[Rachel’s introduction: In the U.S., atomic bombs are no longer being tested. However, 104 nuclear power reactors still operate here, producing the same radioactive elements found in bomb test fallout, and people living downwind are routinely exposed to low levels of radioactivity.]

By Joseph J. Mangano

Nuclear power plants employ a controlled atomic fission reaction, splitting uranium atoms to create heat to boil water to make steam to turn a turbine to generate electricity. Because nuclear power is so complex, it is accident-prone and unforgiving — small errors can have large consequences. Because of these important disadvantages, for the past three decades it has looked as if nuclear power were a dying industry.

But now the nuclear industry has seized on global warming to promote atomic power plants once again as necessary and safe. From politicians to corporate executives and conservative pundits, we hear that reactors are “clean” or “emission free” — with no evidence offered to support the claims. Unfortunately, this baseless promotion emanates from a long-standing culture of deception that has plagued the industry since its beginnings. Earlier this year the British magazine, the Economist, characterized the U.S. nuclear industry as “a byword for mendacity, secrecy and profligacy with taxpayers’ money.

Half a century ago, as America produced and exploded hundreds of atomic bombs (1054 nuclear tests in all, 331 in the atmosphere), public officials assured everyone that low-dose radiation exposures were harmless. But after the Cold War ended, barriers to the truth gave way. Government-funded research found that nuclear weapons workers and those exposed to fallout from atomic bomb tests in Nevada suffered from cancer in large numbers. The BEIR VII study. published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2005, ended the debate on this question: it is now firmly established that any amount of radioactive exposure carries some risk of harm. The only safe dose is zero.

In the U.S., atomic bombs are no longer being tested. However, 104 nuclear power reactors still operate here, producing the same radioactive elements found in bomb test fallout, and people living downwind are routinely exposed to low levels of radioactivity. Government regulators have established “permissible limits” for radioactive reactor emissions, declaring the resulting exposures “safe” — contrary to the findings of the National Academy’s BEIR VII study.

The U.S. nuclear power industry stopped growing in the mid-1970s. Until this year, no new reactors have been ordered in the U.S. since 1978, and several dozen reactors have been closed permanently.[1] But fears of global warming and an ardently pro-nuclear Administration in Washington have laid the groundwork for an industry revival.

The industry’s revival plan has four parts:

1) Enlarging the capacity of existing reactors;

2) Keeping old reactors running beyond their design lifetime;

3) Operating old reactors more hours per year; and

4) Building new reactors.

To help promote the so-called nuclear renaissance, health risks from low-level radiation are once again being ignored or denied — even though evidence of harm exists.

1. Expanding Existing Reactors — Vermont Yankee

Since March 1993, utilities have submitted 99 requests to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for licenses to expand reactor capacity, and the NRC has approved all 99. The added capacity of 4400 megawatts is the equivalent of four large reactors. The NRC is considering 12 more applications, totaling another 1100 megawatts.

Most expansions have been small, but 10 of the 99 have raised capacity by 15 to 20%. Almost all sailed through with little public opposition. One exception was the Vermont Yankee reactor on the Connecticut River where Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire converge. It is the 11th oldest of the U.S.’s 104 reactors, and at 510 megawatts electrical, the 5th smallest.

Entergy Nuclear of Jackson, Miss. acquired Vermont Yankee in 2002 as part of its campaign to buy aging reactors to maximize their output and profit potential. Entergy wanted more than a 510 megawatt reactor, so it requested a 20% upgrade for Vermont Yankee — the oldest U.S. reactor considered for an upgrade. The estimated cost was $60 million.[2]

Since 1972, when Vermont Yankee first generated power, Vermont has become an increasingly liberal state, especially on environmental issues. Hundreds of local residents opposed the expansion by packing auditoriums at several public meetings, making their fury known. Ira Helfand, a local emergency room physician, spoke up at one of them:

“My emergency room cannot deal with the casualties that would be produced by an accident at this plant… Now Entergy wants to make this plant even more dangerous by upgrading its production beyond what it was supposed to tolerate?.. . This plant should not be uprated. It shouldn’t be allowed to operate. It should be shut down.”[3]

Residents of Windham County, Vt., where the reactor is located, are well educated. The county poverty rate is low, and the mostly rural county of 44,000 has few polluting industries. Along with world class medical care in nearby Boston, these factors suggest that no unusually high rates of disease should exist. However, from 1979-2004 the county death rate was 7.2% below the U.S. — except for cancer, which was 1.6% higher. These figures are age-adjusted, so the excess cancers are not attributable to an aging population. And the anomaly in Windham appears to be growing; most recently (1999-2004), the cancer death rate in Windham county has risen to 5.7% above the national average.[4]

The NRC refused to consider that radioactive emissions from Vermont Yankee might be contributing to the rise in cancer deaths in Windham county. In March 2006, the NRC approved the expansion, and an appeal by the New England Coalition Against Nuclear Power was turned down by the state Supreme Court in September 2007. Entergy is now operating an expanded Vermont Yankee reactor.

2. Keeping Old Reactors Running — Oyster Creek, New Jersey

With Wall Street refusing to finance new reactors after the accident at Three Mile Island, utilities decided to increase profits by operating old reactors longer than originally planned. The NRC eased regulations and in this decade has approved 47 of 47 applications to allow reactors to operate past the initial 40-year design period up to a total of 60 years.[1] Dozens more applications are expected.

One exception to the federal rubber-stamping of license extensions is the Oyster Creek reactor in Lacey, New Jersey, about 60 miles from both Philadelphia and New York City. Oyster Creek is the oldest of the 104 U.S. reactors and one of the smallest (636 megawatts electrical). In the 1990s, the New Jersey-based GPU Corporation planned to close the reactor. This changed when AmerGen (a subsidiary of Exelon, the largest U.S. reactor operator) bought Oyster Creek and requested a license extension in 2005.[1]

The fight is going on now. Public hearings have been well attended by supporters and opponents of license extension. Local media has taken an interest; the Asbury Park Press, the most widely read newspaper in central New Jersey, has published numerous editorials opposing re- licensing. Governors James McGreevey and Jon Corzine have both publicly opposed re-licensing, as have many state and local elected officials. Governments in 19 local towns have passed resolutions of opposition. Legal interventions allowed by the NRC were filed by a coalition of citizen groups and by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Information on radioactive contamination and local health became part of the Oyster Creek dialogue. A well publicized study (partly funded by the state legislature) of more than 300 baby teeth of New Jersey children, many living near Oyster Creek, found that average levels of radioactive Strontium-90 (Sr-90) had doubled from the late 1980s to the late 1990s.[5] More importantly, increases in Sr-90 near Oyster Creek were followed by similar increases in childhood cancer rates several years later.[6]

Ocean County, where the reactor is situated, has a population of nearly 600,000, up from 108,000 in 1960. Its residents are relatively well off, and have access to good medical care locally and in nearby major cities. But the low death rate for all causes other than cancer from 1979-2004 (8.4% below the U.S.) has been offset by an unexpectedly high cancer death rate (8.8% above the U.S. average).[4] With 39,000 county residents dying in the past quarter century, the number of “excess cancer deaths” exceeds 6,000.

The fate of Oyster Creek remains uncertain. In July, Exelon funded a group led by heavy-duty New Jersey lobbyists to ensure the application is pushed through. Local activist Janet Tauro reacted to the new group’s formation by declaring,

“Exelon is putting its money into creating a bogus environmental group designed to lure the public’s attention away from safety issues and scare us into believing that Oyster Creek’s closure would hurt the region economically.”[7]

3. Operating Old Reactors More Often — Indian Point, New York

As recently as the late 1980s, U.S. reactors only ran at 63% of capacity; they were shut down 37% of the time for maintenance and repair. But larger corporations buying old reactors in the 1990s made it their mission to boost productivity, and now U.S. reactors run 90% of the time.[8] This is good news for the balance sheet, but running old reactors more hours per year raises safety and health concerns.

The two reactors at Indian Point, 35 miles north of New York City, represent a good example of this change. Until the mid-1990s, they only operated 57% of the time. But after Entergy Nuclear bought Indian Point, it raised the current productivity rate to 95%.[1]

Indian Point is in Westchester County, a wealthy area with a population of nearly one million. In the period 1979-2004, the cancer death rate in the county was just slightly below the national average (-1.8%), but well below the U.S. average for all other causes (-12.9%). If the cancer death rate in Westchester had been as far below the national average as deaths from all other causes (-12.9%), there would have been about 6,000 fewer cancer deaths in Westchester during the period.

Unlike reactor upgrades, license extensions, and new reactor orders, there are no mandated public hearings when a nuclear utility simply raises productivity. Thus, this issue has largely been ignored, at Indian Point and elsewhere.

4. Ordering New Reactors — Calvert Cliffs, Maryland.

In 2005 the Bush Administration convinced Congress to enact billions in loan guarantees for new reactor construction because of continued disinterest from Wall Street; billions more in federal subsidies are currently under discussion now on Capitol Hill. With the loan guarantees put in place in 2005, utilities got serious about ordering new reactors. Over 30 have been discussed, and the dry spell of no orders since 1978 ended on July 31, 2007 when Unistar Nuclear submitted an application to the NRC for a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs, Md.

Unistar was formed when Constellation Energy of Baltimore failed to secure funds from Wall Street financiers for its new Calvert Cliffs reactor. The 2005 federal guarantees would only back 90% of costs, and private bankers have flatly refused to put up the other 10%. Constellation teamed up with the French company Areva to form Unistar. Areva put up $350 million in cash, promising to up the ante to $625 million. With financing secured, the new reactor was ordered.[9]

Unistar proposes to build a $4 billion, 1600 megawatt reactor at Calvert Cliffs. There is no precedent for a reactor this size; the average for the current U.S. reactors is about 1000 megawatts, with the largest being 1250. At the very earliest, assuming a fast, smooth regulatory review, rapid construction, and no legal holdups, the reactor would begin operating in 2014.

The Calvert Cliffs plant is on the west bank of the Chesapeake Bay, 45 miles southeast of Washington. Since the mid-1970s, two reactors have operated at the site. Until recently, the area was sparsely populated; but the Calvert County population has swelled from 16,000 to 90,000 since 1960. The county enjoys a high living standard, with a low poverty rate and good access to medical care in Washington.

Calvert County is a healthy place — with the exception of cancer. From 1979-2004, the death rate was 9.2% above the U.S. for cancer, but 3.0% below the nation for other causes. Most recently (1999-2004), the cancer rate rose to 13.8% above the national average.

All local leaders support the new nuclear plant at Calvert Cliffs. Wilson Parran, the chair of the Calvert Board of Commissioners, sounded the clarion call that the promise of economic gain trumps any possible health hazards:

“From a national perspective, nuclear energy is our largest source of clean energy and a critical piece of our nation’s energy strategy. It is imperative to reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and Calvert County stands ready to share in our nation’s responsibility to provide resources that produce energy.”[9]

Putting Health First is Essential in Energy Policy

Unusually high cancer rates in counties like Windham, Ocean, Calvert, and Westchester should be taken seriously; they are not what you would expect among relatively well-off populations.[10] Even if a large scale reactor accident never occurs in this country, nuclear plants will still continuously emit about 100 different radioactive chemicals. The number of casualties is difficult to estimate, but it may well be in the thousands. And any expansion of nuclear power would only increase radioactive emissions.

Furthermore, threats to human health are not the only problem associated with the nuclear power industry. As we know from the recent history of India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa, North Korea, and Syria, a nation that aims to build an atomic bomb begins by building a nuclear power plant. This is where they develop the expertise, the techniques, and the experience needed to build a bomb. The only sure way to minimize the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be to shut down the nuclear power industry world-wide. So long as the civilian nuclear power industry exists, there will be a well-worn path from nuclear power to nuclear weapons, accompanied by a growing threat of terrorist attack beyond anything we have yet imagined.

Fortunately, we do not need nuclear power at all. There are many alternatives readily available. Many of these were discussed recently in Arjun Makhijani’s thorough study, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy.” Nuclear power is simply too dirty, too dangerous, and too unnecessary to warrant further support.


Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research and educational organization based in New York.


[1] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,

[2] Matthew L. Wald. Safety of Adding to Nuclear Plants’ Capacity is Questioned. New York Times, January 26, 2004.

[3] Eesha Williams, Hundreds Attend Hearing on Vermont Yankee. Transcript of New Hampshire Public Radio broadcast, April 1, 2004.

[4] National Center for Health Statistics, Mortality — underlying cause of death. Includes ICD-9 cancer codes 140.0-239.9 (1979-1998) and ICD-10 cancer codes C00-D48.9 (1999-2004).

[5] Mangano J.J. and others. An unexpected rise in Strontium-90 in US deciduous teeth in the 1990s. The Science of the Total Environment Vol. 317 (2003), pgs. 37-51.

[6] Mangano J.J. A short latency between radiation exposure from nuclear plants and cancer in young children. International Journal of Health Services Vol. 36, No. 1 (2006), pgs. 113-135.

[7] Janet Tauro, But Safety Issues at Oyster Creek Can’t Be Ignored. Asbury Park Press, September 9, 2007.

[8] Division of Planning, Budget, and Analysis. Information Digest. NUREG-1350. Washington DC: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, annual volumes.

[9] Dan Morse. Agency Describes Process to License Calvert Cliffs Plant. Washington Post, August 15, 2007.

[10] U.S. Bureau of the census, 2000 census, state and county quick facts. The national average of U.S. residents living below the poverty levels was 12.7%, which is higher than the average for Windham County, Vt. (9.0%), Ocean County, N.J. (7.6%), Westchester County, N.Y. (8.9%), and Calvert County, Md. (5.4%). The national average percent of residents over age 25 who graduated from high school was 80.4%, but was higher for Windham County, Vt. (87.3%), Ocean County, N.J. (83.0%), Westchester County, N.Y. (83.6%), and Calvert County, Md. (86.9%).


From: Multinational Monitor
December 5, 2007


[Rachel’s introduction: “The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard” is a smart, funny new short film that explains the “materials economy” in 20 minutes. And it’s available on the web now. You won’t want to miss it.]

By Robert Weissman

Right now, representatives of the governments of the world are meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to negotiate international agreements to forestall climate change.

Necessarily, these negotiations will revolve around technical, arcane matters. What targets should be set for reduced greenhouse gas emissions? Which countries should adhere to which targets? Should there be emissions rights trading, and if so, how should trading systems work? What financing mechanisms will be established to help developing countries transition to cleaner production methods and leapfrog over polluting technologies? Will there be special mechanisms established to protect forests? How should global trading rules be altered? And on and on.

The world desperately needs these negotiations to succeed, for science-based emission targets to be set, and for principles of social justice to shape the allocation of rights, duties and financial obligations needed to avert climate catastrophe. And whatever progress can be achieved in Bali, the better.

But we also need something else, which will almost surely precede global agreements and serious commitments to undertake the massive economic and social reorganization that the threat of global warming — and other pending ecological catastrophes — commands.

That something else is a broad public understanding of how the system all fits together. Not just how important it is to change from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs or the value of recycling — though these things are vital — but how the present system of making, transporting, selling, buying, using and disposing of things is trashing the planet. If we’re going to save ourselves from global warming, we’re going to have to do things differently.

That’s where The Story of Stuff comes in.

“The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard” is an engaging new short film that explains the “materials economy” in 20 fun-filled minutes.

Yes, fun-filled.

Produced by Free Range Studios, which developed “The Meatrix” — an animated short about factory farming that ranks among the cleverest uses of Internet technologies to deliver a politically progressive message — The Story of Stuff features the wonderful Annie Leonard, amusing graphics, lots of humor, and a complicated analysis presented in an easy-to-understand conversational tone.

You can watch the whole thing at You’ll have to watch the film to enjoy the humor — there’s no easy way to convey the playful cartooning with serious purpose. But I guarantee chuckles even for the most austere.

The core themes of the Story of Stuff are:

1. The world is running up against resource limits.

“We’re running out of resources. We are using too much stuff. Now I know this can be hard to hear, but it’s the truth and we’ve got to deal with it. In the past three decades alone, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed. Gone. We are cutting and mining and hauling and trashing the place so fast that we’re undermining the planet’s very ability for people to live here.”

2. Corporate globalization is premised on externalizing costs — making someone other than the companies that make things pay for the environmental and human costs of production.

“I was thinking about this the other day. I was walking to work and I wanted to listen to the news so I popped into this Radio Shack to buy a radio. I found this cute little green radio for 4 dollars and 99 cents. I was standing there in line to buy this radio and I was wondering how $4.99 could possibly capture the costs of making this radio and getting it to my hands. The metal was probably mined in South Africa, the petroleum was probably drilled in Iraq, the plastics were probably produced in China, and maybe the whole thing was assembled by some 15 year old in a maquiladora in Mexico. $4.99 wouldn’t even pay the rent for the shelf space it occupied until I came along, let alone part of the staff guy’s salary that helped me pick it out, or the multiple ocean cruises and truck rides pieces of this radio went on. That’s how I realized, I didn’t pay for the radio.”

Who did? The people who lost their natural resource base, factory workers, those who are made sick from factory pollution, and retail workers without health insurance.

3. The corporate economy rests on the artificial creation of need — “the golden arrow of consumption.”

“Have you ever wondered why women’s shoe heels go from fat one year to skinny the next to fat to skinny? It is not because there is some debate about which heel structure is the most healthy for women’s feet. It’s because wearing fat heels in a skinny heel year shows everyone that you haven’t contributed to that arrow recently so you’re not as valuable as that skinny heeled person next to you or, more likely, in some ad. It’s to keep buying new shoes.”

4. Things can be different. And they must be made to be different.

“What we really need to chuck is this old-school throw-away mindset. There’s a new school of thinking on this stuff and it’s based on sustainability and equity: Green Chemistry, Zero Waste, Closed Loop Production, Renewable Energy, Local Living Economies. Some people say it’s unrealistic, idealistic, that it can’t happen. But I say the ones who are unrealistic are those that want to continue on the old path. That’s dreaming. Remember that old way didn’t just happen by itself. It’s not like gravity that we just gotta live with. People created it. And we’re people too. So let’s create something new.”

If you worry these claims are too broad, go to the website, It has supporting evidence and links to a vast array of additional resources and materials.

Is The Story of Stuff just preaching to the converted? No. (Though note, as a friend says, that there’s a reason and rationale for the clergy to preach to the congregation every week — it reinforces, deepens and sustains commitment and understanding.)

The Story of Stuff is something you can show to anyone (or ask anyone to view online). It’s persuasive but not a sermon. It’s sophisticated but not esoteric. Its tone is light but its content is serious. It’s narrated by the irrepressible Annie Leonard with passion but no pretense.

Annie, who is a former colleague and good friend, casually mentions at the start of The Story of Stuff that she spent 10 years traveling the world to explore how stuff is made and discarded. This doesn’t begin to explain her first-hand experience. There aren’t many people who race from international airports to visit trash dumps. Annie does. In travels to three dozen countries, she has visited garbage dumps, infiltrated toxic factories, worked with ragpickers and received death threats for her investigative work. Her understanding of the externalized violence of the corporate consumer economy comes from direct observation and experience.

The Story of Stuff is a short film about the big picture. Give it a look, and encourage others to check it out.

If negotiations like those in Bali are ultimately going to succeed, we need lots more people to internalize the message of The Story of Stuff, and mobilize, as Annie says, to create something new.

Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action.

Copyright Robert Weissman


From: Science Magazine
November 23, 2007


[Rachel’s introduction: “After all these years of environmental regulation, the laws and rules regarding the introduction of toxic chemicals into consumer products and the environment are still ineffectual.” — Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief, Science Magazine]

By Donald Kennedy

After all these years of environmental regulation, the laws and rules regarding the introduction of toxic chemicals into consumer products and the environment are still ineffectual. After an earlier lifetime in which I worried about lead, polybrominated biphenyls in plastics, and the like, I got reacquainted with toxic dilemmas. It happened because of a reunion with an old friend who has a long familiarity with the use of toxic substances as fire retardants in consumer products. Here’s the story.

In the early 1970s when I first got to know Arlene Blum, she was working with Bruce Ames at the University of California, Berkeley.

They were applying the Ames test for mutagenicity to various lipid- soluble [fat-soluble] chlorinated and brominated compounds that are double trouble because they concentrate in food chains and wind up in people, and aren’t biodegradable. They discovered widespread use of a compound called tris(2,3-ibromopropyl) phosphate as a fire retardant in children’s sleepwear. A mutagen and putative human carcinogen, it leeched into children’s bodies. After a 1977 paper by Blum and Ames in Science, that use was banned. Well, the alert chemical industry quickly substituted a dichlorinated tris, which Ames and Blum also found to be mutagenic and was subsequently removed from sleepwear.

The history of residential fire risk is an interesting one, because it involves the tobacco industry. Remember them? They designed cigarettes that when dropped or put down, would smolder long enough to start a fire. For years, cigarette-lit fires were the greatest cause of fire- related deaths in the United States.

After three decades of opposition from tobacco lobbyists, 22 states and Canada finally passed laws requiring that cigarettes be made self- extinguishing. With fewer people smoking and better enforcement of building codes, fire-related deaths are decreasing.

I had missed this important development, having lost track of the topic. Arlene, a high-profile international mountaineer, was off leading expeditions in the Himalayas and elsewhere and writing a memoir about it. Meanwhile, I had left the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and was back at Stanford. I hadn’t seen Arlene for 25 years or so, but a few months ago, she turned up with an extraordinary sequel to the tris story, which she tells of in a recent Letter in Science. Fire retardants are now widely used in furniture foam, and the second most-used compound is none other than chlorinated tris! In less than three decades, this highly toxic mutagen has moved from your child’s nightgown to your sofa.

Arlene is scientific adviser for a bill in the California legislature called AB 706, which would ban the use of the most toxic fire retardants from furniture and bedding unless the manufacturers can show safety. It has a good chance of passage next year; even the firefighters support it. Not surprisingly, chemical manufacturers have launched a fear campaign in opposition, claiming that their products have dramatically reduced fire deaths in California, although the rate of decrease is about the same as that in states that do not regulate furniture flammability.

But the problem is a national one. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Reform Act (S 2045) toyed with a provision that would rush us into a national furniture flammability standard. That’s premature, because it leaves no time to develop a safe way to reduce furniture flammability and puts potentially persistent toxic chemicals into U.S. homes. Congress should forget that approach. The real problem is that the U.S. regulatory system for toxic industrial chemicals is not effective and is a threat to public health.

In Europe, the chemical industry is required to establish safety before a product can continue to be marketed. The U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TOSCA) originally grandfathered existing chemicals, but none have been reexamined since the 1980s. Congress should abandon its attempt to attach a flammability standard to the CPSC, and instead turn to the real task of reforming TOSCA by introducing a real proof-of-safety provision. That would stop the chemical industry from continuing to make consumer protection look like a game of whack-a-mole.

Donald Kennedy is the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine.

Copyright 2007 American Association for the Advancement of Science


From: E&ENews PM
December 5, 2007


[Rachel’s introduction: Tests by both the Environmental Working Group and the Food and Drug Administration show “1 of every 16 infants fed [liquid] formula would be exposed to the [bisphenol A] at doses exceeding those that caused harm in laboratory studies,” the report says. The chemical is in every brand of liquid formula in varying amounts, it says.]

Russell J. Dinnage, E&ENews PM reporter

Major U.S. manufacturers of infant formula line their packages with material that contains unsafe levels of a chemical linked to reproductive problems, an advocacy group said in a report released today.

The Environmental Working Group said Nestle, Ross-Abbot, MeadJohnson and PBM admitted using the chemical, bisphenol A, as an epoxy resin to line cans of popular brands Good Start (Nestle), Similac (Ross-Abbot) and Enfamil (MeadJohnson).

And Ross-Abbot, MeadJohnson, PBM and Hain-Celestial use bisphenol A- based linings on metal portions of their powdered formula cans, the group said. Nestle did not provide the Washington-based group with information on whether the chemical is used to line packages of its powdered formula brands.

The companies provided information about their use of bisphenol A in a recent survey conducted by the environmental group. The survey asked the companies about whether they use the chemical in packaging for both liquid and powdered formula products. Among the questions: “Do you use bisphenol A in cans of liquid and powdered formula?” And “Do you test for bisphenol A in your products?”

The report advises parents who use formula to choose the powdered version because bisphenol A is more easily absorbed from the container into liquid formula. Tests by both the EWG and Food and Drug Administration show “1 of every 16 infants fed [liquid] formula would be exposed to the [bisphenol A] at doses exceeding those that caused harm in laboratory studies,” the report says. The chemical is in every brand of liquid formula in varying amounts, it says.

The report also advises parents to buy formula in plastic containers because non-metal packaging contains lower levels of leachable bisphenol A. Also, parents should use formulas that require dilution because adding water reduces the amount of the chemical entering a baby’s body.

Bisphenol A is used in water and food containers, shatter-resistant baby bottles and dental fillings. There is particular concern about the chemical’s effect on very young children. San Francisco passed a ban on bisphenol A in toys last year over concerns about its potential to harm reproductive systems.

Scientists generally agree that bisphenol A, which is used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastics, can cause reproductive problems by blocking testosterone and mimicking estrogen.

But the Food and Drug Administration maintains that small doses of the chemical via food are not harmful to human health.

The EWG findings follow past group studies that found that bisphenol A is present in plastic baby bottles and that parents can best protect their infant’s health by using glass bottles.

“Many parents have switched to [bisphenol A]-free bottles for their infants. They certainly should have access to [bisphenol A]-free formula as well,” EWG analyst Sonya Lunder said. “U.S. manufacturers of infant formula and baby bottles can and should do the right thing and remove this harmful chemical from their products.”

Copyright 1996-2007 E&E Publishing


From: Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisc.)
December 2, 2007


WARNING: The chemical bisphenol A has been known to pose severe health risks to laboratory animals. AND THE CHEMICAL IS IN YOU. It’s in baby bottles, soda cans and 93% of us. It causes breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes and hyperactivity in lab animals, according to 80% of studies analyzed by the Journal Sentinel. But U.S. regulators side with the chemical-makers and say it’s safe.

[Rachel’s introduction: The chemical bisphenol A has been known to pose severe health risks to laboratory animals. And the chemical is in many products you use, and is in you.]

By Susanne Rust, Meg Kissinger And Cary Spivak

For more than a decade, the federal government and chemical-makers have assured the public that a hormone-mimicking compound found in baby bottles, aluminum cans and hundreds of other household products is safe.

But a Journal Sentinel investigation found that these promises are based on outdated, incomplete government studies and research heavily funded by the chemical industry.

In the first analysis of its kind by a newspaper, the Journal Sentinel reviewed 258 scientific studies of the chemical bisphenol A, a compound detected in the urine of 93% of Americans recently tested. An overwhelming majority of these studies show that the chemical is harmful — causing breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm counts, miscarriage and a host of other reproductive failures in laboratory animals.

Studies paid for by the chemical industry are much less likely to find damaging effects or disease.

U.S. regulators so far have sided with industry by minimizing concern about the compound’s safety.


Sidebar: Chemical Fallout: Bisphenol A

Key Findings

A Journal Sentinel investigation found:

The federal government’s assurances that bisphenol A is a safe chemical are based on outdated and incomplete government studies and science mostly funded by the chemical industry.

About 80% of academically and government-funded research found that bisphenol A is harmful in laboratory animals. Most of the industry- funded studies found there was no harm.

A federal panel that advises the government issued a report last week downplaying the effects of bisphenol A. The panel gave more weight to industry-funded scientists and industry-funded studies.

ALSO: Part 1 (published Nov. 25)

Common Uses

Related Coverage

Main story: U.S., chemical makers say it’s safe

Our analysis: 20 years of research studied

What can you do?: Minimize your chemical exposure

Bisphenol A panels: Members and staff members

PART 1, Nov. 25: Congress ordered the federal government in 1996 to begin testing and regulating certain chemicals suspected of causing cancer and a host of developmental problems. Eleven years later, not a single compound has been put to that test.

PART 2, Dec. 2: The federal government’s assurances that a common chemical is safe are based on outdated U.S. government studies and research heavily funded by the chemical industry.

Reports on Bisphenol A

PDF: Chapel Hill Bisphenol A Expert Panel Consensus Statement

PDF: Report on the reproductive and development toxicity of Bisphenol A


Last week, a panel commissioned by the National Toxicology Program released a report finding bisphenol A to be of some concern for fetuses and small children. It found that adults have almost nothing to worry about.

Its recommendations could be used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators to assess federal policies on how much bisphenol A is safe and may have huge ramifications for the multibillion-dollar chemical industry.

The panel said it considered more than 700 studies by university scientists, government researchers and industry-funded chemists. It picked the work it felt was best and threw out the rest.

The Journal Sentinel found that panel members gave more weight to industry-funded studies and more leeway to industry-funded researchers.

** The panel rejected academic studies that found harm — citing inadequate methods. But the panel accepted industry-funded studies using the same methods that concluded the chemical does not pose risks.

** The panel missed dozens of studies publicly available that the Journal Sentinel found online using a medical research Internet search engine. The studies the panel considered were chosen, in part, by a consultant with links to firms that made bisphenol A.

** More and more university researchers and foreign governments are finding that bisphenol A can do serious damage in small doses. But the panel rejected studies mostly submitted by university and international government scientists that looked at the impact at these levels.

** The panel accepted a Korean study translated by the chemical industry’s trade group that found bisphenol A to be safe. It also accepted two studies that were not subjected to any peer review — the gold standard of scientific credibility. Both studies were funded by General Electric Co., which made bisphenol A until it sold its plastics division earlier this year.

“This undermines the government’s authority,” said David Rosner, professor of history and public health at Columbia University. “It makes you think twice about accepting their conclusions.”

Panel chairman Robert Chapin, a toxicologist who works for Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical giant, defended his group’s work.

“We didn’t flippin’ care who does the study,” said Chapin, who worked as a government scientist for 18 years before joining Pfizer.

If the studies followed good laboratory practices and were backed with strong data, they were accepted, Chapin said.

Created to act as hormone Bisphenol A was developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen. It came into widespread use in the 1950s when scientists realized it could be used to make polycarbonate plastic and some epoxy resins to line food and beverage cans.

With the advent of plastic products such as dental sealants and baby bottles, the use of bisphenol A has skyrocketed. The chemical is used to make reusable water bottles, CDs, DVDs and eyeglasses. More than 6 billion pounds are produced each year in the United States.

In recent decades, increases in the number of boys born with genital deformities, girls experiencing early puberty and adults with low sperm counts, uterine cysts and infertility prompted some researchers to wonder whether the prevalence of bisphenol A could be interfering with human development and reproduction.

Scientists began looking for a link between bisphenol A and spikes in cancer, obesity and hyperactivity. Others, such as Patricia Hunt, simply stumbled onto it.

Hunt, a scientist at Case Western Reserve University, was investigating the connection between maternal age and Down syndrome in 1998 when all of her laboratory mice, including those not treated in any way, began exhibiting chromosomal abnormalities.

Her investigation revealed that bisphenol A was leaching from the animals’ polycarbonate cages, and it was the chemical that had caused the problems.

Ana Soto, a researcher at Tufts University, began noticing that her lab mice treated with bisphenol A were a lot fatter than her other mice.

More alarming still was the work scientists found in their breast and prostate cancer research. They injected cancer cells in test tubes of bisphenol A and watched as the cells grew rapidly, even at doses lower than what people are normally exposed to. Reports such as these sparked fear that bisphenol A could become the new lead or asbestos.

As scientists’ suspicions grew, regulators repeatedly reassured the public that the chemical was safe. The Food and Drug Administration and the EPA routinely pointed to studies by government regulators in the 1980s that found no serious effects.

In 1998, the National Toxicology Program formed the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction to look at why so many people were unable to conceive or carry their babies to term. Scientists were suspicious of the environmental impact from chemicals, including hormone-mimicking chemicals such as bisphenol A.

Last year, two groups of scientists were appointed by the federal government to gauge bisphenol A’s risks.

One panel was purely academic, made up of 38 international experts in bisphenol A who work for universities or governments. In an August report, they found a strong cause for concern.

Levels of bisphenol A in people were higher than the levels found to cause harm in lab animals, the panel said. The average level found was above what the EPA considered safe.

The other group, led by Chapin, included 12 scientists. The members were chosen because of their lack of detailed knowledge about bisphenol A. The idea was that the group would serve as an impartial jury, Chapin said.

It considered 742 studies conducted over the past 30 years.

The non-expert panel was less alarmed about bisphenol A’s effects.

The non-expert panel’s report was posted Monday on the center’s Web site without a press release or fanfare. When the panel released an earlier draft, critics assailed it as arbitrary, biased and incomplete.

The sharpest response came from bisphenol A experts, many of whom had their work rejected by the non-expert panel. Even those whose work was accepted were critical of the findings.

“When panels that are sponsored by the government come out with reports and say that there is not convincing evidence yet, that gives me great concern, knowing what I do about some studies showing that there are effects,” said Gail Prins, professor of physiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an expert in bisphenol A.

The federal government will now weigh the reports of both the expert and non-expert panels before assessing safe levels of bisphenol A.

Studies found widespread effects Before reviewing the panel’s reports, the Journal Sentinel analyzed 258 studies spanning two decades. All studies involved live animals with spines — those species scientists consider most relevant to people. The studies were found on PubMed, an online search engine used by researchers.

Four out of five studies found that bisphenol A caused problems in the lab animals tested, ranging from allergies to reproductive deformities. The vast majority of these studies were funded by government agencies and universities.

One federally funded study found that rats exposed to bisphenol A before birth were at increased risk of developing precancerous prostate lesions. Another study, funded by the U.S. and Argentine governments, found that the chemical increased the likelihood of rats developing mammary tumors.

Just 12% of the studies found that bisphenol A had no ill effects. Most of those studies were paid for or partially written by scientists hired by the chemical industry.

A study funded by the Society of the Plastic Industry found that bisphenol A did not pose harm to developing rats. Another study discounted any reproductive effects on exposed rats. The authors included scientists affiliated with Shell Chemicals, Dow Chemical Co. and General Electric — all then makers of bisphenol A.

Two studies actually determined that bisphenol A may be beneficial. One funded by drug-maker Eli Lilly & Co. said it could lower cholesterol in rats. The other study said the chemical might prevent or cure breast cancer in rats.

Industry scientists dispute any claims that bisphenol A is harmful to humans.

“Our view is consistent with what has been concluded by government and scientific bodies around the world, which is that bisphenol A is not a risk to human health based on the weight of scientific evidence,” said Steven G. Hentges, executive director of the American Chemistry Council’s Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group. Hentges called the newspaper’s review superficial.

Norman Fost, founder and director of the medical ethics program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said industry and academic studies come to radically different conclusions all the time. Fost would not comment directly on the panel’s work because he hadn’t studied it. But he said the universe of scientific research is replete with studies conducted by organizations with a vested interest.

“It’s up to us to be skeptical, cautious and critical when we consider how much of their work to believe,” said Fost, who is chairman of an FDA committee looking at the ethics of pediatric studies.

Human safety levels Bisphenol A is just about everywhere. But trying to get a handle on how much of the chemical a person can tolerate is not easy.

The government established a safety level for bisphenol A about 20 years ago — well before most scientific studies on the chemical had been conducted. The government considers a safe daily level of bisphenol A to be 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. For a 200-pound person, that would be the equivalent of no more than one drop of the chemical every five days.

The American Chemistry Council says an average adult would have to ingest more than 500 pounds of canned food and beverages every day for an entire lifetime to be at risk. The chemical industry based those conclusions on its own research.

Others say there is no way to know how much bisphenol A one is exposed to when microwaving dinner in a plastic container, eating tuna from a can or drinking from a reusable plastic water bottle.

“Even if you go out of your way to avoid products, you don’t know all of your exposures,” said Soto, the bisphenol A expert from Tufts. “At the end of the day, you may have cut your exposure by 5 percent or by 95 percent. We just don’t know.”

Because bisphenol A is so ever-present in the environment, there are many ways to be exposed to it. But the biggest risk comes from those products that people put in their mouths or that come directly into contact with food, scientists say.

A number of studies looked at how bisphenol A affects lab animals at low doses. Bisphenol A experts say that the chemical works like a hormone and, therefore, needs to be tested at low doses where much damage can be done.

“This is basic endocrinology,” said Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri who has been studying bisphenol A for more than a decade. “You learn this in any introductory class. Hormones work on an extremely sensitive system.”

For instance, it only takes 40 parts per billion of the hormone MIS to produce male sexual organs in the human embryo. That’s about one drop in 15 bathtubs of water.

Two groups of scientists — from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Toxicology Program — have called for the U.S. government to radically overhaul the way it tests chemicals to include these low doses. But the government has yet to do so. Instead, it continues to cite the government studies from the early 1980s that focused only on high doses.

Of the 258 studies reviewed by the Journal Sentinel, 168 studies looked at low-dose effects of bisphenol A.

The vast majority — 132 studies- found health problems at low doses, including hyperactivity, diabetes and genital deformities. All but one of those studies were conducted by non-industry scientists. Nearly three-fourthsof the studies that found the chemical had no harmful effects were funded by industry.

But Chapin’s panel did not accept any studies that found an effect at low doses in its review of 742 studies.

Once the panel weeded out studies it believed had been done poorly, no studies remained that showed effects from low doses, Chapin said.

“There’s a lot of bad science out there,” he said.

Most of the low-dose studies the Journal Sentinel reviewed — including some the panel rejected — were published in reputable scientific journals.

Prins, the bisphenol A expert from the University of Illinois at Chicago, said she was a late convert to the idea that the chemical causes harm at low doses. She changed her mind after reading repeated studies.

Then she saw it in her lab.

“We gave very small doses to male rats and saw cancerous lesions form on their prostates,” Prins said.

For the panel to dismiss low-dose effects is a fatal flaw, she said.

Chapin conceded that the panel did not give equal weight to studies that considered low-dose effects, the levels that most people are exposed to every day.

“I’ll admit it. We may be off in like totally uncharted territory,” Chapin said.

The chemical industry defended the panel’s choice of studies, noting that their scientists have been unable to replicate the work of some university scientists.

“Replication is a hallmark of science, and studies that cannot be replicated cannot be accepted as valid,” said Hentges of the chemistry council.

Panel’s work studied The Journal Sentinel reviewed the work that the panel did, comparing each of its two drafts and the final report, together totaling more than 1,000 pages.

Two of the panel’s four chapters considered the same kind of studies the newspaper reviewed — looking at the effects of bisphenol A on live animals. In one of those chapters, focusing on reproductive toxicology, 20 studies by either government or academia were tossed. No study that disclosed it had been funded by industry was rejected.

Chapin said they gave greater weight to studies that used more animals. Critics say only the chemical-makers can afford to conduct studies with more animals.

The panel failed to apply consistent standards, the newspaper’s review found.

Not all studies recorded the kind of feed, caging, bedding or specific type of animal used. Those factors can influence the studies’ results.

Chemical industry researchers used the same methodology in studies the panel accepted that caused other studies to be rejected. They included studies that used a single high dose and injected rats with bisphenol A rather than having the chemical administered orally. Chapin’s panel rejected some studies, including those conducted by Soto, because they used an oil called DMSO to administer bisphenol A to rats.

“That just helps compounds waltz into cells,” Chapin said.

But Chapin’s panel accepted another study that used DMSO, never citing that oil as a limitation or concern.

The panel also accepted a study by Shell Chemical, Dow Chemical and General Electric that found no effects from bisphenol A. The same study also found no effects when rats were exposed to the powerful chemical diethylstilbestrol, or DES — a compound known to cause reproductive harm.

The rats’ resistance to DES should have been an immediate red flag, critics said. But the panel accepted the research.

Consulting firm fired Chapin’s group has been dogged by controversy from the beginning. Last year, conflict-of-interest concerns were raised regarding the panel’s use of Sciences International. The Virginia-based consulting firm had been hired to choose and summarize research for panel members. However, it had not been revealed that Sciences International had clients that included bisphenol A producers.

The company was fired in April, and the National Institutes of Health audited the firm’s report. It found no conflict, and the company is credited in the final report.

Chapin dismissed criticisms against the panel.

“I’m tired of having my credibility as a scientist questioned when the panel bent over backwards to apply standards of good scientific conduct… evenly across the board,” Chapin said. “My accusers have a great deal more bias than I do.

“They are not unbiased,” Chapin added, “even though they keep holding themselves up as the white hats, the pure, the only holders of the cup of scientific chastity.”

The newspaper found dozens of studies of bisphenol A that were not brought to the panel’s attention.

Among them was a 2005 study that determined the chemical disrupted brain development in rats at very low levels. The panel also missed a study last year by Yale University researchers that found the chemical altered reproductive tract development in female mice exposed in the womb. Again, the researchers found these effects at low levels — below what the EPA considers safe.

“I’m surprised because my understanding was after all the hoo-ha was raised about Sciences International, the NTP went out and did its own search,” Chapin said. “That’s weird.”

In one study accepted by Chapin’s panel, the work was translated into English by the American Plastics Council, a division of the American Chemistry Council. The Korean study found that the sperm density and the reproductive systems of male rats were not harmed by bisphenol A.

Rosner, the public health professor, said that practice “immediately raises eyebrows.”

“You have to have a neutral party doing the translations,” he said. “It’s the only way to really trust the accuracy.”

Michael Shelby, director of the government agency that selected the panel to evaluate bisphenol A, acknowledged that the translation could be called into question. However, he denied any conflict.

Chapin said panel members agreed that they wanted to see any data they could, regardless of how they got it.

“I hear what you’re saying about the perception,” Chapin said. “Too bad.”

Two studies, both funded by industry, were not peer reviewed, the newspaper found. Peer review is considered the foundation of scientific credibility. Most scientific journals will not publish a study unless it is peer reviewed.

The studies found no effects from bisphenol A, and were funded by General Electric in 1976 and 1978. They were accepted despite concerns similar to those that led the panel to disqualify academic and government studies. They included a small sample size of animals, the use of high doses and questions about the statistical methodology.

The panel also accepted at least a dozen studies that had not been published in any scientific journal — another check and balance in the scientific community to maintain high standards.

Shelby said the panel considered studies that were not peer reviewed if they included sufficient details.

Even scientists on the panel who agreed with the findings say they are uneasy about broad claims that bisphenol A is safe.

Jane Adams, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, doesn’t allow her teenage son to get dental sealants because of her worries about bisphenol A.

“I am concerned about this chemical,” she said. “Much more research needs to be done.”

Simon Hayward, another panelist, agrees.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” said Hayward, professor of prostate biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “There is definitely enough smoke to be worried.”

Rosner, the public health historian, says bisphenol A’s potential for danger is too great to allow its widespread use without being certain of its safety. Consider what happened with lead and tobacco, he said.

“The government needs to work with caution,” he said, noting that we have lived well for thousands of years without this chemical. “Until we know that it is safe, it is more prudent to avoid it.”

Copyright 2005-2007, Journal Sentinel Inc.


From: The Progress Report
December 3, 2007


[Rachel’s introduction: The coal industry has created a front group called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices with a budget of $30 million per year dedicated to spreading one simple falsehood: that “clean coal” exists.]

By F. Shakir, A. Terkel, S. Khanna, M. Corley, and A. Frick

Viewers tuning into Wednesday’s CNN/YouTube Republican debate probably saw commercials for “clean coal.” They may have also seen an ad for the debate in that morning’s Washington Post, with a note at the bottom reading: “Sponsored by Clean Coal, America’s Power.”

These initiatives were funded by the group “Americans For Balanced Energy Choices” (ABEC), which receives its financing from coal companies and “their allies in the utility and railroad sectors.” They are part of a multi-million dollar campaign aimed at generating public support “for the beleaguered coal-producing industry at a time when plans for new coal-fired power plants are being scrapped” nationwide. The Center for American Progress has released a Progressive Growth economic strategy based on building a low-carbon energy infrastructure, based on clean, renewable energy sources, efficiency, and greenhouse gas emission performance standards for coal that could “fuel the creation of good jobs and good prospects for workers at all skill levels.”

DIRTY AGENDA: ABEC is a nonprofit coalition of the top coal companies in America, including Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company. Top energy executives recently quadrupled the budget for this coal front group, bringing ABEC’s annual allocation to more than $30 million. ABEC insists that the coal industry has a “clean” agenda. But one of its top priorities is to expand coal production through the promotion of government-funded “coal to liquid” technology to convert coal to vehicle fuels. This policy would produce twice as much global warming pollution as ordinary gasoline production, while consuming huge amounts of water. Since its establishment in 2000, ABEC has received support from the Center for Energy and Economic Development, whose website — even in late 2004 — said that the group rejects the “theory of catastrophic global climate change.” Perhaps not surprisingly, part of ABEC’s agenda is to delay and weaken any limits on carbon dioxide pollution for as long as possible and convince Congress to give coal plants free “allowances” to emit greenhouse gases under any future “cap and trade” global warming plan.

DIRTY ADS: In order to sell its agenda to the American public, ABEC has launched a $7-million, three-month national advertising drive. National Journal notes, “The first set of ads underscore that coal is the energy source for about half the nation’s electricity output. A second round will tout so-called clean-coal technologies.” Since January, ABEC executive director Joe Lucas has written at least eight “letters to the editor” in newspapers nationwide, pushing for more coal plants. ABEC has specifically targeted the 2008 election, recognizing that it needs an industry-friendly president to advance its agenda and block global warming reform. In 2000, for example, the coal industry donated more than $108,000 to George W. Bush’s campaign, compared to just $16,450 for Al Gore. Similarly, in 2004, Bush raked in more than $250,000 from the coal industry; Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) received approximately $6,000. On Nov. 9, ABEC put out a press release announcing that it was kicking off “its public campaign urging Iowa caucus-goers to challenge Presidential candidates to invest in clean coal technology and support coal as part of a sensible and affordable energy mix.”

DIRTY POLITICAL TARGETING: ABEC also sponsored both the CNN Democratic debate in Nevada earlier this month, as well as the CNN/YouTube Republican debate in Florida earlier this week. These sponsorships were targeted to pressure not only the presidential candidates and CNN (not a single question on global warming was asked in either debate), but also anti-coal politicians in those states. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), for example, has stood firmly against the construction of three proposed major coal- fired power plants in his home state. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is leading a “crusade against coal.” Crist has unveiled a plan to reduce his state’s carbon dioxide emissions by replacing coal plants with solar thermal power plants. He has also canceled plans to build new coal plants that were pushed by his predecessor, Jeb Bush. “I am not a fan of coal,” proclaimed Crist in October, applauding the news that Tampa Electric shelved plans to build a $2-billion power plant. The tide is steadily turning against coal. In the past 18 months, “about a dozen states including Texas, Florida and Oklahoma also have rejected plans for 22 new coal-fired power plants.” This week, Google also announced that it plans to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” to “develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal.”

DIRTY LIES: The state of Kansas has been a particular focus in the coal industry’s campaign. On Oct. 18, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment denied air quality permits for two 700- megawatt coal-burning power generators near Holcomb, KS, “citing health and environmental concerns associated with carbon dioxide emissions.” The decision was “the first time a coal plant air permit application” had “ever been denied on the basis of CO2 emissions.” Less than a month later, newspapers across Kansas ran an ad by Kansans for Affordable Energy attacking the decision. It featured the smiling faces of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asking “why are these men smiling?” (See the ad here.) The answer, according to the ad, was Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D): “Because the recent decision by the Sebelius Administration means Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran.” Kansans for Affordable Energy is partially funded by not only by Peabody, but also Sunflower Electric Power Corp, the company whose permits were rejected by Sebelius’s administration. Additionally, not only does Kansas “currently export natural gas to other states,” but the United States doesn’t even “import natural gas from Russia, Venezuela or Iran.”

Copyright Center for American Progress Action Fund


From: ScienceDaily
November 30, 2007


[Rachel’s introduction: “There are too many scientific uncertainties relating both to the efficacy of ocean fertilization and its possible environmental side effects that need to be resolved before even larger experiments should be considered, let alone the process commercialized.”]

Ocean fertilization, the process of adding iron or other nutrients to the ocean to cause large algal blooms, has been proposed as a possible solution to global warming because the growing algae absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.

Now research performed at Stanford and Oregon State Universities suggests that ocean fertilization may not be an effective method of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a major contributor to global warming.

However, this process, which is analogous to adding fertilizer to a lawn to help the grass grow, only reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if the carbon incorporated into the algae sinks to deeper waters. This process, which scientists call the “Biological Pump”, has been thought to be dependent on the abundance of algae in the top layers of the ocean. The more algae in a bloom, the more carbon is transported, or “pumped,” from the atmosphere to the deep ocean.

To test this theory, researchers compared the abundance of algae in the surface waters of the world’s oceans with the amount of carbon actually sinking to deep water. They found clear seasonal patterns in both algal abundance and carbon sinking rates. However, the relationship between the two was surprising: less carbon was transported to deep water during a summertime bloom than during the rest of the year. This analysis has never been done before and required designing specialized mathematical algorithms.

“By jumping a mathematical hurdle we found a new globally synchronous signal,” said Dr. lead author Dr. Michael Lutz.

“This discovery is very surprising”, said Dr. Lutz, now at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “If, during natural plankton blooms, less carbon actually sinks to deep water than during the rest of the year, then it suggests that the Biological Pump leaks.

More material is recycled in shallow water and less sinks to depth, which makes sense if you consider how this ecosystem has evolved in a way to minimize loss”, said Lutz. “Ocean fertilization schemes, which resemble an artificial summer, may not remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as has been suggested because they ignore the natural processes revealed by this research.”

This study closely follows a September Ocean Iron Fertilization symposium at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) attended by leading scientists, international lawyers, policy makers, and concerned representatives from government, business, academia and environmental organizations.

Topics discussed included potential environmental dangers, economic implications, and the uncertain effectiveness of ocean fertilization.

To date none of the major ocean fertilization experiments have verified that a significant amount of deep ocean carbon sequestration occurs. Some scientists have suggested that verification may require more massive and more permanent experiments. Together with commercial operators they plan to go ahead with large-scale and more permanent ocean fertilization experiments and note that potential negative environmental consequences must be balanced against the harm expected due to ignoring climate change.

During the Ocean Iron Fertilization meeting Dr. Hauke Kite-Powell, of the Marine Policy Center at WHOI, estimated the possible future value of ocean fertilization at $100 billion of the emerging international carbon trading market, which has the goal of mitigating global warming. However, according to Professor Rosemary Rayfuse, an expert in International Law and the Law of the Sea at the University of New South Wales, Australia, who also attended the Woods Hole meeting, ocean fertilization projects are not currently approved under any carbon credit regulatory scheme and the sale of offsets or credits from ocean fertilization on the unregulated voluntary markets is basically nothing short of fraudulent.

‘There are too many scientific uncertainties relating both to the efficacy of ocean fertilization and its possible environmental side effects that need to be resolved before even larger experiments should be considered, let alone the process commercialized,’ Rayfuse says. ‘All States have an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment and to ensure that all activities carried out under their jurisdiction and control, including marine scientific research and commercial ocean fertilization activities do not cause pollution.

Ocean fertilization is ‘dumping’ which is essentially prohibited under the law of the sea. There is no point trying to ameliorate the effects of climate change by destroying the oceans — the very cradle of life on earth. Simply doing more and bigger of that which has already been demonstrated to be ineffective and potentially more harmful than good is counter-intuitive at best.’

Indeed, the global study of Dr. Lutz and colleagues suggests that greatly enhanced carbon sequestration should not be expected no matter the location or duration of proposed large-scale ocean fertilization experiments.

According to Dr Lutz “The limited duration of previous ocean fertilization experiments may not be why carbon sequestration wasn’t found during those artificial blooms. This apparent puzzle could actually reflect how marine ecosystems naturally handle blooms and agrees with our findings. A bloom is like ringing the marine ecosystem dinner bell. The microbial and food web dinner guests appear and consume most of the fresh algal food.”

“Our study highlights the need to understand natural ecosystem processes, especially in a world where change is occurring so rapidly,” concluded Dr. Lutz.

The findings of Dr. Lutz and colleagues coincide with and affirm this month’s decision of the London Convention (the International Maritime Organization body that oversees the dumping of wastes and other matter at sea) to regulate controversial commercial ocean fertilization schemes. This gathering of international maritime parties advised that such schemes are currently not scientifically justified.

Strategies to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, including the enhancement of biological sinks through processes such as ocean fertilization, will be considered by international governmental representatives during the thirteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Bali next month.

This research was recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.


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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?”

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