Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#881 -- A New World, 16-Nov-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #881

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

Thursday, November 16, 2006.............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

The World Is New
  The world has changed completely during the past 50 years. But our
  institutions, our language, and our mental tools have not changed. As
  a result, we are stubbornly pursuing a course that is destroying the
  future.
Mining Coal, Destroying the Appalachian Mountains
  One of the greatest environmental and human rights catastrophes in
  American history is underway just southwest of our nation's capital.
Wind Farms Could Meet Global Energy Needs
  No one is suggesting that wind farms alone should power the global
  economy. But they could.
You Are What Your Grandmother Ate
  The field of study called epigenetics keeps coming up with
  unpleasant surprises -- new ways that environmental conditions today
  can harm our children and grandchildren tomorrow.
International Paper Abandons Plan To Burn Tires on Lake Champlain
  Citizen activists working with government officials nixed a plan by
  International Paper corporation to burn 72 tons of rubber tires each
  day on the western shore of Lake Champlain. The fight started in
  September 2003 and ended this week.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News, Nov. 15, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

THE WORLD IS NEW

By Peter Montague

We are living in a world that is essentially new. Almost everything
has changed in the past 50 years. Perhaps we are trying to understand
this new world using habits of thought from the old world. Maybe that
is why things seem so confusing. Let's consider some of the ways the
world has changed since 1950.

In the largest sense, here is the big change of the past 50 years: For
aeons, there was a shortage of people and an abundance of nature. We
set up all our institutions (churches, corporations, governments,
laws, courts, media, schools) to encourage population growth and
economic growth (the accumulation of capital assets -- farms,
factories, highways, ports, power plants, and so on). Now we find
ourselves with a shortage of nature, a superabundance of people, and a
glut of capital assets -- more than we know what to do with, really.
Because of this fundamental shift, almost everything is different now
than it was 50 years ago. But our institutions, our language, and our
mental tools have not changed. As a result, we are stubbornly pursuing
a course that is wrecking the future.

Let's review some features of our new world:

Trends in the Destruction of Nature

1. More Humans

During the last 50 years, global human population more than doubled,
from 2.8 billion people to 6.5 billion (in round numbers). The U.S.
Bureau of the Census estimates that global population will reach 9.4
billion by 2050, a 44% increase in 45 years. It might even grow faster
than that, doubling in 35 years to 12 billion, but even 9 billion
would surely stress the planet's already-stressed ecosystems mightily.

Where will we put 44% more farms (with their fertilizers and
pesticides and demand for fresh water), 44% more mines, more roads,
highways, parking lots, airports, cars, trucks, buses, ships, trains,
planes), more cities, hospitals, prisons, ports? And of course more
wastes at every step.

All this will require at least 44% more power plants, which produce
their own unique wastes (among them toxic or radioactive sludges,
solid residues, and global warming gases).

We're already at a point where we've had to acknowledge there's no
place left to throw things "away" -- there is no "away" -- the planet
has been thoroughly doused with toxicants. Fog, rain and snow
now contain measurable levels of toxic waste.

2. Global warming is upon us. Fifty years ago this seemed a remote
theoretical possibility. Today it is a widely-acknowledged problem,
looming ever larger the more we learn about it.

The likely consequences of global warming are more intense and more
frequent hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons, more severe and frequent
droughts, floods, wild fires, and heat waves; rising sea levels with
coastal inundation; more human disease (malaria, yellow fever, dengue
fever) and other negative impacts on human health.

The main human contributions to global warming are emissions from
automobiles and electric power plants burning fossil fuels. In its
authoritative report, World Energy Outlook, the OECD (Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development) projects a 55% annual increase
in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 unless national policies
change pretty quickly. So far, nations have shown little inclination
to make the needed changes, least of all the biggest emitter, the U.S.

3. Destruction of ocean productivity. Fifty years ago the oceans
seemed unimaginably vast, so huge that humans could not possibly
affect them. Yet today we know that humans have managed to...

(a) contaminate every part of the world's oceans with industrial
poisons;

(b) pollute vast near-shore ecosystems with excessive nutrients
(mainly nitrogen), giving rise to large "dead zones," enormous algae
blooms (red and brown tides), contaminated groundwater and massive
fish kills;

(c) progressively destroy many of the world's coral reefs; and

(d) exhaust many of the world's fisheries. In November, 2006, a study
published in Science magazine predicted the collapse of all ocean
fisheries by 2048 unless major changes occur in fishing practices.

4. Fresh water

Water pollution is reducing the useable supply of fresh water in most
countries, even as the demand for fresh water is rising. At least 80
countries holding 40% of global population were facing water shortages
in 2000. According to the United Nations, by 2025, 2/3rds of the
global population is expected to be living in water-stressed regions.
In addition, in 2000, 2.4 billion people (40% of the global
population) were living without basic sanitation.

Because surface water sources have been depleted or polluted, many
countries have started pumping their underground supplies, but nature
generally replenishes underground sources only very slowly.
Furthermore, underground water supplies are now becoming polluted. In
its authoritative report, Environmental Outlook, the OECD said,
"Available evidence suggests that there is a trend towards a worsening
of aquifer water quality in OECD regions. Once groundwater sources are
contaminated, they can be very difficult to clean up because the rate
of flow is usually very slow and purification measures are often
costly," the OECD says. (pg. 103) Worse, growing water scarcity is
already giving rise to conflicts within and between countries --
water wars -- that are likely to increase as time goes on.

5. Forests

Within OECD countries, original "old growth" forests are being cut and
replaced by secondary growth and by simple monoculture tree farms,
which require artificial fertilizers and pesticides to survive. Thus,
although the total area of forests is holding steady in OECD regions,
the quality of forested lands, measured by natural habitat and
biodiversity, is steadily declining. Some trees may grow quickly but
forests take centuries to mature. The prospect for tropical forests is
worse. With 37 million acres being cut down each year, "Tropical
deforestation is expected to continue at alarming rates over the next
few decades," says the OECD. (pg. 125) In the blink of an eye,
between 2000 and 2020, the world is expected to lose almost 6% of its
total remaining forested land, the OECD says. (pg. 136)

6. Acid Rain

Acid rain, snow and fog, caused by emissions of sulphur and nitrogen
oxides, damage forests, soils and fresh water ecosystems. Acid rain
"has been identified as an important factor in forest demise," says
the OECD (pg. 127), and "Current acid deposition levels in Northern
Europe and parts of North America are at least twice as high as
critical levels." (pg. 190) In Europe the situation is expected to
improve in the next 10 years but elsewhere in the world, it is
expected to worsen. Outside OECD countries, both sulphur and nitrogen
oxide emissions are expected to increase substantially in the next two
decades: "Thus, acid depositions are likely to continue to contribute
to acidification of surface waters and soils in these areas and reduce
the quality of the most sensitive ecosystems." (pg. 190)

7. Loss of Biodiversity

Humans are relentlessly clearing and plowing up the habitat needed by
other creatures, mostly converting it to farmland. Then many of the
farmlands themselves are being despoiled by poor irrigation practices
(which bring salts up from deep soils and deposit them in the top
layers) and by soil erosion. According to the OECD, two-thirds of the
world's farmlands have already been degraded to some degree and one-
third have been "strongly or very strongly degraded." (pg. 138)
Furthermore, half the world's wetlands have already been destroyed.
(pg. 136) And the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems is "under
serious threat" with 20% of the world's fresh water fish extinct,
threatened or endangered. (pg. 138) Half of all primates, and 9% of
all known species of trees are at some risk of extinction, the OECD
says. (The United Nations is even less optimistic about the future
of primates.) Between now and 2020, biodiversity in OECD countries is
likely to degrade further. (pg. 138) The United Nations reports that
24% of all mammals on Earth, and 11% of all bird species, are now
considered globally threatened with extinction.

Species are now going extinct at a rate somewhere between 100 and 1000
times as fast as the historical rate of extinction of species. We are
shredding Creation.

In addition, ecosystems are being scrambled by invasive species and
by the unintentional spread of genetically engineered organisms into
the wild.

8. Chemicals are Destroying Wildlife

As global warming melts Arctic ice, polar bears swim toward distant
ice flows, which now no longer exist, and they drown. The demise of
the polar bear is now predicted for later this century. How do we
explain drowning bears to our children?

Fish in much of the fresh water of the U.S. are having their gender
changed by exposure to biologically-active chemicals -- including the
residues of pharmaceutical products flushed from households into
sewage treatment plants, then into streams and rivers. Many male fish
are being feminized.

Frogs are disappearing around the world, for a variety of reasons
ranging from habitat destruction to excessive ultraviolet radiation (a
byproduct of DuPont's destruction of the earth's ozone shield) to
pesticides and other industrial poisons.

Chemicals are interfering with all the biological systems that allow
wildlife to thrive -- harming their immune systems, their reproductive
systems, giving them cancer and a host of other diseases. Sea turtles
are endangered by mysterious growths appearing on their faces, making
it impossible for them to eat, starving them to death. Killer whales
(Orcas) are disappearing from the Pacific Northwest because of
Monsanto's PCBs wrecking their reproductive systems. This short list
barely scratches the surface.

All of these problems, and more, were studied by a group of 1360
scientists from 95 countries during the period 1999-2005. Their study,
called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, drew three broad
conclusions:

1) Of 24 ecosystems they studied worldwide, 60% are being degraded by
human activities. "We're undermining our ecological capital all around
the world," said Robert Watson, chief scientist of the World Bank.

2) Global degradation is increasing the chances of sudden, drastic
changes in ecosystems, such as the collapse of fisheries or the
emergence of new diseases from fragmented forests.

3) The pressure on ecosystems is disproportionately harming the poor.
The report says healthy ecosystems are essential for alleviating
poverty.

In releasing their report, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
scientific board of directors did not mince words:

"At the heart of this assessment is a stark warning. Human activity is
putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability
of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer
be taken for granted," they said.

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From: Appalachian Voices, Oct. 29, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL COAL MINING

One of the greatest environmental and human rights catastrophes in
American history is underway just southwest of our nation's capital.

In the coalfields of Appalachia, individuals, families and entire
communities are being driven off their land by flooding, landslides
and blasting resulting from mountaintop removal coal mining.

Mountaintop removal is a relatively new type of coal mining that began
in Appalachia in the 1970s as an extension of conventional strip
mining techniques. Primarily, mountaintop removal is occurring in
West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Coal companies in
Appalachia are increasingly using this method because it allows for
almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of
workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.

Mountaintop removal involves clear cutting native hardwood forests,
using dynamite to blast away as much as 800-1000 feet of mountaintop,
and then dumping the waste into nearby valleys, often burying streams.

While the environmental devastation caused by this practice is
obvious, families and communities near these mining sites are forced
to contend with continual blasting from mining operations that can
take place up to 300 feet from their homes and operate 24 hours a day.

Families and communities near mining sites also suffer from airborne
dust and debris, floods that have left hundreds dead and thousands
homeless, and contamination of their drinking water supplies.

In central Appalachian counties, which are among the poorest in the
nation, homes are frequently the only asset folks have. Mining
operations have damaged hundreds of homes beyond repair and the value
of homes near a mountaintop removal sites often decrease by as much as
90%.

Worst of all, mountaintop removal is threatening not just the people,
forest and mountaints of central Appalachia, but the very culture of
the region. Coal companies frequently claim that mountaintop removal
is beneficial for the people, economy and the environment, but the
facts just don't hold up.

Appalachian Voices is helping to end the practice of mountaintop
removal coal mining by working with community organizations in
coalfields, and organizing a national educational campaign to end
the destructive practice of mountain top removal coal mining by
gaining support for the Clean Water Protection Act. As part of this
campaign, we are traveling to communities to share Appalachian
Treasures, a multi-media slide show presentation that depicts the
dire situation in Appalachian coalfields and encouraging Americans to
help protect Appalachian communities and some of our nation's oldest
mountains.

Appalachian Voices is also working to compile scientific, socio-
economic and geographic information on the effects and extent of
mountaintop removal and a host of other resources such as a photo
gallery of mountaintop removal and the Appalachian mountains and
information on where coal from mountaintop removal operations is
consumed.

Click the links below to view other mountaintop removal resources
available from Appalachian Voices:

Appalachian Voices Mountaintop Removal Homepage

What Is Mountaintop Removal and Who Regulates It?

The Geography of Mountaintop Removal

Mountaintop Removal Photo Gallery

Myths and Facts About Mountaintop Removal

How Does Mountaintop Removal Affect the Environment?

How Does Mountaintop Removal Affect the Economy?

Where is Coal from Mountaintop Removal Consumed?

The Clean Water Protection Act: a Bill to Curtail Mountaintop

Appalachian Treasures: a National Campaign to End Mountaintop
Removal

Mountaintop Removal Site Tour #1: Sundial, West Virginia

Copyright Appalachian Voices, 1999-2006

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From: CNN.com, Jul. 15, 2005
[Printer-friendly version]

WIND FARMS COULD MEET ENERGY NEEDS

CNN -- Wind power could generate more than enough sustainable
electricity to meet global energy needs, according to new research.

Scientists at Stanford University have produced a world map that plots
wind power potential for the first time.

They say that harnessing even 20 percent of that energy would produce
eight times more electricity than the world consumed in 2000.

"The main implication of this study is that wind, for low-cost wind
energy, is more widely available than was previously recognized," said
Cristina Archer, formerly of Stanford's Department of Civil and
Environmental Engineering.

Archer and colleague Mark Jacobsen collected wind-speed measurements
from 7,500 surface stations and 500 balloon-launch stations to
determine wind speeds at 80 meters (300 feet) -- the height of modern
turbines.

They found average wind speeds capable of generating power -- upwards
of 6.9 meters per second, or 15 miles an hour -- in 13 percent of the
stations and in all regions of the globe.

North America had the greatest potential for wind energy with
consistent winds found in the Great Lakes region and along both the
north-eastern and north-western coasts.

Some of the strongest winds were found in northern Europe in the North
Sea, off the southern tip of South America and around the Australian
island of Tasmania.

Wind is already the fastest growing source of energy in the world,
with average annual growth of 34 percent over the past five years. But
it currently produces just 0.54 percent of electricity used.

Installed annual capacity at the end of 2003 stood at 39,000
megawatts, or 39 million watts.

Germany produced almost 40 percent of that total, with wind power
contributing 20 percent of its overall electricity supplies.

But Archer and Jacobsen, whose research is published in the Journal of
Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, estimate that locations with
sustainable winds could produce approximately 72 terawatts -- or 72
trillion watts -- a year.

It would take more than 500 nuclear power stations to generate a
terawatt and in 2000 the world consumed just 1.8 terrawatts in total.

Critics of wind power say that densely packed wind farms would be
needed to capture an acceptable level of energy, spoiling their local
environment and posing a threat to bird life. They also say that winds
are unreliable and that back-up sources of energy would still be
necessary.

But the pair said they hoped the study would help planners to identify
good locations for wind farms, particularly in developing countries.
Currently many farms are located inland, where winds are intermittent.

Tom Gray of the American Wind Energy Association told Nature that the
map was of interest to the wind power industry.

"From the early days, there has been an issue with where the resource
is," he said.

Copyright 2006 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.

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From: New Scientist, Nov. 13, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

YOU ARE WHAT YOUR GRANDMOTHER ATE

By Roxanne Khamsi

A mother's diet can change the behaviour of a specific gene for at
least two subsequent generations, a new study demonstrates for the
first time.

Feeding mice an enriched diet during pregnancy silenced a gene for
light fur in their pups. And even though these pups ate a standard,
un-enriched diet, the gene remained less active in their subsequent
offspring.

The findings could help explain the curious results from recent
studies of human populations -- including one showing that the
grandchildren of well-fed Swedes had a greater risk of diabetes.

The new mouse experiment lends support to the idea that we inherit not
only our genes from our parents, but also a set of instructions that
tell the genes when to become active. These instructions appear to be
passed on through "epigenetic" changes to DNA -- genes can be
activated or silenced according to the chemical groups that are added
onto them. Gene silencer

David Martin at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in
California, US, and colleagues used a special strain of genetically
identical mice with an overactive version of a gene that influences
fur colour. Mice with the AVY version of this gene generally have
golden fur.

Half of the mice were given a diet enriched with nutrients such as
vitamin B12 and zinc. These nutrients are known to increase the
availability of the "methyl" chemical groups that are responsible for
silencing genes. The rest of the mice received a standard diet.

The pups of mice on the standard diet generally had golden fur. But a
high proportion of those born to mice on the enriched diet had dark
brown fur.

Martin believes that the nutrient-rich maternal diet caused silencing
of the pups' AVY genes while they developed in the womb. Passed down

Intriguingly, even though all of the pups in this generation received
a standard diet, those that had exposure to a high-nutrient diet while
in the womb, later gave birth to dark-coated offspring. Their control
counterparts, by comparison, produced offspring with golden fur.

This shows that environmental factors -- such as an enriched diet --
can affect the activity of the AVY gene for at least two generations,
the researchers say.

"The results make it clear that a nutritional status can affect not
only that individual, but that individual's children as well," says
study member Kenneth Beckman. Skin colour

Beckman notes that the AVY gene is linked to weight and diabetes risk.
He adds that there is some evidence that a related gene in humans
might affect skin colour -- but it is unknown if it also affects
weight.

Even though humans may have a similar gene, they should not make
dietary changes based on the results of the mouse experiment,
researchers stress. "It would be irresponsible to make any
prescriptions about human behaviour based on these findings," says
Martin.

An earlier Swedish study which used historical data of harvests in
Sweden, found that a youngster had a quadrupled risk of diabetes if
their grandfather had good access to food during his own boyhood.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
(DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0607090103)

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From: Times Argus (Montpelier, Vermont), Nov. 15, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

INTERNATIONAL PAPER QUITS TIRE BURN

By Darren M. Allen, Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER -- Less than a week's worth of data stopped what three
years of protests, regulatory appeals and state and federal court
hearings couldn't.

International Paper will abandon its efforts to use shredded tires as
fuel for the giant boilers that power its Ticonderoga, N.Y., mill.

In an announcement Tuesday, the company said the use of shredded tires
"would not be economically feasible at this time" and it was ceasing
tests of the effects of tire burning on air quality.

The announcement was greeted with jubilation on this side of Lake
Champlain.

"I hate to say it, but we told them so," Vermont Attorney General
William Sorrell said. "This is great news. It's unfortunate they had
to burn tires to pay attention to what we've been saying all along."

What Sorrell and other public officials from Gov. James Douglas on
down have been saying is that the plant should have been forbidden to
test tire burning until International Paper installed a pollution
control device known as an electrostatic precipitator.

Such a device is used to capture, among other things, tiny particles
that would ordinarily spew out of the mill's giant smokestacks when
tires are burned. As it happened, the plant approached its federal
pollution limits for those particulates when it began to feed shredded
tires into its boilers at a rate of less than 1 ton per hour.

Plant officials had hoped to be able to burn up to 3 tons per hour.

"We have a record now, and we now know that their case for not putting
on an electrostatic precipitator is much weaker," said Sorrell, who
tried -- unsuccessfully -- to thwart the test burn in New York and
federal courts. "The proof is in the pudding."

Plant officials sought permission to conduct the test to see if
shredded tires would be a viable substitute fuel. Using tires to
replace about one-tenth of the No. 6 fuel oil the plant uses now was
estimated to save the company about $4 million a year on its energy
bill.

But the test confirmed that doing so likely would require expensive
upgrades to its boiler and its pollution control devices.

"The permitting process worked and the voice of the people process
worked and the court system worked and when all of that comes together
along with a company that acts responsibly that did what it said it
would do, we are able to make sound decisions," said Donna Wadsworth,
the mill's spokeswoman. "The scientific analysis, modeling and
learning and then conducting the trial of the alternative fuel source
was very important. We were true to our commitment to operate in
compliance."

Opposition to the test burn raged since International Paper announced
its intentions in the fall of 2003. Critics voiced concern over how
the smoke from burned tires would affect the air quality around Lake
Champlain.

Indeed, the plant, which sits on the lake's western shore less than a
mile across the water from Addison County, is Vermont's largest
polluter, even though it is in New York.

The test burn began last week, days after a federal appeals court in
New York City denied Vermont's last-minute appeal. Although the plant
was given permission to conduct 14 days of testing by New York
environmental regulators and the federal Environmental Protection
Agency, tires were burned for a total of about 40 hours over five
days. The test was halted Thursday after levels of particulates were
approaching federal limits.

Vermont's health department went on alert during the trial, and even
though no health warnings were issued, a handful of people registered
health concerns with the department.

Environmentalists had made the tire burn a cause celebre for years.
People for Less Pollution, an Addison County-based group formed to
oppose the test burn, was a key opponent.

"This is certainly good news," said the group's president, Richard
Carpenter. "They obviously concluded that, without an electrostatic
precipitator, it just doesn't make sense. Without one, they were going
to produce more pollution than the citizens of Vermont wanted to
breathe."

Although it won't be able to save about $4 million a year on fuel
costs, the plant will remain an economically feasible part of
International Paper, Wadsworth said.

"This mill is a very viable mill making high-end products that are in
high demand with our customers," she said. "We are competitive, in
fact very competitive, in our market. Like any other business, we have
to look at cost effectiveness and at ways to stay competitive."

The paper industry is undergoing a global shift, with production
moving overseas in many cases. One of the Ticonderoga mill's key
selling points, Wadsworth said, is its proximity to "high quality
fiber" -- the millions of acres of hardwood trees that grow in
northern New York and New England.

Environmentalists weren't the only ones cheering the demise of tire-
derived fuel. The state's congressional delegation -- Rep. Bernard
Sanders and Senators Patrick Leahy and James Jeffords -- issued a
joint statement Tuesday evening.

"IP's decision to abandon its test burn of tires is positive news, but
we believe Vermonters should not have been subjected to these
emissions in the first place," the statement said. "If IP had not
taken this action, the delegation was prepared to call on the EPA to
shut down this test burn."

Contact Darren Allen at darren.allen@timesargus.com.

Copyright 2006 Times Argus

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  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
  Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
  often considered separately or not at all.

  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
  because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
  health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
  rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
  workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
  intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
  therefore ruled by the few.  

  In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
  gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
  might be done about it?"

  As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
  please Email them to us at dhn@rachel.org.
  
  Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
  necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the
  subject.

  Editors:
  Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
  Tim Montague   -   tim@rachel.org
  
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