of
the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of
Management and Budget.

President Bush first nominated Ms. Dudley last August. The nomination
died in the Senate, under a barrage of criticism from environmental
and consumer groups, which said she had been hostile to government
regulation. Mr. Bush nominated her again on Jan. 9.

With Democrats in control, the Senate appears unlikely to confirm Ms.
Dudley. But under the Constitution, the president could appoint her
while the Senate is in recess, allowing her to serve through next

Some of Ms. Dudley's views are reflected in the executive order. In a
primer on regulation written in 2005, while she was at the Mercatus
Center of George MasonUniversity in Northern Virginia, Ms. Dudley said
that government regulation was generally not warranted "in the absence
of a significant market failure."

She did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.

Copyright 2007 LexisNexis

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From: Chicago Tribune, Jan. 28, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


How the U.S. spread bomb-grade fuel worldwide -- and failed to get it
back. First of two parts.

By Sam Roe, Tribune staff reporter sroe@tribune.com

The specter of nuclear warfare waged by North Korea or Iran has hung
over the world in recent months. But beyond that fear and foreboding
looms a more far-reaching threat: the vast amount of nuclear bomb-
grade material scattered across the globe.

And it wasn't Kim Jong Il or the ayatollahs of Iran who put it there.
America did.

For a time, in a misguided Cold War program called Atoms for Peace,
the U.S. actually supplied this material -- highly enriched uranium, a
key component of nuclear weapons. The Soviets followed suit.

The threat still posed by these stockpiles, particularly in the wake
of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is so dire that the keepers of the
Doomsday Clock cited the issue as among their chief concerns this
month when they moved the iconic measure of global security closer to

Just last week, Georgian authorities disclosed they had caught a
Russian man trying to sell uranium he had hidden in two plastic bags
in his pocket -- an unsettling reminder of how easy it is to smuggle
this dangerous material.

Yet decades of fitful commitment by the U.S. government to retrieve
bomb-grade uranium have left the world no safer, a Tribune
investigation has found. Today, roughly 40 tons of the material
remains out of U.S. control -- enough to make more than 1,400 nuclear

For a quarter-century, as the U.S. struggled to persuade friends and
enemies alike to return the uranium in exchange for safer material, a
physicist at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago led the

His undertaking, one that spanned six continents, mirrors America's
troubled quest to reverse a mistaken policy that imperils the world to
this day.

Cold War's deadly legacy

The urgent call reached Armando Travelli in Vienna.

Get to Romania as soon as possible, the voice on the phone told
Travelli, a U.S. scientist-turned-diplomat. Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu
is considering returning the bomb-grade uranium America had given him.

Within days, Travelli stepped inside a sprawling nuclear research
reactor in the southern Romanian city of Pitesti. There he saw
firsthand the chilling consequences of using highly enriched uranium
to cement alliances with backwater dictators.

He watched as one worker reached into a pipe and nonchalantly pulled
out a spaghetti-like jumble of electrical wires. Later, he learned
that other workers had wedged a hunk of wood between two uranium-
filled rods to keep them from jostling in the reactor pool. The
makeshift repair backfired when the wood swelled and couldn't be

But Travelli, who shuttled back and forth to the facility from Chicago
for several years in the 1980s, didn't know the worst of it. When his
mission bogged down, the Romanians not only held on to the highly
enriched uranium, they secretly used it and the reactor to help
separate plutonium -- the first step in building an atomic bomb.

Ceausescu has long since faced a firing squad, and his successors
disclosed the secret effort. But a quarter-century after Travelli's
first visit to the reactor, some of the dangerous material remains

Romania is but one example in a world that reverberates from the
fallout of the United States' Cold War folly known as Atoms for Peace,
a program that distributed highly enriched uranium around the world.

That uranium was intended solely to be used as fuel in civilian
research reactors. But it is potent enough to make nuclear bombs and
can be found everywhere from Romania, now a crossroads for nuclear
smuggling, to an Iranian research reactor at the center of that
nation's controversial nuclear program.

Three dozen other nations also obtained highly enriched uranium from
the U.S. Then in 1974 India set off its first nuclear weapon, and
America scrambled to get the bomb fuel back -- an effort led by
Travelli out of Argonne National Laboratory near southwest suburban

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gave the mission a new sense of
urgency: For terrorists or rogue nations, highly enriched uranium is
by far the easiest way to build a nuclear bomb. Only 55 pounds are
required. Double that and terrorists would need only limited technical
skill to slam two pieces together to start a chain reaction -- the
same technique used in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Even since 9/11, though, the worldwide mission to retrieve this
uranium repeatedly has fallen short. Now, through exclusive access to
the government archive chronicling the effort, the complete story
behind that failure can be pieced together for the first time.

When Travelli embarked on his quest in 1978, he thought it could be
accomplished with relative ease, taking maybe five years. He was

Atomic age breeds hope

In the middle of Rome sits one of the city's most famous fountains:
the marble and bronze Fontana delle Naiadi, depicting four nymphs
riding a swan, snake, horse and dragon.

During the waning days of World War II, when Armando Travelli was just
a boy, he and his mother would stop at the fountain on their way home
from church or while walking in the neighborhood.

"I wish you could see it with the electricity on," he recalled her
telling him. "It is so beautiful with lights and the water running."

"What's electricity?" he had asked. With the war on, he had known only

When the conflict ended after the U.S. dropped two atom bombs on
Japan, Travelli became part of the nuclear generation that grew to
fear atomic energy but also marvel at its power. U.S. officials
predicted nuclear bombs would blast holes for harbors, and electricity
would be so cheap it wouldn't be metered. Travelli envisioned cars,
boats -- even his neighborhood fountain -- powered by the atom.

Such dreams were energized by a bold new American experiment called
Atoms for Peace. Unveiled by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, the
program promised to share some U.S. nuclear technology with foreign
nations that vowed to forgo atomic weapons.

"It was the grand bargain," said Ellie Busick, who helped oversee non-
proliferation efforts at the State Department in the 1980s and '90s.
"We were way ahead in building bombs, but we were not naive enough to
think that nobody could ever do this but us."

The Soviets started sharing nuclear technology, too, and a Cold War
chess match ensued, with the two superpowers and a few other nations
supplying uranium and dozens of nuclear research reactors to their
allies. U.S. reactors, for instance, went to Iran, Pakistan and
Colombia; Soviet reactors to Libya, Bulgaria and North Korea.

Romania, a Soviet satellite courted by the Americans, got two
reactors: one from the U.S., another from the Russians.

Reactors became the equivalent of international status symbols; church
groups funded some to win overseas converts. U.S. firms vied for
lucrative contracts, and Argonne became the heart of Atoms for Peace
research, building foreign-bound reactors dubbed Argonauts.

By the mid-1970s, Travelli was a rising young star at the lab. He was
designing a research reactor so powerful that it would need two tons
of highly enriched uranium fuel -- enough, in the wrong hands, to make
72 nuclear bombs.

Read: President Eisenhower outlines his hopes in this previously top-
secret memo.

Washington's bungled moves

America didn't give away its most potent fuel -- not at first.

The Eisenhower administration decided to supply foreign nations with
only low-enriched uranium, which would be far less useful to
bombmakers. But in the early 1960s, when reactor operators complained
about the fuel's effectiveness, the U.S. government started providing
highly enriched uranium instead.

"That was dumb -- to send the easiest material in the world from which
to make nuclear bombs to civilian facilities all over the world," said
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear fuel expert and science adviser to the Clinton
White House.

America initially provided this dangerous uranium fuel with the
provision that foreigners return the used material, which remained
weapons-grade. But in 1964, the Johnson administration began selling
the fuel with no such requirement.

After India detonated its first nuclear weapon, built with the help of
a reactor from Canada and heavy water from America, everything

Suddenly, the U.S. wanted its most valuable nuclear material back.

One of its first attempts played out 10 months later, in 1975, at the
end of the Vietnam War. Two federal nuclear engineers volunteered for
a daring raid in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. The mission:
rescue bombmaking plutonium from a research reactor supplied by the

With sniper fire crackling around them, the engineers sneaked inside
the reactor, packaged the material and were airlifted to safety. Hours
later, the Viet Cong overran the area.

Only later was it determined that the engineers had made an
embarrassing mistake: In the chaos of the mission, they took the wrong
container. They hadn't rescued plutonium, but rather polonium-210, a
radioactive material not as useful in weaponry (though the substance
recently captured headlines when it killed a former KGB agent).

Rather than relying on haphazard missions such as the one in Vietnam,
the U.S. decided it needed a formal, concerted effort to retrieve
bombmaking material, particularly highly enriched uranium fuel, that
America had shipped overseas.

President Jimmy Carter knew something about reactors as he had done
graduate work in nuclear technology. But he faced a diplomatic
quandary: He couldn't just demand the fuel back, because other nations
legally owned it.

Instead, the U.S. set out to do what it had failed to do in the 1960s:
Invent a variety of replacement fuels that could adequately power the
reactors but be useless for bombs. Then the U.S. could offer these
replacement fuels to foreign nations in exchange for the highly
enriched uranium.

Researchers tested the breast milk of 46 first-time mothers in the
Boston area. Though they only obtained dust samples from 11 of the
women's homes, they found a statistically significant link between the
levels of PBDEs found in the breast milk and in the dust collected in
their homes.

"I think what our work shows is that the indoor environment is a
significant source of exposure to PBDEs," said Tom Webster, an
epidemiologist at Boston University who led the study. To lead this
effort, Energy Department officials wanted someone who knew reactors
inside and out.

They turned to Travelli.

Then 44, Travelli had built an impressive resume that included
teaching at MIT and designing and testing advanced reactors at

Colleagues found him genial, meticulous and restrained. "You could
yell at him and he wouldn't yell back," recalled Jim Snelgrove, an
Argonne fuel specialist.

Travelli also had an international flair: He was dapper, well traveled
and fluent in Italian, English, French and German.

When his bosses asked him if it were possible to develop fuels that
could replace highly enriched uranium in research reactors, Travelli
concluded it was.

But when they asked him whether he would lead the effort to invent
these new fuels and persuade foreigners to make the switch, he was
taken aback.

His life's work had been to spread nuclear technology, not rein it in.
Now he was supposed to do a complete turnabout and remove enriched
uranium from research reactors, facilities that didn't produce one
watt of power?

"I didn't want this to be the accomplishment of my life," Travelli
recalled. "My goal was to try to find a source of energy for the whole

But his bosses convinced him it was foolish to use weapons-grade fuel
in reactors if something safer could be substituted, and so he decided
to give it a shot.

Operating out of a small office in Building 362, a three-story brick
structure on Argonne's 1,500-acre campus, Travelli started with just
two staffers, a $645,000 annual budget and little idea of where to

No one even had a list of all the research reactors the U.S. had
exported. He assigned one of his workers to try to track down the
reactors by scouring the scientific literature and government
documents. Occasionally the staffer would burst into his office and
exclaim: "I found another one!"

CIA agents eventually started coming to Travelli for information, not
the other way around.

Travelli hung a 5-foot-long metallic map of the world in his office,
putting green triangular magnets in spots with Atoms for Peace

But his first mission would be so secret -- and so odd -- that he
promised at the time never to utter a word about it, let alone mark it
on his office map.

The State Department was sending him to Taiwan, which U.S. officials
suspected of secretly developing nuclear weapons.

There, in the countryside, sat a research reactor that looked fairly
typical: a large, circular, windowless building with a domed roof.

But when Travelli stepped inside, he was astonished. The dark room the
size of a theater was completely empty except for a massive, tomblike
structure rising 30 feet. There were no signs of researchers or
experiments. Soft Chinese music flowed from hidden speakers.

Squinting through the dim, green-tinted light, Travelli and his team
quietly moved forward, as if entering a temple. Their Taiwanese hosts
led them to the structure in the middle, a concrete block that held
the reactor core and its valuable nuclear material.

Later, out of earshot of his hosts, Travelli would tell his
colleagues: "There is no research going on in there. That's just a
machine for churning out plutonium for a nuclear weapon."

The State Department told Travelli's team that everything they saw in
Taiwan must be held in strict confidence, more so than a standard
classified mission. Nothing could be committed to writing. No trip
reports, memos or notes.

It wasn't just because the U.S. believed the Taiwanese were trying to
build the bomb. The secrecy was to protect Canada.

Canada not only supplied Taiwan's reactor, but the facility's core was
identical to the one that the Canadians had provided to India, which
had used the reactor to help build that nation's first bomb.

So the Americans took responsibility for trying to neutralize Taiwan's
reactor by altering its fuel. Unlike the other reactors Travelli would
encounter, this one was fueled by natural uranium, not highly enriched
uranium. But when natural uranium is burned, it produces plutonium,
which also can be used to make nuclear bombs.

For two years, in 1979 and 1980, Travelli traveled back and forth to
Taiwan, poring over schematics of the reactor and calculating how best
to change its fuel. At one point, the Taiwanese defense minister
invited Travelli's team to a reception.

"I assure you that the reactor you are interested in has no military
connection whatsoever," Travelli recalled the minister saying. "There
is nothing sinister about it."

Travelli thought this statement peculiar, given that no one from his
team had directly accused the Taiwanese of trying to build weapons.

Not long after, the Taiwanese, weary of the scrutiny, decided to shut
the reactor.

Travelli went back to his Argonne office and looked at his wall map.
The Taiwan case had taken two years to complete. How could he possibly
address all of the other research reactors on the U.S. target list in
the next three years, as he originally envisioned?

A path strewn with obstacles

The U.S. thought its plan would go smoothly: Argonne would develop new
fuels, America would offer them to other nations, and the foreigners
would quickly trade in their enriched uranium.

Some nations did agree to the plan, but most fiercely opposed it. They
feared such a swap would slow their reactors, interrupt research and
result in costly safety reviews.

Profit and prestige also played a part. Some reactor operators charged
scientists tens of thousands of dollars to conduct experiments. If the
facilities used a less powerful fuel, they might be seen as second-
rate. A few reactors even displayed brass signs boasting: "Fueled with
highly enriched uranium."

But the greatest obstacles to retrieving bomb fuel were of America's
own making.

When Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in 1980, the retrieval effort fell
out of favor. With memories of India's test fading and terrorism still
viewed as a foreign problem, the Energy Department in 1981 proposed
shutting down Travelli's mission, according to government records.

Though the program survived, the message was clear: Influential forces
in the department didn't have much use for it. "They just wanted it to
all go away," recalled Busick, the former State Department official.

As Travelli wrestled with his own government, he had an unsettling
encounter that unnerved him further.

In 1981, during the height of the Cold War, he was attending a nuclear
conference in what was then West Germany when a thin man in black
glasses and a black suit approached him, stony-faced. The details of
that conversation always have stuck with Travelli:

"Is my understanding of U.S. policy correct, that you are trying to
retrieve highly enriched uranium from research reactors?" the man

"That is correct," Travelli replied.

"And the reason is to reduce the chance that this material might fall
into the wrong hands?"

"That's right."

"And the primary emphasis is on reactors that the United States
supplied to its allies?"


"Not those the Soviet Union supplied to her allies?"


The man smiled slowly, shook Travelli's hand and walked away.

Travelli did not know whether this man was a scientist, bureaucrat,
spy or some combination. But the meeting made him realize he had
little idea what the Soviets and their satellites were up to.

He soon would find out: Travelli became deeply involved with the
reactor in Romania, a facility beset by problems since America
provided it in the 1970s to Ceausescu, the repressive and mercurial

Those working at the reactor were not immune to Ceausescu's bizarre
policies. Every spring and fall, buses would pull in front of the
facility, and its scientists were herded aboard and driven to nearby
fields to plant corn or pick tomatoes.

"Why can't they get the peasants to do this?" one of the scientists,
Corneliu Costescu, recalled complaining. "We're nuclear scientists."

But Romania's dictator believed it was much easier to round up
scientists at nuclear facilities than peasants in villages.

Travelli invited Costescu and two other Romanian physicists to America
to study whether the bomb fuel used in their facility could be
replaced by something safer. After months of work, the Romanian
scientists concluded that it could. But higher-ups in Romania weren't
convinced, especially because the U.S. refused to pay for the new

Normally, America didn't cover the cost of replacement fuel when
swapping it for bomb-grade material. Instead, the U.S. waited until
countries used up all theirs, then asked them to pay for the
replacement fuel.

But Romania was operating its reactor less and less in order to
conserve its highly enriched uranium. A standoff ensued, and several
years passed with no progress.

During this long delay, Romania, unbeknownst to the U.S., used the
American-supplied reactor to help separate plutonium, a serious
violation of international rules governing the development of nuclear

Travelli and U.S. officials didn't learn of the Romanian action until
after the Berlin Wall came down and Ceausescu was executed by his own
people. In 1992, seven years after the nuclear infraction, the new
Romanian government voluntarily reported the case to the International
Atomic Energy Agency.

The agency, satisfied that corrective action had been taken, reported
the infraction to the UN Security Council for informational purposes
only -- one of just a handful of cases ever reported to the council.

But even after Romania's admission, the American government did not
invest more in its effort to retrieve bomb-grade fuel worldwide.

Instead, it took steps that ensured failure for several years to come.

Reaching out to former foes

Despondent over a lack of progress, Travelli began to neglect his wall
map. When people brushed up against it, shifting the magnets around,
he didn't bother to fix them.

It wasn't as though he had made no headway: By 1993, he had helped
retrieve bomb fuel from 19 reactors -- about a quarter of all U.S.-
supplied facilities -- and invented safer fuels that could be used in
several dozen more.

But in further cost-cutting moves, the Energy Department had
eliminated his research budget, preventing him from developing other
fuels needed for the remaining reactors still using highly enriched

Worse, the U.S. was refusing to stop using enriched uranium in more
than a dozen reactors on American soil. In fact, in 1993 President
Bill Clinton backed a plan in Tennessee to build a giant, $3 billion
research reactor complex -- a facility that would use bomb-grade fuel.

The plan eventually was canceled, but foreigners derided America's
attitude as a colossal double standard: It was OK for the U.S. to use
bomb-grade fuel but not for other countries. The foreigners began
holding on to their uranium more tightly than ever.

With few champions in Congress or the federal bureaucracy, Travelli's
program became an orphan, bounced from agency to agency. When Travelli
tried to apply pressure from behind the scenes -- appealing to
congressional staffers for more support, for example -- he alienated
those in Washington already skeptical of a national security program
being run by scientists out of Chicago.

Allan Krass, a retired State Department official, supported Travelli's
effort but realized others did not. These officials "really saw it as
a bunch of guys who just wanted to get more money so that they could
keep their program alive but who didn't have any good ideas and
weren't making much progress," Krass said.

Just when it appeared Travelli's quest would die, the State Department
in the mid-1990s became increasingly alarmed at reports of thieves
stealing small amounts of highly enriched uranium in Russia and other
former Soviet republics.

Travelli proposed an idea: What if he expanded his efforts to include
the tons of highly enriched uranium the Soviets had distributed over
the last three decades?

The State Department had a similar idea. It gave Travelli $1.5 million
-- money that could be spent only overseas -- and in 1993 he flew to
Moscow. It was his first trip there, and he did not know what to

To his surprise, he discovered that the Russians had been monitoring
his work for years. They had read all of his papers, knew all of his
team members' names -- even copied his effort by retrieving some of
their own nuclear fuel.

"It was eerie, like meeting your long-lost twin brother," Travelli

He also was startled to see the same mysterious, stony-faced man who
had approached him 12 years earlier in West Germany and pumped him for
information. The man's name, it turned out, was Nikolay Arkhangelsky,
an influential nuclear official. But Arkhangelsky remained elusive.

Travelli would go on to meet with him about 20 times and even travel
with him to three countries to tour nuclear facilities. But he never
learned basic information about the Russian. His business card simply
read "scientific adviser," and some members of Travelli's team came to
suspect that he was working for the Russian secret police -- a charge
Arkhangelsky later would laugh off.

Over the course of several more visits to Moscow, Travelli proposed to
Arkhangelsky and the other Russians that the two countries work
together to solve the fuel problem once and for all.

Retrieving it one nation at a time, he concluded, was failing
desperately. There were just too many reactors requiring too many
kinds of fuel.

But what if the U.S. and Russia started from scratch, returned to the
lab and tried to invent a single fuel that could replace bomb material
in every reactor in the world?

No longer would they have to fear rogue states, friends becoming
enemies, unchecked reactors or nuclear terrorists. All the world's
bombmaking fuel could be removed from civilian use, and the Atoms for
Peace debacle would be over.

After considering it, the Russians agreed to try. Even the reluctant
U.S. Energy Department was willing to help pay for the effort.

Finally, Travelli felt success might be at hand.

Copyright 2007, Chicago Tribune

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From: Forth Worth (Tex.) Star-Telegram, Jan. 20, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Scott Streater, Star-Telegram Staff Writer

A new study suggests that people are routinely exposed to
potentially harmful chemical flame retardants by ingesting household
dust laced with the toxic chemicals, a fact that concerns health
researchers who fear that children are at greatest risk.

The study, conducted by researchers at Boston University's School of
Public Health, is the first to link the presence in people of the
chemical flame retardants to exposure to common dust, which can be
inhaled in the air or ingested in food.

And because infants tend to crawl on the floor, where dust
accumulates, they are likely exposed to higher levels of the toxic
substances, which could place them at risk of developing neurological
problems, researchers say.

The flame retardants -- called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or
PBDEs -- have been in widespread use in the United States since the
1970s and are commonly found in carpet padding, television sets,
computer wire insulation, mattress stuffing, waterproof jackets and
many other products. The chemicals are added to products to help
prevent the spread of fire.

But studies have measured the flame retardants in virtually every
American tested, at levels that are the highest in the world.

A growing number of researchers suspect that PBDEs can cause
reproductive and neurological problems, disrupt hormonal balance and,
at high concentrations, increase the risk of cancer.

A Star-Telegram project last year found that chemical flame retardants
may be common in local residents' bodies.

What it means

The Boston University study raises further concerns about widespread
exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, and the possible
health effects.

What researchers found

Researchers tested the breast milk of 46 first-time mothers in the
Boston area. Though they only obtained dust samples from 11 of the
women's homes, they found a statistically significant link between the
levels of PBDEs found in the breast milk and in the dust collected in
their homes.

"I think what our work shows is that the indoor environment is a
significant source of exposure to PBDEs," said Tom Webster, an
epidemiologist at Boston University who led the study.

How it got there

Webster said researchers aren't certain how the chemical flame
retardants get into the environment. He said he suspects that the
chemicals may turn into a gas and attach themselves to dust particles
as they waft through the air.

Local implications

A Star-Telegram project last year found the chemical flame retardants
in some local residents, too.

Working with Dr. Arnold Schecter, a public-health physician at the
University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, the Star-
Telegram paid to have blood samples from 12 Tarrant County residents
analyzed for 83 toxic chemicals, including 15 of the most commonly
used PBDEs. The analysis found low levels of 14 of the PBDEs in the
study participants.

The Star-Telegram analysis mirrored national studies indicating that
most Americans have these chemical flame retardants in their bodies.

What's next

Chemical manufacturers maintain that the flame retardants save lives
and that there's no definitive link between the PBDEs commonly
measured in people and health problems.

But some government and industry leaders are moving to phase them out.

The Legislature in Washington state is moving forward on a bill that
would ban the three most commonly used PBDEs. It would be the first
state to adopt such legislation, which could receive final approval as
early as this month.

U.S. manufacturers have agreed to voluntarily halt production of two
of the most toxic brominated flame retardants, but not the one in
widespread commercial use today. Many companies that sell products
containing PBDEs, including Ford, Dell and IBM, have found

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently unveiled draft
risk assessments of four common PBDEs. The draft assessments were
conducted by a panel of scientists who are trying to establish a safe
level of daily exposure to PBDEs, above which health problems might
occur. The safe levels in the draft assessments are very low.

All four PBDEs being studied by the EPA were measured in the Tarrant
County residents who participated in the Star-Telegram project.

Should I be worried?

Some researchers fear that people are routinely exposed to PBDE levels
near the threshold where the EPA draft assessments suggest that health
problems could occur.

That's especially true of children, who crawl and put virtually
everything they touch into their mouths, said Heather Stapleton, an
environmental chemist at Duke University who has done extensive
research on the issue.

Staples compares PBDEs to lead. Many children with lead poisoning were
exposed to the toxic metal by ingesting contaminated dust.

"It almost seems like this [PBDEs] could be the next version of lead
coming through," she said. "We don't know as much about the toxicity
of these compounds as we do of lead. But we definitely find very high
levels in indoor dust that are going to be an exposure route for

If that's true, and PBDEs are a health concern, that should be enough
to persuade regulators to demand alternatives to the PBDEs, Webster

"Flame retardants are useful because stopping fires is good," he said.
"But we probably want to have ones that are not toxic."

For more information

For an overview of the Boston University study, go to:

The study will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental
Science & Technology.


What are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)?

Synthetic chemicals that help prevent the spread of fire by impeding
the chemical reaction that causes it. PBDEs are commonly found in
polyurethane foam products, such as the padding in furniture, as well
as in textiles, television sets and computers. But they can also be
found in food and household dust. They have been measured in the
bodies of virtually every American who has been tested.

What are the possible health effects?

The main concern is that PBDEs build up in the body over a long time.
Data on how PBDEs affect people are scarce, and no one knows what
levels trigger health problems. But animal studies have shown that
PBDEs harm the nervous system and alter hormonal functions and the
development of reproductive organs. Industry officials say the levels
that have been measured in people and in the environment are too low
to cause problems.

SOURCES: Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, federal Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Copyright 2007 Star-Telegram

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From: Environmental Science & Technology Online News, Jan. 24, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


NOAA reports that 2006 was the warmest year on record for the
continental U.S.

Last year's average temperature made 2006 the warmest on record for
the contiguous U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA). The previous record-breaking year was 1998.

The remarkable records partly stem from December temperatures, the
warmest reported for a handful of New England states and Minnesota,
which was more than 8 deg. C above average for most of the month.
Although the anomalously warm start to this year's winter is
attributable to an active El Nino season, NOAA acknowledges that
greenhouse gases account for some portion of the overall warming
trend. The past 9 years have made the list of the 25 warmest years in
recorded history for the U.S.

Copyright 2007 American Chemical Society

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