Rachel's Precaution Reporter #24

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, February 8, 2006..........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

The Vatican Endorses Precaution Under Conditions of Uncertainty
  "The authorities called to make decisions concerning health and
  environmental risks sometimes find themselves facing a situation in
  which available scientific data are contradictory or quantitatively
  scarce. It may then be appropriate to base evaluations on the
  precautionary principle." --Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
WTO Undercuts Europe's Precautionary Approach to Biotech Food
  "The case is a test for the EU's 'better-safe-than-sorry' food
  policy, known as the precautionary principle, which has kept hormone-
  treated beef from the U.S. and Canada out of the EU even though the
  WTO ruled in 1998 that the bloc hadn't scientifically proven a
  cancer risk to consumers from the treatments."
Health Study of a Welsh Coal Strip Mine Urges Precautionary Action
  "On balance, there is sufficient uncertainty regarding the negative
  health impacts to apply the 'precautionary principle approach' --
  which would not allow mining to proceed in such close proximity to
  residential areas."
Teflon Chemical Found in Infants
  Risk assessors study one chemical at a time to determine the health
  effects. But new studies show almost all children are now born with
  Teflon chemicals in their blood. What is the effect of a particular
  chemical PLUS Teflon? No one knows. But risk assessors give an
  answer anyway, by pretending that the Teflon isn't there. This is the
  opposite of a precautionary approach. Is it ethical?
Newly Discovered Natural Toxicant Is Widespread
  The rocket fuel, perchlorate, has been measured in water and in
  vegetables all across the country. Now it turns out that perchlorate
  isn't just an industrial chemical -- it also occurs widely in nature.
  So risk assessors now need to ask themselves, what are the health
  effects of Teflon PLUS perchlorate PLUS any other single chemical?
  The honest answer: no one knows. But risk assessors will give an
  answer anyway, by pretending perchlorate isn't there even when they
  know it is. This is the opposite of a precautionary approach. Is it


From: Truth About Trade & Technology, Feb. 2, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Tony Barber

[RPR introduction: This article originally appeared in the Financial
Times (London, UK) Feb. 1, 2006.]

If the Vatican were to endorse genetically modified organisms, it
would have a profound impact on global discussion of the issue. With a
flock of 1.1bn faithful, the Roman Catholic church's ethical messages
penetrate the whole world.

But GMOs are a divisive issue in the church, pitting clergymen
sympathetic to their use (who have enthusiastic support from the US
embassy to the Holy See) against others who express opposition.

Perhaps for this reason, the Vatican under Benedict XVI, who was
elected Pope last April, has yet to take a definitive stance.

Some African and South American bishops have doubts about GMOs because
they worry that control of world food supplies will rest with a few
giant companies. GM crop use in developing countries may exacerbate
the poverty and vulnerability of poor farmers, they say.

But advocates of GMOs in the church contend that there is a moral
obligation to eradicate hunger if the technology exists to do so. By
2025, half the world's population will be living in regions with
severe water shortages, so higher-yield crops that need less water
must be developed, they argue.

The most authoritative Vatican statement on GMOs appeared in a 2004
publication, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,
prepared by the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
In a passage devoted to safeguarding man's environment, the council
pleased supporters of GMOs by stating: "In effect, nature is not a
sacred or divine reality that man must leave alone... The human
person does not commit an illicit act when, out of respect for the
order, beauty and usefulness of individual living beings and their
function in the ecosystem, he intervenes by modifying some of their
characteristics or properties."

However, opponents seized on another pair of sentences in the
compendium that said: "The authorities called to make decisions
concerning health and environmental risks sometimes find themselves
facing a situation in which available scientific data are
contradictory or quantitatively scarce. It may then be appropriate to
base evaluations on the precautionary principle."

In other words, the jury is still out as far as the Vatican is
concerned. This conclusion seems reinforced by the fact that the
compendium was reviewed before publication by the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith -- the Vatican organ that enforces theological
discipline and that Benedict ran for 24 years before he became Pope.

Cardinal Renato Martino, the 73-year-old Italian prelate who heads the
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is seen as one of the
Vatican's highest-level supporters of GMOs. He organised a scientific
conference on the matter in 2003, describing the stakes involved as
"high and delicate" but stressing the Vatican's view that it was a
field of inquiry "subject to evolving research".

On one point, the Vatican seems certain not to budge. Those who
support contraception as a way of limiting families and thereby
improving access to food find no support at all at the Holy See.

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From: Bloomberg News, Feb. 7, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


[RPR introduction: We have added explanatory links within this
article. --Editors.]

The World Trade Organization ruled against the European Union in a
dispute over genetically engineered crops from companies such as
Monsanto Co., people familiar with the ruling said, aiding U.S.
efforts to limit worldwide regulation of the technology.

The Geneva-based WTO concluded that the EU discriminated against
biotech seeds without adequate scientific evidence, the people said.
The decision stems from a complaint filed in 2003 by the U.S., Canada
and Argentina, which accounted for 80 percent of the area planted to
biotech crops globally last year and accused the EU of maintaining an
unlawful ban on the seeds.

While today's confidential ruling won't open markets in Europe --
where some governments are fighting EU-wide rules that the European
Commission says will allow such crops -- it may set a precedent for
nations including China, India, Brazil, Japan, Indonesia, Russia,
Mexico, New Zealand and Australia. Those countries all have rules
stipulating strict consumer labeling and tracing of goods containing
bio-engineered ingredients.

The U.S. insists that the crops are safe and shouldn't be
distinguished from conventional seeds. The administration of George W.
Bush said the EU violated WTO rules because its approvals process
wasn't based on science and was subject to "unnecessary delays."

'Strong Signal'

"I hope this will send a strong signal to countries around the world
that no measure can be taken unless it's based on sound science,"
Christian Verschueren, director general of CropLife International in
Brussels, which represents companies including Monsanto and DuPont
Co., said in an interview.

The 1,047-page WTO decision also condemns national bans on marketing
and releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment,
imposed by governments including Germany, France, Austria and Greece,
said the people, who declined to be identified before the EU and U.S.
comment publicly on the trade body's decision.

The refusal of those governments to approve new seeds began the
moratorium in 1998, because the EU's barrier-free trade rules mean a
product sold in one member nation can be marketed in all the others.

U.S. industry groups say the EU ban has cost their exporters $300
million a year in lost sales to the 25-nation EU. The bloc counters
that consumers were already buying fewer biotech products before 1998.

New Legislation

The commission says new laws since 2004 allow biotech seeds to be
planted, traced and labeled and points to more than 30 gene-altered
products approved for marketing in the bloc. The EU's executive blames
national governments including France and Austria for continuing to
obstruct new approvals in an environment where more than half of the
region's 450 million consumers consider gene-engineered foods to be

The commission has separate cases under way against those two
countries as well as Luxembourg, Germany and Greece for refusing to
lift bans on biotech products, including Basel, Switzerland-based
Syngenta AG's Bt11 pest-resistant corn.

Today's decision against national bans "is a direct attack on
democracy," said Adrian Bebb, a campaigner at environmental group
Friends of the Earth. "EU governments only last year voted to
maintain their bans and now the WTO has called them into question."

Lack of Majority

All EU governments have a say over biotech decisions because the
bloc's barrier-free trade rules mean a product sold in one member can
be sold in the others. Since imports of GM products resumed in 2004,
the commission has approved just three varieties, including Monsanto's
MON863 corn. The commission can make decisions unilaterally because
there's no majority among EU governments either to approve or dismiss
new approvals.

With 98 million hectares (242 million acres) under arable production
in the EU, second only to the U.S., the 25 nations grow less than 1
percent of the world's genetically modified crops. Global biotech
sales in 2006 will amount to $5.5 billion.

Switzerland, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Algeria, Ghana, Benin,
Zambia and Georgia are among countries that prohibit the planting of
genetically engineered crops.

Today's report, under WTO rules, is designed to remain confidential in
an effort to give the governments involved a chance to make any
amendments or to negotiate a last minute solution. The substance of a
confidential decision has only been altered twice at the final stage
-- in cases over U.S. steel duties and South Korean paper -- in more
than 130 disputes that have reached this stage.

EU Food Policy

"We're not going to say anything tonight, under no circumstances,"
Peter Power, a commission spokesman, said by telephone from Brussels.
Monica Meda, a spokeswoman for the Argentine agriculture secretary,
also declined to comment, saying the government hadn't yet received a
copy of the ruling.

The case is a test for the EU's "better-safe-than-sorry" food policy,
known as the precautionary principle, which has kept hormone- treated
beef from the U.S. and Canada out of the EU even though the WTO ruled
in 1998 that the bloc hadn't scientifically proven a cancer risk to
consumers from the treatments. The EU has been paying $126 million a
year in sanctions as a result and is working to get the retaliatory
duties lifted on the grounds that it now has enough evidence.

GM varieties are engineered to resist specific herbicides or
pesticides, letting a farmer spray his field with products that kill
everything except his crop. Some have genes that act as insecticides,
prevent fungal growth or withstand drought.

Advocates, Opponents

Advocates say the technology boosts yields and cuts the number of
times chemicals must be sprayed, meaning the soil is less compacted
and limiting rainwater run-off and erosion.

The U.S. accounted for 55 percent of the global area planted to
biotech crops last year, or 49.8 million hectares, Argentina 19
percent and Canada 6 percent, according to the International Service
for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Brazil became the
third-biggest grower last year with just over 10 percent of the total
area and worldwide, sowings rose 11 percent to 90 million hectares.

Opponents say there are no proven health or environmental benefits to
GM crops. They argue that they're no cheaper, nor have they helped
alleviate hunger in Africa, because the crops are mostly for animal
feed. They also say that engineered genes can't be contained, once
released into the environment.

The crops have increased the use of herbicides and pesticides over the
last decade, environmental group Friends of the Earth says, and have
contributed to deforestation and soil erosion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Warren Giles in Geneva at
wgiles@bloomberg.net .

Copyright 2006 Bloomberg L.P.

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From: BBC News, Feb. 3, 2006
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A health study on opencast mining [strip mining] at Margam [in
Wales] says it is badly affecting the well-being of people living

Celtic Energy wants to extend mining at the site between Port
Talbot and Bridgend for 10 years, but opponents hope planners will
turn it down.

The report said that while ill-health could not be directly linked to
the site, there was "sufficient uncertainty" to justify refusal.

Celtic Energy has been asked to comment but has so far not responded.

The health impact assessment was carried out by Cardiff University's
Welsh Health Impact Assessment Support Unit -- a body supported by
the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Public Health Service.

The unit promotes the use of and understanding of health impact
assessments for planning and other purposes by local authorities,
voluntary agencies and other groups.

Stress related illness

It was approached by residents and asked to examine the impact of the
proposed extension on the communities most affected by the plan to
extend opencast mining -- Cefn Cribwr and Kenfig Hill in the Bridgend
area and Aberbaiden, Bryndu and Pen y Bryn on the Port Talbot side.

The authors drew upon published research and monitoring data, but a
lot of the work was based on feedback from six focus groups with
people living in the area.

Mining at Margam is currently set to end in 2007. Celtic Energy, which
told the report authors that the mine employs 65, wants to extend it
westward with the aim of extracting a further 2.4m tonnes of coal.

The report said residents raised many different health concerns with
respiratory, cardiovascular and stress related illness mentioned most

It said emissions from the current site complied with present
guidelines, but these were being reviewed.

It was not possible to present evidence of ill-health in adults that
could be directly attributed to Margam.

But it said residents presented evidence that asthma in children was
more prevalent closer to the present mine and this finding was
supported by the public health literature.

It concluded there was strong evidence "regarding the negative impact
on general well being" of living near the mine.

"Data from the focus groups showing the distress this is causing
indicates that there are profound impacts on psychological wellbeing.


"On balance, there is sufficient uncertainty regarding the negative
health impacts to apply the 'precautionary principle approach' --
which would not allow mining to proceed in such close proximity to
residential areas."

Copies of the report have been forwarded to both Neath Port Talbot and
Bridgend councils. They have no statutory obligation to take the
report into account when looking at the application but campaigners
hope it will influence the decision.

Gaynor Ball of the campaign group Pact said: "I think it's a powerful
report and the conclusion definitely comes out in our favour.

"If you complain about the dust, the noise or the blasting we are told
it's all within the limits of the law.

"But we know we are suffering. We are just fed-up as a community."

Copyright 2006 BBC

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From: Baltimore Sun, Feb. 6, 2006
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Johns Hopkins researchers are studying toxin's effects on newborns

By Tom Pelton

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital drew blood from the umbilical
cords of 300 newborns and discovered something that would be deeply
unnerving to many parents:

Ninety-nine percent of the babies were born with trace levels of an
industrial chemical -- suspected as a possible cancer-causing agent -
that is used in the manufacture of Teflon pans, computer chips, cell
phones and dozens of other consumer products.

Now Dr. Lynn Goldman, Rolf Halden and their colleagues at the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are working with other
scientists to determine whether the toxic chemical has harmed the
infants, possibly by interfering with their thyroid glands and hormone

Previous studies, some funded by industry, have found
perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in the bloodstream of most Americans.
But the Hopkins study, supported by the federal and state governments,
is the largest independent research project to examine the compound's
effects on newborns, who may be more vulnerable to endocrine-
disrupting chemicals.

"It's very clear that PFOA is being released into the environment, and
it's pretty much ubiquitous," Goldman said. "But we don't know if it's
toxic to people at these levels."

DuPont, which manufactures Teflon and has used the chemical for more
than 50 years, says there is no evidence that PFOA is harmful to

"The chemical does have an effect on animals that are fed high doses
of it. But animals respond differently to PFOA than people, and there
is no evidence that there are any health effects in people," said
David Boothe, a DuPont manager.

The Hopkins study comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is
working with industry to try to reduce PFOA emissions into the

The EPA announced last month that DuPont has voluntarily agreed to
reduce its use of the chemical, although not eliminate it, and take
more steps to halt emissions from its plants. In December, the company
agreed to pay a $10.25 million civil penalty -- the largest ever
levied by the EPA -- for withholding information about the potential
health and environmental impacts of the compound.

An EPA scientific advisory panel released a draft report in the spring
that said the chemical has caused tumors when fed to rats and is a
"likely carcinogen in humans." But the same panel said last week that
more research needs to be completed before the EPA concludes whether
PFOA causes cancer.

"It's a mystery right now," said Dr. Frank Witter, medical director of
labor and delivery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a
partner in the research. "At some point, with more research, we may be
able to say something more than 'it's just there." But we have not
finished that analysis yet."

PFOA is a highly durable, man-made chemical used since the 1950s in
the manufacture of Teflon nonstick pans, rain-repellent clothing,
aerospace equipment, computer chips, cables, automobile fuel hoses and
numerous other products.

"We make a lot of chemicals that are extremely persistent, and we
mass-produce them, but we never consider the life cycles of these
chemicals," Halden said. "It's kind of a tragedy. In some instances,
it takes years or decades before we learn of their toxicity" to

The research project at Hopkins began in late 2004. Over five months,
Goldman and her colleagues collected blood samples from the umbilical
cords of 300 newborns. The researchers used an instrument called a
liquid chromatography mass spectrometer to analyze the blood, and they
found that 298 of the samples contained PFOA, Goldman said.

Now the scientists are working with other researchers at the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a commercial lab to
further scrutinize the samples and find out whether the babies'
thyroid hormone levels are normal, Halden said. The researchers are
also comparing PFOA levels to the birth weight of the babies, and
looking at whether they were born full term. The study should be
finished in a few months and then will be offered for publication in a
scientific journal, Halden said.

It's not clear how PFOA gets into the environment and, eventually,
into people's bloodstream. The chemical can be found in many places
around the planet and has even been detected in polar bears.

Researchers with the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, a
watchdog organization, believe the chemical may be released through
the breakdown of fast-food packaging and stain-proof carpets,
furniture and clothes, ending up in food, house dust, air and drinking

But Susan Hazen, an EPA acting assistant administrator, said this is
speculation. "We have no evidence at this time that routine use of
consumer products is a source of exposure," Hazen said.

DuPont agreed last year to pay a settlement of more than $100 million
after residents living near a company Teflon plant in Parkersburg,
W.Va., filed a class action suit claiming that PFOA escaped from the
factory and contaminated local waters.

Boothe, the DuPont manager, said PFOA clearly had leaked from the
Parkersburg plant. But he said there are probably "quite a few" other
sources of the chemical's escape into the environment.

He said DuPont is working hard to stop all leakage of the chemical
from factories. The firm has installed water discharge filters and air
pollution control equipment at the Parkersburg plant and two others in
Fayetteville, N.C., and Deepwater, N.J.

"The EPA is working with the industry to find out what the sources of
exposure are," Boothe said.

Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental
Working Group, is among critics who say PFOA is dangerous and should
be banned. It is disturbing, she said, that the Hopkins researchers
have found the chemical in newborns.

"The fact that PFOA can cross the placenta from the mother to child is
very troubling, given that this is a chemical that is broadly toxic
and linked to birth defects in lab animals," she said. "The time in
the womb is a time of particular vulnerability to environmental


Copyright 2006, The Baltimore Sun

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From: Environmental Science & Technology, Feb. 2, 2006
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The 2005 ES&T environmental science paper of the year finds that
perchlorate is everywhere.

By Alan Newman

"The Origin of Naturally Occurring Perchlorate: The Role of
Atmospheric Processes" by Purnendu K. Dasgupta, P. Kalyani
Martinelango, W. Andrew Jackson, Todd A. Anderson, Kang Tian, Richard
W. Tock, and Srinath Rajagopalan, Texas Tech University, 2005, 39 (6),

It began with a phone call in 2003 from the Texas Commission on
Environmental Quality. The commission was investigating a case of
perchlorate contamination in West Texas groundwater: Could Texas
Tech University (TTU) help out? W. Andrew Jackson, an associate
professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering,
fielded the call and said yes.

But the staff soon ran into a problem with the samples that they were
collecting. The U.S. EPA's method for measuring perchlorate in
drinking water was not sensitive enough for some of the high-salinity
Texas groundwater samples. Kang Tian, a staff scientist with TTU's
Institute of Environmental and Human Health, who had been charged with
the analysis, turned to his Ph.D. mentor, Purnendu K. "Sandy"
Dasgupta in the department of chemistry and biochemistry. With the
help of Todd A. Anderson, an associate professor at the institute,
the two developed a better method for perchlorate analysis which
delivered the results they needed.

Meanwhile, TTU researchers were discovering that the perchlorate
contamination was spread over almost 60,000 square miles. Where was it
all coming from? This is an arid region with no munitions plants
producing perchlorate-containing explosives. Jackson considered the
possibility of perchlorate-laced fertilizer, but even the most
generous calculations couldn't account for the contamination levels
through an entire aquifer. "From that work, we realized that we
couldn't come up with a reasonable anthropogenic source of
perchlorate," recalls Jackson. However, the area had been irrigated
since the 1940s; could the perchlorate have had a natural source?

The discussions included Richard W. Tock, currently an emeritus
professor. Tock, whom Dasgupta describes as an "indomitable spirit",
decided to conduct the ultimate quick-and-dirty experiment. Filling a
5-gallon plastic bucket with seawater, he hiked over to TTU's Center
for Pulsed Power and Power Electronics and zapped the sample with a
10-gigajoule bolt of lightning. "There was a sound like a cannon going
off, and the water jumped," laughs Jackson. "It is questionable
whether anything happened [other] than a big bang, but it encouraged
us to look at [the effect of lightning on common chlorine compounds]
in depth." The researchers began more controlled experiments with
spark plugs used as a safer and quieter source of lightning.

With data coming in that supported the idea of naturally occurring
perchorate, which is the basis of the award-winning ES&T article,
the researchers began to consider the implications. "Perchlorate is an
iodide transport inhibitor," points out Dasgupta. "Does perchlorate at
environmentally meaningful exposure levels inhibit iodide transport?"
In two additional papers in ES&T, Dasgupta and his colleagues have
shown that perchlorate is in Texas cow's milk and, more
dramatically, in human breast milk.

Dasgupta thinks that the perchlorate findings could point to a serious
health issue. The World Health Organization "wants to put the U.S. on
a list of borderline iodine-deficient countries. One study from Boston
Medical Center found that 15% of pregnant women were acutely iodine-
deficient," he points out. As a result, some of the scientific focus
should be on iodine nutrition, says Dasgupta. "Perchlorate is just
making it worse for some people."

Anderson agrees that a new health focus is needed. "Do people get
their exposure through drinking water or food? Should perchlorate in
food be factored into the equation to a greater extent before setting
the exposure limits?" he asks. It all suggests that regulators need to
take a second look at perchlorate.

Meanwhile, the search for naturally occurring perchlorate in the
environment continues. "We find perchlorate in pretty much
everything," says P. Kalyani Martinelango, who is finishing up her
Ph.D. under Dasgupta. The TTU researchers have, with the help of now-
Ph.D. Srinath Rajagopalan, measured perchlorate at parts-per-trillion
levels in precipitation, in the ocean, and at locations as diverse as
Greenland, Hawaii, and Alaska.

Other areas of study are opening up. "There are hundreds of papers on
atmospheric chlorine chemistry that never looked for perchlorate,
probably because they couldn't look for it at low enough levels,"
points out Jackson. Moreover, the TTU researchers are finding that
arid regions are storehouses of perchlorate and probably bromate.
"These unsaturated zones have been understudied, and with urbanization
and land-use changes and possibly climate change, the effect on
groundwater is going to be more important," adds Jackson. "These
overlooked species are going to gain importance in the future for
long-term cycling and water quality."

With so many new avenues of research, it is not surprising that
Dasgupta advocates that more environmental studies of perchlorate are
needed. Citing arsenic in groundwater, he warns, "Being natural
doesn't make it good."

Copyright 2006 American Chemical Society

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
  examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in
  action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
  decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to
  answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary
  principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

  We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we  
  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
  their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
  to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

  Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
  provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
  principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- 
  please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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