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  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#847 -- Law of the Commons, 23-Mar-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #847

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, March 23, 2006................Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Ten Tenets: The Law of the Commons of the Natural World
  What is government for? It is to protect the commons, all the
  things we own together and none of us owns individually, such as air,
  water, wildlife, the human gene pool, the accumulated human knowledge
  that we each inherit at birth, and more. Can protecting the commons be
  expressed in a simple set of guidelines? Here's a start...
Close-knit Neighborhood Makes a Difference in Childhood Obesity
  With a problem like obesity, we are taught to focus on individual
  behaviors and "lifestyle choices." But our personal behavior occurs
  within a social context and often the social context is more important
  than individual choice in determining health. This is what people mean
  when they talk about the "social determinants of health."
Toxic Waste Has a Second Life When Fumes Sneak into Homes
  For more than 20 years government scientists have been "cleaning
  up" toxic wastes, such as tetrachloroethylene (dry cleaning fluid).
  Now it turns out that the soil doesn't really get clean. Toxic fumes
  linger in the tiny air spaces between particles of soil, then migrate
  into people's homes and workplaces -- long after the "cleanup" has
  been complete and the neighborhood has been declared "safe." It's
  called vapor intrusion.
Nuclear Reactors Found to Be Leaking Radioactive Water
  Aided by massive federal subsidies, the nuclear power industry is
  hoping to be born again. However the public's acceptance of new
  reactors depends in part on the performance of the old ones, and
  lately several of those have been discovered to be leaking radioactive
  water into the ground. To make things worse, the power companies have
  been fudging a few of the facts.
Tiny Particles Promise Much, but Could Pose Big Risk.
  During the past 40 years, we have learned an important lesson from
  the chemical, nuclear, and genetic-engineering industries: all
  governments are now too puny to regulate the behavior of giant
  corporations that offer us new technologies whenever it suits their
  business plans. Now they are giving us nanotech. Here we go again.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #847, Mar. 23, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

TEN TENETS: THE LAW OF THE COMMONS OF THE NATURAL WORLD

By Carolyn Raffensperger**

The commons includes all the things we own together and none of us
owns individually -- the air and waters of the Earth, wildlife, the
human gene pool, the accumulated human knowledge that we all inherit
at birth, and so on. The commons form the biological platform upon
which the entire human enterprise -- and, indeed, all life -- depend.

At present, American law tends to emphasize and give privilege to
corporate rights and private property to the exclusion of community,
other creatures, health, and future generations. However, hidden like
treasure in the depths of our legal system is the foundation of a law
of the commons. Some legal precepts derived from ancient practices of
people sharing water, land and wildlife still reverberate throughout
American law.

One of the oldest ideas, the public trust doctrine, predates the
Magna Carta but it is still part of the common law in most of the
50 U.S. states. The public trust doctrine stands for the principle
that a government body holds some resource like tidal waters or
shores in trust for the people. Versions of this concept have
appeared in state constitutions and been adjudicated in state and
federal courts.

Other ideas have emerged in response to changing technology and the
increasing scarcity of various resources. Beginning in the 1970's a
spate of states amended their constitutions to grant new rights and
assign new duties reflecting the increasing burden of pollution and
damage to the commons. Florida crafted a polluter pays provision to
force agriculture to clean up Lake Okeechobee, to protect the
Everglades. Similarly, the Law of the Sea convention of 1982, an
international treaty, asserted the right of all humankind to access
the deep seas because modern fishing and mining technology had
increased the likelihood of a single nation plundering the oceans.

One of the most interesting ideas to take hold in the 1970's was the
brainchild of an Alaska governor, Jay Hammond. He helped create the
Alaska Permanent Fund to reap the benefits for all Alaskans of oil
drilling on state lands. Some money from the oil profits goes into the
state coffers to pay for public infrastructure and a portion of the
fund is paid out to each Alaskan as a dividend.

I have taken these (and other ideas) and distilled 10 tenets of
commons law on which we might build a more satisfying, coherent law
and policy so that we can pass this beautiful world on to future
generations.

Ten Tenets: the Law of the Commons of the Natural World

1) The commons shall be passed on to future generations unimpaired.
See, for example, the State of Montana Constitution, Article ix,
environment and natural resources. And the National Park Service
Organic Act, 16 U.S.C. 1.

2) All commoners have equal access to the commons and use by commoners
will be allocated without discrimination. Example: The Alaska
Permanent Fund.

3) Government's key responsibility is to serve as a trustee of the
commons. The trust beneficiary is present and future generations. The
trustee has a responsibility to protect the trust property from harm,
including harm perpetrated by trust beneficiaries. Example: Lake
Michigan Federation v. Army Corps of Engineers, 742 F. 2d 441 (N.D.
Ill. 1990). Source: Public trust doctrine.

4) The commons do not belong to the state but belong to commoners, the
public. Example: The Public Trust Doctrine.

5) Some commons are the common heritage of all humans and other living
beings. Common heritage establishes the right of commoners to those
places and goods in perpetuity. This right may not be alienated,
denied, repudiated or given away. The Common Heritage law is a limit
on one government's sovereignty to claim economic jurisdiction and to
exclude some commoners from their share. Example: the 1982 Law of the
Sea Convention, articles 136 and 137.

6) The precautionary principle is the most useful tool for protecting
the commons for this and future generations. Example: The San
Francisco precautionary principle ordinance.

7) Eminent domain is the legal process for moving private property
into the commons and shall be used exclusively for that purpose.
Source: Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

8) Infrastructure necessary for humans and other beings to be fully
biological and social creatures will reside within the domain of the
commons. The positive benefits (externalities) of the commons shall
accrue to all commoners. Example: Alaska Permanent Fund.

9) The commons are the foundation of the economy. Therefore the
market, commerce and private property shall not externalize damage or
costs onto the commons. Example: Florida Polluter Pays Constitutional
Provision.

10) Damage to or loss of the commons shall be compensated to all
commoners. Example: Alaska Permanent Fund.

It is no secret that we face increasing environmental and social
degradation. All indicators suggest that prisons are expanding (even
as crime rates drop), poor children suffer disproportionately from
toxic chemicals, global warming and pollution threaten to make the
planet uninhabitable, and biodiversity is being shredded and
homogenized. The old rules enabled the rich to get richer at the
expense of the commons -- ostensibly so benefits could "trickle down"
to everyone else. There may have been a time when those rules made
some kind of sense, but now the world is a different place. It is
time to change course. We can create a political and legal agenda
based on equitable sharing -- sharing the bounty of the Earth in such
a way that we increase the commonwealth and common health for this
generation and those to come, give substance to the universal
declaration of human rights, and fulfill the promise of America.
These ten tenets are a place to start.

** Carolyn Raffensperger is the executive director of the Science &
Environmental Health Network in Ames, Iowa.

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From: Reuters Health, Feb. 23, 2006
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NEIGHBORHOOD MAY HELP PREVENT CHILDHOOD OBESITY

By Charnicia Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- The neighborhood an adolescent lives in
may influence his or her development of obesity, new study findings
suggest. Specifically, investigators found that adolescents from
close-knit neighborhoods were less likely to be obese.

Close-knit neighborhoods exhibited strong collective efficacy --
neighbors get along and are willing to help each other, and many
adults are role models for adolescents.

"There is an obesity epidemic in this country and treatment has
focused on diet and exercise with relatively little success," study
author Dr. Deborah A. Cohen, a senior natural scientist at the Santa
Monica, California-based RAND Corporation, said in a company
statement.

The current findings imply that it may be necessary to "look at the
neighborhood environment as potentially very important in controlling
the obesity epidemic," she told Reuters Health.

"The social environment that a child lives in is very strongly
associated with how active they are, what they eat and how much they
eat," she said.]

Previous studies show that a neighborhood's level of collective
efficacy is predictive of crime, premature death, death from
cardiovascular disease and other health outcomes. In a survey of 684
households in 65 Los Angeles County neighborhoods, Cohen and her team
investigated whether collective efficacy may also indirectly affect
factors related to obesity. The study included 807 adolescences and
3000 adults.

Cohen's group found that adolescents who lived in neighborhoods with
high levels of collective efficacy were also less likely to be
overweight or at risk for overweight and had a lower body mass index
-- a ratio of weight to height -- than did their peers in other
neighborhoods.

Adolescents in low-collective efficacy neighborhoods, on the other
hand, were 64 percent more likely to be at-risk-for-overweight and 52
percent more likely to be overweight than those living in
neighborhoods with an average level of collective efficacy, the
researchers report in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

In fact, collective efficacy was more important in predicting obesity
than the ethnic or racial make-up of the neighborhood, or the income
of its residents, Cohen noted.

The reason for the association is unknown, but Cohen speculated that
children in neighborhoods with high collective efficacy may be more
likely to play outside rather than sit inside and watch television.
Or, she said, "maybe (their) neighborhoods look different," with more
parks and fewer fast food restaurants.

Based on the findings, "we need to start looking at our environments,"
she said, and ask: "Are there places for kids to play? Billboard
advertisements for fast foods?"

Citing the potential for neighborhood groups to create a sports league
or get a park for children to play in, she said, "together people can
change their environment and make it healthy."

SOURCE: Social Science & Medicine, February 2006.

Copyright 2006 Reuters

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From: New York Newsday, Feb. 5, 2006
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TOXIC FUMES THAT WON'T FADE AWAY

State agencies plan to identify sites where traces of contaminants may
have migrated, posing a health hazard

By Bill Bleyer

[Rachel's introduction: Government scientists have recently discovered
that toxic wastes site don't get as clean as everyone had thought.
Chemicals remain attached to the soil and begin to move around,
contaminating the air inside homes and commercial buildings. It's
called vapor intrusion. For more information, check in with Lenny
Siegel at the Center for Public Environmental Oversight. The only
long-term solution to many of these problems is zero discharge, which
means zero manufacturing of many persistant organic chemicals. This is
the key to preventing toxic spills and their legacy of human
suffering. Cleaning up so-called vapor-intrusion will soon be a huge
industry -- meanwhile, we are 'whistling past the graveyard' denying
that there's a better way to keep our clothes clean.]

Until three years ago, public health officials thought that when they
had cleaned up spilled toxic solvents in the ground, their work was
done. But then they learned about "vapor intrusion."

That is a process where the remaining traces of contaminants -- such
as tetrachloroethylene -- form a gas that migrates through the soil
into adjacent structures, creating a health hazard. Some of the
chemicals are known carcinogens and others could create other health
problems.

So the state environmental conservation and health departments are
finalizing a plan for dealing with the problem by the end of the year.

At the same time, the agencies are prioritizing a list of 421 toxic
sites -- including 89 on Long Island and 11 in New York City -- where
cleanups were completed or planned before 2003 and now need to be re-
examined for toxic fumes.

In a few cases, such as a former IBM site in upstate Endicott, a vapor
cleanup is already under way at 441 properties above a 300-acre plume.
And some other sites, including a dry cleaning company in Port
Washington and an industrial site in New Cassel, are being studied to
develop vapor cleanup plans.

"The state is being more aggressive than other states, and that's a
good thing," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the
Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, an environmental database
firm in Ithaca, said there are sites on Long Island where solvent
vapors have intruded from soil into libraries, a tennis academy and a
temple.

"The problem has been that the state never had an overall program to
try to look back at these sites that they once determined had been
cleaned up," he said. "Now, for the first time, it appears that we
have a comprehensive review of all of the sites that in many cases
have been known about for decades to find out whether or not people
are actually breathing these solvent fumes in their homes and other
buildings.

"The question is, how are they going to clean up these problems if
they find widespread vapor intrusion?"

Maureen Wren, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental
Conservation, said her agency and the health department are reviewing
the proposed policy as well as recommendations in a report issued last
month by the Assembly environmental conservation committee.

"We'll be addressing the sites with the greatest potential first,"
said Wren, who noted that toxic sites identified since 2003 have been
examined for vapor intrusion.

Assemb. Thomas DiNapoli (D-Great Neck), chairman of the environmental
conservation committee, said the panel recommended "that if you detect
the chemical, you should go right to mitigation because the cost of
mitigation and monitoring are pretty similar."

The committee also stressed that the state agencies need to make sure
residents and businesses have full and timely information about
contaminants.

Paul Granger, superintendent of the Plainview Water District, which
has 14 sites on the state list, said he welcomed any action that
protects the community.

"We were aware of issues surrounding the water quality for quite some
time and took the initiative to correct it immediately. When we
noticed the water quality was diminishing, we put treatment systems in
place. The water is absolutely safe to drink," he said. "I'm glad they
are at least coming back to check."

According to Carl Johnson, DEC deputy commissioner for air and waste
management, the proposed policy calls for "the party responsible for
contaminating the site to pay for and perform the vapor intrusion
evaluation, as well as... monitoring of any mitigation system which
would be required." If that's not possible, the state would step in.

The mitigation methods include sealing foundation cracks and adjusting
heating, ventilation or air- conditioning systems to prevent vapor
infiltration.

Staff writer Deborah S. Morris contributed to this story.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

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From: New York Times, Mar. 17, 2006
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NUCLEAR REACTORS FOUND TO BE LEAKING RADIOACTIVE WATER

By Matthew L. Wald

WASHINGTON, March 16 -- With power cleaner than coal and cheaper than
natural gas, the nuclear industry, 20 years past its last meltdown,
thinks it is ready for its second act: its first new reactor orders
since the 1970's.

But there is a catch. The public's acceptance of new reactors depends
in part on the performance of the old ones, and lately several of
those have been discovered to be leaking radioactive water into the
ground.

Near Braceville, Ill., the Braidwood Generating Station, owned by the
Exelon Corporation, has leaked tritium into underground water that has
shown up in the well of a family nearby. The company, which has bought
out one property owner and is negotiating with others, has offered to
help pay for a municipal water system for houses near the plant that
have private wells.

In a survey of all 10 of its nuclear plants, Exelon found tritium in
the ground at two others. On Tuesday, it said it had had another spill
at Braidwood, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, and on Thursday,
the attorney general of Illinois announced she was filing a lawsuit
against the company over that leak and five earlier ones, dating to
1996. The suit demands among other things that the utility provide
substitute water supplies to residents.

In New York, at the Indian Point 2 reactor in Buchanan, workers
digging a foundation adjacent to the plant's spent fuel pool found wet
dirt, an indication that the pool was leaking. New monitoring wells
are tracing the tritium's progress toward the Hudson River.

Indian Point officials say the quantities are tiny, compared with the
amount of tritium that Indian Point is legally allowed to release into
the river. Officials said they planned to find out how much was
leaking and declare the leak a "monitored release pathway."

Nils J. Diaz, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said
he would withhold judgment on the proposal until after it reached his
agency, but he added, "They're going to have to fix it."

This month, workers at the Palo Verde plant in New Mexico found
tritium in an underground pipe vault.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which is critical of nuclear power
safety arrangements, said recently that in the past 10 years, tritium
had leaked from at least seven reactors. It called for a systematic
program to ensure there were no more leaks.

Tami Branum, who lives close to the Braidwood reactor and owns
property in the nearby village of Godley, said in a telephone
interview, "It's just absolutely horrible, what we're trying to deal
with here." Ms. Branum and her children, 17-year-old twin girls and a
7-year-old boy, drink only bottled water, she said, but use municipal
water for everything else. "We're bathing in it, there's no way around
it," she said.

Ms. Branum said that her property in Godley was worth about $50,000
and that she wanted to sell it, but that no property was changing
hands now because of the spill.

A spokesman for Exelon, Craig Nesbit, said that neither Godley's water
nor Braidwood's water system was threatened, but that the company had
lost credibility when it did not publicly disclose a huge fuel oil
spill and spills of tritium from 1996 to 2003. No well outside company
property shows levels that exceed drinking water standards, he said.

Mr. Diaz of the regulatory agency, speaking to a gathering of about
1,800 industry executives and government regulators last week, said
utilities were planning to apply for 11 reactor projects, with a total
of 17 reactors. The Palo Verde reactor was the last one that was
ordered, in October 1973, and actually built.

As the agency prepares to review license applications for the first
time in decades, it is focusing on "materials degradation," a catch-
all term for cracks, rust and other ills to which nuclear plants are
susceptible. The old metal has to hold together, or be patched or
replaced as required, for the industry to have a chance at building
new plants, experts say.

Tritium, a form of hydrogen with two additional neutrons in its
nucleus, is especially vexing. The atom is unstable and returns to
stability by emitting a radioactive particle. Because the hydrogen is
incorporated into a water molecule, it is almost impossible to filter
out. The biological effect of the radiation is limited because, just
like ordinary water, water that incorporates tritium does not stay in
the body long.

But it is detectable in tiny quantities, and always makes its source
look bad. The Energy Department closed a research reactor in New York
at its Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, largely because
of a tritium leak.

And it can catch up to a plant after death; demolition crews at the
Connecticut Yankee reactor in Haddam Neck, Conn., are disposing of
extra dirt that has been contaminated with tritium and other
materials, as they tear the plant down.

After years of flat employment levels, the industry is preparing to
hire hundreds of new engineers. Luis A. Reyes, the executive director
for operations at the regulatory commission, told the industry
gathering last week, "We'll take your resume in hard copy, online,
whatever you can do," eliciting laughter from an audience heavy with
executives of reactor operators and companies that want to build new
ones.

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From: Natural Resources Defense Council, Mar. 20, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

TINY PARTICLES PROMISE MUCH, BUT COULD POSE BIG RISK.

You may have seen the TV commercials, or you may have read about it in
the clothing catalogs that clog your mailbox. You now can buy wrinkle-
free clothes.

How do they make it wrinkle-free? With nanotechnology: the science of
manipulating tiny particles that are one-billionth of a meter in size
-- larger than an atom but smaller than a cell -- which in this case
are impregnated into cotton.

But nanotechnology isn't only for pants. It already has a number of
other commercial applications, from high-capacity computer drives to
food packaging, shampoos, sunscreens and cosmetics. And it is being
hailed as the next industrial revolution, likely to change everything
from the cars we drive to the clothes we wear to the medical
treatments doctors can offer. Scientists expect these invisible
nanoparticles, or ultra-fine particles, will enable them to create new
cancer therapies, pollution-eating compounds, more durable consumer
products, advanced detectors for biohazards like anthrax, and higher-
efficiency fuel cells, among other things.

While nanotechnologies promises much, very little is known about the
risks it may pose to people, wildlife or the environment. The limited
research on nanotechnologies indicates that there is a very real
potential for harm. Likewise, there are no adequate federal or state
regulations governing its use, so there is nothing holding back the
nanotechnology industry from continuing to market products containing
nanoparticles, which are likely to wind up in our bodies or the
environment.

Nanomaterials Are Not Benign

Nano, which comes from the Greek word for "dwarf," is used by
scientists to indicate 10-9, or one billionth. Nanometer-sized
materials are one-billionth of a meter in size; larger than atoms, but
much smaller than a cell. As a comparison, there are as many
nanometers in an inch as there are inches in 400 miles -- 25,344,000.
Molecules in the range of 1 to 100 nm are considered nano-sized. The
width of a human hair, for example, is 80,000 nm.

Nanotechnology describes the engineering of nano-size materials from
such elements as carbon, iron or titanium. While nano-sized materials
are not new, scientists' ability to construct geometric arrays of
elements on a nano-scale has become increasingly sophisticated over
the last decade.

Nanomaterials come in a number of shapes and sizes, such as
buckeyballs (60 carbon atoms in the shape of a soccer ball named after
R. Buckminster Fuller, the designer of the geodesic dome), fibers and
dots, and have different properties than their normal-size
counterparts. At nano-size, opaque materials may become transparent,
chemically stable materials may become reactive, and electrical
insulators may become conductors, or vice-versa.

Laboratory animal studies suggest that nanoparticles can cause
inflammation, damage brain cells, and cause pre-cancer lesions. Early
research also has found that nanoparticles easily move from one area
of the body to another. A nanoparticle may easily penetrate a cell,
while the normal-size form of the same chemical may not be able to
enter.

There are three main ways people can be exposed to nanomaterials:
inhaling them, ingesting them, or absorbing them through their skin. A
June 2005 study by researchers at Rice University found that carbon
buckeyballs will clump together and become soluble in water. This is
disconcerting given that buckeyballs can damage the brain cells of
fish, according to a 2004 Duke University study. Meanwhile, scientists
at the New Jersey Institute of Technology found that high levels of
nano-alumina oxide stunts the growth of five plant species, which
include corn, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots and soybeans. Nano-alumina
already is used to make scratch-resistant coatings and sunscreen
lotions, and to neutralize water pollution, where it could be released
directly into waterways.

Industry response to these early warnings has been mixed. Some large
manufacturers and many small start-ups welcome safety testing and
adequate regulation if they are not overly costly or burdensome. But
other manufacturers are either avoiding conducting safety tests or are
keeping their test data confidential. At the same time they are
reassuring the public that the technology is safe.

The insurance industry, meanwhile, is worried about nanotechnology's
potential health and environmental hazards; it does not want to face
another asbestos liability debacle. Reinsurance companies such as
Swiss Re, and financial investment advisers such as Innovest and
Allianz, have called for strict safety testing and regulatory
oversight.

Federal Safeguards and Research Inadequate

Federal laws have not kept up with advances in nanotechnology, and the
regulations that may apply to the field cross numerous agencies,
including the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and
Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health, Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Product Safety
Commission, and Department of Agriculture.

The Toxic Substances Control Act is the most obvious law for
regulating nanomaterials. But the law does not require manufacturers
to provide safety data before registering a chemical, instead placing
the burden on the government to demonstrate that a substance is
harmful. If the government does not follow up on potential risks with
a new product application within several months, the company can
proceed to sell its product. Other laws on the books also are
inadequate. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act includes only feeble
safeguards for cosmetics, which already promise to be a major use of
nanomaterials. Likewise, the poorly enforced Occupational Safety and
Health Act fails to address nano-specific worker protections.

In response to the dearth of sufficient regulations, the EPA is
developing a voluntary program with the input of industry, academic
health and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC). The agency will ask manufacturers to
voluntarily submit basic information on their nanomaterials and their
risk management practices. The EPA also plans to establish another
voluntary "in depth" program to gather more specific information to
help the agency conduct risk assessments of nanomaterials and develop
regulations. Manufacturers have at least one incentive to participate:
they would be able to advertise that they are acting responsibly.

The EPA's volunteer approach may help to fill an immediate need for
data, but it is severely limited. Companies do not have to
participate, and those producing the riskiest products are unlikely to
do so. In addition, the program is designed to do little more than
gather data, and does not define what protective actions the
government should require, if any, in response.

The federal government established the National Nanotechnology
Initiative (NNI) in 1998 to coordinate multi-agency research and
development on nanotechnologies. Federal funding for nanotechnology
research and development through the NNI has tripled since it was
established in 2001, from $464 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion in
2007. The budget for fiscal year 2005 earmarked $38.3 million -- less
than 4 percent of federal nanotech research dollars -- for
investigating the potential risks nanotechnology poses to health and
the environment. That amount should be at least tripled if safety
testing is going to keep up with research and development.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that federal priorities will change
soon, given that in the FY2007 nanotechnology research budget the
president has proposed $603 million for the Defense Department and
Energy Department, and only $182 million for the agencies charged with
protecting health -- the EPA and Health and Human Services.

Some federal agencies are addressing the potential downside of
nanotechnology. Health and Human Services' National Toxicology
Program, for example, is researching potential health risks. The EPA
awarded $4 million in research grants last year to study the potential
impact of nanotechnologies on human health and the environment. And
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is
developing a "best practices" document on handling nanoparticles in
the workplace to reduce risks. But much more needs to be done to
better understand potential risks.

What Needs to Be Done

In December 2005, the EPA released a nanotechnology "white paper" that
provides an overview of the field, its benefits and applications, a
toxicological review of available data, and research needs. Most
important, it recommends that the EPA:

** support approaches to promote pollution prevention, sustainable
resource use, and good product stewardship in the production and use
of nanomaterials;

** support and undertake research on human health and ecological
impacts of nanomaterials;

** conduct case studies on the risks and information gaps of specific
nanomaterials;

** expand its collaborations on the potential human and environmental
health implications;

** convene a standing cross-agency group to share risk information and
regulatory activities; and

** expand its activities to train agency scientists and managers about
the potential environmental applications and implications of
nanotechnologies.

While the white paper's recommendations are a good start, they do not
go far enough to prevent harmful exposures. To ensure the safety of
nanoscale materials, NRDC recommends that the federal government also:

** take immediate action to prevent uses of nanomaterials that may
result in human exposures or environmental releases, unless reasonable
assurances of safety are demonstrated beforehand;

** require labels for products that contain nanomaterials, and for
products made with processes that use nanomaterials;

** publicly disclose information on potential risks;

** include toxicity information on nanomaterials for worker protection
on material safety data sheets;

** increase safety testing conducted by independent or government
laboratories subject to "sunshine laws" that allow public access;

** conduct comprehensive assessment of the environmental and human
health concerns that may arise across the life-cycle -- including
production, use, and disposal -- of nanotech products.

In addition to these policy recommendations, NRDC has asked the EPA to
expand its outreach to include the advice of public health experts,
worker protection advocates, community groups, state regulatory
agencies, ethicists, and public interest groups. NRDC also has
encouraged the EPA to reach out to small businesses, companies that
use nanomaterials in their products, and retailers selling products
that contain nanomaterials or use nanomaterials in their production.
Each of these stakeholders represents a unique and important
perspective in determining appropriate ways to go forward with
nanotechnology development safely and sustainably.

The genie is out of the bottle, but we still can demand assurance that
our families, wildlife and the environment are safe before more
nanomaterials are used in consumer products or released into the
environment.

We are at the same crossroads we were a few years ago with genetically
modified food, and that showed that empty assurances of safety will
not win over a wary public. The federal government, state regulators,
and industry have an opportunity to develop this exciting new
technology openly, with public participation and government oversight.
Otherwise we will be allowing the nanotechnology industry to conduct
an uncontrolled experiment on the American people.

More Information on the Web

For ongoing technical information about the research and development
of nanomaterials, see the Small Times site.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Project on
Emerging Nanotechnologies provides information about responsible
approaches to nanotechnology development, including a searchable
nanotechnology consumer products inventory.

The 2005 EPA Draft Nanotechnology White Paper provides a summary of
the hazards of nanotechnologies, as well as research recommendations.

Innovest, an investment advisor group, published a report on risks in
2005 titled "Nanotechnology: non-traditional methods for valuation of
nanotechnology producers: Introducing the Innovest Nanotechnology
Index for the Value Investor." It is available at
www.innovestgroup.com (see "specialized reports" section).

The Swiss Re insurance site features a 2004 report, "Nanotechnology
-- small matter, many unknowns" about the risks of nanotechnologies.

A 2004 report by the Royal Society of Engineers in the United Kingdom,
"Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties,"
provides an overview of scientific concerns and makes recommendations
for strict regulation. last revised 3.20.05

Copyright Natural Resources Defense Council

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