Featured stories in this issue...
Business as Usual, Part 1
"Species-area relationships lead to projections of the loss of
fully two-thirds of all species on Earth by the end of this
century.... And these projections do not include the inevitably
negative effects of climate change, widespread pollution, and the
destruction caused by alien species worldwide, among other factors."
Study: People Near Dow Chemical Plant Have Higher Dioxin Levels
A new study shows that people living near Dow Chemical's
headquarters in Midland, Michigan are contaminated with dioxin, one of
the two or three most potent poisons known to science.
What Will It Take to Make 'Green Chemistry' Real?
"The U.S. private sector is simply not investing vigorously enough
in cleaner technologies, such as green chemistry, that are likely to
mark the next era of innovation and growth in the global chemicals
market. With very few exceptions one can still earn a Ph.D. in
chemistry at U.S. universities without demonstrating even a
rudimentary understanding of how chemicals affect human health and the
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Comes Under Threat
The Bush administration has awarded $1 million for a study aimed at
limiting information available to the public via the Freedom of
Information Act. Those of us who value freedom of information had
better take steps to defend it.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #868, Aug. 16, 2006
BUSINESS AS USUAL, PART 1
By Peter Montague
Peter H. Raven, a well-known biologist, was president of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) during 2002. With 10
million members and affiliates, the AAAS is the largest scientific
organization in the U.S.; it publishes Science magazine.
Dr. Raven's presidential address to the academy in 2002 is a
succinct statement of where business as usual has carried us. In 2003,
Dr. Raven presented a companion paper to the Natural History Museum
in London, England. Here we summarize what he had to say in those two
papers. [I have added a few comments in the text, inside square
[As you read through this description of the world we are handing to
our children, ask yourself, "If the environmental movement got
everything it is seeking, would it make a real difference in the
problems described here? Have we set our sights high enough? Have we
focused our minds on the real root causes?"]
In 1950, the human population of Earth was 2.5 billion. A mere 50
years later it had grown to 6 billion. The human population is
expected to level off at 9 billion some time during this century.
[This will require 50% more of everything that we enjoy today -- 50%
more cities, hospitals, roads, parks, prisons, parking lots, trucks,
sewage treatment plants, farms and factories. If the human standard of
living rises during that time, even more will be needed.]
[How will things look when the human population has grown 50% larger?]
To support 6 billion people, each year we are dousing our crops with 3
million metric tonnes (6.6 billion pounds) of pesticidal chemicals
(1.1 billion pounds in the U.S. alone). Another byproduct of our
industrial agricultural system, Dr. Raven says, is that "We also are
poisoning the environment with the nitrogen we fix, our output now
exceeding the total derived from natural processes." [This deserves a
brief explanation: We "fix" nitrogen gas from the atmosphere, turning
it into a solid, and mix it into soils as fertilizer to stimulate
plant growth. Much of this nitrogen washes out of the soil and enters
streams, eventually reaching the oceans, where it stimulates growth of
algae, disrupting near-shore ecosystems with "red tides" and "brown
tides," and contributes to the death of corals, among other
disruptions. Humans are now putting more nitrogen into soils and water
than all non-human natural processes combined. By this measure we
humans are now more powerful than all the rest of nature -- quite an
astonishing accomplishment for a single species among the 10 million
(or more) species on earth.]
Human crops now require cultivated lands the size of South America.
"Most of the land used for agriculture and grazing, especially in the
tropics and subtropics, is being degraded by these activities and is
therefore becoming less sustainable and productive in the face of
increasing worldwide demand for high-quality food." Furthermore, "only
limited potential remains for expanding the area of land under
And, says Dr. Raven, "The rangelands on which some 180 million of us
graze 3.3 billion cattle, sheep, and goats occupy about a fifth of the
world's land surface; although there is a rapidly increasing demand
for animal protein, "in almost every case, the lands on which they are
being grazed are being progressively degraded to such an extent that
they are unlikely to be able to maintain their present levels of
productivity, much less of biodiversity, in the future," says Dr.
...[A]bout 20% of the arable land in 1950 has been lost subsequently,
to salinization [from salt left in the soil by irrigation],
desertification, urban sprawl, erosion, and other factors, so that we
are feeding 6.3 billion people today on about four-fifths of the land
on which we were feeding 2.5 billion people in 1950....
In sum, says Dr. Raven, "Over the past half century, we have lost
about a fifth of the world's topsoil, a fifth of its agricultural
land, and a third of its forests." By the middle of the present
century, 95% of tropical moist forests are expected to be lost.
Furthermore, "habitats throughout the world have [already] been
decimated, with populations of alien plants and animals exploding and
causing enormous damage throughout the world."
"About two-thirds of the world's fisheries are being harvested beyond
sustainability," says Dr. Raven. And, "Almost all major fisheries are
under severe pressure...."
"We have changed the composition of the atmosphere profoundly, first
by adding about one sixth to the carbon dioxide that is contributing
substantially to driving global temperatures upward and second, by
depleting the stratospheric ozone layer by about 8 per cent."
...[W]e [humans] are consuming more than half of the total renewable
supplies of fresh water in the world, our use of water growing at
about twice the rate of our population growth. Our demands for water
are growing rapidly, while water tables across north China, India, and
other critical, densely populated regions are dropping rapidly.
Agriculture accounts for about 90% of the total water actually
consumed for human purposes, and it is not clear how we shall be able
to find water for a human population 50% larger than at present, one
with greatly increased demands for affluence. As it is, about half the
human population, some 3.5 billion people, will be living in regions
facing severe water shortages by 2025.
"The most troublesome environmental change of all, in that it is
irreversible, is the loss of biodiversity." Historically, extinction
has occurred naturally at the rate of about one species lost per
million species each year. "Historical records over the past few
centuries demonstrate that it has now risen by approximately three
orders of magnitude, to perhaps 1,000 species per million per year
(0.1 per cent of all species per year), and it continues to rise
sharply, with the accelerating destruction of habitats throughout the
world," Dr. Raven says.
"Species-area relationships, taken worldwide, lead to projections of
the loss of fully two-thirds of all species on Earth by the end of
this century.... And these projections do not include the inevitably
negative effects of climate change, widespread pollution, and the
destruction caused by alien species worldwide, among other factors."
[Did you get that? Two-thirds of all species on Earth may disappear
during this century -- and this projection does not take into
consideration the effects of climate change, widespread pollution, and
the destruction caused by alient species worldwide.]
"The significance of such a loss for global stability as well as human
progress is staggering," says Dr. Raven.
He goes on: "Striking is the fact that we are likely never to have
seen, or to be aware of, the existence of most of the species we are
driving to extinction. In tropical moist forest, we have catalogued so
far probably fewer than one in twenty of the species present -- which
is one reason that the losses are so tragic. The loss of so many
species clearly will have a negative impact on future human prospects.
We derive all of our food; most of our medicines; a major proportion
of our building materials, clothing, chemical feedstocks; and other
useful products from the living world."
In addition, the communities and ecosystems that it comprises protect
our watersheds, stabilize our soils, determine our climates and
provide the insects that pollinate our crops, among many other
And finally, says Dr. Raven, these organisms are simply beautiful,
enriching our lives in many ways and inspiring us every day. By any
moral or ethical standard, we simply do not have the right to destroy
them, and yet we are doing it savagely, relentlessly, and at a rapidly
increasing rate, every day. Many believe, and I agree with them, that
we simply do not have the right to destroy what is such a high
proportion of the species on Earth. They are, as far as we know, our
only living companions in the universe, Dr. Raven says.
"Summarizing, we can see that the world has been converted in an
instant of time from a wild, natural one to one in which human beings,
one of an estimated 10 million species of organisms (possibly many
more), are consuming, wasting, or diverting an estimated 45 percent of
the total net biological productivity on land and using more than half
of the renewable fresh water."
Dr. Raven says, "The scales and kinds of changes in the Earth's life
support systems are so different from what they have ever been before
that we cannot base our predictions of the future, much less chart our
future courses of action, on the basis of what has happened in the
[Continued next week.]
Return to Table of Contents
From: The Associated Press State & Local Wire, Aug. 15, 2006
STUDY: PEOPLE NEAR DOW CHEMICAL PLANT HAVE HIGHER DIOXIN LEVELS
By John Flesher, AP Environmental Writer
Residents of some areas near the Dow Chemical Co. plant in Midland,
Mich., have higher levels of dioxins in their bodies than people
studied elsewhere, a University of Michigan study found [13 Mbytes
PDF]. [The study has its own web site.]
The report, released Tuesday, is "the first major study to show
exactly how much exposure to dioxin people have in this area and how
the dioxins get into their bodies," said David Garabrant, an
epidemiologist and specialist in occupational and emergency medicine,
who led the inquiry.
Dow funded the study, which focused on sections of Midland and Saginaw
counties near its plant. Dioxins, a group of toxins, were generated by
company processes over several decades. One of the chemicals is known
to cause cancer.
The study found that people in one of the areas studied, the
Tittabawassee River floodplain, had 28 percent higher median levels of
"dioxin-like chemicals" in their blood than members of a comparison
group in Jackson and Calhoun counties.
Those counties were chosen because they are near the Midland-Saginaw
area but more than 100 miles from the plant.
Older people tended to have higher dioxin levels, the study found.
It also linked the elevated levels with eating foods such as fish from
tainted waters and living where the soil is contaminated.
Return to Table of Contents
From: Congressional Quarterly, Aug. 2, 2006
EPA CHEMICAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
Testimony before U.S. Senate Committee on Senate Environment and
By Michael P. Wilson
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you very much for
inviting me to the hearing today on chemicals policy and the Toxic
Substances Control Act. I am Michael Wilson, an assistant research
scientist with the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at
the University of California (UC), Berkeley and the lead author of a
report regarding chemical problems in California and the steps the
California Legislature can take to respond to those problems.
I will speak briefly about the report, entitled Green Chemistry in
California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and
Innovation, which was published by the University of California in
March of this year. I would like to acknowledge co-authors Daniel Chia
and Bryan Ehlers and the Advisory Committee of experts that provided
technical guidance and rigorous review of the document over a two-year
The report responds to three questions posed to the University by the
--What are the key chemical challenges facing California?
--What are the causes of those challenges?
--How might the Legislature respond to those challenges?
In answering these questions, we found that California, like other
U.S. states, is facing an array of problems with chemicals. These
problems are experienced in different ways by the businesses in our
state that purchase and use chemicals, by our government agencies, and
by consumers and workers. But three themes emerged out of our
investigation. First, there is insufficient information in the
marketplace to make informed decisions abut chemicals.
Second, government is overly constrained in its capacity to protect
public and environmental health from chemicals.
And third, more needs to be done to motivate investment in safer
chemical technologies, known as "green chemistry." While the focus of
the report is on the challenges that exist in California, the report
finds that the root cause of these challenges can be traced to
longstanding deficiencies in federal regulation, particularly with the
Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA. The report illustrates that the
weaknesses of TSCA have produced a Data Gap, a Safety Gap, and a
Technology Gap in the U.S. chemicals market. I would like to briefly
explain these three Gaps and their relevance to chemicals policy in
The first of these, the Data Gap, is perhaps the most fundamental. As
you have heard from other witnesses, TSCA does not require chemical
producers (U.S. or foreign) to generate and disclose robust
information on the toxicity of the vast majority of chemicals in
commercial circulation. Markets cannot function without good
information, and the chemicals market is no different. We found that
California businesses that use chemicals are unable to identify and
choose the safest chemicals for their needs. This leaves them with
uncertainties and liabilities arising from the potential effects of
these chemicals on their workers, on their customers, and in the
environment. Even large firms, such as those in California's
electronics industry, are finding it very difficult and expensive to
identify and replace hazardous chemicals in their supply chains. These
firms simply do not have the right kind information to identify safer
chemical alternatives. Of course, small business owners, workers, and
consumers are affected even more acutely by the lack of appropriate
information in the chemicals market.
This pervasive lack of information also poses a barrier to the
competitive advantage of innovative companies that are investing in
green chemistry. In the current chemicals market, customers, investors
and others are unable to efficiently differentiate between
conventional chemicals and safer alternatives. The report finds that
green chemistry will become commercially viable only when the market
allows these entities to make informed purchasing decisions. It is one
of the proper roles of government to ensure that the market has
sufficient information to function properly, and in this regard, TSCA
has come up short.
The second challenge recognized in the report is the Safety Gap. It is
also a proper function of government to ensure that the production and
use of goods does not come at the expense of public and environmental
health. Here again, TSCA has fallen short. It is well recognized that
U.S. EPA has been greatly constrained in it ability to assess the
hazards of chemicals in commercial circulation and to control those of
greatest concern. This has allowed hazardous chemicals to remain
competitive in the market, and it has unnecessarily put the public at
risk. It is also costly. For example, the EPA expects that if
production and regulatory practices remain the same, 600 new hazardous
waste sites will appear in the U.S. each month of every year over the
next 25 years; clean-up costs are estimated at over $250 billion. The
CDC reports that about half of the top 50 chemicals at existing waste
sites can cause birth defects; others are toxic to the human nervous
Other social costs of chemical exposures are more subtle. There is
evidence that hundreds of chemicals are accumulating in the human
body. Some of these -- including flame retardants, wood preservatives,
and stain repellants -- have been identified in the umbilical cord
blood of newborn babies. Of course, the effects of chemical exposures
during the uniquely sensitive period of human development are of great
concern. Furthermore, chemical exposures in the workplace continue to
produce a substantial burden of occupational disease in the U.S. In
California, about 23,000 workers each year are diagnosed with chronic
diseases that are attributable to chemical exposures on the job. The
Safety Gap created by TSCA is allowing real problems to continue
unchecked, problems that will likely expand as global chemical
production doubles over the next 25 years.
Together, the Data Gap and Safety Gap are contributing to stagnant
conditions in the U.S. chemicals market. This is producing what we
characterize in the report as a U.S. chemical Technology Gap. Only 248
new chemicals introduced since 1979 have reached High Production
Volume status in the U.S., about 8% of the High Production Volume
chemicals in commercial circulation today. In its 1996 Vision 2020
report, the U.S.-based Council for Chemical Research, together with
the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical
Engineers, the American Chemistry Council, and the Synthetic Organic
Chemical Manufacturers Association, wrote that the vast majority of
chemical products are manufactured in the U.S. using technologies
developed 40 to 50 years ago and that new technologies are needed that
incorporate economical and environmentally safer processes, use less
energy, and produce fewer harmful byproducts. Ten years after the
Vision 2020 report, the websites of the 50 largest U.S. chemical
companies all contain a statement of commitment to achieving
sustainability goals, but their spending on research and development
has decreased or remained flat since 2000, according to the National
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Committee on Grand
Challenges for Sustainability in the Chemical Industry, convened by
the National Academy of Sciences, concluded in its December 2005
report that in "going forward, the chemical industry is faced with a
major conundrum the need to be sustainable (balanced economically,
environmentally, and socially in order to not undermine the natural
systems on which it depends) and a lack of a more coordinated effort
to generate the science and technology to make it all possible." The
committee included academic scientists as well as representatives of
Dow, PPG Industries, ConocoPhillips, and Agraquest.
The U.S. private sector is simply not investing vigorously enough in
cleaner technologies, such as green chemistry, that are likely to mark
the next era of innovation and growth in the global chemicals market.
It is a reflection of the current state of the chemicals market (and
the Technology Gap in particular) that with very few exceptions one
can still earn a Ph.D. in chemistry at U.S. universities without
demonstrating even a rudimentary understanding of how chemicals affect
human health and the environment. U.S. chemistry graduate students are
not required to gain an understanding of the principles of toxicology.
This is a serious problem not only for public and environmental health
but for the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. chemical industry
itself, as noted last year by the NAS Grand Challenges committee.
So what is to be done? First, our report acknowledges that the U.S.
chemical industry generates important benefits for society in the form
of an extraordinary array of substances serving all sectors of the
economy. At the same time, our report finds increasing evidence that
many of these substances can adversely affect human health and disrupt
the biological systems on which life itself depends. This is precisely
what makes chemicals policy so difficult. Some of the properties that
make chemicals useful to society also make them hazardous to people.
Once we acknowledge this paradox, however, we can begin to think about
how to re-design the production and regulatory systems so that they
amplify the positive contributions of chemicals to society while
steadily reducing their negative impacts. This represents a system
that is founded on the principles of green chemistry. It essentially
introduces the toxicity of chemicals into the market on an equal
footing with price and function, and in doing so it moves the market
steadily toward the design, production, and use of chemicals that are
inherently safer for people and ecological systems.
In short, a fundamental overhaul of the federal Toxic Substances
Control Act is needed. A modern U.S. chemicals policy will need to put
in place the market conditions that advance the technical and
commercial viability of green chemistry. These new market conditions
will begin to motivate the chemical industry to focus its enormous
talent and technical capacity on innovating green chemistry at a level
commensurate with the scale and pace of chemical production. It will
open new market opportunities for green chemistry entrepreneurs. It
will not, however, be achieved through voluntary initiatives by the
industry, nor will it be achieved by piecemeal approaches to chemicals
policy, or by providing occasional funding to universities to conduct
green chemistry research. While these can help identify best
practices, for example, they are not sufficient -- even collectively
-- to correct the uneven playing field in the chemicals market that
has been engendered by TSCA.
The UC report recommends that correcting these market flaws will
require a comprehensive approach to chemicals policy that closes the
Data Gap, the Safety Gap and the Technology Gap. This is the key
challenge of chemicals policy for California and the nation, and I
think it is reasonable to conclude that it is a fairly formidable
challenge. Meeting this challenge, however, will deliver real value to
the American people. It will build the foundation for an economically
and environmentally sustainable chemical industry in the U.S; it will
solve a host of costly chemical problems that are affecting public
health, businesses, and government; and it will support our industry
leaders in becoming globally competitive in green chemistry and other
cleaner technologies. Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank
you very much for your attention today, and thank you again for
inviting me to this important hearing. I would be pleased to answer
any question you might have.
Return to Table of Contents
From: WorkingForChange, Aug. 10, 2006
FOIA AT FORTY: PUBLIC SERVICE OR POTENTIAL THREAT?
By Bill Berkowitz
Although the Air Force Research Laboratory million dollar grant given
to Jeffrey Addicott, a professor at St. Mary's University School of
Law in San Antonio, to devise new ways to limit making information
available to the public via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is
not likely to destroy the act completely, if adopted it could further
weaken the forty year-old act.
According to an early-July report in USA Today, Addicott said he will
use the research grant "to produce a national 'model statute' that
state legislatures and Congress could adopt to ensure that potentially
dangerous information 'stays out of the hands of the bad guys.'"
The grant, the USA Today report acknowledged, is for "research aimed
at rolling back the amount of sensitive data available to the press
and public through freedom-of-information requests."
"There's the public's right to know, but how much?" Addicott, a former
legal adviser in the Army's Special Forces, told the newspaper.
"There's a strong feeling that the law needs to balance that with the
need to protect the well-being of the nation.... There's too much
stuff that's easy to get that shouldn't be," he said.
"It's a little peculiar that Jeffrey Addicott received the grant given
that the Air Force has a wide range of urgent needs," Steven
Aftergood, the Director of the Federation of American Scientists'
Project on Government Secrecy and editor of Secrecy News, told me in a
telephone interview from his Washington D.C. office.
"We are after all at war. I would have thought they it had more
compelling uses for a million dollars than an academic study of how to
limit the FOIA. While I'm interested in the fact that the grant was
made, there's a long distance between someone writing a report and
proposing legislation and actually having that legislation enacted.
The announcement of the Air Force's grant came around the 40th
anniversary -- July 4, 1966 -- of President Lyndon Johnson's signing
the Freedom of Information Act into law.
Documents from that year, discovered at the Lyndon Baines Johnson
Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, by the National Security Archive
at George Washington University -- a group whose researchers make more
than 1,500 requests for government records on U.S. national security
and foreign policy under the FOIA every year -- revealed that
President Johnson had serious doubts about how much and what types of
information should be made available through the FOIA.
According to the AP's Ted Bridis, Johnson "submitted a signing
statement [along with the bill] that some researchers believe was
intended to undercut the measure's purpose of forcing government to
disclose records except in narrow cases. Draft language from Johnson's
statement arguing that 'democracy works best when the people know what
their government is doing,' was changed with a handwritten scrawl to
read: 'Democracy works best when the people have all the info that the
security of the nation will permit.'
"This sentence was eliminated entirely with the same handwritten
markings: 'Government officials should not be able to pull curtains of
secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the
"Another scratched sentence on the document said the decisions,
policies and mistakes of public officials 'are always subjected to the
scrutiny and judgment of the people.'"
"The law's staunchest advocates think its principles are imperiled,
threatened by what they describe as the Bush administration's penchant
for secrecy and concerns about revealing strategies to terrorists,"
the Associated Press recently pointed out.
"This is the worst of times for the Freedom of Information Act in many
ways," Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center, which studies
issues of free speech, press and religion, told the AP.
In an op-ed piece for the Baltimore Sun, David O. Stewart, president
of the Freedom to Write Fund of the Washington Independent Writers,
wrote that "The problems with the FOIA could not be more current as
radio talk shows thump The New York Times for having the temerity to
inform Americans about what their government is doing."
Stewart pointed out how difficult it is to "strike" a "balance between
disclosure and secrecy .