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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #904 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Thursday, April 26, 2007printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Human Ignorance Is Growing
Human understanding of natural systems is dim at best, and arguably it grows dimmer as time passes.
Fish-Killing Virus Spreading in the Great Lakes
A new ecological mystery is unfolding in the Great Lakes. An unknown virus appeared in the Lakes two years ago, causing hemorrhaging and organ failure in more than two dozen species of fish. The virus has aggressively spread across Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, and into Lake St. Clair, the St. Lawrence River and the Niagara River.
Bees Vanish; Scientists Race for Reasons
More than a quarter of the honeybee colonies in the U.S. have disappeared as another ecological mystery unfolds. So far, "colony collapse disorder" has been found affecting bees in 27 states. Honeybees are the principal pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts.
Glyphosate-resistant Weeds Burden Growers' Pocketbooks
More ecological trouble: Monsanto's genetically modified varieties of "Roundup-Ready" cotton allow farmers to suppress weeds by dousing them with large amounts of the herbicide, Roundup (aka glyphosate). Now, as predicted, the weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup. "The staggering increase in glyphosate-resistant horseweed followed a spectacular rise in the amount of glyphosate products (Roundup, Touchdown and others) being applied in cotton and other glyphosate- tolerant crops."
California Approves Limits on Formaldehyde, Used in Wood Products
California has taken a bold precautionary move, restricting the amount of formaldehyde that will be allowed in building materials. "There is no safe threshold for this carcinogen, and we know how to eliminate it."
Why We Can't Wait Any Longer to Tackle Global Warming
James Hansen of NASA says, "It seems to me that it will be difficult to solve the global warming problem until we have effective campaign finance reform, so that special interests no longer have such a big influence on policy-makers." Yet how many environmental groups have campaign finance reform as their top priority -- or any priority whatsoever?
Editorial: Counting the Poor
According to the Census Bureau, nearly 37 million Americans -- 12.6 percent of the population -- were living in poverty in 2005. That means that four years into an economic expansion, the percentage of Americans defined as poor was higher than at the bottom of the last recession in late 2001.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #904, Apr. 26, 2007
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HUMAN IGNORANCE IS GROWING

By Peter Montague

Some scientists may not like to admit it, but we humans are pretty much flying blind when we intrude into natural systems. Our understanding of the natural world is rudimentary at best. As a result, many of our technologies end up scrambling the natural world, replacing the natural order with disorder.

In this issue of Rachel's News we learn about three new problems --

** The mysterious disappearance of millions upon millions of bees, whose pollination services support $14 billion in farm production each year. At this point, the cause is a complete mystery, but almost certainly humans have a hand in it.

** A new virus has appeared in the Great Lakes during the past few years, and it is spreading westward through the lakes, killing large numbers of fish and thus endangering a $4 billion fishing industry. The main suspect is ships arriving from foreign ports and discharging their ballast water into the Lakes.

** The development of herbicide-resistant weeds that are creating major headaches (and costs) for cotton farmers. Monsanto's genetically-engineered cotton was created to withstand heavy application of Monsanto's most profitable weed-killer, glyphosate (sold widely under the trade name Roundup). When Monsanto announced "Roundup-Ready" cotton, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Roundup-resistant weeds would develop, because that's how nature works. When a weed-killer is applied, a few hardy weeds survive; they multiply while the others die. Soon the hardy weeds dominate -- and farmers find themselves without an easy or affordable way to manage the new weed problem. Presumably Monsanto's business plan was to stay one step ahead of nature, always having a new chemical ready to sell to farmers, to help them overcome the problems created by yesterday's chemical. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out that way and the farmers are hurting.

Our Ignorance is Expanding

As time passes, we should expect a continuing (perhaps even accelerating) stream of bad news about human intrusions into natural systems. In a very real sense the systems we are trying to study are growing more complicated as we scramble them, so understanding them is becoming more difficult.

Take the problem of disappearing amphibians (frogs, toads and salamanders). In 1989, scientists began noticing frogs were disappearing around the globe. They identified many causes:

** loss of wetland habitat (rice paddies turning into golf courses, for example, and swamps turning into condominiums);

** increased ultraviolet radiation arriving at the surface of the earth because DuPont's chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have depleted the Earth's ozone shield;

** stocking streams with edible sport fish (e.g., large-mouth bass) that eat tadpoles;

** acid rain and acid snow caused by combustion of fossil fuels;

** increasing droughts and floods, brought on by global warming, are taking their toll on amphibians;

** pollutants that mimic the female sex hormone, estrogen, may be interfering with the reproductive cycle of amphibians, as is known to be happening with fish;

** amphibians may have started falling prey to bacteria and viruses with which they have co-existed for 200 million years -- indicating, perhaps, that some combination of environmental insults has weakened amphibian immune systems.

The truth is, no one know what combination of these (and other, perhaps yet-unrecognized) changes in natural systems have contributed to the disappearance of frogs, toads, and salamanders all across the planet.

One thing is sure: every time we introduce a new chemical into commerce, it enters natural systems and makes the job of scientists more difficult because the system they are studying is now more complex than it was yesterday. In the U.S., we introduce roughly 1800 new chemicals into commerce each year.

As our technology expands, our ability to understand what is going on in nature declines, and we are flying blinder and blinder.

Until we take a precautionary approach, give the benefit of the doubt to natural systems, and do our level best to understand our actions before we act, we are in for an endless parade of unpleasant and expensive surprises. Yes, a precautionary approach would mean that the pace of technological innovation would slow down (compared to today's frenetic pace) -- but it would help avoid expensive problems like the loss of bees, the invasion of new viruses into the Great Lakes, and creation of Super Weeds. It might also give humans a better chance of surviving as a species.

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From: The New York Times (pg. A4)
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FISH-KILLING VIRUS SPREADING IN THE GREAT LAKES

By Susan Saulny

CHICAGO, April 20 -- A virus that has already killed tens of thousands of fish in the eastern Great Lakes is spreading, scientists said, and now threatens almost two dozen aquatic species over a wide swath of the lakes and nearby waterways.

The virus, a mutated pathogen not native to North America that causes hemorrhaging and organ failure, is not harmful to humans, even if they eat contaminated fish. But it is devastating to the ecosystem and so unfamiliar, experts said, that its full biological impact might not be clear for years. It is also having a significant impact on the lakes' $4 billion fishing industry.

There is no known treatment for the virus. As a result, scientists are focusing on managing its spread to uncontaminated water -- quite a challenge since the Great Lakes are linked and fall under the jurisdiction of several states and provinces in Canada.

"Updates over the winter suggest it has spread further than we thought, even last year," said John Dettmers, a senior fisheries biologist for the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"It's really early," Mr. Dettmers said. "As much as I'd like to say we know exactly what's going on, we don't. We're all sitting here on the edge of our chairs waiting to see how bad it's going to be this year."

When it was first detected about two years ago, the virus had affected only two species in a limited amount of water. But it has aggressively spread to other areas and other fish and is now being confirmed in Lake Huron after infecting Lakes Ontario and Erie, Lake St. Clair, the St. Lawrence River and the Niagara River. It is suspected in Lake Michigan as well, although there is no official confirmation.

Last year, the virus, called viral hemorrhagic septicemia and known as V.H.S., caused untold thousands of dead fish to wash up in places like the eastern shoreline of Lake Ontario, a warning sign that scientists said could just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is going on underwater.

The five Great Lakes -- Superior, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Ontario -- hold 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water.

"We anticipate that this will continue and get worse over the next few years," said Dr. Jim Casey, associate professor of virology at Cornell University. "We fear there may be more widespread presence of the virus."

One of Dr. Casey's colleagues researching the virus, Dr. Paul Bowser, a professor of aquatic animal medicine, added, "This is a new pathogen and for the first number of years -- 4, 5 or 10 years -- things are going to be pretty rough, then the animals will become more immune and resistant and the mortalities will decline."

No one is sure where the virus came from or how it got to the Great Lakes. In the late 1980s, scientists saw a version of V.H.S. in salmon in the Pacific Northwest, which was the first sighting anywhere in North America. V.H.S. is also present in the Atlantic Ocean. But the genesis of a new, highly aggressive mutated strain concentrating on the Great Lakes is a biological mystery.

"We really don't know how it got there," said Jill Roland, a fish pathologist and assistant director for aquaculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "People's awareness of V.H.S. in the lakes was unknown until 2005. But archived samples showed the virus was there as early as 2003."

Scientists pointed to likely suspects, mainly oceangoing vessels that dump ballast water from around the world into the Great Lakes. (Ships carry ballast water to help provide stability, but it is often contaminated and provides a home for foreign species. The water is loaded and discharged as needed for balance.)

Fish migrate naturally, but also move with people as they cast nets for sport, for instance, or move contaminated water on pleasure boats from lake to lake.

The United States Department of Agriculture issued an emergency order in October to prohibit the movement of live fish that are susceptible to the virus out of the Great Lakes or bordering states. The order was later amended to allow limited movement of fish that tested negative for the virus.

"Getting rid of it is extremely hard to foresee," said Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest office in Chicago. "These species spread, and reproduce. It is a living pollution."

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From: The New York Times (pg. F1)
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BEES VANISH; SCIENTISTS RACE FOR REASONS

By Alexei Barrionuevo

BELTSVILLE, Md., April 23 -- What is happening to the bees?

More than a quarter of the country's 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost -- tens of billions of bees, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping. So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.

As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all.

The volume of theories "is totally mind-boggling," said Diana Cox- Foster, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. With Jeffrey S. Pettis, an entomologist from the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Cox-Foster is leading a team of researchers who are trying to find answers to explain "colony collapse disorder," the name given for the disappearing bee syndrome.

"Clearly there is an urgency to solve this," Dr. Cox-Foster said. "We are trying to move as quickly as we can."

Dr. Cox-Foster and fellow scientists who are here at a two-day meeting to discuss early findings and future plans with government officials have been focusing on the most likely suspects: a virus, a fungus or a pesticide.

About 60 researchers from North America sifted the possibilities at the meeting today. Some expressed concern about the speed at which adult bees are disappearing from their hives; some colonies have collapsed in as little as two days. Others noted that countries in Europe, as well as Guatemala and parts of Brazil, are also struggling for answers.

"There are losses around the world that may or not be linked," Dr. Pettis said.

The investigation is now entering a critical phase. The researchers have collected samples in several states and have begun doing bee autopsies and genetic analysis.

So far, known enemies of the bee world, like the varroa mite, on their own at least, do not appear to be responsible for the unusually high losses.

Genetic testing at Columbia University has revealed the presence of multiple micro-organisms in bees from hives or colonies that are in decline, suggesting that something is weakening their immune system. The researchers have found some fungi in the affected bees that are found in humans whose immune systems have been suppressed by the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or cancer.

"That is extremely unusual," Dr. Cox-Foster said.

Meanwhile, samples were sent to an Agriculture Department laboratory in North Carolina this month to screen for 117 chemicals. Particular suspicion falls on a pesticide that France banned out of concern that it may have been decimating bee colonies. Concern has also mounted among public officials.

"There are so many of our crops that require pollinators," said Representative Dennis Cardoza, a California Democrat whose district includes that state's central agricultural valley, and who presided last month at a Congressional hearing on the bee issue. "We need an urgent call to arms to try to ascertain what is really going on here with the bees, and bring as much science as we possibly can to bear on the problem."

So far, colony collapse disorder has been found in 27 states, according to Bee Alert Technology Inc., a company monitoring the problem. A recent survey of 13 states by the Apiary Inspectors of America showed that 26 percent of beekeepers had lost half of their bee colonies between September and March.

Honeybees are arguably the insects that are most important to the human food chain. They are the principal pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts. The number of bee colonies has been declining since the 1940s, even as the crops that rely on them, such as California almonds, have grown. In October, at about the time that beekeepers were experiencing huge bee losses, a study by the National Academy of Sciences questioned whether American agriculture was relying too heavily on one type of pollinator, the honeybee.

Bee colonies have been under stress in recent years as more beekeepers have resorted to crisscrossing the country with 18-wheel trucks full of bees in search of pollination work. These bees may suffer from a diet that includes artificial supplements, concoctions akin to energy drinks and power bars. In several states, suburban sprawl has limited the bees' natural forage areas.

So far, the researchers have discounted the possibility that poor diet alone could be responsible for the widespread losses. They have also set aside for now the possibility that the cause could be bees feeding from a commonly used genetically modified crop, Bt corn, because the symptoms typically associated with toxins, such as blood poisoning, are not showing up in the affected bees. But researchers emphasized today that feeding supplements produced from genetically modified crops, such as high-fructose corn syrup, need to be studied.

The scientists say that definitive answers for the colony collapses could be months away. But recent advances in biology and genetic sequencing are speeding the search.

Computers can decipher information from DNA and match pieces of genetic code with particular organisms. Luckily, a project to sequence some 11,000 genes of the honeybee was completed late last year at Baylor University, giving scientists a huge head start on identifying any unknown pathogens in the bee tissue.

"Otherwise, we would be looking for the needle in the haystack," Dr. Cox-Foster said.

Large bee losses are not unheard of. They have been reported at several points in the past century. But researchers think they are dealing with something new -- or at least with something previously unidentified.

"There could be a number of factors that are weakening the bees or speeding up things that shorten their lives," said Dr. W. Steve Sheppard, a professor of entomology at Washington State University. "The answer may already be with us."

Scientists first learned of the bee disappearances in November, when David Hackenberg, a Pennsylvania beekeeper, told Dr. Cox-Foster that more than 50 percent of his bee colonies had collapsed in Florida, where he had taken them for the winter.

Dr. Cox-Foster, a 20-year veteran of studying bees, soon teamed with Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the Pennsylvania apiary inspector, to look into the losses.

In December, she approached W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory at Columbia University, about doing genetic sequencing of tissue from bees in the colonies that experienced losses. The laboratory uses a recently developed technique for reading and amplifying short sequences of DNA that has revolutionized the science. Dr. Lipkin, who typically works on human diseases, agreed to do the analysis, despite not knowing who would ultimately pay for it. His laboratory is known for its work in finding the West Nile disease in the United States.

Dr. Cox-Foster ultimately sent samples of bee tissue to researchers at Columbia, to the Agriculture Department laboratory in Maryland, and to Gene Robinson, an entomologist at the University of Illinois. Fortuitously, she had frozen bee samples from healthy colonies dating to 2004 to use for comparison.

After receiving the first bee samples from Dr. Cox-Foster on March 6, Dr. Lipkin's team amplifiedthe genetic material and started sequencing to separate virus, fungus and parasite DNA from bee DNA.

"This is like C.S.I. for agriculture," Dr. Lipkin said. "It is painstaking, gumshoe detective work."

Dr. Lipkin sent his first set of results to Dr. Cox-Foster, showing that several unknown micro-organisms were present in the bees from collapsing colonies. Meanwhile, Mr. vanEngelsdorp and researchers at the Agriculture Department lab here began an autopsy of bees from collapsing colonies in California, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania to search for any known bee pathogens.

At the University of Illinois, using knowledge gained from the sequencing of the bee genome, Dr. Robinson's team will try to find which genes in the collapsing colonies are particularly active, perhaps indicating stress from exposure to a toxin or pathogen.

The national research team also quietly began a parallel study in January, financed in part by the National Honey Board, to further determine if something pathogenic could be causing colonies to collapse.

Mr. Hackenberg, the beekeeper, agreed to take his empty bee boxes and other equipment to Food Technology Service, a company in Mulberry, Fla., that uses gamma rays to kill bacteria on medical equipment and some fruits. In early results, the irradiated bee boxes seem to have shown a return to health for colonies repopulated with Australian bees.

"This supports the idea that there is a pathogen there," Dr. Cox- Foster said. "It would be hard to explain the irradiation getting rid of a chemical."

Still, some environmental substances remain suspicious.

Chris Mullin, a Pennsylvania State University professor and insect toxicologist, recently sent a set of samples to a federal laboratory in Raleigh, N.C., that will screen for 117 chemicals. Of greatest interest are the "systemic" chemicals that are able to pass through a plant's circulatory system and move to the new leaves or the flowers, where they would come in contact with bees.

One such group of compounds is called neonicotinoids, commonly used pesticides that are used to treat corn and other seeds against pests. One of the neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, is commonly used in Europe and the United States to treat seeds, to protect residential foundations against termites and to help keep golf courses and home lawns green.

In the late 1990s, French beekeepers reported large losses of their bees and complained about the use of imidacloprid, sold under the brand name Gaucho. The chemical, while not killing the bees outright, was causing them to be disoriented and stay away from their hives, leading them to die of exposure to the cold, French researchers later found. The beekeepers labeled the syndrome "mad bee disease."

The French government banned the pesticide in 1999 for use on sunflowers, and later for corn, despite protests by the German chemical giant Bayer, which has said its internal research showed the pesticide was not toxic to bees. Subsequent studies by independent French researchers have disagreed with Bayer. Alison Chalmers, an eco- toxicologist for Bayer CropScience, said at the meeting today that bee colonies had not recovered in France as beekeepers had expected. "These chemicals are not being used anymore," she said of imidacloprid, "so they certainly were not the only cause."

Among the pesticides being tested in the American bee investigation, the neonicotinoids group "is the number-one suspect," Dr. Mullin said. He hoped results of the toxicology screening will be ready within a month.

Copyright 2007 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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From: Delta Farm Press
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GLYPHOSATE-RESISTANT WEEDS BURDEN GROWERS' POCKETBOOKS

Cotton producers who encounter glyphosate-resistant horseweed in their fields may be tempted to fall back on a solution that served their fathers and grandfathers well: cold steel.

Before you pull that disk out of the weeds on the back side of the equipment lot, however, think about this: Do you really want to spend all that extra money on diesel fuel and labor and undo the benefits of conservation tillage you've worked so hard on all these years?

And there's another consideration, according to Larry Steckel, Extension weed scientist with the University of Tennessee, and a speaker at Cotton Incorporated's recent Crop Management Seminar in Memphis.

"You have to be careful," says Steckel, displaying a photo of a freshly disked field with green horseweed plumes sticking up in it.

"If you don't do a thorough job of disking, you can wind up with a worse problem than when you started."

There's no doubt glyphosate-resistant horseweed has set back conservation tillage efforts in Tennessee, says Steckel, who spoke on "The Impact of Glyphosate-Resistant Horseweed and Pigweed on Cotton Weed Management and Costs." (The University of Georgia's Stanley Culpepper and Arkansas' Ken Smith were co-authors.)

In a 2004 survey, county Extension agents said glyphosate-resistant horseweed had reduced conservation tillage farming in Tennessee by 18 percent. Even more telling, the survey showed the percentage of farms using conservation tillage in the largest cotton counties in Tennessee had dropped from 80 to 40 percent.

Arkansas weed scientists estimate a 15 percent reduction in conservation tillage in their state due to glyphosate resistance.

Similar trends have been reported in Mississippi and the Bootheel of Missouri.

Glyphosate-resistant horseweed has spread much more quickly than anticipated when Bob Hayes, a weed scientist with the West Tennessee Experiment Station in Jackson, discovered it in west Tennessee's Lauderdale County.

"It's in all our cotton acres now," Steckel told Crop Management Seminar participants. "Horseweed can grow in Tennessee 11 months out of the year. It has a very aggressive tap root, and it loves a no-till environment."

Horseweed (it is sometimes called marestail) also competes well with cotton. Studies show horseweed can reduce cotton yields by 40 percent when left unchecked through the two-leaf stage. If not controlled between planting and first bloom, losses can reach 70 percent.

The staggering increase in glyphosate-resistant horseweed followed a spectacular rise in the amount of glyphosate products (Roundup, Touchdown and others) being applied in cotton and other glyphosate- tolerant crops.

"We saw a 752-percent increase in glyphosate applications between 1997 and 2003 at the expense of just about everything else with the exception of diuron (Karmex, Direx)," said Steckel. (Applications of diuron jumped 101.1 percent during the same period while those of other herbicides declined.)

As most farmers now know, weed scientists with the University of Georgia have documented cases of glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed in southwest Georgia. More recently, glyphosate-tolerant Palmer pigweed has been found in Crockett and Lauderdale counties in Tennessee and Mississippi County in Arkansas. Resistant waterhemp, a cousin of pigweed, has also been found in Missouri.

Culpepper, a weed scientist with the University of Georgia, also discussed Palmer pigweed resistance in Georgia at the Cotton Incorporated seminar.

"Scientists at Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina have found an 8x to 12x level of resistance to glyphosate in Palmer pigweeds in their states," said Steckel. "We've seen pigweed survive 2x to 4x rates of glyphosate in Arkansas and Tennessee.

"When you look at some of the slides Stanley (Culpepper) showed earlier, it's a shock. We don't have near the weed problem with Palmer pigweed in this part of the world that they do in Georgia."

Weed scientists say glyphosate-resistant horseweed and pigweed can be managed with a combination of herbicides, but it will cost growers more.

One approach has been to burn down with glyphosate or paraquat (Gramoxone Inteon) plus 8 to 12 ounces of dicamba (Clarity, Oracle) in early February and go back with Gramoxone at 48 ounces plus Ignite at 29 ounces plus Caparol at 32 ounces, Cotoran at 32 ounces or Direx at 16 ounces 21 days before planting.

Some growers have also been making a fall (November or December) herbicide application with Valor at 2 ounces plus Clarity or Oracle at 8 ounces. Others have applied Valor plus Caparol, Cotoran or Direx in February.

"A fall application of Valor has been getting a lot of attention from growers," says Steckel. "You've got to get some residual control out there to keep the horseweed from emerging during the winter."

Envoke has also received a label from EPA for fall and early winter application in cotton fields. Envoke will provide residual and knockdown control of glyphosate-resistant horseweed and other winter annuals. The use rate will be 0.10 ounce per acre.

"Trying to burn down large horseweed that got its start the summer of the previous year or early in the fall is going to be hard with anything," said Steckel. "If a grower catches these populations early with a residual herbicide, he will be ahead of the game."

Cotton farmers can spend an extra $20 per acre to control glyphosate- resistant horseweed by the time they add Valor, Clarity and Caparol to their program, according to Steckel.

For glyphosate-resistant horseweed and pigweed, the cost could rise $27 an acre if they have to apply a maximum rate of glyphosate; add Dual Magnum over-the-top with the first or second glyphosate spray, followed by a post-directed application of Caparol or Dual and Valor or Caparol in a hooded sprayer.

But that's not as expensive as what growers already face in southwest Georgia, says Steckel.

Control costs for glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed in Georgia can range from another $45 an acre to as high as $92 an acre in fields where farmers have had to resort to hand weeding to remove the problem weed.

"Glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed can be much more problematic than horseweed due to its more competitive nature," says Steckel. "On average, glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed could cost cotton producers an extra $40 per acre or more to manage.

"Because of that, we think glyphosate-resistant pigweed is a much bigger threat to cotton production, and every year we can delay its arrival in the Mid-South can mean big savings to our producers."

Copyright 2007 Penton Media, Inc.

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From: Fresno (Calif.) Bee
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CALIFORNIA APPROVES LIMITS ON FORMALDEHYDE, USED IN WOOD PRODUCTS

By Samantha Young

California air regulators on Thursday approved the nation's most sweeping restriction on emissions of formaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical found in kitchen cabinets, shelving, countertops and ready- to-assemble furniture.

The rule will require manufacturers to reduce by more than half a toxic chemical in manufactured wood. Experts say it is inhaled most frequently by new home buyers, home remodelers and workers who handle the chemically laden wood.

"There is no safe threshold for this carcinogen, and we know how to eliminate it," said Harry Demorest, president and chief executive of Columbia Forest Products, an Oregon-based manufacturer that began taking formaldehyde out of its plywood in 2002.

The standard, approved 8-0 by the California Air Resources Board, would be phased in starting in 2009 and would become the most stringent in the world by the time it is fully implemented in 2012.

Other countries are considering tougher rules for formaldehyde use that could surpass California's.

For some American cabinetmakers, manufacturers and others in the wood industry, the higher standard would force them to use more expensive wood glues and lead to longer processing times. That could affect profits and drive up prices for consumers, said dozens of witnesses who testified during Thursday's hearing.

Health advocates, meanwhile, complained that the state was not moving quickly enough and urged the board to implement its standard two years earlier because of the potential for severe health risks.

The proposed regulation would cut by nearly 60 percent the amount of formaldehyde emissions that seep into the air from the resin or glue most commonly used to bond plywood, particle board and medium-density fiberboard.

Whether those emissions are harmful to the general public were a key part of the discussion. State regulators and public health groups cited studies linking formaldehyde to throat cancer, workplace asthma and increased cases of asthma and allergies in children exposed at home.

In 2004, the International Agency for Research on Cancer linked the chemical to throat cancer. An analysis for the Air Resources Board estimated that formaldehyde exposure leads to an increase in cancer for those exposed as adults and during childhood.

The board listed the chemical as a toxic air contaminant with no known safe exposure level in 1992. Some experts questioned the credibility of the studies California was relying upon in drafting its proposal.

Dr. Gary Marsh, a biostatistics professor at Pittsburgh University, cautioned that formaldehyde's designation as a carcinogen was "premature" and was based on a small sample of workplace deaths.

Formaldehyde emissions are mostly unregulated in the United States, unlike Australia, Japan and some European countries, which have set some standards.

American manufacturers meet a voluntary standard set by the U.S.

Department of Housing and Urban Development that is described by California regulators as insufficient to protect public health.

The California rule would apply to all products sold, used or manufactured for sale in the state. It would require manufacturers to obtain third-party certification, maintain records and label all wood showing it complied with California law.

The regulation would close California markets to low-cost, chemically laden wood imported from Canada, China and other parts of Asia, according to the Air Resources Board. However, wood importers questioned how the board would ensure compliance from manufacturers in other countries.

It also is expected to affect the U.S.-based, wood-products industry.

Some manufacturers warned that the California rule could put them out of business.

"All this leads to additional costs," said Wade Gregory, president of SierraPine Ltd., which is based in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville and is one of two particle board manufacturers in California. "These costs would have to be passed on to our customers or we simply go out of business." A ready-to-assembly bookcase, for example, could cost up to $27 more because of the new rules, according to the Air Resources Board.

The cost to manufacturers, retailers, distributors and importers is estimated at $19 million a year during the initial phase and $127 million a year in later years as they seek to find alternative glues and retool their plants.

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From: The Nation
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WHY WE CAN'T WAIT ANY LONGER TO TACKLE GLOBAL WARMING

By James Hansen

[James Hansen is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. This is an adaptation of a talk delivered February 26 at the National Press Club. Comments relating to policy are Dr. Hansen's personal opinion and do not represent a NASA position.]

There's a huge gap between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known about global warming by those who need to know: the public and policy-makers. We've had, in the past thirty years, one degree Fahrenheit of global warming.

But there's another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline due to gases that are already in the atmosphere. And there's another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline because of the energy infrastructure now in place -- for example, power plants and vehicles that we're not going to take off the road even if we decide that we're going to address this problem.

The Energy Department says that we're going to continue to put more and more CO2 in the atmosphere each year -- not just additional CO2 but more than we put in the year before.

If we do follow that path, even for another ten years, it guarantees that we will have dramatic climate changes that produce what I would call a different planet -- one without sea ice in the Arctic; with worldwide, repeated coastal tragedies associated with storms and a continuously rising sea level; and with regional disruptions due to freshwater shortages and shifting climatic zones.

I've arrived at five recommendations for what should be done to address the problem. If Congress were to follow these recommendations, we could solve the problem. Interestingly, this is not a gloom-and- doom story. In fact, the things we need to do have many other benefits in terms of our economy, our national security, our energy independence and preserving the environment -- preserving creation.

First, there should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until we have the technology to capture and sequester the CO2. That technology is probably five or ten years away. It will become clear over the next ten years that coal-fired power plants that do not capture and sequester CO2 are going to have to be bulldozed.

That's the only way we can keep CO2 from getting well into the dangerous level, because our consumption of oil and gas alone will take us close to the dangerous level. And oil and gas are such convenient fuels (and located in countries where we can't tell people not to mine them) that they surely will be used. So why build old- technology power plants if you're not going to be able to operate them over their lifetime, which is fifty or seventy-five years? It doesn't make sense. Besides, there's so much potential in efficiency, we don't need new power plants if we take advantage of that.

Second, and this is the hard recommendation that no politician seems willing to stand up and say is necessary: The only way we are going to prevent having an amount of CO2 that is far beyond the dangerous level is by putting a price on emissions. In order to avoid economic problems, it had better be a gradually rising price so that the consumer has the option to seek energy sources that reduce his requirement for how much fuel he needs. And that means we should be investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies at the same time. The result would be high-tech, high-paid jobs. And it would be very good for our energy independence, our national security and our balance of payments.

But a price on carbon emissions is not enough, which brings us to the third recommendation: We need energy-efficiency standards. That's been proven time and again. The biggest use of energy is in buildings, and the engineers and architects have said that they can readily reduce the energy requirement of new buildings by 50 percent.

That goal has been endorsed by the US Conference of Mayors, but you can't do it on a city-by-city basis. You need national standards. The same goes for vehicle efficiency. We haven't had an improvement in vehicle efficiency in twenty-five or thirty years. And our national government is standing in court alongside the automobile manufacturers resisting what the National Research Council has said is readily achievable -- a 30 percent improvement in vehicle efficiency, which California and other states want to adopt.

The fourth recommendation -- and this is probably the easiest one -- involves the question of ice-sheet stability. The old assumption that it takes thousands or tens of thousands of years for ice sheets to change is clearly wrong. The concern is that it's a very nonlinear process that could accelerate. The west Antarctic ice sheet in particular is very vulnerable. If it collapses, that could yield a sea-level rise of sixteen to nineteen feet, possibly on a time scale as short as a century or two.

The information on ice-sheet stability is so recent that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report does not adequately address it. The IPCC process is necessarily long and drawn out. But this problem with the stability of ice sheets is so critical that it really should be looked at by a panel of our best scientists.

Congress should ask the National Academy of Sciences to do a study on this and report its conclusions in very plain language. The National Academy of Sciences was established by Abraham Lincoln for just this sort of purpose, and there's no reason we shouldn't use it that way.

The final recommendation concerns how we have gotten into this situation in which there is a gap between what the relevant scientific community understands and what the public and policy-makers know. A fundamental premise of democracy is that the public is informed and that they're honestly informed.

There are at least two major ways in which this is not happening. One of them is that the public affairs offices of the science agencies are staffed at the headquarters level by political appointees. While the public affairs workers at the centers are professionals who feel that their job is to translate the science into words the public can understand, unfortunately this doesn't seem to be the case for the political appointees at the highest levels.

Another matter is Congressional testimony. I don't think the Framers of the Constitution expected that when a government employee -- a technical government employee -- reports to Congress, his testimony would have to be approved and edited by the White House first. But that is the way it works now. And frankly, I'm afraid it works that way whether it's a Democratic administration or a Republican one.

These problems are worse now than I've seen in my thirty years in government. But they're not new. I don't know anything in our Constitution that says that the executive branch should filter scientific information going to Congressional committees. Reform of communication practices is needed if our government is to function the way our Founders intended it to work.

The global warming problem has brought into focus an overall problem: the pervasive influence of special interests on the functioning of our government and on communications with the public. It seems to me that it will be difficult to solve the global warming problem until we have effective campaign finance reform, so that special interests no longer have such a big influence on policy-makers.

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From: The New York Times (pg. A26)
[Printer-friendly version]

EDITORIAL: COUNTING THE POOR

It's not official, but it's virtually indisputable. Poverty in America is much more widespread than has been previously acknowledged.

According to the Census Bureau, nearly 37 million Americans -- 12.6 percent of the population -- were living in poverty in 2005. That means that four years into an economic expansion, the percentage of Americans defined as poor was higher than at the bottom of the last recession in late 2001, when it was 11.7 percent. But that's not the worst of it. Recently, the bureau released 12 alternative measures of poverty, and all but one are higher than the official rate.

The alternative that hews most closely to the measurement criteria recommended by the National Academy of Sciences yields a 2005 poverty rate of 14.1 percent. That works out to 41.3 million poor Americans, 4.4 million more than were officially counted. Those higher figures indicate that millions of needy Americans are not getting government services linked to official poverty levels.

The census's official measure basically looks only at whether a family has enough pretax income, plus cash benefits from the government, to pay for bare necessities. The academy's criteria called for adding in the value of noncash government benefits like food stamps, and for subtracting expenses like out-of-pocket medical costs and work-related outlays, including child care expenses.

They also take into account geographical differences in the cost of living and the fact that poverty is relative. To be accurate, a poverty gauge cannot simply measure a family's ability (or lack thereof) to subsist. It must also capture the extent to which the poor cannot afford the requisites of modern life.

All told, under the official measure, the poverty line for a family with two parents and two children is $19,806. Under the alternative it's $22,841.

Lawmakers must listen to what the new numbers are telling them and, as a first step, instruct the Census Bureau to adopt the academy's more realistic criteria. They must also realize that improvements in antipoverty programs -- such as expanding the earned income tax credit for the working poor and providing better early education -- are some of the best investments the nation can make.

Copyright 2007 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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