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Saturday, October 19, 2002

Brain-On-A-Chip Technology Devised to Test Drugs

London (Reuters) - An American biotechnology company has developed a way of keeping brain tissue alive for weeks, which will allow scientists to test new drugs for a range of psychiatric diseases including Alzheimer's and schizophrenia.

Using brain cells from rats and mice, scientists at Tensor Biosciences of Irvine, California have devised brain-on-a-chip technology that could speed up the development of new treatments.

"We are building stripped-down mini-brains, if you will, directly on a chip," a spokesman for the company told New Scientist magazine Wednesday.

The so-called mini-brain, which can survive for weeks at a time, will allow scientists to monitor the impact of drugs on brain networks instead of just individual cells.

The glass chips contain thousands of interconnected animal brain cells suspended in a solution of artificial cerebral fluid.

"An array of 64 electrodes on the chip's surface monitors the overall electrical activity of the brain tissue, just like an electroencephalogram (EEG), to show the effect the drugs have on the tissue," according to the magazine.

An EEG is a record of the brain's activity.

The company, which says the technology has been used to find a drug for anxiety with fewer side effects than existing treatments, will present its findings to a conference in the United States next week, the magazine added.

Posted by Richard
10/19/2002 11:22:28 AM | PermaLink

30th Anniversary Finds Clean Water Act in Jeopardy

Washington, D.C. -- On the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, environmental organizations warn that lax enforcement is still permitting dangerous discharges of water pollutants. The groups blame the Bush administration for weakening key regulations designed to protect and clean up the nation's waters, calling the administration's record the worst for clean water in the past three decades.

Around the nation today, Bush administration officials and water experts will be talking about the accomplishments of the Clean Water Act, as well as the challenges that still lie ahead.

"Most Americans would agree that the quality of our water has improved dramatically over the past quarter century, although there is still much to be done," said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman. "We are not only celebrating but re-committing to the Clean Water Act's goals of fishable and swimmable waters."

But many environmental groups say the Bush administration is actively undermining those goals, and allowing polluters to dump toxins into the nation's waterways. For example, the Bush administration has proposed cutting the EPA's enforcement staff for 2003, and weakened crucial Clean Water Act programs, including federal rules prohibiting the dumping of mining and industrial wastes into water bodies around the country.

The administration is also working to revise the total maximum daily load (TMDL) program, which requires states to set limits on the amounts of pollution from runoff and other non-point sources that can be discharged into waterways. EPA data shows that 40 percent of the nation's waterways are still deemed unsafe for fishing and swimming.

"The Bush administration is pursuing plans to dismantle significant portions of the Clean Water Act just as the law turns 30," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice. "From gutting the program that guides the cleanup of polluted waters, to eliminating a 25 year old ban on dumping mining and other industrial wastes into wetlands and streams, to abandoning the national 'no net loss of wetlands' goal, this administration's actions pose the greatest threat to the nation's waters in three decades."

The latest and perhaps most far reaching Bush administration proposal to date, Mulhern said, was announced on September 19 when the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer officials testified before a House committee that they have decided to reconsider what waters should be protected under the Clean Water Act at all.

The agencies said they now question whether tributaries of navigable waters, streams that periodically dry up, and wetlands next to these waters should receive Clean Water Act protections. Such waters have been covered by the Clean Water Act since 1972 and by the law's implementing regulations since 1975.

Administration officials claim that the new rulemaking is a response to a January, 2001 Supreme Court decision concerning "isolated" wetlands, and subsequent lower court rulings concerning streams and wetlands.

"Neither the Supreme Court ruling nor the majority of lower court rulings have suggested that any such weakening of Clean Water Act authority is warranted, let alone the sweeping proposal announced by the Bush administration," said Mulhern. "The Court's decision opened a crack in the door, but the Bush administration is kicking the door down."

"No other president in the last 30 years - Republican or Democrat - has ever proposed such a significant cutback to Clean Water Act protections," Mulhern added. "The goal of the Act - to make all of the nation's waters safe for fishing, swimming, and other uses - cannot be met if the majority of waters are cut out of the law's scope."

A new report released Thursday finds that while many improvements in water quality have been made in the past three decades, hundreds of polluters continue to violate the Clean Water Act and other federal regulations governing water pollution.

"In Gross Violation: How Polluters are Flooding America's Waterways with Toxic Chemicals" was released on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). The report analyzes previously unreleased EPA data spanning January 1999 through December 2001, indicating that more than one in four - 28 percent - of major polluters violated legal limits for discharging chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health effects.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), which obtained the information through a Freedom of Information Act request, found that more than 81 percent of U.S. polluters exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once in the three year period. On more on 1,562 occasions, major facilities reported discharging at least 10 times the legal limit for chemicals linked to serious health effects, and in 363 instances, reported exceeding 100 times the legal limits.

"Government records show that polluters regularly threaten public health and break the law - for highly toxic chemicals and at levels many times higher than legally allowed," said U.S. PIRG environmental health advocate Jeremiah Baumann. "It is unacceptable that with such a weak enforcement record, the Bush administration would propose cutting enforcement and weakening the law."

The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA), a national trade association representing more than 280 publicly owned treatment works across the country, says the Bush administration also needs to invest more money in the nation's water infrastructure to help meet the Clean Water Act's goals.

"What enabled the Clean Water Act to be so successful … was a strong federal funding infusion in the form of the construction grants program that helped communities across the country build sewage treatment plants," the association said in a release. "At its peak in the 1970s, the federal government was paying for 90 percent of wastewater infrastructure funding, a commitment that has since dwindled to under 10 percent."

Earlier this month, the EPA released an analysis concluding that funding for water and wastewater infrastructure faces a $534 billion shortfall over the next two decades. Water industry experts said the report shows that a massive infusion of federal funding will be needed to help protect public health and the environment from reductions in water quality.

"Without a long term federal recommitment to clean water, the nation risks losing the water quality gains for which it has worked so hard over the past 30 years," AMSA stated.

Today, President George W. Bush issued a proclamation recognizing the next year, starting today, as the "Year of Clean Water."

"The Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 have helped our citizens enjoy one of the safest and cleanest water supplies in the world," Bush stated. "We renew our commitment to building on these successes and to developing new approaches and partnerships to meet our environmental challenges."

Skeptical environmental groups said the Bush administration must make real policy changes to support the letter and the spirit of the Clean Water Act and avoid undermining the law's undeniable successes.

"The Clean Water Act has had many successes, but 30 years after embarking on this program to make all of the country's waters clean enough to swim and fish in, a whopping 45 percent of waters are still too dirty to comply," said Earthjustice's Mulhern. "Congress and the public need to tell the Bush administration to cleanup these polluted waters instead of redesigning new rules that will make the other 55 percent dirtier."

"Now more than ever, on the Clean Water Act's 30th Anniversary, the Bush administration should act in the best interest of the environment and public health and hold polluters accountable to the letter and spirit of the law," concluded U.S. PIRG's Baumann.

More information on the 30th anniversary and the Year of Clean Water is available at:

Another perspective on the history and future of the Clean Water Act is available from the nonprofit Clean Water Network at:

By Cat Lazaroff

Posted by Richard
10/19/2002 11:20:26 AM | PermaLink

Friday, October 18, 2002

New Report Finds Cancer Risk From Air Pollution Nearly 500 Times Greater Than Clean Air Act Standard

Americans on average face a one-in-2,100 risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes from breathing pollutants in the outdoor air, which is nearly 500 times greater than the health-protective standard established in the Clean Air Act, according to an analysis of EPA air toxics data released today by U.S. PIRG. Eighty-nine percent of this added cancer risk is from the filthy soot released by diesel-powered trucks, buses, and construction and farm equipment.

Dangers of Diesel: How Diesel Soot and Other Air Toxics Increase Americans' Risk of Cancer comes as the Bush administration faces crucial decisions on new standards for dirty diesel construction and farm equipment and their fuel.

"This is an unacceptable cancer threat to Americans, but it's one that we can virtually eliminate," said U.S. PIRG Clean Air Advocate Emily Figdor. "Step one is for the Bush administration to continue to implement the tough clean air standards on the books for diesel trucks and buses and their fuel. Step two is for the administration to adopt strong new standards for the diesel engines and fuel that power construction and farm equipment."

U.S. PIRG analyzed recently released EPA data from 1996, the most recent and comprehensive data available, to estimate the potential cancer risks associated with exposure to the 33 air toxics—pollutants that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious adverse health impacts—that pose the greatest public health risk in urban areas. The Clean Air Act set the goal of reducing the cancer risk from air toxics to less than one-in-one million. The report estimates national, state, and county risks and compares them to this cancer benchmark to gauge how well we are doing at meeting our clean air standards. However, the report does not consider the serious non-cancer health effects associated with the pollutants and, as a result, underestimates their health impacts.

In addition to finding that most of the potential cancer risk from air pollution results from diesel soot, other key findings for the year studied include the following:
* Cars, trucks, and non-road engines released more than half-a-million tons of diesel soot into the outdoor air. Sixty-five percent of these emissions were from construction equipment and other non-road diesel engines. Diesel soot has been linked to lung cancer and triggers asthma and other adverse respiratory effects. The fine particles in diesel soot also can exacerbate existing heart and lung disease and lead to premature death.

* Americans in every state and county in the continental U.S. were exposed to diesel soot at levels that far exceeded the one-in-one million standard established in the Clean Air Act. On average, Americans breathed levels of diesel soot more than 425 times the cancer benchmark concentration. Risks were highest in New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Maryland.

* Cars, trucks, and non-road engines released more than 250,000 tons of benzene into the environment or 78 percent of total benzene emissions. Benzene causes leukemia and is associated with anemia and damage to the immune system. Benzene also may impair fertility in women and cause adverse effects on child development.

* Americans on average were exposed to benzene emissions at levels that exceeded the cancer benchmark concentration by 11 times, with residents of New York, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Minnesota facing the highest risks.

* Cars, trucks, and non-road engines released more than 165,000 tons of formaldehyde into the environment or 56 percent of total formaldehyde emissions. Formaldehyde may cause lung, nose, and throat cancers, as well as adverse respiratory effects.

* Americans on average were exposed to formaldehyde emissions at levels 12 times the cancer benchmark concentration in 1996, with residents of New York, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and California facing the highest risks.

To reduce Americans' exposure to cancer-causing air pollutants, it's crucial that we clean up dirty diesel engines and their fuels.

U.S. PIRG applauded EPA for its commitment to fully implement landmark standards, adopted in 2001, for diesel trucks and buses. These standards will slash diesel emissions from trucks and buses by more than 90 percent, the equivalent of taking 13 million of the nation's trucks and buses off the roads. In addition to reducing the cancer risk from exposure to diesel exhaust, EPA estimates that the standards will prevent 360,000 asthma attacks and 8,300 premature deaths each year.

EPA is in the process of developing new standards for diesel construction and farm equipment and their fuel, with a formal proposal due out early next year. The exhaust from these "non-road" diesel engines contributes an astounding 60 percent of the added cancer risk from air pollution nationally. U.S. PIRG called on EPA to issue standards for these engines equivalent to the truck standards and to implement them in the same time frame. Such standards could prevent another 180,000 asthma attacks and 8,500 premature deaths each year and could save $67 billion in health care costs annually, according to a recent report by state and local air quality officials.

As part of this non-road diesel proposal, the administration is considering developing an emission-trading program between the truck and non-road sectors.

"We remain concerned that a market-based trading program could undermine the crucial emissions reductions required for diesel trucks and buses and compromise the clean up of non-road diesel engines," said U.S. PIRG's Figdor. "We plan to scrutinize any trading proposal very carefully."

U.S. PIRG also called on EPA to stop dragging its feet and fulfill its Clean Air Act mandate to control other toxic emissions from mobile sources and their fuels by adopting regulations to establish a nationwide fuel benzene cap; expand the use of modern emission controls on old diesel engines and non-road gasoline engines; and increase the number of intrinsically clean, advanced technology vehicles, like hybrid electric cars, on the roads.

U.S. PIRG is the national lobbying office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.

Posted by Richard
10/18/2002 08:57:31 AM | PermaLink

New Statistics Show Increase, Not Decline, in Cancer Rates

America isn't winning the war on cancer after all. Contrary to optimistic reports from the National Cancer Institute showing the incidence of several devastating cancers has leveled off or even declined in recent years, rates for at least some of those cancers has been rising, according to a new analysis by NCI scientists.

Previous indications of a decline reflected significant delays in reporting cancer cases, the researchers report Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. More accurate information about cancer rates presents a grimmer picture.

"Maybe we were a little too eager to declare the effectiveness of our intervention and prevention programs," says Brenda Edwards, who is associate director for the surveillance research program at NCI, of Bethesda, Md., but wasn't among the authors of the new study.

The revised estimates present a dispiriting picture of the nation's progress in preventing cancer. Breast-cancer rates in white women had been almost flat since 1987, according to the original NCI figures, which the American Cancer Society also uses as the basis for the popular "facts and figures" on its Web site. The reanalysis shows that breast-cancer rates actually have been rising 0.6% a year since 1987.

That prompted the NCI scientists to call for research "to explain the cause for the recent rise in breast cancer incidence." Lung cancer in women also had been believed to be flat; the re-analysis shows it has been rising 1.2% a year since 1996. Melanoma rates in white males had reportedly been flat or even falling. The new analysis finds it has been soaring 4.1% a year since 1981, suggesting that prevention strategies that focus on staying out of the sun are falling short.

Prostate-cancer rates in white males, rather than falling since 1995, have in fact been rising 2.2% a year. For white men, 1998 prostate-cancer rates are actually 12% higher than originally reported; for black men they are 14% higher. Colorectal cancer cases for both genders and all races are 3% higher than first reported, suggesting that early-screening techniques (which focus on discovering precancerous polyps through colonoscopies) aren't as powerful or widely used as hoped. The rate of colorectal cancer in white women, for instance, has been rising 2.8% annually since 1996, rather than the originally calculated 0.9%.

National incidence data are based on reports from 10 registries in the SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results) program at NCI, which samples 14% of the U.S. population by collecting cancer reports from hospitals, doctors and clinics. The registries have 19 months to report cases to NCI.

Scientists had long suspected that the original numbers were skewed. "It was well known that reports of new cancer cases dribbled in over the years, long after the 19-month reporting deadline," says Benjamin Hankey, the senior author of the study. So, researchers wondered, just how sharply did late reporting affect the final cancer-rate statistic for a specific year?

Using data from 1981 to 1998, scientists led by Mr. Hankey analyzed reporting delays by counting how many additions nine registries made to their original count over the years. Based on that, but allowing for improvement in the timeliness and accuracy of the reports, NCI statistician Limin Clegg estimated the under-reports from each registry for five types of cancer. The delays are such that initial reports account for only 88% to 97% of the actual cancer cases, depending on the type, finds Dr. Clegg. That has left a "false impression of a recent decline in cancer incidence," write the NCI scientists. NCI's cancer-incidence rates are the basis for decisions by policy makers and clinicians alike:

The numbers are used to allocate research and clinical resources, to give people a sense of their risk for various cancers and to offer hints about environmental causes of cancer ranging from use of sunblock to changes in diet and cumulative exposure to toxic chemicals.

Now researchers feel a renewed urgency to study why the rates of several cancers are still on the rise. "This tells us something we didn't know about whether our intervention and prevention programs are working," says Ahmedin Jemal, director of the surveillance program for the American Cancer Society.

By Sharon Begley. The Wall Street Journal

Posted by Richard
10/18/2002 08:43:55 AM | PermaLink

Abrubt Climate Change?

A perspective on potential climate changes presented by Dr. Robert B. Gagosian, President and Director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Over the past two decades, we have heard about greenhouse gases and the idea that our planet is gradually warming. I’d like to throw a curveball into that thinking—specifically the “gradually warming” part.

This new thinking is little known and scarcely appreciated by policymakers and world and business leaders—and even by the wider community of natural and social scientists. But evidence from several sources has amassed and coalesced over the past 10 to 15 years. It points to a completely different—almost counterintuitive—scenario.

Global warming could actually lead to a big chill in some parts of the world. If the atmosphere continues to warm, it could soon trigger a dramatic and abrupt cooling throughout the North Atlantic region—where, not incidentally, some 60 percent of the world’s economy is based.

When I say “dramatic,” I mean: Average winter temperatures could drop by 5 degrees Fahrenheit over much of the United States, and by 10 degrees in the northeastern United States and in Europe. That’s enough to send mountain glaciers advancing down from the Alps. To freeze rivers and harbors and bind North Atlantic shipping lanes in ice. To disrupt the operation of ground and air transportation. To cause energy needs to soar exponentially. To force wholesale changes in agricultural practices and fisheries. To change the way we feed our populations. In short, the world, and the world economy, would be drastically different.

And when I say “abrupt,” I mean: These changes could happen within a decade, and they could persist for hundreds of years. You could see the changes in your lifetime, and your grandchildren’s grandchildren will still be confronting them.

And when I say “soon,” I mean: In just the past year, we have seen ominous signs that we may be headed toward a potentially dangerous threshold. If we cross it, Earth’s climate could switch gears and jump very rapidly—not gradually— into a completely different mode of operation.

To read more click the picture below:

Posted by Richard
10/18/2002 08:31:22 AM | PermaLink

Agribusiness, Biotechnology And War: Wartime Profiteering And The Disturbing Expansion Of Chemical Agriculture

Editor's Note: Excerpted from a longer article in the September 2002 issue of Z Magazine.

Most of the chemical "tools" taken for granted by modern agribusiness are products of warfare. Is this merely an indirect consequence of the tragic history of the 20th century, or does it suggest that the currently dismal state of our soils, fresh water supplies and rural economies is an outgrowth of agribusiness' emergence from wartime in some important ways? Virtually all of the leading companies that brought us chemical fertilizers and pesticides made their greatest fortunes during wartime. How can this help us understand the ever-deteriorating quality of mass-produced food? And what does it tell us about the new technologies of genetic manipulation that every one of these companies posits as the centerpiece of the current generation of crop "improvement" technologies? Since the earliest origins of modern industrial agriculture, agribusiness has been at war against all life on earth, including ourselves.

In 1998, as debates were heating up across Europe around the unlabeled imports of genetically engineered soybeans and corn from the United States, the editors of The Economist magazine in London published an impassioned defense of the biotech agenda in agriculture. "Agriculture," The Economist editors wrote, "is war by other means." Indeed, from its origins, chemical agriculture has been a form of warfare -- it is a war against the soil, against our reserves of fresh water, and against all the microbes and insects that are necessary for the growing of healthy food. Since the earliest origins of modern industrial agriculture, agribusiness has been at war against all life on earth, including ourselves. An examination of the origins of today's agrochemical technologies -- and the companies that first advanced them -- can reveal a great deal about where we may be heading.

During World War I, two German scientists named Haber and Bosch discovered an efficient means for the large-scale chemical synthesis of ammonia and its various nitrate derivatives. The BASF company -- now the world's fourth largest manufacturer of agricultural chemicals -- commercialized this process in 1913, and their products played a central role in the orgy of mass destruction that soon followed. Huge excesses of nitrogenous compounds that accumulated during World War I provided the basis for the beginnings of the mass production of synthetic nitrate fertilizers. DuPont -- now the sole owner of the world's largest seed company, Pioneer HiBred -- was the largest manufacturer of gunpowder in the United States during the early 19th century and the first World War. Monsanto increased its profits 100 fold during the World War, from $80,000 to well over $9 million per year, supplying the chemical precursors for high explosives such as TNT.

In the 1930s, chemists working for the German company Bayer discovered the highly poisonous properties of organophosphate compounds. Today Bayer has become the world's largest manufacturer of herbicides and pesticides -- and a leading source of genetically engineered seed varieties following its recent takeover of the biotech giant Aventis CropScience. As all of German industry became absorbed into the growing Nazi war machine, Bayer's organophosphate compounds were developed simultaneously as agricultural pesticides and as nerve gases for military use. These included such notorious chemical warfare agents as sarin, soman and tabun gases, all of which are still manufactured today. Organophosphates represent 40 percent of today's insecticide market, and are associated with some 20,000 cases of acute poisoning every year.

In the 1930s, scientists at the Swiss J. R. Geigy Company were searching for new compounds to disinfect seeds and prevent moths from feeding on wool. Geigy later merged with Ciba to form Ciba-Geigy, with Sandoz to form Novartis, and then merged its agribusiness division with the British Imperial Chemical Industries' offshoot Zeneca to form the agrochemical and biotechnology giant Syngenta in 2001. These researchers' key discovery was that DDT, which was first synthesized by an academic scientist in 1874, could accomplish both of their desired ends and more. Interest in DDT flared during World War II, when the U.S. Army faced two nearly incapacitating pest problems. Soldiers in southern Europe were facing widespread outbreaks of typhus from exposure to lice, and their counterparts in the south Pacific faced potential epidemics of malaria. The pyrethrum-based powders that were most often used had to be reapplied in a stringent and systematic manner every week, which was seen as far too inconvenient for battlefield conditions. The Army looked to Geigy's new product as the answer, and soon, 2 million pounds of DDT were being produced every month. DDT was seen as the "atom bomb of insecticides," capable of permanently eliminating various pest species.

After World War II, DDT became the most widely applied chemical in human history, and its commercial success led to a massive increase in the production and use of chemical insecticides of all types. The widespread use of DDT -- for both agricultural and household uses -- led to a dramatic shift in the chemical industry's approach to pest control, a shift in attitude that still plagues us today, and was in many ways a direct outgrowth of its wartime origins. DDT truly was seen as an ultimate weapon, the "atom bomb of insecticides," capable of permanently eliminating various pest species.

During the 1960s, Monsanto was a leading manufacturer of the herbicide "Agent Orange," which was used by U.S. military forces to obliterate the dense jungles of Vietnam. Today Monsanto's Roundup-family herbicides play a central role in the U.S. "drug war" via its widespread use to eradicate coca and poppy plants in Colombia and other countries. Colombian agronomists have uncovered the use of a new additive that increases herbicide exposures to more than 100 times Monsanto's recommended dosage for more typical agricultural applications.

Of all of Monsanto, DuPont and Dow's agricultural products, genetically engineered food crops might appear to be the least tainted with immediate wartime origins. But this technology emerged from a period when the future of chemical agriculture appeared very much in doubt. With the rapid expansion of the agrochemical industry during the post-World War II era, these companies and their European counterparts had established a profound degree of control over agricultural practices. But as public pressure and the weight of scientific evidence curtailed the use of DDT and many other chlorinated pesticides in the 1970s, executives and corporate scientists saw the potential for limitless advances -- and ever-expanding marketing potential -- in the incorporation of technological advances into the genetics of seeds. During the 1990s, Monsanto alone spent nearly $8 billion acquiring leading commercial seed suppliers in the United States and internationally; DuPont and others quickly followed suit, leading to today's widespread proliferation of genetically engineered food crops.

Today, as the Bush administration continues beating the proverbial war drum, and as scientific evidence increasingly affirms the ecological hazards of genetic engineering, it is imperative that critics and activists redouble efforts to counter these inherently uncertain and destructive technologies.

By Brian Tokar, the author of Redesigning Life?: The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering. He teaches at the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont.

Posted by Richard
10/18/2002 08:19:08 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, October 17, 2002

No Green Light Yet For Radioactive Soil

By Dick Foster, Rocky Mountain News

State health officials on Tuesday rejected an application by Cotter Corp. to bring 470,000 tons of radioactive dirt to its uranium processing mill in Cañon City.

But the health department left the door open for later approval if Cotter amends its application with additional information.

Cotter applied last February to receive the low-level, thorium-laced soil, which was being removed from industrial properties on a Superfund cleanup site in Maywood, N.J.

Cotter's Cañon City mill had refined uranium from 1958 to 1987. It was declared a Superfund cleanup site in 1984, when radioactive contamination of surrounding land and domestic wells was traced to the mill.

An uproar by Cañon City residents prompted Gov. Bill Owens to block the Maywood shipments last February, pending state health department review of Cotter's application. The shipments have never begun.

State health officials told Cotter Tuesday that the application was rejected not for the properties of the waste itself, but for the inadequacy of Cotter's environmental assessment.

One key element of the application - the analysis of the public health risk posed by the radioactive material - was acceptable, state health officials said.

But other issues regarding transportation of the material and "socioeconomic impacts on the community" were inadequately addressed, said Douglas Benevento, the health department's acting executive director. Cotter executive vice president Rich Ziegler called the rejection a temporary setback and said that Cotter will try to provide the necessary information.

Posted by Richard
10/17/2002 08:45:15 AM | PermaLink

Closely Linked Ecosystems Vulnerable to Change

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 15, 2002 (ENS) - Ecological systems are more closely related than once believed, a new study suggests, making them more vulnerable to change.

A team of scientists led by researchers at San Francisco State University's (SFSU) Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies has demonstrated that natural habitats are more connected, and more fragile, than researchers have thought.

Led by SFSU's Dr. Neo Martinez, assistant professor of biology, Dr. Richard Williams, adjunct professor of biology, and Dr. Jennifer Dunne, postdoctoral fellow in collaboration with the Santa Fe Institute for complexity studies, the scientists combined computer network models with ecological data to analyze food webs - the prey/predator relationships - in a variety of land and water ecosystems.

They demonstrated that species within large communities are on average just two links apart, with greater than 95 percent of species within three links of each other.

Prior to this research, ecologists believed that many, if not most, species were four or more links away from each other and much less likely to impact one another in the event of extinction, invasion by predatory species or changes in population.

"Our findings show that invasions by other species, loss of biodiversity and other changes in populations have the potential to affect many more of the species in the same habitat than was previously believed," said Martinez. "These ongoing analyses are a powerful tool for exploring how robust or fragile ecosystems are, and can help us determine what aspects of a system contribute to robustness."

The research appears in the current issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

In a second report in the same issue of the journal, the SFSU researchers demonstrate that, while food webs have some patterns consistent with small world networks such as Internet e-mail groups, in general they are not as cliquish or clustered as most small world networks. Instead, food web connections are more widespread and interdependent.

Posted by Richard
10/17/2002 08:42:39 AM | PermaLink

FDA Tries to Remove Genetic Label Before it Sticks

By Elizabeth Weise USA TODAY

PORTLAND, Ore. — In an unusual move, the federal government has warned the state of Oregon that it could be interfering with national food producers if voters pass a ballot measure requiring all genetically modified foods sold in the state to be labeled.

The unsolicited letter, which arrived Monday in the office of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, says the measure "would impermissibly interfere with manufacturers' ability to market their products on a nationwide basis." The letter was signed by Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner Lester Crawford.

As much as 80% of the foods found in a typical American supermarket contain at least one ingredient created from genetically engineered crops. Backers of the measure don't claim the foods are dangerous, but they say consumers should be able to make informed choices. Critics say labeling is expensive and will force one label for Oregon foods, a different one elsewhere.

If voters pass the measure Nov. 5, Oregon will be the first state to require labeling of so-called GE foods. Europe and Japan already require labeling.

The FDA letter now inserts a federal interest in what to this point had been a brewing state fight.

Still, Measure 27 is the subject of intense interest far beyond Oregon's borders. Food suppliers and processors argue that if they lose in Oregon, they'll face unjust suspicion from consumers that the foods aren't safe and the prospect of labeling laws in other states.

"In this letter, we are not promising to take action, but we are letting the people of Oregon know, as best we can, what our views are about the ordinance," a senior FDA official said.

The FDA statement appears to allude to the commerce clause of the Constitution, which prohibits states from impeding the flow of interstate commerce, says Jonathan Adler, a professor of environmental and constitutional law at Case Western Reserve law school in Cleveland.

The governor's press secretary, Tom Towslee, says the governor was surprised to get the letter. "For the federal government to weigh in on a ballot measure in little old Oregon is a little unusual, but they obviously feel strongly about it," Towslee says.

The two-page letter also states that the FDA has found that, in its scientific judgment, there "is no significant difference" between bioengineered foods and their conventional counterparts.

Donna Harris, who launched the campaign to get the initiative on the ballot, doesn't buy it. "If they're the same as everything else, then how come they have a patent on them?"

More at Mapcruzin

Posted by Richard
10/17/2002 08:40:28 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Balkans Syndrome: The Catastrophic Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons by NATO in Kosovo Bombings

I don't want to come down upon UNEP because as far as I'm concerned they are time and again one of the few UN organizations that will stand up to power and say unfriendly things that need to be heard. The following article, however, suggests that the well-known use of depleted uranium weapons was and is 'potentially dangerous' to life in the Balkans region, but that findings are not conclusive. For the uncareful reader, one has to understand that UN materials often require reading through the lines -- because the UN is ultimately chartered by the states that it points fingers at, its language must be very diplomatic. Thus, is the case here I will argue. In fact, the findings have been very conclusive for the better part of almost 10 years. Like with the Gulf War before it, the US-led troops used a variety of radiological weaponry that not only caused great devastation to all living beings and the land itself, but which continues its toxic legacy throughout the regions long after the wars have been won.

For a much more telling series of articles and essays, look at the following: Look at the studies done on the ground, for instance, by the International Depleted Uranium Study Team (IDUST).
UN Assesses Depleted Uranium in Bosnia-Herzegovina

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina, October 15, 2002 (ENS) - At the request of the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a team of experts from the United Nations Environment Programme is investigating 12 sites in the country that may have been targeted by ordnance containing depleted uranium (DU) during the Bosnian conflict in 1994 and 1995.

The 17 member team UNEP Depleted Uranium Assessment Team began its research October 12 and will be in the field until October 24. Their conclusions will be presented in a report to be published in March 2003.

Pekka Haavisto examines a DU munitions target for radioactivity. (Photo courtesy UNEP Post Conflict Assessment Unit)
The assessment mission is headed by Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish environment minister who has led war damage assessment teams in the Balkans, and most recently in the Palestinian Territories.

"UNEP's aim is to determine whether the use of depleted uranium during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina may pose health or environmental risks - either now or in the future," said Haavisto.

"Previous studies of DU in Kosovo and Serbia recommended that governments and civilians take precautionary action to avoid contact with DU," he said.

The team will take soil, water, air and vegetation samples at six sites that have been identified by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as having been struck by DU weapons. They will examine six other sites that local residents believe may have also been targeted.

At the request of the local authorities, the medical sub-team, led by an expert from the World Health Organization (WHO), will examine data on cancer rates in the main urban centres of Sarajevo and Banja Luka. They will also visit a local hospital in Bratunac to meet with the local medics and with patients who may have been exposed to DU during the conflict.

The mission is being funded by the governments of Italy and Switzerland.

Radioactive materials found by a UNEP post-conflict assessment team in Vinca, Serbia in 2001 (Photo courtesy UNEP)
The assessment team includes experts from UNEP, the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, Spiez Laboratory of Switzerland, Italy's National Environmental Protection Agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Greek Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine, the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Bristol, UK.

The samples being collected will be analyzed in detail for radioactivity and toxicity in the Spiez Laboratory, in Italy's National Environmental Protection Agency lab, and at Bristol University.

The uranium remaining after removal of the enriched fraction contains about 99.8 percent 238U, 0.25 percent of 235U and 0.001 percent 234U by mass. This material is referred to as depleted uranium or DU.

Due to its high density, about twice that of lead, and other properties, DU is used in munitions designed to penetrate armor plate and for protection of military vehicles such as tanks.

DU is described by the World Health Organization (WHO) in an April 2001 Fact Sheet as "weakly radioactive." A radiation dose from it would be about 60 percent of that from purified natural uranium with the same mass.

DU has both chemical and radiological toxicity that affects the kidneys and the lungs.

UNEP's Balkans Task Force report giving field measurements taken around selected impact sites in Kosovo indicates that contamination by DU in the environment was localized to a few tens of meters around impact sites.

"We learned," UNEP reports, "that still, more than two years after the end of the conflict, particles of DU dust can be detected from soil samples and from sensitive bio-indicators like lichen."

The "extremely low" levels were only detectable through lab analysis, but UNEP confirmed that "contamination at the targeted sites is widespread, though no significant level of radioactivity can be measured."

Djakovica, Kosovo. UNEP assessment team member measures DU contamination with a gamma meter. (Photo courtesy UNEP)
But the task force found that levels of DU may be significantly raised over background levels in close proximity to DU contaminating events.

Over the days and years following such an event, WHO warns, the contamination will become dispersed into the wider natural environment. "People living or working in affected areas can inhale dusts and can consume contaminated food and drinking water."

"Levels of contamination in food and drinking water could rise in affected areas after some years and should be monitored where it is considered that there is a reasonable possibility of significant quantities of DU entering the ground water or food chain," the agency says.

Young children playing in or near DU impact sites could ingest the radioactive substance lingering in contaminated soil when putting their fingers in their mouths, WHO warns.

There is a possibility of lung tissue damage leading to a risk of lung cancer if a high enough radiation dose results from insoluble DU compounds remaining in the lungs for many years, says WHO. "No reproductive or developmental effects have been reported in humans, but studies are limited."

The UNEP Balkans assessment team used modern air sampling techniques and detected airborne DU particles at two sites, indicating for the first time, that the radioactive substance could remain in the air for months, and possibly for years.

"One of the most significant findings," of the Balkans research, UNEP says, is that "future risks to groundwater maybe posed by the gradual corrosion of DU penetrators." The magnitude of this risk is unknown, and UNEP recommended continued monitoring.

In April 2001, WHO published a monograph entitled "Depleted Uranium: Sources, Exposures and Health Effects" which reviews the best available scientific literature on uranium and depleted uranium.

UNEP's post-conflict depleted uranium reports are online at:

Posted by Richard
10/16/2002 08:04:38 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Pesticides Banned Years Ago Still in Foods

About 20 percent of the food we eat is contaminated with trace amounts of pesticides, even though most of them have been banned for decades, a new report says. A typical diet features between 60-70 hits daily of toxic chemicals such as DDT, dieldrin and dioxin, according to the study published in today's edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network, which conducted the analysis based on U.S. government data, said that finding up to five chemicals in popular foods such as salmon, cheese and cucumbers is routine.
(10/15/02) Toronto Globe and Mail

Posted by Richard
10/15/2002 05:54:44 PM | PermaLink

Anti-Nuclear Action in Nevada

Just back from two week long action in Nevada where I am happy to report that the movement is alive and well as at least 1,000 people came to camp in the middle of the radioactive desert just outside the Department of Energy's Nuclear Test Site, run by Bechtel Corporation. There was a night-long rave hosted by the soundcrew of Oregon's Mutantfest on Friday night and a big concert of bands Saturday after the first of the direct actions into the test facility. Environmental justice groups from all across America, as well as peace-loving people from London to Australia made it this year to demonstrate the insanity of America's continued interest in nuclear weapons and energy, as well as its plan to move vast tons of highly toxic nuclear waste across the US road and rail systems, through mainly poor communities, and onto land that has been unethically reclaimed from the native Newe people.

This was a great event, and we gave 'em hell -- though you'll hardly find a mention of it in the press. Here's one.

In honor of the event, and to prove that I'm as lousy a singer as I am a web developer, I'm including this Quicktime recording of Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land.

Posted by Richard
10/15/2002 02:57:32 PM | PermaLink