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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #952 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Thursday, March 27, 2008printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Sierra Club Removes Leadership of Its Florida Chapter
The national board of the Sierra Club has removed the leadership of its Florida Chapter, which was highly critical of the board's decision to lend its name and logo to the Clorox Company's marketing campaign for a new line of cleaning products.
Gap in Life Expectancy Widens For The Nation
As the wealth and income gaps widen in the U.S., so does the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor. Inequality is now the #1 public health problem in the U.S.
Caving to Industry, FDA Delays Safety Standards For Decades
A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that 97% of Americans are contaminated with a sunscreen ingredient called oxybenzone linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. At the request of industry lobbyists such as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who represented the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, the agency has delayed sunscreen safety standards for nearly 30 years.
We've Been Here Before, and It Wasn't Pretty the First Time
During the medieval ages, a great warming (similar to our own present circumstance) profoundly changed civilizations from the Norse to the Khmer. Archeologists call it the Medieval Warm Period, and it created a "silent and oft-ignored killer": drought.
Two N.H. Communities Enact Laws Recognizing Rights of Nature
Two more towns have passed local laws declaring that nature has rights and corporations don't.
Hair Dyes Found To Increase Cancer Risk
Hairdressers and barbers are at increased risk of developing cancer because of their use of hair dyes.
Swimming In Chemicals
Mark Schapiro's new book reveals how the European Union is demanding that multinationals manufacture safer products, while products developed and sold in the United States are increasingly equated with serious health hazards, and are banned from Europe and other parts of the world.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #952, Mar. 27, 2008
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SIERRA CLUB REMOVES LEADERSHIP OF ITS FLORIDA CHAPTER

By Peter Montague

The Sierra Club's national board voted March 25 to remove the leaders of the Club's 35,000-member Florida chapter, and to suspend the Chapter for four years. It was the first time in the Club's 116- year history that such action has been taken against a state Chapter.

The leadership of the Florida Chapter had been highly critical of the national board's decision in mid-December 2007 to allow The Clorox Company to use the Sierra Club's name and logo to market a new line of non-chlorinated cleaning products called "Green Works." In return, Clorox Company will pay Sierra Club an undisclosed fee, based partly on product sales. The Clorox Company logo will appear on the products as well. A 2004 report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund named The Clorox Company as one of the nation's most chemically dangerous.

The Clorox deal has angered and embittered Club members all across the country, not just in Florida. Since the deal was announced in January, 2008, the Club's national leadership has deflected many requests by Club members to see the text of the legal agreement signed with Clorox. Johanna O'Kelley, the Club's director of Licensing & Cause- Related Marketing, will say only that the amount of money involved is "substantial." Carl Pope, the Club's executive director, has said that money was not the driving factor behind the deal: "Our focus was on consumers who otherwise would not migrate to a safer product because they wouldn't be sure it wasn't green scamming," Mr. Pope has written. The idea is that the Clorox logo will convince people the products will work, and the Sierra Club logo will convince people the products are environmentally preferable.

Third parties are already benefiting from the deal. John Ulrich, who heads the Chemical Industry Council of California, claims broadly that, "the chemical industry is moving toward developing and marketing safer, more eco-friendly products, pointing to Oakland-based Clorox Co.'s new line of 'green' cleaning products that have been endorsed by the Sierra Club," according to a recent news report. As he spoke, Mr. Ulrich was using the Sierra Club-Clorox deal to try to deflect attention away from a new report showing that the chemical industry sickens and kills thousands of Californians each year, costing the state an estimated $2.6 billion in medical expenses and lost wages.

With 2007 revenues of $4.8 billion, The Clorox Company is best-known for its namesake chlorine bleach. The company also manufactures and sells other cleaning products, including Pine-Sol, Clorox Clean-Up, Formula 409, Liquid Plumr, Armor All, plus STP auto-care products, Fresh Step and Scoop Away cat litter, Kingsford charcoal, Hidden Valley and K C Masterpiece salad dressings and sauces, Brita water- filtration systems, and Glad bags, wraps and containers. With 7,800 employees worldwide, the company manufactures products in more than two dozen countries[2] and markets them in more than 100 countries.

In its most recent 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Clorox acknowledges,

"The Company is currently involved in or has potential liability with respect to the remediation of past contamination in the operation of some of its currently and formerly owned and leased facilities. In addition, some of its present and former facilities have been or had been in operation for many years and, over that time, some of these facilities may have used substances or generated and disposed of wastes that are or may be considered hazardous."

And:

"The Company handles and/or transports hazardous substances, including but not limited to chlorine, at its plant sites, including the rail transit of liquid chlorine from its point of origin to our manufacturing facilities. A release of such chemicals, whether in transit or at our facilities, due to accident or an intentional act, could result in substantial liability."

The Clorox Company seems an especially unlikely partner for Sierra Club because many environmental organizations in the U.S., including many members of the Sierra Club, have been working to eliminate chlorine chemistry for the past 15 years. Supporters of the deal point out that it is a step toward that goal. Critics are asking who's next for partnerships? DuPont? Dow? Monsanto?

According to postings on the Club's "Clubhouse" web site,

(1) the Club's Corporate Relations Committee examined the proposed deal with Clorox and rejected it, but was overridden by the national board of directors;

(2) The Club's Toxics Committee was not consulted before the deal was signed;

(3) The Club's Corporate Financial Acceptance Policy says, in part, "The Club will not endorse products."

Among grass-roots Club members, the process for making the decision, as much as the decision itself, is cause for anger and dismay. The Club has 1.3 million dues-paying members, many of who are active volunteers in their local communities. Volunteers and paid national staff sometimes have different perspectives on what's most important to the Club.

When grass-roots members pointed out that Clorox was fined $95,000 for violating U.S. pesticide laws just as the deal with the Club was being brokered, staffer Johanna O'Kelley dismissed Clorox's culpability, saying their violation was "a technicality."

According to a report in the Palm Beach, Florida, Post newspaper, "Many past and present chapter leaders have declined to speak publicly about the dispute, with some saying they fear punishment from the national organization. In a recent letter, the club instructed leaders not to 'seek public media coverage of this internal board decision.'"

On the Club's "Clubhouse" web site, several Club members have called for a full national membership referendum on the Clorox deal, but so far the national staff in San Francisco has not adopted that suggestion.

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[1] Disclosure: Peter Montague is a member of the Sierra Club.

[2] In its 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission dated June 30, 2007, The Clorox Company listed these subsidiaries: 1221 Olux, LLC Delaware; A & M Products Manufacturing Company Delaware; Andover Properties, Inc. Delaware; The Armor All/STP Products Company Delaware; BGP Switzerland S. a. r. l. Switzerland; Brita Canada Corporation Nova Scotia; Brita Canada Holdings Corporation Nova Scotia; Brita GP Ontario; Brita LP Ontario; Brita Manufacturing Company Delaware; The Brita Products Company Delaware; Chesapeake Assurance Limited Hawaii; Clorox Africa (Holdings) Pty. Ltd. South Africa; Clorox Africa Pty. Ltd. South Africa; Clorox Argentina S.A. Argentina; Clorox Australia Pty. Ltd. Australia; Clorox (Barbados) Inc. Barbados; Clorox Brazil Holdings LLC Delaware; Clorox do Brasil Ltda. Brazil; Clorox Car Care Limited United Kingdom; Clorox (Cayman Islands) Ltd. Cayman Islands; Clorox de Centro America, S.A. Costa Rica; Clorox Chile S.A. Chile; Clorox China (Guangzhou) Ltd. Guangzhou, P.R.C.; Clorox de Colombia S.A. Colombia; Clorox Commercial Company Delaware; The Clorox Company of Canada Ltd. Canada (Federal); Clorox Diamond Production Company Delaware; Clorox Dominicana, C. por A. Dominican Republic.

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From: New York Times
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GAP IN LIFE EXPECTANCY WIDENS FOR THE NATION

By Robert Pear

WASHINGTON -- New government research has found "large and growing" disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

Life expectancy for the nation as a whole has increased, the researchers said, but affluent people have experienced greater gains, and this, in turn, has caused a widening gap.

One of the researchers, Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said "the growing inequalities in life expectancy" mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers.

The gaps have been increasing despite efforts by the federal government to reduce them. One of the top goals of "Healthy People 2010," an official statement of national health objectives issued in 2000, is to "eliminate health disparities among different segments of the population," including higher- and lower-income groups and people of different racial and ethnic background.

Dr. Singh said last week that federal officials had found "widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy" at birth and at every age level.

He and another researcher, Mohammad Siahpush, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, developed an index to measure social and economic conditions in every county, using census data on education, income, poverty, housing and other factors. Counties were then classified into 10 groups of equal population size.

In 1980-82, Dr. Singh said, people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group (75.8 versus 73 years). By 1998-2000, the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it continues to grow, he said.

After 20 years, the lowest socioeconomic group lagged further behind the most affluent, Dr. Singh said, noting that "life expectancy was higher for the most affluent in 1980 than for the most deprived group in 2000."

"If you look at the extremes in 2000," Dr. Singh said, "men in the most deprived counties had 10 years €� o shorter life expectancy than women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years)." The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).

The Democratic candidates for president, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have championed legislation to reduce such disparities, as have some Republicans, like Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

Peter R. Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said: "We have heard a lot about growing income inequality. There has been much less attention paid to growing inequality in life expectancy, which is really quite dramatic."

Life expectancy is the average number of years of life remaining for people who have attained a given age.

While researchers do not agree on an explanation for the widening gap, they have suggested many reasons, including these:

** Doctors can detect and treat many forms of cancer and heart disease because of advances in medical science and technology. People who are affluent and better educated are more likely to take advantage of these discoveries.

** Smoking has declined more rapidly among people with greater education and income.

** Lower-income people are more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods, to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior and to eat unhealthy food.

** Lower-income people are less likely to have health insurance, so they are less likely to receive checkups, screenings, diagnostic tests, prescription drugs and other types of care.

Even among people who have insurance, many studies have documented racial disparities.

In a recent report, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that black patients "tend to receive less aggressive medical care than whites" at its hospitals and clinics, in part because doctors provide them with less information and see them as "less appropriate candidates" for some types of surgery.

Some health economists contend that the disparities between rich and poor inevitably widen as doctors make gains in treating the major causes of death.

Nancy Krieger, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, rejected that idea. Professor Krieger investigated changes in the rate of premature mortality (dying before the age of 65) and infant death from 1960 to 2002. She found that inequities shrank from 1966 to 1980, but then widened.

"The recent trend of growing disparities in health status is not inevitable," she said. "From 1966 to 1980, socioeconomic disparities declined in tandem with a decline in mortality rates."

The creation of Medicaid and Medicare, community health centers, the "war on poverty" and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 all probably contributed to the earlier narrowing of health disparities, Professor Krieger said.

Robert E. Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said one reason for the growing disparities might be "a very significant gap in health literacy" -- what people know about diet, exercise and healthy lifestyles. Middle- class and upper-income people have greater access to the huge amounts of health information on the Internet, Mr. Moffit said.

Thomas P. Miller, a health economist at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed.

"People with more education tend to have a longer time horizon," Mr. Miller said. "They are more likely to look at the long-term consequences of their health behavior. They are more assertive in seeking out treatments and more likely to adhere to treatment advice from physicians."

A recent study by Ellen R. Meara, a health economist at Harvard Medical School, found that in the 1980s and 1990s, "virtually all gains in life expectancy occurred among highly educated groups."

Trends in smoking explain a large part of the widening gap, she said in an article this month in the journal Health Affairs.

Under federal law, officials must publish an annual report tracking health disparities. In the fifth annual report, issued this month, the Bush administration said, "Over all, disparities in quality and access for minority groups and poor populations have not been reduced" since the first report, in 2003.

The rate of new AIDS cases is still 10 times as high among blacks as among whites, it said, and the proportion of black children hospitalized for asthma is almost four times the rate for white children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that heart attack survivors with higher levels of education and income were much more likely to receive cardiac rehabilitation care, which lowers the risk of future heart problems. Likewise, it said, the odds of receiving tests for colon cancer increase with a person's education and income.

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From: Environmental Working Group
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CAVING TO INDUSTRY, FDA DELAYS SAFETY STANDARDS FOR DECADES

A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that 97% of Americans are contaminated with a widely-used sunscreen ingredient called oxybenzone that has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage.

A companion study published just one day earlier revealed that this chemical is linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy. Oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.

Although oxybenzone is most common in sunscreen, companies also use the chemical in at least 567 other personal care products.

Environmental Working Group identified nearly 600 sunscreens sold in the U.S. that contain oxybenzone, including products by Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, and Banana Boat (see the full list of 588 sunscreens here) as well as 172 facial moisturizers, 111 lip balms, and 81 different types of lipstick.

The Food and Drug Administration has failed miserably in its duty to protect the public from toxic chemicals like oxybenzone in personal care products. At the request of industry lobbyists, including Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who represented the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, the agency has delayed final sunscreen safety standards for nearly 30 years. FDA issued a new draft of the standards last October under pressure from EWG, but continues to delay finalizing them at the behest of the regulated industry.

EWG research shows that 84% of 910 name-brand sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients, like oxybenzone, with significant safety concerns.

The last safety review for oxybenzone was done in the 1970s, and does not reflect a wealth of information developed since that time indicating increased toxicity concerns and widespread human exposure. A recent review in the European Union found that sufficient data were not available to assess if oxybenzone in sunscreen was safe for consumers.

Environmental Working Group again calls on FDA to review the safety of oxybenzone, given this new data on widespread contamination of the U.S. population, and to finalize its sunscreen safety standards so that consumers can be certain that sunscreen products they purchase are safe and effective.

CDC study of oxybenzone signals concern

Top scientists from CDC published results March 21, 2008 from a national survey of 2,500 Americans, age 6 and up, showing that oxybenzone readily absorbs into the body and is present in 97% of Americans tested (Calafat 2008). Oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, was detected in the urine of nearly every study participant. Typically, women and girls had higher levels of oxybenzone in their bodies than men and boys, likely a result of differences in use of body care products including sunscreens.

A companion study released a day earlier revealed that mothers with high levels of oxybenzone in their bodies were more likely to give birth to underweight baby girls (Wolff 2008). Low birth weight is a critical risk factor linked to coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases in adulthood (Lau 2004).

Oxybenzone damages and penetrates the skin

Among common sunscreen chemicals, oxybenzone is most likely to be associated with allergic reactions triggered by sun exposure. In a study of 82 patients with photoallergic contact dermatitis, over one quarter showed photoallergic reactions to oxybenzone (Rodriguez 2006); another study reported 1 in 5 allergic reactions to photopatch tests resulted from exposure to oxybenzone (Bryden 2006).

Sunlight also causes oxybenzone to form free radical chemicals that may be linked to cell damage, according to 2 of 3 studies (Allen 1996; Serpone 2002; Hanson 2006).

A less visible but more alarming concern, this chemical absorbs through the skin in significant amounts, as indicated by the CDC study. A previous biomonitoring study reported that 96% of 6 to 8 year old girls had detectable amounts of oxybenzone in their urine (Wolff 2007). An earlier study detected oxybenzone in the urine of all 30 adult participants (Ye 2005).

Studies on human volunteers indicate a wide variation in the level of oxybenzone absorbed into the body, with some individuals absorbing at least 9% of the applied dose, as measured in excretions in urine (Hayden 1997; Janjua 2004; Sarveiya 2004; Gonzalez 2006). Volunteers continued to excrete oxybenzone many days after the last application of the chemical, an indication of its tendency to accumulate in fatty tissues in the body (Gonzalez 2006).

In addition to its ability to absorb into the body, oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin (Pont 2004).

Oxybenzone may disrupt the human hormone system

Studies on cells and laboratory animals indicate that oxybenzone and its metabolites, the chemicals the body makes from oxybenzone in an attempt to detoxify and excrete it, may disrupt the hormone system. Under study conditions, oxybenzone and its metabolites cause weak estrogenic (Nakagawa 2002; Schlumpf 2001, 2004; Kunz 2006; van Liempd 2007) and anti-androgenic (Ma 2003) effects. Oxybenzone displays additive hormonal effects when tested with other sunscreen chemicals (Heneweer 2005). Laboratory study also suggests that oxybenzone may affect the adrenal hormone system (Ziolkowska 2006).

One human study coapplying 3 sunscreen active ingredients (oxybenzone, 4-MBC, and octinoxate) suggested a minor, intermittent, but statistically significant drop in testosterone levels in men during a one-week application period (Janjua 2004). Researchers also detected statistically significant declines in estradiol levels in men; other hormonal differences detected could not be linked to sunscreen use due to differences in baseline hormone levels before and during treatment.

Outdated health protections do not take into account these and other adverse effects

A 2006 European Union review concluded that a rigorous exposure assessment of oxybenzone was impossible, due to lack of information about the levels of absorption into the body (SCCP 2006). The levels of contamination reported in this latest CDC study indicate that absorption may be significant, consistent with previous, small-scale biomonitoring reports. A decades-old evaluation by FDA, as well as more recent review by the cosmetics industry's own safety panel, do not consider concerns regarding hormone disruption, nor the implications of the ability of oxybenzone to penetrate the skin (FDA 1978; CIR 1983, 2002). At present, no health-based standards exist for safe levels of oxybenzone in the body.

Additional cautions must be employed when considering the effects of oxybenzone on children. The surface area of a child's skin relative to body weight is greater than adults. As a result, the potential dose of a chemical following dermal exposure is likely to be about 1.4 times greater in children than in adults (SCCNFP 2001). In addition, children are less able than adults to detoxify and excrete chemicals, and children's developing organ systems are more vulnerable to damage from chemical exposures, and more sensitive to low levels of hormonally active compounds (NAS 1993; Janjua 2004). Children also have more years of future life in which to develop disease triggered by early exposure to chemicals (NAS 1993). Despite these well- documented concerns regarding children's sensitivity to harmful substances, no special protections exist regarding ingredients in personal care products marketed for babies and children.

The fraction of oxybenzone that is not absorbed into the human body often contaminates water, washed from the skin during swimming and water play or while bathing (Lambropolou 2002; Danovaro 2008). Wastewater treatment removes only a fraction of this sunscreen chemical (Li 2007), resulting in detection of oxybenzone in treated wastewater, in lake and sea waters due to recreational use or to discharges from water treatment facilities, and even in fish (Balmer 2005; Cuderman 2007; Li 2007). Studies show oxybenzone can trigger outbreaks of viral infection in coral reefs (Danovaro 2008), and can cause feminization of male fish (Kunz 2006). Despite significant ecological concerns, there are no measures in place to protect sensitive ecosystems from damage caused by this contaminant.

EWG to FDA: Oxybenzone investigation is long overdue

FDA last reviewed the safety of oxybenzone in the 1970s, publishing its evaluation in 1978, at the same time it announced plans to develop comprehensive standards for sunscreen safety and effectiveness (FDA 1978). 30 years later, the Agency has yet to issue final regulations. Instead, it encourages manufacturers to follow draft guidelines that the Agency has delayed finalizing at the behest of the sunscreen industry. As a result, sunscreen manufacturers in the U.S. are free to market products containing ingredients like oxybenzone that have not been proven safe for people.

Found in over half of the 910 name-brand sunscreen products we reviewed, oxybenzone is tied to significant health concerns that must be scrutinized. Instead, FDA's refusal to re-examine this ingredient keeps sunscreens containing oxybenzone on the market. Petitions for review of newly developed sunscreen ingredients approved for use in other countries, and with far fewer health concerns, have been met with similar inattention, blocking Americans' access to better products.

FDA foot-dragging has left the U.S. without enforceable standards for sunscreen safety and effectiveness for decades. EWG demands that FDA finalize the latest version of its monograph on sunscreen products immediately, and launch an investigation into the safety of the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone.

Links

More EWG comments on FDA's sunscreen monograph

EWG report on sunscreen safety

View name-brand products that contain oxybenzone:

Sunscreens (588 products)

facial moisturizer/treatment

other products with SPF

lip balm

lipstick

moisturizer

anti-aging creams

conditioner

fragrance for women

Although oxybenzone is most common in sunscreen, companies also use the chemical in at least 567 other personal care products.

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Ziolkowska A, Belloni AS, Nussdorfer GG, Nowak M, Malendowicz LK. 2006. Endocrine disruptors and rat adrenocortical function: studies on freshly dispersed and cultured cells. Int J Mol Med 18(6): 1165-1168.

Copyright 2007, Environmental Working Group.

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From: Toronto Globe and Mail
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WE'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE, AND IT WASN'T PRETTY THE FIRST TIME

By Andrew Nikiforuk

Book review of: THE GREAT WARMING: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations By Brian Fagan (Bloomsbury, 282 pages, $29.95)

While the Arctic melts and our glaciers disappear, one by one, like guests at a late-night party, Canada's political elites remain the only guys too drunk to recognize that the climate is changing. Let's face it: Global warming probably will never sober up Conservative or Liberal leaders as long as tar-sands taxes fill the federal treasury, lower the GST and give the loonie a petro swagger. And they are not the first group of rulers to ignore the weather.

During the medieval ages, a great warming similar to our fossil- fuelled meltdown profoundly changed civilizations from the Norse to the Khmer. Archeologists call it the Medieval Warm Period, and it served up a "silent and oft-ignored killer": drought. The dry-out even parched much of present-day Alberta.

In a book that reads like climate deja vu, well-known University of California anthropologist Brian Fagan shows that the Medieval Warm Period humbled political elites and demolished their well-engineered empires with equanimity.

Fagan says we're now entering another era of extreme aridity, and that the challenges of adapting to water shortages and crop failures won't be easy. Although elites can ignore the climate, Fagan says, the climate won't ignore them. It never has.

Fagan begins his tidy and fascinating climate fable with a look at how a great warming from the 10th to the 15th century really rearranged Europe. There, a rise of one or two degrees actually favoured abundant crops and even established wine industries in southern England and Norway.

Reliable harvests, however, encouraged much peasant begetting. Rising human population, much like a pine beetle epidemic, leads to unprecedented forest clearing. Forests, then as now "the mantle of the poor," served as a communal form of ecological insurance that provided game, herbs, firewood and grazing space for animals.

But during the great warming, Europeans chopped down their ancient forests to grow more meat, honey and flour. When the Little Ice Age came, along with the Black Death, Rinderpest and other climate-driven surprises, Europe lost a third of its population. There simply was no mantle for misfortune.

The medieval warming changed the global map for the Norse, too. Thanks to warmer weather, they rowed out of the fjords of crowded Norway and founded a number of Club Viking destinations. Thanks to favourable ice conditions, Club Viking even settled Greenland and explored the Canadian Arctic, where they encountered the Thule, an Inuit people on the move due to ice-free water. Trade in walrus ivory and iron made the two cultures temporary global partners until temperatures started to drop again.

But for much of the world, the great warming basically served up "megadroughts" and an ever-diminishing larder. In California, for example, sustained aridity killed off oak trees, source of the carbohydrate-rich acorn for the Chumash people. (Just prior to the Spanish conquest, aboriginals harvested 60,000 metric tons of acorns, a bounty greater than the state's current sweet corn production.) But drought reminded the Chumash that counting on acorns to provide 50 per cent of dinner could quickly translate into a crash diet.

Drought, the product of the tempestuous Pacific marriage between ocean and atmosphere, also emptied the pueblos in Chaco Canyon. While a decade-long dry spell pumped people, plants and animals out of the southwest of North America (as well as Alberta), it also dried up the lowlands of the Guatemala peninsula, taking down the Maya.

Jared Diamond, the author of Collapse, has covered this territory well, but Fagan adds some critical details. In a land of unpredictable rainfall, Mayan rulers constructed elaborate and huge water reservoirs in Tikal and other fabled cities, becoming "Lords of the Water Mountains."

The elites, who considered themselves divinely infallible, had no real sense of tragedy, and that's just when the climate served up a super drought. In the face of hunger and thirst, ordinary people abandoned their rulers, who squatted alone on blood-stained pyramids. The implosion of the Maya, Fagan says, "is a sobering reminder of what can happen when societies subsist off unpredictable water sources, and through their efforts, put more demands on the water supply than it can sustain."

Droughts also humbled Asia during the great warming. In northern China, the Yellow River basin (Huang He) has always made too much or not enough water for nearly half of China's people. The Medieval Warm Period delivered some spectacular droughts and mass famine. Thanks to industrialization and Maya-like water managers, China remains "even more vulnerable to catastrophe today."

Fagan, a veteran chronicler of how climate can undo a society's best- laid plans, cements his lucid and often surprising observations on this climate event with much scientific data collected from ice cores and tree rings. He admits that there is still much debate about what caused the great warming, and nobody really knows how hot it actually got. But no one doubts that the dramatic event turned a grape-like bunch of civilizations into raisins.

In his final chapter, Fagan explains why climate history matters, and it's not inspiring reading. Britain's esteemed Hadley Centre for Climate Change recently documented a 25-per-cent increase in global drought since the 1990s. Right now, about 3 per cent of the planet is drying up. Global warming will soon place a third of the Earth in extreme drought and force another half of the world's land mass to taste "moderate drought." Such abiding dryness will "challenge even small cities, to say nothing of thirsty metropolises like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson." Even Las Vegas could lose a craps game or two.

But history in a virtual age remains an impoverished teacher, much like truth speaking. The good news, Fagan says, is that highly nomadic communities with diverse food supplies often read the weather signs and move. The bad news is that elites try to super-manage their way out of droughts, with disastrous results for ordinary people.

Fagan's account of how dry spells humbled the Khmer of Angkor Wat and probably propelled Genghis Khan out of the Mongolian steppes certainly won't move imperial mountains in Ottawa. But for ordinary readers, Fagan's book serves as another warning about a true marvel: It only takes a temperature change of a Celsius degree or two to rapidly unsettle the order of things.

Andrew Nikiforuk's next book, The Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of the Continent, will be published this fall.

Copyright 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.

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From: The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
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TWO N.H. COMMUNITIES ENACT LAWS RECOGNIZING RIGHTS OF NATURE

Two towns in New Hampshire this month passed local laws recognizing the rights of nature and specifically restricting the rights of corporations.

Nottingham, N.H. passed The Nottingham Water Rights and Local Self - Government Ordinance at a town meeting March 15th. The ordinance establishes strict liability for culpable corporations and government entities that permit and facilitate the privatization and corporatization of water within the town.

The ordinance also strips corporations of constitutional protections within the town. The Town of Nottingham thus becomes the 11th municipality in the nation to refuse to recognize corporate constitutional "rights," and to prohibit corporate rights from being used to override the rights of human and natural communities.

The vote in Nottingham was 175 to 111 for the ordinance.

When a few people at the end of the meeting, attempted to use an obscure local law to recall the vote in seven days, after over 75% of the voters had left, the action was defeated by over 60% of the people remaining. These two significant votes proclaim Democracy is alive and well in Nottingham.

At Town Meeting on the same day in Barnstead, voters amended their Water Rights Ordinance; which was passed almost unanimously at their Town Meeting two years ago; to include the Rights of Nature.

Barnstead, NH , became the 12th municipality in the nation to recognize the Rights of Nature. Barnstead voted overwhelmingly on Saturday, March 15th, to add the Rights of Nature to their ordinance which has been in place since March 2006, when they became the first municipality to deny corporate assumed privileges to corporate entities withdrawing water for resale, within the town.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) of Chamberburg, Pennsylvania has been spearheading efforts by local communities to assert control over corporations.

Ben Price, Projects Director for the Legal Defense Fund, had this to say, "The people have asserted their right and their duty to protect their families, environment, and future generations. In enacting this law, the community has gone on record as rejecting the legal theory behind Dillon's Rule, which erroneously asserts that there is no inherent right to local self-government. The American Revolution was about nothing less than the fundamental right of the people to be the decision-makers on issues directly affecting the communities in which they live. They understood that a central government, at some distance removed from those affected, acts beyond its authority in empowering a few powerful men -- privileged with chartered immunities and rights superior to the people in the community -- to deny citizens' rights, impose harm, and refuse local self-determination.

"The peoples of the Towns of Nottingham and Barnstead have acted in the best tradition of liberty and freedom, and confronted injustice in the form of a state-permitted corporate assault against the consent of the sovereign people," he said.

CELDF's New Hampshire organizer, Gail Darrell, spoke to the success of the amendments on Monday.

"The People of Barnstead have agreed to acknowledge that the natural world needs an advocate -- that advocate is us. The water which we all share is now protected by all of us who live here. We have decided that protecting the essence of all life is a good way to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of the community."

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From: The Independent (London, U.K.)
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HAIR DYES FOUND TO INCREASE CANCER RISK

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Hairdressers and barbers are at increased risk of developing cancer - because of their use of hair dyes. And the risks could extend to personal use of the dyes, according to international experts.

A review of the evidence by a panel of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, has found a "small but consistent risk of bladder cancer in male hairdressers and barbers".

A second review of the evidence on personal use of hair dyes found some studies suggesting a possible association with bladder cancer and with lymphoma and leukaemia.

But the panel found that the evidence was inadequate and concluded that personal use of hair dyes was "not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans".

The panel was composed of 17 scientists who met last February to consider the latest evidence and update advice last issued by the agency in 1993.

Modern hair dyes are classified as permanent, semi permanent or temporary dyes. The permanent or oxidative hair dyes represent 80 per cent of the market and consist of colourless "intermediates" and couplers that, in the presence of peroxide, form the dyes by chemical reaction.

Dark hair dyes tend to contain the highest concentration of the colouring ingredients. The use of some such colourants was discontinued in the 1970s after positive cancer tests in rats.

Dr Robert Baan of the IARC and colleagues say in The Lancet Oncology: "A small but consistent risk of bladder cancer was reported in male hairdressers and barbers. Because of few supporting findings by duration or period of exposure, the working group considered these data as limited evidence of carcinogenicity and reaffirmed occupational exposures of haridressers and barbers as 'probably carcinogenic to humans'."

The full report will be published as Volume 99 of the IARC monographs.

Copyright independent.co.uk

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From: Now
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SWIMMING IN CHEMICALS

The following is an excerpt from investigative reporter Mark Schapiro's book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power. Schapiro's book reveals how the European Union is demanding that multinationals manufacture safer products, while products developed and sold in the United States are increasingly equated with serious health hazards, and are banned from Europe and other parts of the world.

Fall & Rise of the Environmental Mohicans

Since the end of World War II, molecules thrown together in heretofore unheard of combinations have given rise to new products inconceivable a couple of generations ago. Those nonstick perfluorinated substances, for example, have added new levels of convenience, and those polybrominated flame retardants have added new safety. But like the luster of technology that was slowly fading inside those four walls of the Atomium, what was being found in our circulatory systems also offered a glimpse into the legacy left behind by the inventiveness of the chemical age. The chemical imprints in our blood have prompted a reassessment, in Europe, of chemistry's magic.

For a quarter-century, the Bruno family and other Europeans have relied on principles of regulation based substantially on those of the United States for their protection from chemical hazards. The Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, was passed by Congress in 1976 six years after President Richard Nixon created the EPA. TSCA was the first effort by any government to attempt to assert some level of oversight over the vast amount of chemicals that had been introduced into the marketplace since the end of World War II. The new law took effect in 1977. In those days environmental policy in Europe was largely in the hands of individual governments. TSCA had the effect of prompting the continent's major chemical powers -- West Germany, France, and the UK -- to harmonize their varying regulations to conform more closely to those of TSCA. The rest of the European Community's then nine other members quickly followed.

TSCA's primary innovation at the time was in requiring that all chemicals developed from that point on be subject to review for their toxicity before reaching the market. That sounds good, except for one major caveat: TSCA exempted all chemicals already on the market from review. The EPA made up a list of all chemicals already for sale as of December 1979 and called it the TSCA Inventory. Some sixty-two thousand chemicals were grandfathered into the market, with no testing or review. These included thousands of potentially highly toxic substances, including the likes of ethyl benzene, a widely used industrial solvent suspected of being a potent neurotoxin; whole families of synthetic plastics that are potential carcinogens and endocrine disrupters; and thousands of other substances for which there was little or no information.

Twenty-eight years later, according to the EPA itself, 95 percent of all chemicals have never undergone even minimal testing for their toxicity or environmental impact. Researchers at University of California-Berkeley's School of Public Health estimate that forty-two billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce daily -- enough chemicals to fill up 623,000 tanker trucks everyday, a string of trucks that could straddle the United States twice if placed end to end. Fewer than five hundred of those substances, according to a report the school produced for the state of California, have undergone any substantive risk assessments.

Even for those few new chemicals that industry does bring to market, the record is not reassuring. The EPA requires that a premarket notification (PMN) be supplied for the agency's review ninety days before commercial-scale manufacturing of new chemicals begins. Manufacturers are supposed to include production volume, intended uses, and available exposure and toxicity data. Theoretically, this permits the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) to determine whether regulatory action is warranted before the chemicals hit the market. But according to their own figures, 85 percent of the notifications submitted annually contain no health data.

There has been abundant criticism of inadequacies in TSCA for more than two decades. A legion of NGOs, scientists, and even government agencies has been devoted to advocating TSCA's reform. The Government Accountability Office concluded in 2005 that the agency has inadequate test data to make safety assessments and has permitted the chemical industry too much leeway in keeping information from public view by indiscriminate assertion of proprietary information. The requirements that EPA include the "costs to industry" in determining whether a substance presents an "unreasonable threat to public health" and that it impose the "least burdensome regulation" (to industry) was a bar that the GAO found too high for effective protection from chemicals' potential harm. One result of these rules was that the EPA has banned just five chemicals since the agency's creation a quarter century ago. That includes the family of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), millions of tons of which were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers and electrical equipment until they were found to cause acute skin lesions, were a likely contributor to liver damage, and were carcinogenic. PCBs are also highly persistent: though the EPA banned them in 1977, residues are still turning up in drinking water and in the soil.

The other chemicals banned by EPA were halogenated chlorofluoroalkanes, because of their contributions to acid rain after the United States signed the Montreal Protocol; dioxins, a byproduct of chemical manufacturing released into the air and linked to skin lesions in those exposed as well as cancer and liver damage; and hexavalent chromium, an additive to paints and coatings that was strongly linked to lung cancer among exposed workers (and that is on the EU's list of banned substances in electronics). There was, briefly, a sixth substance on the EPA's banned list: asbestos. In 1989, the EPA declared a ban on what amounted to more than 90 percent of all uses of asbestos, which it classified as a "known carcinogen." But industry challenged the agency and in 1991 a federal court vacated the ban, asserting that the EPA had not met TSCA's requirements for proof of harm balanced against the benefits of asbestos, and had not demonstrated that the ban was the "least burdensome alternative" for eliminating the "unreasonable risk" of exposure to the carcinogenic substance. More than thirty million pounds of asbestos is still sold in the United States each year, used as insulation in an array of products including brake shoes and industrial tiles. The agency has not acted to ban a chemical since that decision.

One of TSCA's most significant weaknesses, according to Joseph Guth, a biochemist and lawyer who works as legal director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, is that by making it easier to hang onto old chemicals rather than develop new ones, it provides no incentive for developing less toxic alternatives. "TSCA rewards ignorance," Guth said. "The chemical companies give you function and they give you price. What they don't give you is safety or environmental effects. That is a complete black box. The data gaps are massive. So, let's say you want to develop a more effective and safer chemical. There is no information out there to prove that yours is better or safer for human health or the environment. There's no competitive pressure to improve it.... The current system impedes the ability of innovations to penetrate the market."8 Consumers, in other words, have no means of expressing their potential preference for less toxic alternatives.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz called this inequality of knowledge between consumers and producers "information asymmetry," and pegged it as one of the central flaws of market capitalism.9 The absence of even minimal toxicity data works to insulate the industry from the normal supply-demand dynamic of the market. In a country that prides itself on its entrepreneurial ingenuity, the United States is hitching its faith to a system that reinforces stasis and a potentially dangerous status quo.

The bio-monitoring results in America and in Europe are the clinching evidence of TSCA's ineffectiveness. "All our exposure assumptions have been proven wrong," Malcolm Woolf, staff counsel to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told me. "Because we did not act under TSCA, the assumption is that chemicals have been certified safe. But it's exactly the opposite: They haven't been certified anything."10 TSCA is now derisively referred to among its many critics as the "Toxic Substances Conversation Act." The chemical industry has wielded considerable power in Washington to keep it that way. Over the past decade, the industry has been either the second or third biggest lobbying force on Capitol Hill, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Between 1996 and 2006, the industry made $35 million in contributions to federal election campaigns, and spends between $2 million and $5 million each year on lobbying in Washington (not including the significant amount of lobbying by the industry in state capitals).

Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician and epidemiologist, served as assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances from 1993 to 1998, when she left to become a professor of environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. By the mid-1990s, she told me, the flaws in TSCA had become abundantly clear. "Suddenly all of us were realizing, 'there were thousands of chemicals out there, and we didn't know what they were. We weren't able to get the data, weren't able to assess the risks, nothing." Goldman recalls a party held in Washington in 1996 to celebrate TSCA's twenty-year anniversary. "I'll never forget. Someone from the chemical industry got up to salute TSCA, and said, 'This is the perfect statute. I wish every law could be like TSCA.'" She laughed, "It was then I knew for sure there was something wrong."

Copyright 2008 JumpStart Productions

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  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
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  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.  

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  gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
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