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Rachel's News #885: Trouble with Precaution

TROUBLE WITH THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE

[Rachel's introduction: The precautionary principle gets us searching for root causes of serious problems, forcing us to ask questions that usually don't get asked in polite company.]

By Peter Montague

The goal of the precautionary principle is simply to prevent harm. (Look before you leap. A stitch in time saves nine.) However, if you want to prevent harm, you need a pretty good idea of where the harm is coming from. So you start looking for root causes. If you don't know the root causes of a problem, how can you take effective action to prevent it? (Putting a Band-Aid on a cancer may make you feel better for a short while, but if you don't confront the cancer you'll find yourself in real trouble. And if we never ask what's causing the rise in cancer rates, the trouble just multiplies.)

To me, this is the most important aspect of the precautionary principle. It gets us searching for root causes of harm. Even though this is a good thing -- and necessary -- it can still get you into trouble.

Precaution defines a sustainable society -- one that is always doing its best to look ahead, to avoid trouble. Taking a precautionary approach does not guarantee that a civilization can avoid collapse. But the alternative approach, which dominated our thinking from 1850 to now -- "Shoot first and ask questions later," or "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" -- has damaged the natural environment and human health so badly that the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (result of 6 years study by 1366 scientists in 95 countries) concluded last year, "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." A stark warning indeed.

Precaution is an ancient technique for survival, developed long before humans arrived on the scene. Animals have always taken a precautionary approach to life. Crows, woodchucks, monkeys -- all have lookouts who scan the horizon (and the neighborhood), calling out at the first sign of trouble. But, more than this, each member of the animal clan takes on the role of self-appointed guardian, attentive to threats. This precautionary approach has allowed animals to sustain themselves for millions of years in a world that is constantly changing and always uncertain. Survival under these conditions is the very definition of sustainability.

We humans seem to have lost this precautionary perspective. We have come to believe that we can manufacture the conditions for our own survival, regardless of conditions in the world around us. In the early 1990s, a group of scientists actually constructed an artificial ecosystem and tried to live in it; they called it Biosphere II (the earth itself being Biosphere I). The whole thing was a colossal failure; the ants took over and the humans were clueless.

During the 20th century, our novel approach -- behaving as if we are in charge of nature -- brought us multiple disasters, several of which are still unfolding today:

** The nuclear industry has covered the planet with radioactive pots of poison that no one will ever clean up -- radioactive wastes dumped into the oceans; radioactive canyons in New Mexico where the bomb- makers buried their mistakes in unmarked graves; mountainous heaps of radioactive uranium mine wastes blowing on the wind; radioactive residues from factories making products with radium and thorium; swaths of radioactive fallout worldwide. Now nuclear power plants -- often the precursors for nuclear weapons -- are proliferating across the globe. The list of unmanageable problems unleashed by nuclear boy- toys continues to grow at an accelerating pace. This technology alone should teach us that our 20th-century ways are unsustainable.

But we have a second set of experiments to learn from. The petrochemical industry has littered the planet with staggeringly large numbers of toxic waste sites buried in the ground, or simply strewn across the surface. For example, after 25 years of cleanup efforts, New Jersey still lists 16,000 contaminated sites with 200 to 300 new contaminated sites still being discovered each month. Around the world, the petrochemical industry is, daily, creating hundreds more that will remain to plague our children's children's children. The size of this problem is too large to even catalog. And 750 new chemicals are still being put into commercial channels each year.

The regulatory system set up to oversee nuclear and petrochemical technologies has always given the benefit of the doubt to rapid innovation for economc growth, rather than to public health. This may have made sense when capital was scarce and nature was abundant. But now that capital is abundant and nature is scarce, the regulatory system's priorities are causing more harm than good. The world is fundamentally different from the world of 100 or even 50 years ago, and our legal system needs to adapt to these new conditions.

Now the same corporations that created the nuclear and petrochemical messes have been rushing pell mell to deploy a new generation of far more powerful inventions -- biotechnology, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology (the creation of entirely new forms of life that have never existed before).

With these new technologies, no one is even pretending that regulation can stanch the flood of ill-considered innovations, or the harms they seem certain to bring.

So we have to try something new. The best hope, it seems to me, is for all of us to try to change the culture, to make a precautionary approach standard procedure. (If we do that, it will quickly become apparent that many of our existing laws and institutions, such as freewheeling corporations larger than many nations, no longer make sense and need to be rethought.)

Just as our great-grandparents managed to make slavery unthinkable, now we can make it unthinkable to take any big decision without doing our best to anticipate the consequences, to examine our options, and to choose the least harmful way. (Publicly-held corporations, as they are strucrured today, cannot aim to minimize harm; as a matter of law, they can only to do what is profitable for their shareholders.)

Using a precautionary approach, we would still make painful mistakes. But maybe we could avoid the extinction that threatens to snuff us out if we continue on our present path.

So it seems important to search for root causes of our troubles. This is what the precautionary principle would have us do. This gets us asking questions that are not usually asked in polite company.

Q: Why did we develop corporations?

A: To mobilize investment capital to advance economic growth to make more stuff and accrue more capital.

Q: At one time this made sense, but now that there is more than enough stuff to go around -- and nature is sinking under the weight of it all -- why do we need more economic growth?

A: Because growth is what produces return on capital investment.

Q: Since we are already spending huge sums to convince people to buy stuff they don't need, just to produce return on capital investment -- why do we need even more return on investment?

You see what I mean? Searching for root causes of our accelerating train wreck gets us asking questions that some people may not want asked. That's how the precautionary principle can get you into trouble. But delicious trouble it is, I confess.

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From: Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
December 6, 2006

ANOTHER PENNSYLVANIA TOWNSHIP STRIPS CORPORATIONS OF "RIGHTS"

[Rachel's introduction: Innovative work to re-establish local control over corporations is continuing to develop. In East Brunswick, Pa., a new ordinance recognizes the rights of nature and asserts the right of residents to sue corporations as state actors.]

Chambersburg, Pa. -- On December 6th, 2006, the Board of Supervisors for East Brunswick Township in Schuylkill County, Pa., unanimously passed a law declaring that sludge corporations possess no constitutional "rights" within the community.

East Brunswick is the eighth local government in the country to abolish the illegitimate "rights" and legal privileges claimed by corporations, and the fourth community in the nation to recognize the rights of nature.

The ordinance takes the offense in challenging corporate managers in Pennsylvania and around the nation, who effortlessly wield those constitutional "rights" and legal privileges to dictate corporate values and nullify local laws.

The East Brunswick Township law

(1) bans corporations from engaging in the land application of sewage sludge within the Township;

(2) recognizes that ecosystems in East Brunswick possess enforceable rights against corporations;

(3) asserts that corporations doing business in East Brunswick will henceforth be treated as "state actors" under the law, and thus, be required to respect the rights of people and natural communities within the Township; and

(4) establishes that East Brunswick residents can bring lawsuits to vindicate not only their own civil rights, but also the newly-mandated rights of Nature.

In the ordinance, the Township Board of Supervisors declared that if state and federal agencies -- or corporate managers -- attempt to invalidate the ordinance, a Township-wide public meeting would be hosted to determine additional steps to expand local control and self- governance within the Township.

Adoption of the ordinance came after community residents organized educational forums and hosted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to discuss its rights-based strategy for confronting corporate and state preemptions of community self-governance.

Annette Etchberger, Regina Wiyda and Dr. Glen Freed took the lead in generating tremendous public support for an ordinance that asserts rights and creates tools for their enforcement. Traveling door-to-door and inviting hundreds to attend meetings that typically draw a handful of citizens, they put pressure on defiant Township Supervisors, who reluctantly called special meetings for discussion of the cutting edge law.

Success was not immediate. Faced with intense public pressure from residents who packed meetings and insisted on passage of the ordinance, former Vice Chairman Mark J. Killian Sr. resigned on October 12th and former supervisor Glenn Miller, resigned on November 1st. They had been unwilling to act upon the will of the people by confronting the sludge-hauling corporations. Their resignations delayed consideration of the law until replacements were appointed. But on December 6th, with a newly constituted Board of Supervisors, the ordinance was passed unanimously.

Ben Price, the Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the organization that helped draft the ordinance said, "The East Brunswick Township Board of Supervisors has, at last, heard the voice of the people and acted in the best interests of human and natural communities. Instead of protecting the interests of corporate directors for sludge hauling corporations, they've taken their oaths seriously, to protect the health, safety and welfare of everyone in East Brunswick. The people of East Brunswick Township have for months been demanding that their Supervisors challenge the usurpation of local democracy by corporate officers. They've been telling their elected officials that it is time to confront the illegitimate delegation of constitutional privileges on corporations, and reject the State's nullification of community self-governance. On December 6th, they finally listened."

Richard Grossman, the Legal Defense Fund's historian, noted: "A slave system once drove the entire country, North and South. Our nation is now governed by a corporate system. Like the slave system, today's corporate system calls upon the law to deny fundamental rights of people and communities.

"East Brunswick has joined other Pennsylvania municipalities in contesting the constitutional, legal and cultural chains that bind communities to the corporate system. They have heroically nullified corporate privilege delivered from on high by exercising democratic rule of law from below."

The East Brunswick ordinance is the result of countywide ferment against state regulatory agency interference in local decision-making on behalf of sludge and dredge corporations. Thousands of people in Schuylkill County now see that regulatory laws and agencies aid and abet corporate managers to dump their toxins, pathogens and carcinogens in people's front yards and into the living environment. In September of this year Tamaqua Borough and Rush Township passed similar ordinances.

Schuylkill County has a long history of people's struggles to wrest rights and governance from oppressive corporate railroad and coal barons. As Prof. Grace Palladino has detailed in her gripping history, Another Civil War -- Labor, Capital, and the State in the Anthracite Regions of Pennsylvania, 1840-1868, "in the coal regions... corporate lawyers and government officials creatively interpreted the law. Industrialists retained a remarkable ability to command the coercive power of the state to protect their particular economic interests." Since the 1840s, as the people who live there well know, corporations have used the County as a resource colony. Today, state and federal government officials join corporate directors in viewing Schuylkill County as a "sacrifice zone" where they can simply plug the old corporate holes that enriched a few tyrants with new corporate poisons that help fuel today's corporate system.

Schuylkill citizens are asserting their inalienable rights, and are rallying to pass local laws to create democratic self-governance in the County.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, has been working with people in Pennsylvania since 1995 to assert their fundamental rights to democratic self-governance, and to enact laws that end destructive and rights-denying corporate action aided and abetted by state and federal governments.

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From: The Economist
December 2, 2006

CAN COAL BE CLEAN?

[Rachel's introduction: As the end of the petroleum era peeks over the horizon, the chemical industry and the energy industry are planning to shift to "clean" coal. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as "clean" coal.]

Two new coal-fired power plants will soon appear on the banks of the Ohio River if American Electric Power (AEP), a utility, gets its way. There is nothing unusual about that, of course: a rival firm, TXU, unveiled plans to build 11 new coal-fired plants in Texas earlier this year. All told, there are some 150 plants on drawing boards around America, which derives 56% of its power from coal. But AEP's two plants are different in one critical respect: their design would make it relatively easy to filter the carbon dioxide out of their emissions, should the company ever need to do so. America's first "capture-ready" power plants, to use the industry parlance, are nearing construction.

Coal has several advantages as a fuel. It is abundant. It is widely distributed: countries that are short of other fossil fuels, such as Germany and South Africa, have mountains of it. As a result, it is cheap. Even though the price has risen in the past few years, it is still less expensive to run a power plant on coal than on almost anything else.

But coal is also dirty. It releases lots of soot and various noxious chemicals as it burns, and so has fallen out of favour in many Western countries. Worse, coal-fired plants produce roughly twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity generated than those that run on natural gas. Power generation contributes more to global warming than any other industry, and coal is the dirtiest part of it. Coal- fired plants are responsible for perhaps 8 billion out of the 28 billion tonnes of man-made carbon dioxide released every year, and are thus a prime target for emissions cuts. If environmentalists had their way, there would be no coal-fired plants at all: protesters recently called for the closure of Drax, Britain's biggest coal-fired power station.

Yet the number of coal-fired plants is growing. The International Energy Agency (IEA), a think-tank funded by power-hungry countries, estimates that consumption of coal will increase by 71% between 2004 and 2030. Developing countries, in particular, rely on it. Coal provides some three-quarters of the power in both India and China.

The obvious solution is to make coal-fired generation cleaner. And that's what utilities in Western countries have been doing for years, to comply with ever stiffer air-pollution standards. Many literally wash coal to remove some of the impurities before burning it. Other technologies concentrate on purifying the smoke created during combustion. Small particles of ash, for example, are normally removed by forcing the flue gases, as the fumes from the furnace are known in the trade, between electrically charged plates. (Ash particles have a small electric charge, and are then trapped on one of the plates.) Other filters and chemical "scrubbers" catch oxides of sulphur and nitrogen that would otherwise cause acid rain.

Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, however, is another matter. Most utilities tackle the problem indirectly, by attempting to improve the efficiency of their plants, and so to squeeze more electricity from each tonne of coal consumed or carbon dioxide produced. Most firms want to make such improvements anyway, since they cut costs and improve profits. In Britain, as in most rich countries, the average efficiency of coal-fired power stations is about 35%. But Mitsui Babcock, an engineering firm, says its most recent designs can achieve efficiencies as high as 46%. It reckons that switching from an old design to a new one can cut fuel consumption and emissions by 23%.

Most of the gains in efficiency come from increasing the heat and pressure of the steam used to turn a plant's turbines. The newest ones heat the steam to as much as 600 deg. C -- a state physicists call "supercritical". But there is no reason to stop there. Engineers believe that hotter boilers would raise yields even more. Such "ultra- supercritical" boilers, they say, could achieve efficiencies of over 50%, reducing emissions still further.

Substituting biomass for some of the coal burned can also help. Plants, after all, grow back after being harvested, so burning them does not add to overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. By replacing 20% of their fuel with biomass, power stations can reduce their emissions by a further 20%. (Any more than that, says Lars Stromberg of Vattenfall, a European energy firm, and the ash from burning it would gum up the works of most furnaces.) Emissions also fall if biomass fuel is used to pre-heat the steam before it enters the boiler. All told, Mitsui Babcock calculates, these measures could cut emissions from coal-fired plants to the same level as those using natural gas.

The coal burnt in power plants can also be improved, mainly by drying. Less dense types, such as sub-bituminous and lignite coal, can contain up to 50% water. When burned, the water escapes as steam up the chimney, carrying valuable heat with it. Evergreen Energy, an American firm, is selling heat- and pressure-treated coal which, it claims, is as much as a third more efficient than ordinary coal.

Such techniques are particularly important in America, where power plants use a lot of sub-bituminous coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. Coal from this region is low in sulphur, and so burns more cleanly, but has a relatively low energy density unless treated. Meanwhile, RWE, a German utility, is building a plant which will use the residual heat of its own flue gas to dry lignite before burning it. That increases the overall efficiency of the plant at little cost, since the coal can be treated without having to generate any extra heat.

These methods can reduce the various emissions produced by coal-fired power stations, so that they are at least no worse than gas-fired stations. But technologies also exist to make coal cleaner still, by filtering out carbon dioxide from the flue gas and storing it somehow. This is theoretically possible, but expensive. Other pollutants, after all, are essentially impurities, which can be washed from the coal or filtered out of the flue gas. But carbon dioxide is not a contaminant -- it is the inevitable by-product of carbon in the coal reacting with oxygen in the air. Along with nitrogen, the inert remainder of the air, carbon dioxide is the chief component of flue gas.

Gases, of course, are bulky and difficult to store. Most plans for carbon-dioxide storage involve liquefying it and pumping it underground into former oilfields, gasfields or coal beds -- an energy- intensive and thus expensive process. Separating the carbon dioxide from the nitrogen in the flue gas is also expensive, but necessary, since nitrogen turns liquid at a much lower temperature than carbon dioxide, and so requires even more energy to liquefy.

Moreover, unlike modifications that improve efficiency, there are no savings to be had by adding carbon-capture technology to a power plant. As a result, no such plants have been built. A few firms are building demonstration projects, while they wait to see whether governments impose long-term restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions. Others, especially in Britain, which is blessed with natural storage tanks in the form of the declining oil and gasfields of the North Sea, have announced feasibility studies for clean-coal plants. Some utilities, such as AEP, are planning commercial plants that will initially lack carbon-capture facilities, but are designed to allow the technology to be added fairly easily at a later date. All are looking for government hand-outs or regulatory incentives to pursue these experiments, in the absence of any more compelling commercial logic.

How does carbon capture work?

Most utilities are eyeing one of three basic designs. The simplest, and easiest to bolt on to existing plants, treats carbon dioxide like any other pollutant, and extracts it from the flue gas. As this gas passes through a solution of chemicals called amines, the carbon dioxide is absorbed but the nitrogen is not. The carbon dioxide can later be released, by heating the solution, for subsequent liquefaction and storage. Many firms already use this "amine scrubbing" approach to remove carbon dioxide from natural gas, for example. But it is not so practical for large- scale uses, since the amines are expensive, as is heating them to release the captured carbon dioxide. The extra energy required would reduce a state-of-the- art supercritical plant's overall efficiency by about 10%, according to the IEA.

"Oxy-fuel" plants sidestep the difficulties of separating oxygen and nitrogen in the flue gas by burning coal in pure oxygen rather than air. The resulting flue gas is almost pure carbon dioxide. But the energy used to separate oxygen from air before burning is almost as great as that needed to filter out nitrogen afterwards, leading to a similar loss of efficiency. Oxy-fuel enthusiasts claim that modern plants can be easily retro-fitted to operate as oxy-fuel plants.

The third approach, called "integrated gasification combined cycle" (IGCC), also requires oxygen, but for use in a chemical reaction rather than for burning. When heated in oxygen, coal reacts to form carbon dioxide and hydrogen. An amine solution then absorbs the carbon dioxide, while the hydrogen is burnt in a modified furnace. The amine scrubbing is cheaper than usual, since the reaction generates carbon dioxide in a more concentrated form. Engineers are also experimenting with membranes that would allow hydrogen to pass, but not carbon dioxide.

There are four IGCC demonstration plants operating in America and Europe, although none currently captures carbon dioxide permanently; instead, it is simply released into the atmosphere. AEP's planned new plants will follow a similar design. The attraction of IGCC plants, aside from their carbon-capture potential, is that they produce fewer traditional pollutants and also generate hydrogen, which can either be put to industrial uses or burnt. But most utilities doubt that IGCC plants are suitable for mainstream power generation, because of higher capital costs and frequent breakdowns. Proponents retort that teething problems are natural, since IGCC is a newer technology, which combines previously unrelated processes from different industries.

George Bush is a believer, at any rate. In 2003 he unveiled a subsidised scheme to build a zero-emissions IGCC plant called "FutureGen" by 2013. The European Union, for its part, is giving money to utilities dabbling in oxy-fuel, among other schemes. Handouts from the taxpayer are needed, power firms argue, since the technology in question is still young. But it is hard to believe that it will ever grow up unless subsidies give way to stronger measures, such as long- term caps or taxes on carbon-dioxide emissions. The technology to eliminate such emissions from coal-fired plants exists, but it will not be adopted without regulatory incentives from governments.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #864
December 7, 2006

PAYNE VS. PAYOUT OF BURYING GARBAGE

[Rachel's introduction: To get to the new world of green chemistry and sustainable business, we'll first have to end cheap waste disposal in incinerators and landfills. As we learn here, there are good public health reasons to do so.]

By Jill McElheney**

Thirty years ago, Florrie and Mamie Payne appealed to the Athens (Ga.) Clarke County government. A new landfill was being considered in their community, and they were concerned with the potential environmental health threats their families would face. These sisters were told by elected leaders in the mid 1970's that the landfill would be placed in their community because not many people lived on their Dunlap Road.

Being labeled "low target population" is a phrase government still uses today to place economic gain above the environmental values of communities which include safe air, water and soil. Robbing communities of dignity, health and their common good, "low target population" is an affront to a free society.

The Paynes had no choice but to raise their families next to the problematic landfill. Their foreshadowed nightmares have come to pass. University of Georgia football standout, Jimmy Payne, died in 1998 of bone cancer. He was Florrie's son and Mamie's nephew. Now, Jimmy's dad has cancer. The low target populations are the ones who suffer greater irretrievable losses with their pain financing economic profits.

A photo is worth a thousand words. Taken from an aerial view, the Haynes' family home shows that their garden was eerily located next to the landfill. Their daughter, Sharon, was born and raised within yards of the property line where trash often blew into their yard. She has medical problems so extensive that doctors find it difficult to diagnose her.

Research indicates that children are more vulnerable to environmental health hazards. Prenatal exposures can produce lifelong problems such as learning disabilities. Childhood contact with chemicals found at the landfill can show up as diseases in adulthood. Most recent studies inform that children who live next to landfills have elevated rates of asthma, and that some effects from chemical exposures can even be passed down to unexposed future generations through genetics. In essence, you can take the person from the landfill, but not the landfill from the person.

Another red flag that waves on Dunlap Road, which could be an indicator of exposures to toxicants from the landfill, are the children who did not make it. This includes spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and infant deaths. The Clark family has had their fair share of this heartache. Natalie and Rozenia have lost children after full term pregnancies. Deaths unexplained.

If one counts up the babies from multigenerations that didn't survive, there appears to be a serious problem. Are we looking at a gene variant of families on Dunlap Road which put them at even a greater risk to toxicants from the landfill? Is it possible that the babies are genetically the most vulnerable of the vulnerable?

The older Clark women also have their losses to cope with. Brenda lost her 28 year old son suddenly in 2005. She can tell of relatives up and down Dunlap Road who have buried their children rather than the natural life process where parents pass first.

Science has supported Florrie & Mamie. In 2000, Georgia Public Health stated that: "some contamination might have entered the groundwater as early as 1977 when the landfill began operating." Help came over a decade late for Dunlap Road when cleanup began, but by then the damage had been done. Dr. Kevin Pegg concluded in 1997 that "it is likely that residents have already been exposed to the highest amounts of toxins that they they will be exposed to."

Community member Charles Nash believes cancer is the biggest killer on Dunlap Road. He challenges the conclusions of the local landfill management that no one is a victim of toxic poisoning. He joined the Northeast Georgia Children's Environmental Health Coalition to learn more, and to take that knowledge to improve the lives of his neighbors. He organized an environmental health fair which was attended by over 100 community members, and a walk highlighting awareness of the links between environmental health and the landfill. He believes that forecaring for future generations, a term coined "precautionary principle," should drive any decision to expand the landfill. His young grandsons Kenyada and Dornell are often by his side displaying the evidence of why he is so passionate about children's environmental health.

Dunlap Road residents and members of Billups Grove Baptist Church are allowing the precautionary principle to lead the way for change in their community. Attending a Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) public hearing this year, which renewed the air permit for the landfill, they learned a shocking fact: no ambient (outdoor) air tests were required for the permit approval. Residents questioned EPD officials how any permit can be issued before assuring the safety of the surrounding residents with tests.

Anyone who has visited the landfill can often see the powerdy dust stirring, and traveling with the wind. The odor, which trespasses and chronically lowers the quality of life for residents, is a frequent complaint. Furthermore, no indoor air sampling has ever been taken from homes near the contaminated groundwater plume, which could possibly be compromising residential air quality by vapor intrusion.

Today, Athens Clarke County has reached the time to make another critical decision about the landfill. We are running out of waste capacity in Northeast Georgia, and one of the options is to expand our Dunlap Road landfill. The values of Dunlap Road residents should be put on the table with the sketchy economic gain that comes from burying trash.

Dr. Bill Sheehan, director of the Product Policy Institute, and a waste management expert, has evaluated the landfill and concluded:

"Bottom line: the 6 to 8 year landfill capacity is simply a function of the low ($34) tipping fee -- absurdly low compared to the real environmental impact, to the future financial liability, or to the future rates we will pay without a landfill (e.g., Madison County's $60/ton). You could fill it up in 1 year if you price it low enough, or stretch it out to 100 years."

Sheehan believes there are better options including producer responsibility and greater use of recycling. He will be submitting them to the Mayor & Commissioners to encourage them in a new direction. Dr. Sheehan easily communicates just how economically unsound it is to put garbage into the ground.

Burying trash is like a bad habit. We've done it for so long without consideration for the people most impacted. It's time to examine the pain and payout of the regional waste management plan of our future, and consider Florrie & Mamie's concerns this time around.

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** Jill McElheney is the founder of Micah's Mission in Winterville, Georgia.

Micah's Mission Ministry to Improve Childhood & Adolescent Health P.O. Box 275 Winterville, GA 30683 706.742.7826 (phone) 706.543.1799 (fax) website: http://babuice.myweb.uga.edu/MICAH/index.htm

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. -- Micah 6:8

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From: Chemical & Engineering News
December 6, 2006

BISPHENOL-A MAY TRIGGER HUMAN BREAST CANCER

[Rachel's introduction: A common chemical in plastics has now been linked to breast cancer. If this hypothesis is correct, breast cancer is triggered by exposure that occurs in the womb.]

By Bette Hileman

A new study finds the strongest evidence yet for the hypothesis that widespread environmental exposure to bisphenol A during fetal life causes breast cancer in adult women. The research, led by Ana M. Soto, professor of anatomy and cellular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine, in Boston, was published Dec. 6 in the online edition of Reproductive Toxicology (DOI: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2006.10.0 02).

Soto and her colleagues exposed pregnant rats to bisphenol A at doses ranging from 2.5 to 1,000 micrograms per kg of body weight per day. By the time the pups exposed at the lowest dose reached the equivalent of puberty (50 days old), about 25% of their mammary ducts had precancerous lesions, a proportion three to four times higher than among the nonexposed controls. Mammary ducts from all other exposure groups showed elevated levels of lesions. Cancerous lesions were found in the mammary glands of one-third of the rats exposed to 250 micrograms/kg/day.

Bisphenol A, a known estrogenic compound, is ubiquitous in the environment. Many people receive exposures of about 2.5 micrograms/kg/day, and mammary gland development in rats and humans is very similar. Therefore, Soto says, "bisphenol A could be one factor causing the increase in breast cancer incidence over the past 50 years."

Bisphenol A is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It is found in many food and beverage containers, including baby bottles. It is also found in canned food linings and dental composites, and it leaches from all of these products. In one study, Soto notes, urine samples from 95% of the human subjects contained the chemical.

According to Soto, a large body of previous research suggests bisphenol A might cause breast cancer. One study shows that the daughters of women who took the potent synthetic nonsteroidal estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) during their pregnancies between 1948 and 1971 have 2.5 times the normal incidence of breast cancer. Bisphenol A, which is structurally similar to DES, may act by a similar mechanism, she explains.

"What is important to note is that Soto's research is not a one-shot finding," says Frederick vom Saal, professor of biology at the University of Missouri. "It follows five years of research demonstrating precancerous changes in the mammary glands of mice with prenatal bisphenol A exposure. Now, Soto has switched to the rat, which is considered a much better animal model for studying human carcinogenesis."

The Environmental Protection Agency has set a safe human intake dose of 50 micrograms/kg/day for bisphenol A. "On the basis of the effects observed in recent studies, this seems to be an unsafe level," Soto says.

Copyright 2006 American Chemical Society

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From: The New Standard
December 4, 2006

SEWAGE DISCHARGES THREATEN GREAT LAKES

[Rachel's introduction: A new report says massive discharges of sewage into the Great Lakes are making fish unsafe to eat, rendering the lakes unsafe for recreation, and polluting one of the main sources of drinking water in the region. The Lakes contain 84% of all the fresh water in North America.]

By Catherine Komp

A new report has found that U.S. and Canadian cities are polluting the Great Lakes system with billions of gallons of a toxic "cocktail" of sewage and storm water each year.

The Canadian-based Sierra Legal Defence Fund, which produced the report, says it means parts of the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet are "in peril."

The researchers say the massive discharges of sewage into the lakes are making fish unsafe to eat, rendering the lakes unsafe for recreation, and polluting one of the main sources of drinking water in the region. About 84 percent of North America's "surface fresh water" comes from the Great Lakes, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The "Great Lakes Sewage Report Card" analyzed twenty US and Canadian cities, from Deluth to Kingston to Cleveland. It concluded that despite billions of dollars invested to improve sewage treatment over the last three decades, the cities dump a combined 24 billion gallons of municipal sewage -- a mixture of water, human waste, micro- organisms, disease-causing pathogens and toxic chemicals -- directly into local water systems each year.

Detroit and Cleveland ranked the lowest in the Sierra Legal report, generating a combined 338 billion gallons of sewage per year. Both scored poorly for some 19 billion gallons of "overflow" from their sewer systems into the environment.

Green Bay, Wisconsin received one the highest scores in the report because it had no known discharges of untreated sewage, no sewage overflow and no pollution-related violations.

Unlike Green Bay, the researchers said, numerous cities around the Great Lakes use combined sewage systems, or CSOs, that carry both sewage and storm-water. During heavy rainfall, these systems can exceed capacity and raw sewage can overflow directly into the environment.

The US government drafted a Combined Sewer Overflow Control Policy in 1994 and requires communities to develop long-term CSO control plans to help local governments comply with the Clean Water Act. The problem is not isolated to the Great Lakes region. As previously reported by The NewStandard, some 770 cities across the country use combined systems.

In 2004, President Bush signed an executive order creating the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force to deal with the accumulating environmental problems facing this freshwater system. The task force's responsibilities include improving water quality.

Calling the Great Lakes "a gift to all that live in the basin," Sierra Legal makes several recommendations, including a bigger financial investment from federal and local governments to improve CSOs. The group also says that more regulations, from banning toxic substances in manufacturing industries to enforcing sewer-use laws, could help to protect the water and biodiversity of the Great Lakes region.

"Countries as wealthy as Canada and [the] United States can surely afford to adequately treat their waste accordingly," wrote the report's authors.

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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?"

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