II. Government Holds Hearings Over Cell Phone Use Dangers
Herb Denenberg, The Bulletin (Philadelphia), September 20, 2009
Congress has come out of its decades-long slumber to
address the dangers of cell phones to 270 million Americans and as many
as four billion people worldwide. On September 14, 2009, the Senate
held hearings on the Heath Effects of Cell Phone Use. The hearings were
chaired by Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and were requested by Senator
Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, himself a victim of a brain tumor, one
of the many medical conditions which studies strongly suggest may be
caused by cell phone use.
You can see a complete video and transcript of the hearings at the web
site of C-span, but any reasonable person would come away from this
hearing, and the many years of debate and controversy that have
preceded it, with one painfully obvious conclusion: We just don’t know
if cell phone use causes cancer and other medical problems, and until
we find out with more certainty we better apply what is called the
precautionary principle. That is, we should minimize the use of cell
phones, try to use hands-free cell phones so the radiation source is
not placed right next to our ear and brain, and sharply limit the use
of cell phones by children. Children are more vulnerable to the effects
of cell phone radiation and will have a longer period to face the
cumulative effects of such radiation. As a result, the French
government is actually stepping up efforts to limit cell phone use by
Perhaps the nub of the problem was stated by Dariusz Leszczynski of
Finland’s radiation protection authority. At the hearings, he
testified, “In the present situation of the scientific uncertainty, the
statements that the use of mobile phones [cell phones] is safe is
premature.” Senator Specter put it this way, “We just don’t know what
the answer is …. Precautions are not a bad idea …. And, the issue of
children is something we should look at a little more closely. We have
a duty to do more by protecting children.”
An Israeli epidemiologist, Siegal Sadetzki, summarized the findings of
the so-called Interphone Study, “What worried me was that, in my study,
I saw consistent positive results and they always appeared where there
is biological plausibility. They appeared in the more than ten years
[old group], they appeared on the same side where the phone was held,
they appeared for the heavy users and they appeared in rural areas
compared to urban areas and this also has biological plausibility [as
the amount of radiation for transmission in rural areas is greater than
in urban areas]…. So, the fact that all of these indications appeared
where they should have appeared told me that it was really a red light.
But, as a scientist, that is not enough, definitely not for causality,
but an indication that, according to my judgment, it is enough in order
to advise the precautionary principle.”
The cell phone industry’s representative, Linda Erdreich of Cellular
Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), stuck to the usual
irrational industry position: “The current scientific evidence does not
demonstrate that wireless [phones] cause cancer or other adverse
effects.” But that is not the issue. It may take decades, even
generations, before we know the full medical effects of cell phone use
with scientific certainty. But, this is not simply a scientific
question. It is also a public health question. And, any rational public
health agency would look at the accumulating evidence that suggests
there may be serious health effects from cell phone use such as brain
cancer and, therefore, recommend we take precautions while waiting more
definitive word from scientific studies. Just as in the case of
tobacco, public health authorities should not wait for the last
scientific study of tobacco’s health effects before taking precautions.
Louis Slesin, the editor of Microwave News, who has followed the
controversy for years, is one of the world’s leading authorities on the
subject and leading publisher of information on cell phone radiation
and related matters, says we may not have final answers until
epidemiologists examine cancer trends years down the road. The cancers
may have a latency period of ten years or more. If there is a sharp
increase in brain cancers at some future point we may be closer to a
definitive answer. Over the last ten years, there is already an
increase in brain cancer rates especially among younger people, 20 to
29 years old.
Slesin also says there has never been Congressional leadership on the
subject. In fact, in 1992, Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Chris
Dodd, both Ds-Connecticut, held hearings on “The Effects of Traffic
Radar Guns on Law Enforcement Officers.” The radiation emitted by radar
guns is the same as that emitted by cell phones. Both radar guns and
cell phones emit what is also described as microwave radiation. At the
time, Senators Lieberman and Dodd called on NIOSH to do an
epidemiological study on the link between police radar use and cancer.
Senator Lieberman said, “Senator Dodd and I are going to stick with
this until we get some answers.” However, NIOSH never did the study and
neither senator ever followed up. This is the usual legislative and
government approach; all talk and no follow-up.
Unfortunately, that is typical of legislators at both the national and
state level. In over my 30 years of calling the attention of
legislators to problems I’ve uncovered in investigations, I’ve found
only one senator who consistently takes notice of serious problems,
follows up, and almost always gets some legislative action to remedy
the problem. That legislator is Pennsylvania State Senator Steward
Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County.
Slesin says there has never been a member of Congress that has provided
real leadership on the issue of cell phone use. Like most Congressmen,
they usually are in it for the public relations ride that comes forth
at hearings or other pronouncements, but never follow up in the style
and consistency of Senator Greenleaf. Slesin did say that Senator
Harkin was well briefed on the issue, handled the hearings with skill
and know how, and would certainly have the ability to provide the
national leadership that is needed. But, whether he does so remains to
be seen. Slesin also pointed out that Europe is far ahead of the U.S.
in applying the precautionary principle to cell phone use.
I’d have to say that in my decades long observation of cell phone
safety issues, I’ve concluded it is a national disgrace that we have
not applied the precautionary principle to cell phone use or issued
appropriate warnings to the public. The FDA and the National Institutes
of Health refuse to take any action and won’t even admit that there is
a serious issue about cell phone safety. They are in the front ranks of
those who have permitted this national disgrace to continue all these
years. If nothing else, we can get some important lessons from the cell
phone and microwave radiation scenario. It sometimes takes decades,
even centuries, for government to recognize the obvious and take the
obvious action, in this case apply the precautionary principle. Another
lesson is that these are the same legislators and politicians that
can’t solve the simplest problem imaginable and yet, they are now
trying to restructure our whole health care delivery system, one-sixth
of our economy. When you see how they fail at the simplest problem, you
better be wary when they try to solve one of the most complicated.
There’s another lesson involving the so-called mainstream media such as
the New York Times. It combines bias, dishonest and fraudulent
journalism with a heavy dose of incompetent journalism. It has almost
completely neglected this issue and is likely to continue to do so.
Over many years, the most comprehensive and reliable reporting on the
subject has come from Slesin of Microwave News. They should take all
the Pulitzer Prizes awarded to the New York Times and Washington Post
and give them to Slesin.
In the meantime, the public would be well advised to apply the
precautionary principle to cell phone use and to put pressure on
Senator Harkin and others in Congress to make the federal health and
safety agencies take a rational approach to the problem. Senator Harkin
said at the conclusion of the hearings, “I found this really
interesting and very challenging and I can assure you we are going to
do some follow-up on this.” I hope this follow-up is better than that
of Senators Lieberman and Dodd, but I’ve had enough experience to know
that may indeed be a thin reed to lean on.
Herb Denenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
III. Statement on mobile phones by executive director of
European Environment Agency
Professor Jacquie McGlade, Executive Director of the European
Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 15 September 2009
I am grateful for this chance to provide some input into this very
timely conference. This event and the related Senate Hearings1
yesterday, have been, in part, stimulated by the BioIntiative Report 2
, which helped increase public awareness of the potential hazards of
electromagnetic fields, not least from mobile phones.
The European Parliament 3 responded to this debate with its resolution
earlier this year which, among other things, called for lowering
exposure to electromagnetic fields and for new exposure limits that
would better protect the public. We fully share these recommendations.
Today I would like briefly:
· to describe the role and mandate of the
· to summarise our views about some of the
benefits and potential costs to health of mobile phones;
· and to conclude with what we see as the most
important practical implications of the current evidence on the cancer
risks from using mobile phones, especially for children and young
The role of EEA and past work on the precautionary
The EEA provides data, information and knowledge on the
environment, including its impacts on public health, to EU institutions
(the European Parliament, European Commission, and European
Council of Ministers), to the 32 Member Countries of the EEA, and to
the general public.
The EEA does not routinely carry out specific risk assessments on
individual hazardous agents, such as radio frequencies from mobile
phones. However, the EEA does have relevant knowledge and expertise
about the way in which the overall scientific evidence on hazards and
risks is evaluated.
Some of this knowledge is to be found in the EEA Report, 'Late Lessons
from Early Warnings: the Precautionary Principle 1896–2000' published
in 2001. This report reviews the histories of a selection of public and
environmental hazards, such as asbestos, benzene, acid rain, and PCBs.
These histories run from the first scientifically based early warnings
about potential harm to subsequent inactions, or to precautionary, and
then preventative measures.
The EEA sees the precautionary principle as central to public
policymaking where there is scientific uncertainty and high stakes —
precisely the situation that characterises EMF at this point in its
history. Waiting for high levels of proof before taking action to
prevent well known risks can lead to very high health and economic
costs, as it did with asbestos, leaded petrol and smoking.
For example, taking effective precautionary action to
avoid the plausible hazards of smoking in the late 1950s or the early
1960s would have saved much harm, health treatment costs, and
productivity losses from smoking. Waiting to prevent the known risks of
smoking in the 1990s, which most countries did, led to these health and
economic costs. Both the precautionary and preventative principles,
along with the polluter pays principle and the reduction of hazards at
source, are part of the EU Treaty: all are applicable to health,
consumer, and environmental issues.
Benefits of mobile phones and potential hazards of EMF
The EEA greatly appreciates the benefits of mobile phone
telephony. Indeed, the Agency is actively encouraging it as a means of
communicating environmental and related information to the public.
We have ambitious plans, for example, to encourage ‘citizen scientists’
to collect data on environmental parameters, such as bird movements,
fish stocks, water quality, and the flowering season, and store the
information on their mobile phones.
The intention of the EEA to promote the use of mobile telephony in this
way increases its responsibility to provide information that can help
ensure the safety of the public when using mobile phones, especially
vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and the
immuno-compromised. This is the reason why the EEA issued an early
warning about the potential hazards of EMF on 17 September 2007.
In this we drew attention to the BioInitiative report and to the other
main references relevant to this debate (from the EU, the WHO, and the
UK National Radiological Protection Board) which, taken together,
provided the basis for our early warning on EMF.
Specifically, we noted that:
'There are many examples of the failure to use the
precautionary principle in the past, which have resulted in serious and
often irreversible damage to health and environments. Appropriate,
precautionary and proportionate actions taken now to avoid plausible
and potentially serious threats to health from EMF are likely to be
seen as prudent and wise from future perspectives”.
The Washington conference on cell phones has just
reviewed the current evidence on the potential hazards of mobile
phones, particularly the possible head tumour risks. Much of this
evidence has been recently summarised in the special issue on EMF of
the journal of The International Society for Pathophysiology 4.
The evidence for a head tumour risk from mobile phones, although still
very limited, and much contested, is, unfortunately, stronger than two
years ago when we first issued our early warning.
Recommendations based on current evidence
The evidence is now strong enough, using the
precautionary principle, to justify the following steps:
1. For governments, the mobile phone industry, and
the public to take all reasonable measures to reduce exposures to EMF,
especially to radio frequencies from mobile phones, and particularly
the exposures to children and young adults who seem to be most at risk
from head tumours. Such measures would include stopping the use of a
mobile phone by placing it next to the brain. This can be achieved by
the use of texting; hands free sets; and by the use of
phones of an improved design which could generate less radiation and
make it convenient to use hands free sets.
2. To reconsider the scientific basis for the present
EMF exposure standards which have serious limitations such as reliance
on the contested thermal effects paradigm; and simplistic
assumptions about the complexities of radio frequency exposures.
3. To provide effective labelling and warnings
about potential risks for users of mobile phones. 5
4. To generate the funds needed to finance and
organise the urgently needed research into the health effects of phones
and associated masts. Such funds could include grants from industry and
possibly a small levy on the purchase and or use of mobile
phones. This idea of a research levy is a practice that we think the US
pioneered in the rubber industry with a research levy on rubber
industry activities in the 1970s when lung and stomach cancer was an
emerging problem for that industry. The research funds would be used by
In addition, we have noted from previous health hazard
histories such as that of lead in petrol, and methyl mercury, that
‘early warning’ scientists frequently suffer from discrimination, from
loss of research funds, and from unduly personal attacks on their
scientific integrity. It would be surprising if this is not already a
feature of the present EMF controversy as it seems to be still a common
practice as has been recently reported in Nature.
Scientific associations, lawyers, and politicians should therefore
consider ways in which societies could provide greater protection for
early warning scientists. An interesting precedent has been set in
Germany, where the Federation of German Scientists 6 has been
recognising the contribution that ’whistleblowing’ scientists and
others can make to robust and transparent democracies.
Finally, we hope that there turns out to be no cancer risk, or indeed
any risk from using mobile phones and that our early warnings
(which some might say are already a decade or so too late) will
be proven unnecessary. However, we would rather be wrong in issuing an
unnecessary warning than be wrong in failing to alert the public about
potentially serious, irreversible harm in time to avoid such
Thank you for your attention.
Footnotes and references are online at: http://environmentalhealthtrust.org/node/284
IV. Cell phone warnings by the earful
Daniel Malloy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 15, 2009
WASHINGTON -- They were ubiquitous and used several
times a day, and early warnings of cancer risks did little to curb
The story of cigarettes in the middle of the 20th
century could be replicated now with cell phones, lawmakers and
researchers warned yesterday at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., was the driving force behind
a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health
and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
University of Pittsburgh cancer researcher Devra Lee
Davis told the panel that mounting scientific evidence shows a link
between cancer and long-term cell phone use, though it is far from
confirmed. It could be decades before the true risks are known because
cell phones were not heavily used until the mid-1990s.
The purpose of the hearing was to help determine if the
subcommittee should give the National Institutes of Health additional
funding for research on the topic. But the participants were simply
eager to call attention to the issue.
"There's no one in this room today who doubts that we
should have acted sooner about tobacco," Dr. Davis said. "When
President Nixon started the War on Cancer in 1971 -- an admirable act
-- he ignored tobacco, although the surgeon general had warned about
its dangers in 1964."
Dr. Davis said the science is far from conclusive, but
urged more research into the cancer and cell phone link -- funded by a
$1 per year tax on cell phone users -- as well as warning labels for
Researchers Siegal Sadetzki, of Tel-Hashomer, Israel;
Dariusz Leszczynski, of Helsinki; and Olga Naidenko, of Washington
state, agreed with Dr. Davis' sentiment. Several nations have issued
warnings about cell phone use causing brain tumors -- especially in
children, whose brains absorb more radiation.
The researchers advocated keeping the phone at least an
inch away from your body at all times and not using it when signal
strength is low and the phone must use more power to reach a tower.
They advocated using headsets but not Bluetooth earpieces, because
those also emit radiation.
The only lawmakers to stay for the full session were
subcommittee chair Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Mr. Specter, who asked
Mr. Harkin to convene the hearing. Mr. Specter said he was first
alerted to the issue by Pitt cancer researcher David Servan-Schreiber,
and referenced his own bout with cancer and longtime support of NIH.
Mr. Specter pressed and interrupted the witnesses when
their answers struck him as long-winded or unsatisfactory, especially
John Bucher, associate director of the national toxicology program for
the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which is part
Dr. Bucher described a current $24 million NIH project
studying the effects of cell phone radiation on mice, which will not be
completed until 2014. He hedged when asked repeatedly by Mr. Specter if
NIH has any recommendations on safe use of cell phones, especially for
children. Mr. Specter asked him to return with a recommendation for the
subcommittee on the various studies and findings.
Linda Erdreich, senior managing scientist at Exponent in
New York, gave a counterpoint to most of the panel, saying that
research has been inconsistent on the topic and has not shown a
definitive link. She said she couldn't prove an absence of a cancer
connection, but that the other researchers have overstated their case.
"What comes through to me is we just don't know what the
answer is," Mr. Specter said. "Precautions are not a bad idea. They may
not be a good idea, but they're not a bad idea."
Mr. Specter recommended that cell phone companies "study
the testimony here very carefully" and suggested they might be forced
to study the issue as well.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, a lobbying group for
wireless companies, released a statement during the hearing pointing to
conclusions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health
Organization, the American Cancer Society and NIH that cell phone use
is not proven to cause health problems.
Dr. Naidenko, a senior scientist at the Environmental
Working Group, a D.C.-based research and advocacy organization, said
that the newest research is starting to move away from those
Environmental Working Group released a study last week
that reviewed more than 200 studies and concluded that in the past two
decades, the studies have produced conflicting results -- but now that
researchers are able to study people who have used cell phones for many
years for the first time, health problems have been more prevalent.
In addition to the hearing, cell phones and brain cancer
are the subject of a conference that concludes today just a few blocks
away from the hearing room on Capitol Hill. The room was packed
yesterday with people who walked over from the conference -- called
"Cell Phones and Health: Is There a Brain Cancer Connection?" and
hosted in part by Pitt. The crowd cheered for the panelists who made
strong statements about cell phone risks and grumbled at skeptical
The lawmakers stressed that they did not want to cause
alarm, and no one said they were swearing off cell phones altogether,
but the tobacco comparisons and rhetoric of the researchers were grim.
"What's evidence?" Dr. Davis said, challenging those who
say the research is inconclusive at best. "Do we insist that the
only evidence we accept is when we have enough sick and dead children?
I hope that's not the case."
Daniel Malloy can be reached at email@example.com
Read more: http://postgazette.com/pg/09258/998056-84.stm#ixzz0U2EuqxJr
V. Cell phones: Precautions Recommended
Janet Raloff, Science News Web edition: September 16, 2009.
Several government bodies around the world suggest that
anyone who uses a cell phone (and these days, who doesn’t) would be
well advised to keep a little distance between that phone and their
body. And when people need to make a call, they should minimize
radiation exposures by phoning only where reception is really good.
In justifying these and other precautions at a Senate Appropriations
subcommittee hearing on Monday, several scientists observed that recent
studies have begun linking heavy use of cell phones over a prolonged
period with an increased risk of cancer. Especially in the head, and on
the same side that people normally hold their phones.
Of course, if such a link were robust, cell phones would be sold with
little warning labels, much as cigarettes are today. That link is not
robust. On the other hand, they argued, it’s also not going away. Quite
For instance, Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist with the Environmental
Working Group, a research/advocacy organization based in Washington,
D.C., led a team that just completed a 10-month analysis of
200 peer-reviewed studies on cell-phone safety.
“We found that the studies amassed during the first two decades of
cell-phone use produced conflicting results and few definitive
conclusions on cell-phone safety,” Naidenko said. “But, the latest
research, in which scientists are for the first time able to study
people who have used cell phones for many years, suggests the potential
for serious safety issues.”
She and others at the hearing argued that in light of the accumulating
— though still far from strong — indications of health risks, people
would be wise to adopt the precautionary principle. Israeli physician
and cell-phone researcher Siegal Sadetzki put it succinctly: “Better
safe than sorry.”
People can and should adopt simple practices that reduce their exposure
to cell-phone radiation, said this researcher from the Gertner
Institute (affiliated with the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel-Aviv
University). Nearly all of the researchers and scientists who spoke at
the hearing similarly advocated a precautionary approach.
The lone holdout: Linda Erdreich, who spoke at the behest of CTIA-The
Wireless Association®. This international group represents, among
others, cell-phone makers and wireless-service providers. Erdreich, a
consulting epidemiologist, saw no reason to take precautionary
measures, she said, because her reading of the scientific literature
suggests wireless phones pose no harm.
“The currently available scientific evidence about the effects of
radiation emitted by mobile phones is contradictory,” admits Dariusz
Leszczynski of Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, in
Helsinki. “There are both studies showing effects and some studies
showing no effect.”
Rather than view this uncertainty as reason for complacency, he says,
it makes more sense to consider as “premature” any interpretation that
cell phones are safe. In fact, Leszczynski contends, “Current [cell
phone] safety standards are not supported by science because of the
very limited research on human volunteers and on children.” Rather, he
says, “This uncertainty calls not only for precautionary measures but
also for further research.”
His agency has issued two cell-phone advisories suggesting what such
precautions might include — like limiting children’s use of cell
phones. And texting, when possible, instead of actually talking
on a cell phone (to keep that phone away from direct contact with the
Last year, Sadetzki’s team reported finding a 50 to 60 percent
increased risk among certain Israeli adults of parotid-gland
tumors (mostly benign tumors of the salivary gland). The affected
group: heavy users of cell phones who did not listen to their calls via
a hands-free device (such as a wired earphone or wireless ear piece).
Writing in the American Journal of Epidemiology, she and her colleagues
noted: “A positive dose-response trend was found for these
measurements. Based on the largest number of benign PGT patients
reported to date, our results suggest an association between cellular
phone use and PGTs.”
At the hearing, Sadetzki said her group’s findings were
consistent with research by others linking cell phone use for 10 or
more years to tumors in the brain and to acoustic neuroma (a benign
tumor affecting the nerve that connects the ear to the brain).
In the July International Journal of Oncology, Lennart Hardell and
Michael Carlberg of Orebro University Hospital in Sweden reported an
update of their cell-phone studies looking at brain-cancer risk. Here,
phone habits were analyzed for some 3,600 people, both individuals with
cancer and healthy controls. And people who had developed astrocytoma —
a type of brain cancer — were five times as likely to be heavy
cell-phone users who got their first mobile phone during their teen
years, at least a decade earlier. Cordless home phones did not show a
It may not be surprising that some of these links to cell phone use are
only now emerging, Sadetzki said at the hearing, because there can be
long latency periods separating exposures to carcinogens and the
development of tumors. For instance, she pointed out that the first
reports of brain tumors linked to radiation from the atomic-bomb blasts
in Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t show up until a half-century after the
“Since widespread cell-phone use began only in the mid-‘90s,” she
notes, “the followup period in most published studies is only about 10
Cell-phone technology “is here to stay,” she acknowledges, so “the
question that needs to be answered is not whether we should use cell
phones, but how.”
For instance, she noted that the French health ministry has warned
against excessive cell-phone use by children because their bodies may
still be undergoing developmental changes that render them especially
susceptible to radiofrequency emissions. Moreover, cell-phone radiation
penetrates their brains proportionately more deeply than it does in
adults. The Israeli health ministry recommends that cell-phone users
employ speakers, earphones or hands-free technologies and limit use of
these phones where reception is weak.
Naidenko has yet another recommendation: “Buy low-radiation phones.”
Identifying which emit the lowest radiation can be difficult, she
acknowledged. That’s why her group developed a free, interactive online
guide that provides manufacturer-stated radiation-emissions values for
more than 1,200 different phones.
A scary new climate study will have you saying ‘Oh, shit!’
Mark Hertsgaard, Grist,13 Oct 2009
They say that everyone who finally gets it about climate change has an
“Oh, shit” moment—an instant when the full scientific implications
become clear and they suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous
situation humanity has created for itself.
Listening to the speeches, ground-breaking in their way,
that President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered Sept. 22
at the U.N. Summit on Climate Change, I was reminded of my most recent
“Oh, shit” moment. It came in July, courtesy of the chief climate
adviser to the German government. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chair of
an advisory council known by its German acronym, WBGU, is a physicist
whose specialty, fittingly enough, is chaos theory. Speaking to an
invitation-only conference at New Mexico’s Santa Fe Institute,
Schellnhuber divulged the findings of a study so new he had not yet
briefed Chancellor Angela Merkel about it. If its conclusions are
correct—and Schellnhuber ranks among the world’s half-dozen most
eminent climate scientists—it has monumental implications for the
pivotal meeting in December in Copenhagen, where world leaders will try
to agree on reversing global warming.
Schellnhuber and his WBGU colleagues go a giant step beyond the
findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N.
body whose scientific reports are constrained because the world’s
governments must approve their contents. The IPCC says that by 2020
rich industrial countries must cut emissions 25 to 40 percent (compared
with 1990) if the world is to have a fair chance of avoiding
catastrophic climate change. By contrast, the WBGU study says the
United States must cut emissions 100 percent by 2020—in other words,
quit carbon entirely within 10 years. Germany and other industrial
nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035,
and the world as a whole must be carbon free by 2050. The study adds
that big polluters can delay their day of reckoning by “buying”
emissions rights from developing countries, a step the study estimates
would extend some countries’ deadlines by a decade or so.
Needless to say, this timetable is light-years more demanding than what
the world’s major governments are talking about in the run-up to
Copenhagen. The European Union has pledged 20 percent reductions by
2020, which it will increase to 30 percent if others—i.e., the United
States—do the same. Japan’s new prime minister likewise has promised 25
percent reductions by 2020 if others do the same. Obama didn’t mention
a number, but the Waxman-Markey bill, which he supports, would deliver
less than 5 percent reductions by 2020. Obama’s silence—doubtless a
function of the fact that Republicans are implacably opposed to serious
emissions cuts—allowed Hu to claim the higher ground at the U.N. Hu
went further than any Chinese leader has before, pledging to curb
greenhouse gas emissions growth by a “notable margin” by 2020. Obama
dropped his own bombshell, however, urging that all G-20 governments
phase out subsidies for fossil fuels. “The time we have to reverse this
tide is running out,” Obama declared. Alas, the WBGU study suggests
that our time is in fact all but gone.
G-8 leaders agreed in July to limit the global temperature rise to 2
degrees C (3.6 F) above the pre-industrial level at which human
civilization developed. Schellnhuber, addressing the Santa Fe
conference, joked that the G-8 leaders agreed to the 2C limit “probably
because they don’t know what it means.” In fact, even the “brutal”
timeline of the WBGU study, Schellnhuber cautioned, would not guarantee
staying within the 2 C target. It would merely give humanity a two out
of three chance of doing so—“worse odds than Russian roulette,” he
wryly noted. “But it is the best we can do.” To have a three out
of four chance, countries would have to quit carbon even sooner.
Likewise, we could wait another decade or so to halt all greenhouse
emissions, but this lowers the odds of hitting the 2 C target to
fifty-fifty. “What kind of precautionary principle is that?”
There is a fundamental political assumption underlying the WBGU
study: that the right to emit greenhouse gases is shared equally
by all people on earth. Known in diplomatic circles as “the per capita
principle,” this approach has long been insisted upon by China and most
other developing countries and thus is seen as essential to an
agreement in Copenhagen, though among G-8 leaders only Merkel has
endorsed it. The WBGU study applies the per capita principle to the
world population of 7 billion people and arrives at an annual emissions
quota of 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide per person. That’s harsh news for
Americans, who emit 20 tons per person annually, and it explains why
the U.S. deadline is the most imminent. But China won’t welcome this
study either. China’s combination of high annual emissions and huge
population gives it a deadline only a few years later than Europe’s and
“I myself was terrified when I saw these numbers,”
Schellnhuber told me. He urges governments to agree in Copenhagen
to launch “a Green Apollo Project.” Like John Kennedy’s pledge to
land a man on the moon in ten years, a global Green Apollo Project
would aim to put leading economies on a trajectory of zero carbon
emissions within 10 years. Combined with carbon trading with
low-emissions countries, Schellnhuber says, such a “wartime
mobilization” might still save us from the worst impacts of climate
change. The alternative is more and more “Oh, shit” moments for all of
VII. Jackson Comes Out Swinging on TSCA, But Pulls Some
Timothy Malloy, Legal Planet: The Environmental Law and Policy Blog,
Berkeley Law, 2009 September 30
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson delivered a one-two
combination in chemical policy on Tuesday, announcing principles for
legislative reform of TSCA while directing the agency to publicize
to the existing program. At a speech in San Francisco, the
Administrator presented the Obama Administration’s “Essential
Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation,” a set
of six general tenets intended to guide TSCA reform. Had these
principles been created by the Bush Administration, they would have
been an astounding breakthrough. Coming from the Obama
Administration, however, they are disappointment—albeit not an
On the plus side, the principles do seek to address some of the major
structural flaws of TSCA, including lack of adequate testing authority
and unstable funding. It is hard to imagine any meaningful reform
that would not address those problems. The disheartening aspect
of the principles is their prominent embrace of the conventional risk
assessment/risk management paradigm, although one that hints at some
relevance for the precautionary principle. Principle No. 1—front
and center—proclaims that “EPA should have clear authority to establish
safety standards that are based on scientific risk assessments. Sound
science should be the basis for the assessment of chemical risks, while
recognizing the need to assess and manage risk in the face of
Notions of green chemistry, safer substitutes, and alternatives
assessment are relegated once again to voluntary efforts and outreach
programs. Principle No. 5 states that “[t]he design of safer and
more sustainable chemicals, processes, and products should be
encouraged and supported through research, education, recognition, and
other means..” It is not even clear whether the agency would be
mandated or simply authorized to take substitutes into account in
making risk management decisions. Here, in an interesting bit of
inconsistency between the principle and its subsequent explanation, the
Principles seem to be uncertain with the role of the availability of
“Principle No. 3: Risk Management Decisions Should Take into Account
Sensitive Subpopulations, Cost, Availability of Substitutes and Other
EPA should have clear authority to take risk management actions when
chemicals do not meet the safety standard, with flexibility to take
into account a range of considerations, including children’s health,
economic costs, social benefits, and equity concerns.”
Another troubling principle is the one that did not appear in the
list: the principle of pre-market review. Unlike marketing
of drugs and pesticides, construction of oil refineries, and a host of
other business activities, government approval is not typically
required for the introduction of a new chemical into commerce under
existing law. The Principles are silent on this point, as was the
Administrator in her talk on Tuesday. Given the conventional tone
of the Principles, that is hardly comforting.
US Ocean Policy Task Force Report Cites Precautionary Approach
The Interim Report of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, issued
on September 10, 2009, says: “Decisions affecting the ocean, our
coasts, and the Great Lakes should be informed by and consistent with
the best available science. Decision-making will also be guided by a
precautionary approach as reflected in the Rio Declaration of 1992.”
The full report is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/
IX. Block that sludge! Tiny Elgin, QC Sets Legal
Precedent in Blocking Use of Municipal Sludge on its Territory.
Holly Dressel, Straight Goods, October 12, 2009
In November of 2006, the tiny municipality of Elgin,
Quebec, comprised of only a few hundred people, passed a by-law
prohibiting the spreading, storage or transport of municipal or
de-inking sludge on its territory.
The people living in Elgin, about 60 km southwest of
Montreal, understood that Canada's water treatment systems are not able
to remove many toxic elements intrinsic to sludge, such as:
• pathogens like H1N1 or E. coli;
• dangerous chemicals like flame retardants;
• hormones; or,
• the heavy metals that get into sewage systems from
small industries and the de-inking process of paper recycling mills.
Farmers in the area were particularly worried about the
heavy metals in de-inking sludges, which can sterilize soils, rendering
the soil useless and in fact dangerous for crop production in a
relatively short period of time. Such material can be trucked in from
distant, large cities and cannot be traced.
Elgin's by-law was passed in order to "protect public
health and the environment.”
The local farm wishing to spread the sludge took the
village to court, on the grounds that the process is not only legal in
Quebec and across Canada but encouraged by provincial regulations. They
were backed by a huge multinational waste management company, GSI,
which makes its money by taking human and de-inking sludge off the
hands of overwhelmed municipalities, calling it a crop fertilizer, and
selling it to farmers at much cheaper rates than regular chemical
On October 1, 2009, to the surprise of many, Quebec's
Superior court upheld the town's bylaw. Judge Steve J. Reimnitz invoked
the well-known Supreme Court ruling in the case of Hudson, Quebec's
similar ban on cosmetic pesticides.
In his 38-page decision, Judge Reimnitz also invoked the Precautionary
Principle: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage,
lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for
postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation." This is more
support for the principle emphasized in the Hudson case, which obliges
municipalities to be "proactive in the areas of human health and the
Every municipality today is coping with the daily rivers
of human and industrial wastes removed by water treatment plants. Back
in the 1970s, public opinion and health officials finally convinced all
levels of government that raw sewage could no longer be dumped into
rivers, lakes and oceans without destroying drinking water.
Environmental reasons also were a driving factor in
paper recycling. Arsenic, lead and other heavy metals in the inks are
removed in the recycling process and are concentrated in the sludge. At
first this material was put in landfills or taken by tanker for
deep-sea disposal, but in 1992 it was discovered that these sludges
were so toxic they were causing enormous dead zones along ocean coasts
and were declared too poisonous to dump at sea. However, they were
backing up in landfills and other storage facilities on land.
Sludge can be slowly composted, although getting rid of
the heavy metals can be difficult. Instead, sludge can be put through a
"constructed wetland" or incinerated in closed-system plasma
incinerators that leave very little residue.
The practice of spreading sludge on farmlands developed in the early
1990s. Then, the American EPA provided the cheapest solutions when it
renamed sludge "biosolids" [MRF or Materieles Residuelles
Fertilisantes, "Residual Fertilizing Materials" in French] and declared
it a valuable fertilizer, suitable for spreading on crop and
pastureland. Canada's Food Inspection Agency followed the EPA action
A predictable number of contamination cases followed,
including some human deaths from pathogens and the loss of dairy herds
that had been sickened by poisoned pastures. More than a third of
sludge spread on fields, researchers found, is not taken up by soils or
plants but washes into the surface water, percolates into the ground
water, and ends up in rivers and oceans anyway.
The anti-sludge movement that has grown up in Quebec and
other provinces has turned to scientific research like that provided by
the Cornell Waste Management Institute in Ithaca, New York. One part of
the Cornell assessment states that "The sheer number of dangers
associated with treating sludge as if it were a fertilizer is so great,
so various and so serious that it would be the life work of thousands
of professionals to divide up and respond to the categories of problems
that will arise from this practice."
The recent Elgin ruling forces large municipalities to
deal with their own wastes, rather than dumping them out of sight on
cropland far away. It also encourages rural municipalities to protect
their territories and their citizens from harm.
Elgin mayor Jean-Pierre Proulx says, "We've been given the right to say
'No!'" Will Amos, a staff lawyer with the NGO Ecojustice, involved in
the Hudson case, says, "Towns across Quebec and Canada are heeding our
highest court's message. They should be encouraged to take action."
Holly Dressel, author and researcher, is one of Canada’s
most recognized writers on environmental, health care, economic and
aboriginal issues. Dressel is best known for her many collaborations
with television host Dr. David Suzuki on film and radio programs. They
have co-authored three books together, From Naked Ape to Super-species
Good News for a Change and More Good News, which is coming out in the
spring of 2010. Dressel is also the author of a forthcoming major
history and analysis of Canadian health care,
X. Astroturfing San Francisco
Julian Davis, Fog City Journal, September 22, 2009
If you hadn’t noticed, the Rec and Park department is
steadily replacing natural grass surfaces of our recreation grounds
with synthetic astroturf. At least nine parks, including Franklin
Square Park, Garfield Square Park and Silver Terrace Playground have
already been astroturfed or are in the pipeline with funds committed
for the conversion. At least 18 more parks are threatened with the same
fate. That’s dozens upon dozens of acres of neighborhood parks that are
filling up with hazardous waste every year.
The latest victim of this trend is the Western Addition’s Kimbell Park,
where workers broke ground Wednesday September 16, two days after a
contentious town hall meeting at the Jewish Community High School,
hosted by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi of District 5.
Community members were split on the issue of astroturfing their
neighborhood park. It’s a situation that is born out of frustration
that the City has not been committed enough to maintaining the parks
and fields in its care. Many residents rightfully want usable and
maintained open spaces. Especially in light of current budgetary woes,
astroturfing recreational fields has been presented as a cost-effective
and maintenance-free method of preserving the functionality of parks.
On the other hand, there are serious questions about the health and
environmental impacts of synthetic fields and the answers are often
unsettling. That has left many people angry and upset that there has
not been a greater effort to prevent potentially hazardous and toxic
waste from being dumped in their parks.
One thing is certain, the City Fields Foundation, a private non-profit
organization recently set-up by Bill, John and Bob Fisher, sons of Gap
founder Donald Fisher, is crazy about synthetic turf. They just love
it. In a purportedly philanthropic effort to address the city’s
shortage of playfields, the Fishers’ Foundation has offered up millions
of dollars to makeover San Francisco parks. There’s just one main
condition, that Rec and Park install synthetic turf containing toxic
plastic and rubber materials.
Why San Francisco is allowing a man who made his fortune on the backs
of child sweatshop laborers on the other side of the globe dictate what
is best for our kids’ recreation and health here at home is beyond me.
City leaders should be investigating if the Fishers, or their
associates, have any economic interests related to astroturf or
synthetic field installation. Is there any good reason why a
philanthropic effort to save the city’s parks not include the
maintenance of natural grass?
Astroturf is made of plastic and ground up bits of tire rubber that
contain carcinogens, hazardous chemicals, and heavy metals such as
lead, zinc and arsenic. Results from a study published by The
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in 2007 indicated the
presence of numerous chemicals detrimental to human health that are
found in the tire-crumbs used in synthetic fields.
The Connecticut study investigated the composition of ground rubber and
determined that the chemicals leached by mincing tires exceed the
cancer risk threshold in young people, children, and babies. Although
tire rubber is ‘recycled’ in astroturf, the process of replacing
natural grass with synthetic astroturf is hardly carbon-neutral.
Natural grass eliminates Co2, a major green house gas, from the
atmosphere. Synthetic turf, on other hand, does not. It also
contributes to significantly higher field temperatures and higher
Growing concerns about the health and environmental risks of synthetic
turf prompted State Attorney General Jerry Brown to file suit in
September of last year against three manufacturers of artificial turf
with the intention of compelling them to make public the dangerous
levels of lead in their products. Around the same time, the California
legislature passed Republican State Senator Abel Maldonado’s bill
requiring the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard
Assessment, in conjunction with the Department of Public Health and
California Integrated Waste Management Board, to conduct a study
investigating the health and environmental impacts of synthetic turf
fields. The GOP State Senator had originally wanted to implement a
moratorium on synthetic turf installations until the study was
released, but these provisions were amended out of his bill before its
passage. The study will be complete in September of 2010.
Despite these newly raised concerns and action to address the issue by
state leaders of both major parties, prospective gubernatorial
candidate Gavin Newsom’s San Francisco Rec and Park department is going
full-steam-ahead to accept the Fisher family gifts of toxic astroturf.
San Francisco’s own Synthetic Fields Task Force identified eleven
environmental and health issues of public concern and could not
determine if synthetic tire waste fields were safe, or if they pose
harmful risk to children’s health. It confirmed that the finely ground
up tire waste contains unregulated quantities of lead, carcinogens, and
other hazardous chemicals, as well as reporting significant challenges
to controlling the virulent bacterial growth in tire waste fields.
Newsom’s Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg attended the
Kimbell Park town hall meeting touting the affordability and
convenience of astroturf, despite the luke warm and inconclusive
defense it received from the Department of the Environment staff who
also made presentations to community attendees. Ginsburg insisted,
after being questioned by youth athletes in the audience, that the
synthetic fields require no maintenance and no water. However the City
Fields Foundation’s own website states, “The Recreation and Park
Department regularly cleans the fields of debris and grooms the turf to
improve play.” This involves weekly sweeping, bi-monthly “broom drag”
grooming, further bi-monthly grooming using a “field groomer,” and
extra cleaning for which “park staff uses soap and water as recommended
by the turf manufacturers.” In fact, without such grooming, synthetic
fields develop bacteria that can easily lead to infection from common
skin abrasions. In addition, synthetic fields have to be replaced every
ten years at great expense, calling into question their affordability
in the long-term.
The bigger picture here is about the legacy we want to leave to current
and future generations of San Francisco youth and residents. We are a
city proud of our leadership on environmental issues and our rich
heritage of natural beauty in an urban setting. Do we really want to
leave plastic and rubber tire-waste fields where once we found natural
grass and urban ecosystems?
Long-time Western Addition community activist Arnold Townsend is
opposed to astroturf. “When kids go to park they ought to get dirty.
You don’t find bugs on astroturf. Kids don’t learn about ecosystems on
astroturf. No matter how much ball you play on it, it’s an unnatural
setting,” he said.
What’s to be done?
1) Support Supervisor Mirkarimi’s resolution (091045), introduced
August 18, requesting the Recreation and Park Department temporarily
suspend the program of converting natural turf playing fields to
artificial surfaces pending the release of a report by the California
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment on the health and
environmental impacts of synthetic turf fields. This report is due next
year and Mirkarimi’s resolution is a prime example of the intent of San
Francisco’s policy of following the precautionary principle. The
resolution was referred to the City Operations & Neighborhood
Services Committee. Call or write committee members (Supervisors Bevan
Dufty, Sean Elsbernd, and Chris Daly) encouraging them to approve the
2) Ask your Supervisors for an ordinance creating a moratorium on
converting natural turf playing fields to artificial surfaces at least
until the release of the state mandated report next year. Unfortunately
the resolution before the board, though a highly persuasive statement
of policy if it passes, can technically be ignored by the Rec and Park
3) Ask the Government Audit & Oversight Committee of the Board of
Supervisors to order an analysis of the long term cost comparison of
synthetic turf vs. natural grass. Synthetic fields do require
maintenance and costly full-scale replacement every ten years. What is
the relative cost, over a thirty-year period, of natural grass vs.
synthetic turf? You have a right to know before you end up with ground
tire rubber in your neighborhood park. The members of this committee
are Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, Eric Mar, and Sophie Maxwell.
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