|The Week That Was
January 17, 2004
1. New on the Web: THE
CONCEPT OF HORMESIS IS GRADUALLY BECOMING ACCEPTED - FOR BOTH CHEMICALS
2. HEALTH BENEFITS OF SMALL DOSES OF TOXINS
3. DRY-CLEANING CHEMICALS ABSOLVED AS CANCER CAUSE
4. EPA WARNS WOMEN ON TUNA CONSUMPTION
5. OREGON DEVELOPS PLAN TO REDUCE CHEMICAL RISKS
6. U.S. SPENDS MOST ON POLLUTION ABATEMENT
7. NEWSWEEK LOOKS AT PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE
8. CHINA DEVELOPING 'GREEN GDP' CONCEPT AS WAY TO EVALUATE OFFICIALS'
9. JOHN STOSSEL QUESTIONS JUNK SCIENCE
10. SCIENCE BY POPULAR VOTE?
11. EPA TOUTS NEW TECHNOLOGY THAT TURNS TOXIC SEDIMENT INTO CEMENT
12. And Finally, A SOLUTION TO THE ENERGY PROBLEM
2. Benefits in Small Doses of Toxins:
A recent article in the Boston Globe profiled Professor Edward J. Calabrese
of University of Massachusetts. Calabrese has often been criticized by
activist groups for his research, which shows that for many chemicals
exposure to low levels may be healthier than no exposure at all. Calabrese's
work, according to the Globe, is part of a dramatic rethinking of the
biological effects of low-level exposures, as advances in science allow
researchers to move beyond traditional high-dose animal toxicity studies.
The article notes that Calabrese's work is increasingly gaining the attention
of prominent scholars and medical experts, putting the scientist "at
the center of a politically charged debate with broad implications for
health." His research threatens to overturn a key principle of environmental
regulation -- the assumption that the harmful effects of a chemical decreases
as the dosage goes down, but that they do not hit zero until the exposure
is zero (or a very low threshold). Instead, Calabrese's work on 'hormesis'
suggests that for some chemicals doses below a threshold may actually
3. PERC Review Finds No Link Between Exposure, Cancer:
A literature review published in the September issue of the International
Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health finds no evidence to
conclude occupational exposure to perchloroethylene (perc) is carcinogenic.
Epidemiologist Kenneth Mundt analyzed published information from 44 studies
on the incidence of cancer in drycleaners and other workers exposed to
perc. His analysis found no evidence of an association between perc exposure
and breast, prostate, skin, brain, or digestive tract cancers, and an
"unlikely" association for oral cavity, liver, pancreas, cervical
or lung cancer. Available scientific evidence was deemed inadequate to
determine the relationship for laryngeal, kidney, esophageal, bladder,
and lymphatic cancers. As BNA's Daily Environment Report noted, the industry-funded
review was limited by incomplete information on exposure to perc and other
cleaning solvents, as well as the presence of confounding variables such
as smoking, alcohol consumption, and diet. However, the inability to find
differences in cancer incidence between workers exposed only to perc and
those with mixed solvent exposure "argues against a specific association.".
4. EPA Warns Women on Tuna Consumption:
Concerns over mercury have led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and
the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a draft advisory cautioning
pregnant women, nursing mothers, young children and women of childbearing
age to limit their intake of tuna and other fish and shellfish to 12 ounces
a week. For any one fish, such as tuna, FDA suggests that women eat no
more than 6 ounces a week. According to a Reuters news story, the FDA
has previously warned pregnant women against eating shark, swordfish,
king mackerel and tilefish because of their high levels of mercury, but
had not included tuna on that list because it feared women would substitute
it with less nutritious food. An overview of the draft FDA/EPA advisory
is available at http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/mehgadvisory1208.html.
5. Oregon Develops Plan to Reduce Chemical Risks
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is developing a plan to
combat 10 toxic chemicals it says pose a serious threat to humans, air,
land and waterways. The Associated Press reports that the "starter
list" compiled by state authorities includes DDT, mercury, and polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs). Within six months, the agency expects to convene a summit
on toxic chemicals, inviting representatives from environmental groups,
industry, local governments and state and federal agencies to talk about
how Oregon might reduce its exposure. Environmental groups are pushing
for tougher regulations on toxic chemicals and limits on toxic emissions.
State officials agree that air and water permits should include limits
for pollutants such as dioxin, lead and mercury, but noted, "the
mere presence of toxics doesn't necessitate permit limits."
6. U.S. Spends Most on Pollution Abatement:
The United States spends more on pollution control than its nine leading
trading partners, according to a new report from the National Association
of Manufacturers (NAM). "As a percentage of output, American manufacturers
spend considerably more on pollution abatement than do their competitors
in Germany, Japan, France, the U.K., Canada, Mexico, China, South Korea,
and Taiwan," according to NAM vice president Michael Baroody. As
noted in BNA's Daily Environment Report, in the late 1990s, the United
States spent about 1.6 percent of its gross domestic product on pollution
abatement costs, compared to 1.1 percent spent by Canada, 1.4 percent
by Japan, 1.5 percent by Germany, and 1.4 percent by France. The report
concluded that Pollution abatement alone reduces U.S. cost competitiveness
by at least 3.5 percentage points, with the burden of those costs falling
mostly on manufacturers. The full report is available at http://www.nam.org/costs.
7. Newsweek Looks at Precautionary Principle:
The latest issue of Newsweek offers a look at the debate over the precautionary
principle between the United States and Europe. The article recognized
the inherent appeal of "better safe than sorry," but noted that,
in practice, the precautionary principle has become a political tool.
"It's an ideal way of doing politics because you don't have to prove
anything," commented a Dutch scientist. The article observed the
role of the precautionary principle in the ongoing debate over biotech
foods, noting that Europe's "culture of precaution" is behind
new chemical regulatory policies that "aim(s) to create a toxin-free
society in 20 years." Newsweek reports Washington's assessment of
the proposed program as "costly, burdensome and complex," and
the opposition of both American and European industry leaders. Harvard
development expert Calestous Juma closes that article with a warning that
safety issues could split the world into new trade blocs.
8. China Developing 'Green GDP' Concept As Way to Evaluate Officials'
China is developing a "green GDP" index that will take into
account environmental degradation when calculating economic growth. The
statistic will be used to "evaluate the performance of the government
or of officials within the government" according to BNA's Daily Environment
Report. The environmental indicators to be used have yet to be determined.
China has had an 'environmental responsibility system' whereby officials
are supposed to be evaluated based on their environmental performance,
however, no officials have been punished for poor performance. The "green
GDP" concept could have meaningful implications for how Chinese government
officials operate if it is indeed used as an enforcement mechanism, and
if the numbers are published by the country's statistics bureau, which
has a broader authority.
U.S. Signs Environmental Pact with China: The heads of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and China's State Environmental Protection
Agency have signed a memorandum that EPA says signals "a new stage
in U.S.-China environmental cooperation" with "support at the
highest levels in both governments." According to BNA, the agreement
will establish a Joint Committee for Environmental Cooperation that will
coordinate activities in "air monitoring, emissions inventories,
mobile sources control policies, clean energy technology, indoor air quality,
watershed management, water quality surveillance and control, and the
management of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals including
pesticides, dioxin, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls." The committee
will meet every two years, alternating between sites in the U.S. and China.
9. Stossel Questions Junk Science:
In a recent opinion column for the New York Post, ABC News investigative
reporter John Stossel wrote about his frustration with "junk science"
health scares. "Somehow, the real scientists get less publicity than
the activists," he writes. "Seldom (if ever) do the activists
do the large-scale, statistical studies and number-crunching to see if
the substances they're worried about really raise disease rates. Some
of the big-name environmental groups that generate scares don't even claim
to have scientists on their boards; they issue their "findings"
straight to the media instead of going through peer review." Stossel
noted he often turns to the American Council on Science and Health for
information to help put stories about supposed chemical risks into perspective.
"When we frighten people about small risks, it makes it harder to
focus on bigger threats, like smoking or driving drunk."
10. Science by Popular Vote?
A recent Washington Times opinion column by Henry Miller, a former FDA
official now with the Hoover Institution, questioned the role of popular
opinion in formulation of government policies that involve science and
technology. In particular, he expressed concern about "citizens technology
forums," currently being sponsored by the National Science Foundation
on issues related to biotechnology. "We should be wary of attempts
to sample public opinion as a prelude to setting public policy on highly
technical subjects," writes Miller. "The goal of policy formulation
should be to get the right answers
. The formulation of public policy
toward science and technology can be difficult, to be sure, but if democracy
is to take public opinion appropriately into account, good government
must also discount ignorance and prejudice."
11. EPA Touts New Technology That Turns Toxic Sediment Into Cement:
EPA is testing a new technology that could provide a safe alternative
to the expensive disposal costs of dredging large volumes of toxic sediments.
According to Inside EPA, the technology, known as "Cement Lock,"
neutralizes and seals toxic components in dredged sediments, allowing
the material to be mixed in cement. The dredged material is heated to
break down toxic components such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs),
producing a black, glassy material known as "Ecomelt" that can
be ground into fine powder and combined with Portland cement. Filter technology
helps keep emissions low. The technology could prove to be especially
crucial for the New York and New Jersey areas because of the limited landfill
capacity, but may eventually provide a nationwide solution to sediment
disposal. EPA hopes to stimulate interest among industry to use Cement
Lock so that it can become self-sustaining.
12. Solution to the energy problem
From the secret diary of Bill Gates
Scientists have just decoded the first message from an alien civilization.
*SIMPLY SEND 6 TIMES 10 TO THE 50 ATOMS OF HYDROGEN TO THE STAR
SYSTEM AT THE TOP OF THE LIST, CROSS OFF THAT STAR SYSTEM, THEN PUT YOUR
STAR SYSTEM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST.
*NOW SEND THE LIST TO 100 OTHER STAR SYSTEMS.
*WITHIN ONE TENTH GALACTIC ROTATION YOU WILL RECEIVE ENOUGH HYDROGEN TO
POWER YOUR CIVILIZATION UNTIL ENTROPY REACHES ITS MAXIMUM!
*TRY IT. IT REALLY WORKS! -
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