From: Rachel’s Democracy & Health News
June 26, 2008
HEALTHY CLEANERS IN A CHANGING WORLD
[Rachel’s introduction: It’s important to understand that much of what we currently know as American culture developed in a different time. Our laws, economic system, shopping habits — the way we manufacture, transport, use, and throw away all our stuff — developed in a time when we thought the earth was limitless.]
By Katie Silberman
The other day I noticed that Oprah.com had a feature on going green. No crunchy Birkenstocks for Oprah, no: instead this was the “gorgeously green lifestyle checklist.” It had a long list — change your light bulbs, use healthy cosmetics, eat organic — but my favorite part was the end. It had a checklist for your intentions.
Do you wish to become healthier? Do you want to live according to your deepest values? You actually had to check these off.
And I realized that Oprah is right. Like any other behavior change – diet, exercise, that guy you really need to break up with — first you have to make up your mind that you’re ready to act. And to do that, you need some compelling reasons. This article aims to lay out some compelling reasons for changing your life by changing your cleaning products.
I. Are we ready? or: Times Have Changed
To decide whether to change direction, first we have to know where we are. It’s important to understand that much of what we currently know as American culture developed in a different time. Our laws, economic system, shopping habits — the way we manufacture, transport, use, and throw away all our stuff — was developed in the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries.
This was a time when we thought the earth was limitless — that we could produce as much as we could, extract as much as we could, and therefore dump as much as we could and pollute as much as we could, and there would be no consequences.
Now we know that isn’t true. Now we know there are consequences. First, the Earth has only a certain amount of abuse it can handle, as we clearly see with global warming, drought, wildfires, extinction of whole species, and the perfect balance of nature disrupted.
Currently in the San Francisco Bay Area, several counties are rationing water because the snow pack in the Sierras has fallen so much in the past few years that the reservoirs can’t serve the cities.
We now know we are capable of destroying our only home.
But our bodies also have a limit to what we can handle. We see this with rising incidence rates of diseases that are linked to environmental exposure. Things like childhood asthma, childhood cancer, and breast cancer — diseases that could not be rising so fast based on genetics alone.
I don’t like to cite statistics because they tend to be more confusing than helpful, but I want to highlight just one: pre-school asthma rates have gone up 160% in less than 15 years. Obviously toddlers haven’t changed that much — trust me, I have one. So what has?
Something is different in the world than it used to be, and our bodies are fighting hard to keep up.
So we see that the Earth has its limits, and our bodies have their limits. But there’s one other thing we now understand more clearly than we did 50 or 100 years ago: corporations don’t always tell us the truth.
This is relevant to the marketplace of cleaners, because hundreds of products are on the market, sold to us as healthy for our families. We’ve all seen the ads with adorable babies crawling on sparkling clean floors. What they don’t reveal is which chemicals are absorbing into that baby’s skin while she’s down there.
In fact, we are still living with the consequences of a mid-20th century, post-War conviction that all industry is good, chemicals are the wave of the future, and government should stay out of the way. So where has this gotten us?
II. How bad could it be? I bought it at the supermarket.
I want to digress for a moment and discuss chemicals policy in this country. I know that sounds really boring and you’re thinking “how wonky can you be?” — but it’s important to understand how chemicals are regulated in the U.S. so we can see how a product that is known to cause asthma or birth defects can be perfectly legal.
This is also the key to understanding a whole constellation of issues – from toxic toys to lead in lipstick to BPA in baby bottles — that have been in the news lately. I think sometimes these news stories start to feel so arbitrary and overwhelming that it’s hard to make sense of them — is everything toxic? So I want to explain where we are.
As mentioned, most of our laws governing the use of chemicals in consumer products — the stuff we use every day, like shampoo, makeup, toys, water bottles, furniture, paint, and cleaning products — come from a mid-20th century ideal that all industry was good.
As a result, the main law governing chemicals in this country, the Toxic Substance Control Act, passed in 1976, literally assumes everything on the market at that point must be safe. This was not based on scientific testing, epidemiology, health studies…. nothing but the political expediency of regulating hundreds of thousands of chemicals: how do you do it?
The way Congress chose was to grandfather in everything on the market in 1976 and leave it on the market with no scrutiny at all. This is still over 90% of chemicals in our products today, almost none of which have ever been tested for their effects on human health.
The law then says that for future chemicals to come on the market, they would have to be submitted to the government before going on the market. And what do you think is required in that pre-market notice? The manufacturer would have to test the chemical and show that it didn’t harm human health? No. It didn’t cause environmental damage? No. At least it wasn’t the worst tool for the job? No.
Basically manufacturers don’t have to show any health or safety information at all, unless they happen to have done it on their own. Government has a brief chance to try to spot a problem if they can; otherwise industry can legally put substances on the market without testing them for safety , label them for any variety of uses, and they’re good to go.
The end result is that thousands more chemicals have been put on the market since 1976 with little or, often, no information about their safety at all.
So, you might ask, where’s the regulation in this regulatory system? As it stands, the EPA has the power to remove a toxic chemical from the market only if the EPA can prove that it’s dangerous. This takes years of scientific testing, and often ends in the EPA being sued by the manufacturer of that chemical.
So while years go by, real people are being harmed by these chemicals – the bodies are piling up. We know a whole suite of dangerous chemicals crosses the placenta and can affect a developing baby in utero.
We find chemicals in umbilical cord blood and breastmilk. And still this is not enough for the EPA to take action. In fact, with over 81,000 chemicals on the market, the EPA has restricted only five since 1976.
This is backwards. Instead of the EPA having to prove that a chemical is dangerous before they can take it off the market, a manufacturer should have to show that it’s safe before putting it on the market. This is called “shifting the burden of proof,” and it is the main reason why so many of the products we live with every day have the potential to harm our health.
It’s worthwhile to note that the European Union actually passed a sweeping chemicals reform law recently that does shift the burden of proof and require safety testing from manufacturers before a product is allowed on the market. And as we know, Europe’s economy is stronger than ours. In fact, some US manufacturers are now making two parallel product lines: one with dangerous chemicals, for the US market, and one without, for the European Union (you see some products now, like Avalon Organics cosmetics, that say “EU compliant” — meaning they’re selling the same, safer product in the U.S. that they’re selling in Europe).
Manufacturers know how to make their products safer in a cost- effective way. There is no reason for this backward system in the US other than bad political decisions.
III. What’s the Dirt on Cleaners?
Let’s look at household cleaning products. Now we understand how a chemical that may cause asthma, cancer or birth defects could be in this product, sitting on the shelf at the grocery store. But there’s one more piece to the non-regulation of cleaning products in this country, and that is that they are not required to list their ingredients on the label.
A leading laundry soap, for example, has more than 400 ingredients, but the manufacturer calls them a “trade secret” and doesn’t list them on the box. So the first thing to look at, when you are buying cleaning products, is the ingredient list.
If the manufacturers won’t tell you what’s in their product, do you trust it enough to spray it in your tub and literally put your naked child in that tub? Choose only products that list all ingredients on the label, so you know what you’re getting.
What are the chemicals of concern in cleaning products? This piece focuses on two categories of chemicals: those that cause asthma, and those that cause reproductive harm like birth defects. We focus on these because they affect women and children, who are most likely to be using the cleaning products, and home when they are being used.
Some of the known health effects of chemicals in common cleaning products are: — several are known to cause occupational asthma in cleaning workers. — animal studies have shown reproductive harm: testicular damage, reduced fertility, maternal toxicity, early embryonic death, and birth defects.
So where are we with the science? Obviously we can’t say “this bottle of cleaning fluid caused this child to get asthma.” What we do know is that several studies have linked exposure to these chemicals with asthma in cleaning workers — the people who are exposed to them every day. We do know that janitorial workers have twice the rate of asthma as other workers.
With the reproductive toxins, obviously it would be unethical to expose a pregnant woman to these products and then see if it hurts her baby. So instead we rely on animal studies. (Some people, of course, also find animal studies unethical.)
We do know that several of these chemicals get absorbed through the skin, and by breathing them. As previously mentioned, we find chemicals of concern in our blood, urine, breastmilk and umbilical cord blood.
So what do we do in this situation? The evidence is piling up, but we can’t say for sure that any single product is harming any one of us.
Well, what would you do if something was potentially harming your child? You’d take it away!
In the face of scientific uncertainty, which is where we are now, how do you take action? That part is simple: you take precaution. You think “better safe than sorry.” You think “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” These are time-tested ideas for a reason: they’re smart, and they keep us safe.
IV. What can we do at home?
First, it’s important to think precaution and prevention. You may have someone in your household questioning whether you need to make this switch. Some of these products might cost more than the ones you’re using now — and some cost less.
I think the most compelling argument for taking action, right now, is something called cumulative impacts.
Cumulative impacts describes the situation that each one of us is in right now when it comes to toxic chemicals: sure, maybe one squirt of air freshener won’t hurt you. Maybe breathing those scrubbing bubbles a few times won’t hurt you. But what happens when you start to add these things up?
What happens when you’re surrounded by dusting spray and scented laundry soap and squirt-on window cleaner and plug-in air fresheners and car exhaust and diesel emissions and mercury from power plants and chemicals in toys and makeup and pesticides in food?
Every single day of your life? We’re all living in a grand experiment without our consent: we have no idea what all these chemicals do in combination with each other. And that’s why it’s so important to take precautionary action and remove any exposures that you can.
Five simple steps to a greener home
1.) Educate yourself. Learn enough to make good choices. A non-profit organization called Women’s Voices for the Earth, at http://www.womenandenvironment.org/, has a lengthy report on cleaning products that is available for free downloading. The green cleaning company Seventh Generation has a comprehensive web site at http://www.seventhgeneration.com/ that lists the ingredients in their products, has a “guide to a toxin-free home” and has coupons.
2.) Use fewer products, and less of them. I have a little secret for you that the cleaning product companies don’t want you to know: you do not need a different product for every room in your house! Soap and water work for lots of things — you can get a big bottle of castile soap that will last you for months. Baking soda and vinegar, which cost pennies per use, have many uses.
Question whether you need the products you’re using — maybe instead of spraying an air freshener, you could simmer a cinnamon stick on the stove (this is what realtors do when they want to sell a home, it makes the house smell so good!) Put half a lemon in your disposal. Open your windows when you clean to let the bad air out and the good air in.
3.) Make your own cleaners. These are several great web resources with recipes for inexpensive, effective cleaners. Have a green cleaning party! Womens’ Voices for the Earth has a fun “green cleaning party kit” that you can download form their website, womenandenvironment.org. They’ll send you an educational DVD, fact sheets, and supplies you need to invite your friends over and have fun getting healthy.
4.) Buy good brands. These are several great companies out there right now who are making safe, healthy products for the home, and working hard to push this market. Only buy products that list their ingredients. Don’t buy anything that says “caution” or “warning” or “use in a well-ventilated room.” Support the companies who are doing the right thing and creating this market, such as Seventh Generation, Method, and other brands you’ll find at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and natural food shops.
But there is a corollary to this: watch out for greenwashing, the practice whereby companies try to make themselves look good by claiming to be healthy, but actually are not. Words on the label like natural, green, eco, and even organic are not regulated in this market. Think about which companies you want to support.
5.) Perhaps most important, join together and speak up: join a non- profit organization such as Women’s Voices for the Earth, the Science and Environmental Health Network (http://www.sehn.org/), or the Center for Environmental Health (http://www.cehca.org/). Continuing to use these same old dangerous chemicals are political and economic decisions, and both respond to consumers when we join our voices together.
Just as an example of recent results of consumer advocacy, Wal-Mart is pulling Bisphenol-A baby bottles form their shelves, and Target is phasing out PVC plastic. This is a direct result of great advocacy by non-profit organizations and the members who support them.
You can do some easy advocacy from home too: call the 800 number on the back of your cleaning products. Ask the manufacturers to list all of the ingredients on the product label, and to remove chemicals of concern from their products. Companies are thinking about doing this, but they need to hear from their customers to push them over the edge. You can also sign an online petition and leave comments at http://www.womenandenvironment.org/ (click on “Take Action on Toxics”).
This is a great time to get involved in issues of household environmental health. Consumers are learning more and demanding more from the marketplace, and manufacturers hear this and want a piece of that market. The market is shifting to healthier products, and it is because of each of us asking for products that don’t harm our children or our planet. It’s the perfect time to be gorgeously green.
Katie Silberman is Associate Director, Science and Environmental Health Network, http://www.sehn.org/. Contact Katie@sehn.org. This piece is adapted from a presentation to the Jewish Environmental Initiative, St. Louis, MO, May 15, 2008. The author wishes to thank Alexandra Gorman Scranton of Women’s Voices for the Earth for her research assistance.
From: James E. Hansen ………………………………[This story printer-friendly]
June 23, 2008
GLOBAL WARMING TWENTY YEARS LATER: TIPPING POINTS NEAR
[Rachel’s introduction: “Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear. But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals.” — Dr. James E. Hansen]
By James E. Hansen
[Introduction: Dr. James E. Hansen, a physicist by training, directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a laboratory of the Goddard Space Flight Center and a unit of the Columbia University Earth Institute.]
My presentation today is exactly 20 years after my 23 June 1988 testimony to Congress, which alerted the public that global warming was underway. There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.
Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic. Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.
The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next President and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.
Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control.
Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear. But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals.
I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible. It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year.
On 23 June 1988 I testified to a hearing, chaired by Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado, that the Earth had entered a long-term warming trend and that human-made greenhouse gases almost surely were responsible. I noted that global warming enhanced both extremes of the water cycle, meaning stronger droughts and forest fires, on the one hand, but also heavier rains and floods.
My testimony two decades ago was greeted with skepticism. But while skepticism is the lifeblood of science, it can confuse the public. As scientists examine a topic from all perspectives, it may appear that nothing is known with confidence. But from such broad open-minded study of all data, valid conclusions can be drawn.
My conclusions in 1988 were built on a wide range of inputs from basic physics, planetary studies, observations of on-going changes, and climate models. The evidence was strong enough that I could say it was time to “stop waffling”. I was sure that time would bring the scientific community to a similar consensus, as it has.
While international recognition of global warming was swift, actions have faltered. The U.S. refused to place limits on its emissions, and developing countries such as China and India rapidly increased their emissions.
What is at stake? Warming so far, about two degrees Fahrenheit over land areas, seems almost innocuous, being less than day-to-day weather fluctuations. But more warming is already “in–the-pipeline”, delayed only by the great inertia of the world ocean. And climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a “perfect storm”, a global cataclysm, are assembled.
Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes. Arctic sea ice is a current example. Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice. As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer.
More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two- mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.
Animal and plant species are already stressed by climate change. Polar and alpine species will be pushed off the planet, if warming continues. Other species attempt to migrate, but as some are extinguished their interdependencies can cause ecosystem collapse. Mass extinctions, of more than half the species on the planet, have occurred several times when the Earth warmed as much as expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase. Biodiversity recovered, but it required hundreds of thousands of years.
The disturbing conclusion, documented in a paper I have written with several of the world’s leading climate experts, is that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million) and it may be less. Carbon dioxide amount is already 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. Stunning corollary: the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.
These conclusions are based on paleoclimate data showing how the Earth responded to past levels of greenhouse gases and on observations showing how the world is responding to today’s carbon dioxide amount. The consequences of continued increase of greenhouse gases extend far beyond extermination of species and future sea level rise.
Arid subtropical climate zones are expanding poleward. Already an average expansion of about 250 miles has occurred, affecting the southern United States, the Mediterranean region, Australia and southern Africa. Forest fires and drying-up of lakes will increase further unless carbon dioxide growth is halted and reversed.
Mountain glaciers are the source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people. These glaciers are receding world-wide, in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky Mountains. They will disappear, leaving their rivers as trickles in late summer and fall, unless the growth of carbon dioxide is reversed.
Coral reefs, the rainforest of the ocean, are home for one-third of the species in the sea. Coral reefs are under stress for several reasons, including warming of the ocean, but especially because of ocean acidification, a direct effect of added carbon dioxide. Ocean life dependent on carbonate shells and skeletons is threatened by dissolution as the ocean becomes more acid.
Such phenomena, including the instability of Arctic sea ice and the great ice sheets at today’s carbon dioxide amount, show that we have already gone too far. We must draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide to preserve the planet we know. A level of no more than 350 ppm is still feasible, with the help of reforestation and improved agricultural practices, but just barely — time is running out.
Requirements to halt carbon dioxide growth follow from the size of fossil carbon reservoirs. Coal towers over oil and gas. Phase out of coal use except where the carbon is captured and stored below ground is the primary requirement for solving global warming.
Oil is used in vehicles where it is impractical to capture the carbon. But oil is running out. To preserve our planet we must also ensure that the next mobile energy source is not obtained by squeezing oil from coal, tar shale or other fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel reservoirs are finite, which is the main reason that prices are rising. We must move beyond fossil fuels eventually. Solution of the climate problem requires that we move to carbon-free energy promptly.
Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.
CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.
Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.
If politicians remain at loggerheads, citizens must lead. We must demand a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. We must block fossil fuel interests who aim to squeeze every last drop of oil from public lands, off-shore, and wilderness areas. Those last drops are no solution. They yield continued exorbitant profits for a short-sighted self-serving industry, but no alleviation of our addiction or long- term energy source.
Moving from fossil fuels to clean energy is challenging, yet transformative in ways that will be welcomed. Cheap, subsidized fossil fuels engendered bad habits. We import food from halfway around the world, for example, even with healthier products available from nearby fields. Local produce would be competitive if not for fossil fuel subsidies and the fact that climate change damages and costs, due to fossil fuels, are also borne by the public.
A price on emissions that cause harm is essential. Yes, a carbon tax. Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend is needed to wean us off fossil fuel addiction. Tax and dividend allows the marketplace, not politicians, to make investment decisions.
Carbon tax on coal, oil and gas is simple, applied at the first point of sale or port of entry. The entire tax must be returned to the public, an equal amount to each adult, a half-share for children. This dividend can be deposited monthly in an individual’s bank account.
Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend is non-regressive. On the contrary, you can bet that low and middle income people will find ways to limit their carbon tax and come out ahead. Profligate energy users will have to pay for their excesses.
Demand for low-carbon high-efficiency products will spur innovation, making our products more competitive on international markets. Carbon emissions will plummet as energy efficiency and renewable energies grow rapidly. Black soot, mercury and other fossil fuel emissions will decline. A brighter, cleaner future, with energy independence, is possible.
Washington likes to spend our tax money line-by-line. Swarms of high- priced lobbyists in alligator shoes help Congress decide where to spend, and in turn the lobbyists’ clients provide “campaign” money.
The public must send a message to Washington. Preserve our planet, creation, for our children and grandchildren, but do not use that as an excuse for more tax-and-spend. Let this be our motto: “One hundred percent dividend or fight!” The next President must make a national low-loss electric grid an imperative. It will allow dispersed renewable energies to supplant fossil fuels for power generation. Technology exists for direct-current high-voltage buried transmission lines. Trunk lines can be completed in less than a decade and expanded analogous to interstate highways.
Government must also change utility regulations so that profits do not depend on selling ever more energy, but instead increase with efficiency. Building code and vehicle efficiency requirements must be improved and put on a path toward carbon neutrality.
The fossil-industry maintains its strangle-hold on Washington via demagoguery, using China and other developing nations as scapegoats to rationalize inaction. In fact, we produced most of the excess carbon in the air today, and it is to our advantage as a nation to move smartly in developing ways to reduce emissions. As with the ozone problem, developing countries can be allowed limited extra time to reduce emissions. They will cooperate: they have much to lose from climate change and much to gain from clean air and reduced dependence on fossil fuels.
We must establish fair agreements with other countries. However, our own tax and dividend should start immediately. We have much to gain from it as a nation, and other countries will copy our success. If necessary, import duties on products from uncooperative countries can level the playing field, with the import tax added to the dividend pool.
Democracy works, but sometimes churns slowly. Time is short. The 2008 election is critical for the planet. If Americans turn out to pasture the most brontosaurian congressmen, if Washington adapts to address climate change, our children and grandchildren can still hold great expectations.
 Dr. James E. Hansen, a physicist by training, directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a laboratory of the Goddard Space Flight Center and a unit of the Columbia University Earth Institute, but he spoke as a private citizen June 23, 2008 at the National Press Club and at a Briefing to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming.
 Target atmospheric CO2: where should humanity aim? J. Hansen, M. Sato, P. Kharecha, D. Beerling, R. Berner, V. Masson-Delmotte, M. Raymo, D.L. Royer, J.C. Zachos. Two papers available here and here.
 The proposed “tax and 100% dividend” is based largely on the cap and dividend approach described by Peter Barnes in “Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism”, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 2001
From: Mother Jones
August 1, 2008
TOXIC SMOKE AND MIRRORS
[Rachel’s introduction: “This has every appearance of the industry buying science,” observed Erin Bigler, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University who studies brain trauma, aging, and autism. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”]
By Jim Morris
The shaking in Jeffrey Tamraz’s right hand began in 2001. It was intermittent, so he paid it little mind. A six-foot, 260-pound bear of a man, he’d played football and thrown shot and discus in high school; later he got into competitive weightlifting, and worked up to bench- pressing 465 pounds — once, to win a bet, he flipped a Honda Civic on its side. He brought the same passion to his work. “I taught welding for six years,” he says. “I read books on welding. I loved to weld.”
But by 2004, the twitching had grown too persistent to ignore, and the 47-year-old felt sluggish and clumsy. He consulted a neurologist and was stunned to get the diagnosis: parkinsonism. Upon learning that his patient had been welding for 25 years, and knowing that welding fumes contain manganese, a toxic metal, the specialist suggested the symptoms were work related.
Since then, Tamraz has lost not only his livelihood, but much of his easygoing personality. Gone, says Terry, his wife of 10 years, is her husband’s sense of humor and his penchant for impromptu dances in malls and grocery stores. Driving is difficult, and eating, and sex.
Even the most mundane tasks — brushing his teeth, applying deodorant– — now require a mental run-through. “Pretty much nothing is automatic anymore,” Jeff says. “I can be walking down a straight concrete sidewalk and I just trip. My toes dig into the concrete.”
He no longer goes out much, in any case. “I became kind of a hermit,” he says. “You get tired of people looking at you. It’s embarrassing to shake. It’s a sign of weakness.”
Following Jeff’s diagnosis, the couple, who live in Grants Pass, Oregon, hired a lawyer and sued Lincoln Electric and four other makers of manganese-containing welding wire and electrodes — also called rods or sticks. Filed in federal District Court in Cleveland, their claim joined thousands of others pending against welding-products manufacturers in state and federal courts. (Employers have not been among the targets because lawyers generally concluded they were ignorant of the metal’s dangers.)
The odds weren’t great. Since the lawsuits began in the 1970s, the position of the $5 billion welding-products industry had remained consistent: There are no reliable scientific data to prove welding fumes cause the Parkinson’s-like syndrome known as parkinsonism — or “manganism” if manganese-related — that many longtime welders experience. It was an argument familiar to anyone acquainted with large-scale toxics litigation, and it seemed to work. Industry had ended up settling a few cases — including a $6.5 million payout to four Florida welders in 1985 — but as the Tamrazes went to trial last November, it had won 16 of 17 actual courtroom bouts.
Not long after, though, came a startling revelation. For several years, US District Judge Kathleen O’Malley — whose Ohio courtroom is the fact-finding venue for Tamraz and hundreds of other cases — had watched lawyers squabble over disclosure of alleged payments to researchers studying the effects of manganese on welders. Finally, in December, O’Malley ordered both sides to fess up and provide a “full and complete” accounting of any such payments.
It’s hardly uncommon for an industry to pay for research — think Big Pharma — but the payouts unearthed by O’Malley’s order provide an exceedingly rare view of the system at work. “This has every appearance of the industry buying science,” observed Erin Bigler, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University who studies brain trauma, aging, and autism, after reviewing the documents. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve suspected it forever, but I’ve never seen it.”
Court documents obtained by Mother Jones show that the welding companies paid more than $12.5 million to 25 organizations and 33 researchers, virtually all of whom have published papers dismissing connections between welding fumes and workers’ ailments. Most of the money, $11 million, was spent after the litigation achieved critical mass in 2003; attorneys for the welders, meanwhile, spent about half a million.
The pattern doesn’t surprise George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels, author of Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. Corporate-funded research articles are often “advocacy documents that are being produced purely for use in court cases,” he says. “It’s unfortunate, because it really pollutes the scientific literature.”
Judge O’Malley singled out a researcher named Jon Fryzek, whose large studies of Swedish and Danish welders found no significant link between welding fumes and Parkinson’s symptoms– — but the studies, based almost solely on hospital records, ignored welders who were never hospitalized. O’Malley was particularly troubled to learn that industry lawyers had reviewed a prepublication draft of the Danish study. “[T]here is no doubt that this was not simply an independent study,” she wrote, “and that the experts who participated in the study are continuing to act in an advocacy capacity.” Fryzek worked for Maryland’s International Epidemiology Institute (iei)– — known for its industry-commissioned studies, including one that found no link between radiation and cancer in uranium millers. The institute received more than $971,000 from welding defendants.
The embattled manufacturers also paid $860,000 to Paul Lees-Haley, an Alabama psychologist and inventor of a widely criticized test that often concludes brain-injury patients are malingering. Two consulting firms linked by court documents to C. Warren Olanow, a Manhattan neurologist who has published at least a dozen articles cited by defense experts, got almost $2.9 million. And the Parkinson’s Institute in California got nearly $3.4 million to conduct a four-year study– — not limited to welders — seeking links between Parkinson’s symptoms and factors other than manganese, including smoking and drinking. (The institute’s research director says the work was neither influenced by its funders, nor will she let them see the resulting manuscript until it has been accepted for publication.)
Fryzek, who now works for Amgen, a California biotech company, did not return phone calls and emails; Olanow and Lees-Haley declined comment.
iei president Joseph McLaughlin insisted in written statements that the manufacturers “had no say whatsoever” in the study’s conduct or content, and that it is “common” for funders to view unpublished results.
welders are by and large a stoic bunch. At 56, Joe McMahon, a business agent at Steamfitters Local 420 in Philadelphia, has worked in all sorts of hellholes — inside chemical-encrusted cracker units at refineries, for one — and he never obsessed over the acrid white smoke from melted welding rods. If he ever saw warning labels — most of the time, he notes, the rods were out of the can by the time he got them — they seemed meaningless. “It was all small print,” recalls McMahon. “It probably said, ‘Try to avoid breathing smoke.’ Well, how the fuck am I gonna do that?” Supplied-air or cartridge respirators, he says, were pressed on welders at nuclear plants (because of radiation worries), but no one else: “If you wanted a dust mask you could request it, but it wasn’t mandatory.”
Manganese poisoning is hardly a new concern. In a 1932 German paper, industrial doctor Erich Beintker described two patients who welded inside boilers and tanks. One complained of dizziness, ringing ears, sudden sweats, and sleeplessness. The other had developed a speech impediment and balance problems. “A nervous disorder appears to be present here because of the manganese fumes,” Beintker concluded, urging welding companies to share information about the compounds in their products.
In the United States five years later, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company distributed a welding-safety booklet describing manganese as an “important poison” that “causes a disease similar to paralysis agitans” — Parkinson’s. (The welding industry responded by demanding MetLife rewrite the booklet to tamp down the “scare” it had created; the insurer obliged.) In 1943, Occupational Hazards Inc. of Cleveland published an industrial-safety handbook warning of the metal’s paralyzing effects. “Manganese victims usually remain life-long cripples, unfit for gainful employment,” the authors wrote. They encouraged employers to provide ventilation and examine workers four times a year “to detect early signs or symptoms.”
Documents show that welding suppliers knew of the problems. In an October 1949 memo, an executive from Airco Welding Products (now defendant the boc Group) recalled how the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, had called for warning labels. “Some of the manufacturers did not do this and as a result immediately capitalized on the advantage of being able to sell an electrode which did not have to be marked ‘poison,'” the official wrote. “As a result, one by one, all of the various manufacturers took this information off the label and all were very glad to get it off.”
As evidence of the dangers mounted — “the fumes are far worse than I had any reason to suspect,” another Airco official wrote in 1950 — the industry continued to resist warning labels. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the warnings were made explicit. Today, one brand of welding wire bears this caution: “Overexposure to manganese and manganese compounds above safe exposure limits can cause irreversible damage to the central nervous system, including the brain.”
like other industries in the crosshairs of litigation, welding-rod manufacturers have zeroed in on the concept of “safe exposure limits.”
Manganese is toxic, they’ve acknowledged, but not at the levels present in their products. In fact, independent researchers have documented a range of symptoms in welders exposed to ordinary levels of the metal, from depression, memory loss, and irritability to the zombielike state of full-blown manganism. Some get “cock walk” — a lurching, toe-heavy gait resembling that of a strutting rooster. A recent study described numbness (61 percent), tremors (42 percent), and hallucinations (19 percent) among 49 welders working on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Epidemiologist Robert Park of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (niosh) says there’s ample evidence that welding fumes wreak havoc on the brain. One of several Korean studies that yielded such evidence in the 1990s, for example, found a significantly greater incidence of speech impairment, tremors, and gait disturbances among welders than nonwelders. “I’d be amazed if there was something else going on instead of manganese,” Park says. And a 2005 study of welders in Alabama (whose medical screenings were paid for by lawyers suing the industry) found a 7- to 10-times higher prevalence of neurological symptoms among the welders than within a control group.
But niosh toxicologist James Antonini says the existing studies lack good exposure data and fail to quantify “confounding factors” such as other workplace neurotoxins. “I don’t think there’s any really solid information out there,” he says. (Antonini accepted an award, albeit no cash, from a prominent welding trade group in 2006 and more recently coauthored, with several industry consultants, a literature review that jibed with the manufacturers’ position. “I’ve tried to work with everybody,” he says.)
niosh’s official verdict on manganese and welding—- — an exhaustive state-of-the-science report that will lay the pathway for government regulators — is four years overdue; a House science committee chided the agency for the delay last December, noting that the health of some 185,000 highly exposed welders hangs in the balance. niosh division chief Paul Schulte says the delay is nothing unusual: “We have an array of opinions. We’re debating and working through them, and that’s really the issue.”
But Park, who worked on the report, is frustrated. “Right now, what’s happening is that the lawsuits are driving the science, and that’s pretty pathetic,” he says. “I think the fact that it’s contentious has encouraged people not to move forward.”
if you were to graph out the welding industry’s spending on science, you’d see a dramatic uptick in 2003 — the year an Illinois jury awarded $1 million to a welder named Larry Elam. The verdict, not surprisingly, turned a trickle of lawsuits into a flood, stoking manufacturers’ fears that welding fumes could become the next asbestos, with the requisite ambulance chasers hopping on the bandwagon of legitimate claims.
Charles Ruth III is no ambulance chaser. Stout and athletic like Tamraz, the 41-year-old welder was diagnosed with manganese-induced parkinsonism in 2000, three years after going to work at the Ingalls Shipyard in Mississippi. When I met him, his face looked blank, his voice was a dull monotone, and his right hand shook ceaselessly. Since his diagnosis, Ruth’s marriage had failed and he’d lost his job, not to mention hunting, fishing, and the church softball league. He can’t even drive anymore — at one point he was detained by an officer convinced by Ruth’s erratic driving that he’d pulled over a drunk.
He’s had recurring depression and suicidal thoughts, but hasn’t acted on them because of his girls, ages 10 and 16, and his 8-year-old boy.
“I can’t wrestle with my son because I’m scared I might fall on him and hurt him,” Ruth laments. “When I eat, food goes all over me.” No one at Ingalls ever told him, he says, that welding fumes could do this to a man.
Ruth’s father Chuck, a retired vice president at the shipyard, says he, too, was unaware of the dangers. “For me it’s a fairly easy fix,” he says. “You put them in an air-fed welding helmet. They do it with sandblasters and they could do the same thing with welders. But if they do that, that means the industry’s got to admit there’s a problem.” Indeed, when a prominent industrial health organization proposed lowering manganese-exposure limits 25-fold during the 1990s, a trade group that included welding companies griped in a letter that “respirator use would become mandatory at most of our operations” if the new limits were enacted.
Ruth’s case settled on the eve of trial in August 2005 for seven figures. (The exact sum is confidential.) Industry lawyers claimed the settlement was merely the product of a procedural misstep that would have weakened their case. But last fall, while attempting to rebut medical experts during the Tamraz trial, defense lawyer Eric Kennedy explicitly conceded that Ruth has manganism.
Since the Ruth settlement, the industry has let its insecurity show.
Last year, the manufacturers launched a PR offensive, hiring a New York firm to prepare an eight-page “welding fume litigation status report” full of statistics designed to steer journalists away from the manganese story; among other things, the report noted that three cases (out of the thousands filed) were dismissed “after discovery revealed that one plaintiff faked his symptoms and two others lied about illicit drug use.”
No one could have claimed Jeffrey Tamraz was malingering — and defense lawyers didn’t, arguing instead that 60,000 Americans each year are diagnosed with Parkinson’s of unknown origin. “Doctors, lawyers, teachers, bus drivers, bricklayers, we all get it,” Kennedy insisted when the case came to court last fall. “And so do welders.” But his argument wasn’t helped when the Tamraz attorneys showed a deposition video in which Toronto neurologist Anthony Lang, an expert witness for the industry, acknowledged that welding fumes likely do cause manganism.
Last December, the jury ordered the five companies to pay Jeff Tamraz $17.5 million, and give his wife $3 million more for loss of consortium. “The manufacturers had 60 years to hide the ball,” says John Climaco, one of the couple’s lawyers. “We’ve now caught up.”
And then some. In March, Mississippi welder Robert Jowers won a $2.4 million verdict against three manufacturers. Some 2,800 cases are still pending against the industry, with another 11,000 on a legal back burner known as a tolling agreement.
When Terry and Jeff Tamraz learned of their verdict, they wept. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “Man, we prayed and prayed and prayed.”
But the euphoria has worn off. There’s an appeal to get through, and beyond that, an increasingly quiet life. “Jeff doesn’t laugh anymore,” Terry says. “Back when we were dating, he was the life of the party. The conversation between us is minimal now.”
From: Associated Press ……………………………..[This story printer-friendly]
June 24, 2008
CDC: ABOUT 8 PERCENT OF AMERICANS HAVE DIABETES
[Rachel’s introduction: In the U.S., some 24 million people have diabetes and another 57 million have blood sugar abnormalities called “pre-diabetes.” About 27% of us have one or the other.]
ATLANTA (AP) — The number of Americans with diabetes has grown to about 24 million people, or roughly 8 percent of the U.S. population, the government said Tuesday.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on data from 2007, said the number represents an increase of about 3 million over two years. The CDC estimates another 57 million people have blood sugar abnormalities called pre-diabetes, which puts people at increased risk for the disease.
The percentage of people unaware that they have diabetes fell from 30 percent to 25 percent, according to the study.
Dr. Ann Albright, director of the CDC Division of Diabetes Translation, said the report has “both good news and bad news.”
“It is concerning to know that we have more people developing diabetes, and these data are a reminder of the importance of increasing awareness of this condition, especially among people who are at high risk,” Albright said in a statement.
“On the other hand, it is good to see that more people are aware that they have diabetes.”
A message left Tuesday night seeking further comment from the CDC wasn’t immediately returned.
The disease results from defects in insulin production that cause sugar to build up in the body. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the country and can cause serious health problems including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and amputations.
Among adults, diabetes increased in both men and women and in all age groups, but still disproportionately affects the elderly. Almost 25 percent of the population 60 years and older had diabetes in 2007.
After adjusting for population age differences between various groups, the rate of diagnosed diabetes was highest among American Indians and Alaska Natives (16.5 percent). This was followed by blacks (11.8 percent) and Hispanics (10.4 percent), which includes rates for Puerto Ricans (12.6 percent), Mexican Americans (11.9 percent), and Cubans (8.2 percent).
By comparison, the rate for Asian Americans was 7.5 percent, with whites at 6.6 percent.
Copyright The Associated Press
From: Yale Environment 360 ………………………….[This story printer-friendly]
June 23, 2008
NANOTECH: THE UNKNOWN RISKS
[Rachel’s introduction: The potential damage from nanoparticles could take years or even decades to surface. So these tiny particles could soon become the next big thing — only to turn into the next big disaster.]
By Carole Bass
“It’s green, it’s clean, it’s never seen — that’s nanotechnology!”
That exuberant motto, used by an executive at a trade group for nanotech entrepreneurs, reflects the buoyant enthusiasm for nanotechnology in some business and scientific circles.
Part of the slogan is indisputably true: nanotechnology — which involves creating and manipulating common substances at the scale of the nanometer, or one billionth of a meter — is invisible to the human eye.
But the rest of the motto is open for debate. Nanotech does hold clean and green potential, especially for supplying cheap renewable energy and safe drinking water. But nanomaterials also pose possible serious risks to the environment and human health — risks that researchers have barely begun to probe, and regulators have barely begun to regulate.
What’s more, the potential damage could take years or even decades to surface. So these tiny particles could soon become the next big thing — only to turn into the next big disaster.
Nano enthusiasts see it as the next “platform technology” — one that will, like electricity or micro-computing, change the way we do almost everything. While that prediction is still unproven, there’s no question that nanotech is booming. Universities, industry, and governments around the globe are pouring billions into creating and developing nanoproducts and applications. A range of nanotechnologies is already used in more than 600 consumer products — from electronics to toothpaste — with global sales projected to soar to $2.6 trillion by 2014.
Environmentalists, scientists, and policymakers increasingly worry that nanotech development is outrunning our understanding of how to use it safely. Consider these examples from last month alone:
An animal study from the United Kingdom found that certain carbon nanotubes can cause the same kind of lung damage as asbestos. Carbon nanotubes are among the most widely used nanomaterials.
A coalition of consumer groups petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the sale of products that contain germ- killing nanosilver particles, from stuffed animals to clothing, arguing that the silver could harm human health, poison aquatic life, and contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance.
Researchers in Singapore reported that nanosilver caused severe developmental problems in zebrafish embryos — bolstering worries about what happens when those antimicrobial products, like soap and clothing, leak silver into the waste stream.
The U.S. Department of Defense, in an internal memo, acknowledged that nanomaterials may “present… risks that are different than those for comparable material at a larger scale.” That’s an overarching risk with nanomaterials: Their tiny size and high surface area make them more chemically reactive and cause them to behave in unpredictable ways. So a substance that’s safe at a normal size can become toxic at the nanoscale.
Australian farmers proposed new standards that would exclude nanotechnology from organic products.
The European Union announced that it will require full health and safety testing for carbon and graphite under its strict new chemicals law, known as REACH (for Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemical Substances). Carbon and graphite were previously exempt, because they’re considered safe in their normal forms. But the U.K.
study comparing carbon nanotubes to asbestos, along with a similar report from Japan, raised new alarms about these seemingly harmless substances.
Old Materials, New Risks The EU’s move is a critical step toward recognizing nanomaterials as a potential new hazard that requires new rules and new information.
The raw materials of nanotechnology are familiar. Carbon, silver, and metals like iron and titanium are among the most common. But at the nanoscale, these well-known substances take on new and unpredictable properties. That’s what makes them so versatile and valuable. It also makes them potentially dangerous in ways that their larger-scale counterparts are not.
Yet governments are only beginning to grapple with those dangers.
Japan’s labor department issued a notice in February requiring measures to protect workers from exposure to nanomaterials: It may be the world’s first nano-specific regulation affecting actual practices.
Previously, Berkeley, California — ever ready to stand alone — had adopted what is apparently the only nano-specific regulation in the United States: a requirement that companies submit toxicology reports about nanomaterials they’re using.
At the federal level, the EPA launched a voluntary reporting program in January; industry participation has been anemic. Both the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration have so far declined to regulate nanomaterials as such, saying they’re covered under existing regulations. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has issued recommendations for handling nanomaterials, but the agency has no enforcement power.
The European Union, by contrast, is taking a precautionary approach.
While U.S. regulators generally presume products to be safe until proven harmful, the EU’s new REACH legislation demands that manufacturers demonstrate the safety of their chemicals. Just last week, the EU released a document concluding that nanorisks “can be dealt with under the current legislative framework,” with some modifications. For example, the document says that under REACH, when companies introduce nanoforms of existing substances, they must provide additional material about “the specific properties, hazards, and risks” of the nanomaterials.
At this point, however, many of the most basic questions about those nanohazards are unanswered. What materials are harmful, in what particle sizes and shapes, under what conditions? Who is at risk:
Workers? People using nano-enabled products? Wildlife and ecosystems?
How should we measure exposures?
The U.S. government spends $1.5 billion a year on nano research. Less than 5 percent of that is aimed at addressing these fundamental questions.
Danger Signs What is known about nanohazards counsels caution.
Nanomaterials are so small that they travel easily, both in the body and in the environment. Their tiny size and high surface area give them unusual characteristics: insoluble materials become soluble; nonconductive ones start conducting electricity; harmless substances can become toxic.
Nanoparticles are easily inhaled. They can pass from the lungs into the bloodstream and other organs. They can even slip through the olfactory nerve into the brain, evading the protective blood-brain barrier. It’s not clear whether they penetrate the skin. Once they’re inside the body, it’s not clear how long they remain or what they do.
What’s more, current science has no way of testing for nano-waste in the air or water, and no way of cleaning up such pollution.
The tiny cylinders known as carbon nanotubes, or CNTs, are among the most widely used nanomaterials. These tubes, which come in different sizes and shapes, lend extraordinary strength and lightness to bicycle frames and tennis rackets; researchers are also investigating uses in medicine, electronics and other fields. The recent UK study found that long, straight CNTs, when injected into lab mice, cause scarring even faster than asbestos. One of the investigators predicts the scarring will lead to cancer; other experts are less sure. The study doesn’t prove whether it’s possible to inhale enough CNTs to cause the same results as the injections. But which workers want to serve as the test cases?
Another red flag is silver. Manufacturers are lacing ordinary household objects — from toothpaste to teddy bears — with nanoparticles of silver, long known for its disinfecting powers. A recent experiment on nanosilver-containing socks, touted as odor- eating, found that silver particles leaked out into the wash water.
Once there, the silver could interfere with water-treatment efforts, in part by killing good microbes as well as the nasty ones, and might threaten aquatic life (a fear supported by the zebrafish study).
When Samsung started marketing a washing machine that emits silver ions two years ago, a national association of wastewater treatment authorities asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate such equipment as pesticides. And indeed, EPA has required some manufacturers to register nanosilver-containing products — like computer keyboards — as pesticides or drop their germ-killing claims.
A farm-oriented pesticide law dating to 1947 is scarcely the right tool for addressing the 21st-century hazards of nanotechnology. But it’s the only tool that EPA enforcers have, since the agency’s policymakers have explicitly declined to regulate nanomaterials as such.
What Price Convenience?
Of the hundreds of nano-enhanced products now on the market, many are cosmetics, and many others, such as clothing and computer peripherals, are spiked with silver for unnecessary antibacterial effects.
Convenience items, like stain-resistant sofas and static-free fleece, are a third big category.
It would be easy to say, “Who needs this stuff? Just wash your hands (or feet, in the case of the smell-resistant socks), clean up your spills and keep the nano magic on the shelf until we know whether it’s safe.” Indeed, some environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on nano-containing products.
But nanotech also has a tremendous upside in medicine — whether for treating cancer or regrowing bones — and in green applications, from affordable solar cells to super-efficient water filtration. In any case, this technology is not going away. The U.S. House of Representatives voted on June 5 to reauthorize the $1.5 billion-a-year National Nanotechnology Initiative; the Senate is expected to act in the coming weeks.
The House bill mandates “a detailed implementation plan for environmental, health, and safety research.” That’s an important step forward, but it’s not enough. As we hurtle into this very small future, we need to pay much more attention to the potentially large risks.
Copyright 2008 Yale University
From: EnergyBiz Insider …………………………….[This story printer-friendly]
June 23, 2008
NUCLEAR COST ESTIMATES
[Rachel’s introduction: “If not nuclear, then what?” asks the nuclear industry’s Heymer. Coal, gas and other fossil-fueled power plants all use the same raw materials that are escalating in price. The same cost uncertainties facing nuclear plants are also problematic for new coal plants.]
By Pam Radtke Russell
The rising cost of materials and labor has the potential to put an end to the nuclear renaissance before it ever gets started. Company estimates that have been released show costs for an individual unit could be as high as $12 billion, and one consultant expects those estimates could rise if material prices continue to escalate.
Florida Power & Light told the Florida Public Service Commission late last year that the cost for building new units at Turkey Point in south Florida could be up to $8,000 per kilowatt — or $24 billion for two units. Earlier this year, Progress Energy pegged its cost estimates for two new units on Florida’s west coast at about $14 billion plus $3 billion for transmission and distribution. While Progress’ estimates are lower than FPL’s, they are more than twice as much as the $2,000 per kilowatt that industry contractors promised for new nuclear plants just two years ago.
“There’s a lot of sticker shock,” says Jim Harding, an energy consultant who helped the Keystone Center develop its June 2007 report, Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding. That report concluded that overnight estimates for a new reactor would be $2,950 per kilowatt, or between $3,600 and $4,000 per kilowatt with interest. That estimate, generated with the input of 27 participants, including power companies and nuclear contractors, is already outdated because of the rapidly rising cost of metals, forgings, other materials and labor needed to build a new nuclear unit, Harding says.
In October, Moody’s Investor Service estimated total overnight costs of a new nuclear plant, including interest, would be between $5,000 and $6,000 per kilowatt. But even those numbers are only guesses, Moody’s notes in its report, New Nuclear Generation in the United States. “We believe the ultimate costs associated with building new nuclear generation do not exist today and that the current cost estimates represent best estimates, which are subject to change.”
While the Florida PSC ultimately gave FPL approval to move forward with the Turkey Point project and is evaluating Progress Energy’s proposal, other companies, such as South Carolina’s SCANA, are still evaluating whether nuclear is the right option.
“It’s not an easy decision for a utility to make going forward,” says Harding. The decision to move forward with building a new nuclear plant is going to be a real “head scratcher” for companies to determine whether they can finance such a large project and whether it will be the most cost-effective resource, he adds.
Adrian Heymer, senior director for new plant deployment for the Nuclear Energy Institute, says that many companies are regularly evaluating conditions. He says that new nuclear plants are still the best option for new baseload generation, but expects that not all 17 companies with plans for new nuclear generation will move forward.
“Some people may run the evaluation and say no, others may say yes, this is for us,” Heymer says. Moody’s report says it expects only one or two new plants to be online by 2015 — the target date for many of the companies that have proposed new nuclear units.
The cost to get firm estimates may turn some companies away from pursuing nuclear power. A company must spend at least six months and several million dollars to get a number it is comfortable with, Harding maintains.
Despite the cost issues, new baseload generation is a necessity in many places in the country. If new nuclear plants aren’t built, other power plants will have to be built.
“If not nuclear, then what?” asks the nuclear industry’s Heymer. Coal, gas and other fossil-fueled power plants all use the same raw materials that are escalating in price. Moody’s report notes that the same cost uncertainties facing nuclear plants are also problematic for new coal plants.
“It’s not so much how much the plant costs, it’s what’s the price of electricity is when the plant comes online and how does that compare with natural gas, that’s really the important question,” says Heymer.
Yet consultant Harding says that he estimates that operating cost per kilowatt-hour for a new nuclear plant will be 30 cents per kilowatt- hour for 12 or 13 years until construction costs are paid down, at which point operating costs will drop to 18 cents. Harding adds those costs are a tough sell when concentrated solar power and wind power can be had for about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour. He said he believes that those renewable resources, as well as natural gas, and perhaps LNG, might prove competitive to a new nuclear plant.
In the end, the cost of a new nuclear plant won’t be known until it comes online. And Harding expects that if prices continue to rise, even FPL’s high estimate could be on the low end. “There’s no real escalation in their numbers moving forward,” he says, “just nominal inflation of 2.5 percent.”
Nuclear energy’s potential could therefore be undercut by the high price of construction. And while the same phenomenon exists with respect to other energy forms, the nuclear industry is already battling a generation-long handicap.
April 21, 2008
AN INTERVIEW WITH MATHIS WACKERNAGEL: ‘THERE IS ONLY ONE PLANET’
[Rachel’s introduction: “If everyone lived the way the U.S. does, we would be taking the resources of six earths, and we only have one.”]
Introduction: Mathis Wackernagel is executive director of the Global Footprint Network, which is “committed to fostering a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of Earth’s ecological capacity.”
Euractiv: The Ecological Footprint Theory is a way to measure how humans consume the earth’s resources. How is it possible to measure it accurately?
MW: The theory is based around the premise that there is only one planet. Then we ask ourselves how many potatoes we eat, how much space do we need to grow them, how much cotton do we produce, how much space do we need to grow it and etc? We basically add it all up and that is our footprint.
So it is pretty straightforward, although the devil is of course in the detail. For example, sugar can be produced from sugar cane and from beet, so there is some complication there. Or vice-versa, soy has a number of different products so how can you allocate each of them?
But overall, it is a very straightforward adding up of all the ecological services that we depend on that are in mutual competition.
For example, one competition is: do we want to use this space to grow potatoes or for growing timber or for sequestering carbon dioxide? Perhaps some of them can overlap, but most of the time it’s done in mutual competition. We would have enough space on the planet to absorb all the carbon dioxide that we emit extra from fossil fuels, but then wouldn’t have enough capacity to have cities, potatoes and sugar and cotton etc. So it is ultimately a budgeting question. A farmer knows how big their farm is and how many cows fit in their farm. It is not that different to apply that to the world as whole, it’s just a little more complicated.
Now why do we need to measure the footprint? There are inaccuracies, and some of these are due to lack of data. We use the best UN data, and some of this can be improved. That is why we work with nations to find out how the accounts can be strengthened. Unfortunately there is no better result available at this point.
Euractiv: Do you have some common measurement systems for each country?
MW: We have one manual, one template, so we calculate all the nations equally. As we work with nations, improvements come built in for all nations, so all nations will have a more accurate account hopefully.
The underlying theory, in terms of change, is that big companies start to become possible with accounting, then they start to organise the finances of a large corporation. In the same way bankruptcy can be easily avoided if you understand how much you make and how much you spend, we need to apply the same rationale to ecological assets. If we want to avoid ecological bankruptcy, it doesn’t happen on its own and it isn’t totally avoided by having accounts, but it is a necessary condition as a way to be able to manage how much we have to how much we use.
We think nations should be the indicators of success. We want ten nations to adopt the ecological footprint within a couple of years. We want them to take responsibility themselves to say: how much capacity do we have compared to how much we use?
Euractiv: Are nations actively asking you to come up with such criteria? Are they taking your work seriously?
MW: I was invited to a seminar with government administrators in Israel next week and we will be seeing President Peres. So there is high level interest. Jacques Chirac talked about the footprint in Johannesburg, so high level interest is there.
Is it translating into action? Not yet. I think there is still a struggle concerning which way we should be going. We work with United Arab Emirates (one of the six countries we work with) and they have one trillion dollars worth of real estate in the making. For example the artificial islands they are making. One of the things they are starting to realise is, the houses they are starting to build, huge towers with glass facades, are really like solar collectors which soak up a lot of heat, only to use fossil fuels to cool them down. It is kind of absurd. They are realising that the infrastructure developments are losing value, and they built them in a way in order to replace the value they lost from the oil in order to have something else. But now the new value is as dependent on oil as oil itself. So that is why they have started to recognise that we have to have an ecologically sound development.
Euractiv: Do you think that we can maintain the same level of consumption in rich countries that the Indias and Chinas of the world where the average person can attain the same level of material well- being and comfort as the average American can without putting the planet into a catastrophic situation?
MW: If everyone lives the way the US does, we would be taking the resources of six earths, and we only have one. That is physically not possible. But there are many other ways of retaining a quality of life that are not as resource intensive. But the biggest knowledge gap we have is how to have good long lives, health and security, good food, safe shelter, the ability to move around. Can we deliver these kinds of functions on far fewer resources?
Euractiv: The common criticism of the whole theory of an ecological footprint is that it doesn’t take account of evolving technology.
MW: That is one of the most common misconceptions because we are not making any assumptions about technology. We compare every year how much stuff we are able to squeeze out of the planet, and then how much do we use compared to what the earth can generate? So through technological change overall we have seen roughly a 15% increase of what we call by-capacity.
By-capacity is what the earth can provide that is useful to people. But overall we receive more stuff as humanity, we also have grown as a population very rapidly. So on a per capita basis the technological advances have not been able to cope with the increase of demand, as we need to look at both demand and supply if you want to succeed.
Euractiv: Would you try to integrate technological advances in your calculations?
MW: Every year we look at what the latest technology is so we describe what it is.
Euractiv: So you are doing a benchmark exercise of what the current dominant technology is in energy or agriculture etc?
MW: In some ways that all comes out of the statistics, you don’t have to make any assumptions. You just see overall how much CO2 is being emitted. As you get more efficient, you get more services out of that amount.
Euractiv: We were mentioning the oil supplies and the scenarios the oil companies are making on a regular basis. Are you proposing such types of scenarios?
MW: We are not proposing scenarios. We are not making scenarios. We are translating all the people scenarios into footprint language. For example, if we followed the United Nations moderate scenario in terms of population growth, CO2 emissions, IPCC, FAO, rather aggressive increases in agricultural productivity, then what we get as a curve is something that looks like this, going to about twice the plants capacity by about 2050. That’s the moderate scenario. All the other ones are steeper. We believe that physically, we may not be able to realise that. It doesn’t just depend on people’s wishes but also on reality.
Euractiv: What are the key things that can be done to curb the curve?
MW: There are five factors that determine the difference between by- capacity and footprint. How much area is productive? How productive is it per hectare? How many people? How much is consumed per person? How efficient would that be? All of them have a role to play.
We are actually very pro-technology. We need any technology we can get to get enough overshoot. So what is the biggest low-hanging fruit? I would say one of the big drivers is demographics, investing more into women which is one of the biggest returns of investments in terms of health outcomes, longevity, educational outcomes to children plus being able to turn this curve round in the long run. We don’t see the effects in the first year. But in the long run, demographics is a huge driver that is totally un-parenthesised and can generate enormous well-being.
Another thing is infrastructure, are we getting our cities right? Austria has 2000 zero energy houses, they are the world champions in this sector. But they have 3,000,000 housing units, so 0.07% of their housing units use zero energy. So if you are really serious about turning things around, you need to build zero energy houses at a much faster pace. We want perhaps 80% of our housing store at zero energy by 2030. So then you can calculate how many we have to do per year.
Euractiv: Some people are saying that ultimately it is population control and demographics that needs to be addressed. Is this a view to which you subscribe?
MW: I’m not making a mathematical question. At this point we don’t have to have a Draconian intervention. Just by making the choices available to many people we may be able to turn the demographic situation around. There are many benefits that come with it too. If women have more choices, they will probably actually want that. Even for industrialised countries there are many good indications that economically speaking an economy is more competitive with a shrinking population. There are many good reasons for that, and many haven’t understood that. Some believe it is a threat to have a shrinking population, and that is a very unfortunate misconception.
Euractiv: But a shrinking population always goes together with wealth, as we can see in Europe with their shrinking populations. The life we are leading today requires people to have less and less children because of the cost of living. This is not the case with the emerging economies, and until they reach that level the overshoot will have happened.
MW: You wouldn’t consider Thailand to be a particularly wealthy nation, compared to Europe. Their population growth rate has dropped from 3.5 % to 0.5%. But overall, women have less than two children. Women’s access to family planning is a much bigger determining factor. You have wealthy situations like the UAE with 3% growth rates.
Euractiv: Moving to the carbon footprint issue, which is a hot issue at the moment. There are compensation schemes (or upsetting schemes) which are being put into place. For example, going onto a plane and then planting a tree somewhere to compensate for that. Isn’t that a way of buying yourself a good conscience whilst continuing to pollute?
MW: Buying a conscience is all about bottom-line rationality. We have a collective challenge; it’s not just about virtue doing better than you.
Euractiv: Do you think carbon off-setting schemes are working? Do you think something else needs to be done?
MW: We are in such a squeeze overall that we need any technology possible to find out whether it can play a role or not. We need all kinds of things. But carbon trading may play an important role, I don’t know yet. We need to try these markets out and find out what happens.
Euractiv: So you are saying carbon dioxide trading schemes could work but the price is not right yet? Planting a few trees for your trans-Atlantic flight is simply not enough.
It’s not enough, no. We need to try out any innovative scheme, and then measure to see whether it has any positive impact or not, because we need a lot of innovation in that area.
Euractiv: You are trying to persuade the EU to move in a certain direction. What are you trying to get in terms of the next policy move from the European Commission?
MW: Europe uses around 2� times more resources than are available in the European boundaries. There is an enormous risk that Europe is exposed to overshoot. Some people have started to recognise it. Even Barroso wrote a foreword for our European Plan Report, where he said development doesn’t work if you don’t respect the ecological limits.
This shows the inconsistency emerging and the recognition that we really need to get a handle on it. But overall people are still quite disoriented. We hope to be able to offer a way to navigate tough policy decisions. How can we manage wealth in a more comprehensive way? Wealth enables people to live well, and if we destroy it, it will be very difficult to maintain our well-being, in Europe and elsewhere.
Our mission is to show that, having good accounts, looking at the ecological footprint, is a way to help Europe maintain its competitiveness and its position. But primarily, if Europe doesn’t get its act together fast enough, there will be serious hardship.
Euractiv: Do you think Europe is moving in the right direction, with its efforts on renewables and cutting carbon emissions etc?
MW: One could say it’s far too little, too late. But in some ways we need anything possible, so it is never too late. The costs get bigger. So Europe would be more cost effective if it invested in such initiatives.
In order to understand why it is important we need a footprint. Also in order to understand how rapidly we need to make this change. Because I still believe we perceive it as a virtuous exercise to be nicer than the Americans. But who cares what the Americans are doing? Europe needs to save itself. So if Europe is not able to transform its economy fast enough, it needs to get its infrastructure into place.
Euractiv: So carbon accounting is too limited in a sense?
MW: Carbon accounting is also an important piece that is totally consistent with foot-printing. For industrialised countries slightly over half is carbon foot-printing. But as you are moving out of carbon aggressively it puts the pressure onto other domains, like biofuels. So ultimately we need to look at the whole budget which is planet earth. Carbon is a good start, but if we plan to stay with carbon then it becomes dangerous.
Rachel’s Democracy & Health News highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren’t the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, “Who gets to decide?” And, “How DO the few control the many, and what might be done about it?”
Rachel’s Democracy and Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.
Peter Montague – email@example.com
Tim Montague – firstname.lastname@example.org
To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel’s Democracy & Health News send a blank Email to: email@example.com
In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that you want to subscribe.
Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903