Safe Chemicals: CHE Partner Initiatives
3:00 pm US Eastern Time
For background information, we encourage you to review the new CHE public policy primer, titled "Our Health and the Health of the Environment: How Are They Connected and What Can We Do To Improve Both?"
We also encourage CHE Partners to review the five Precautionary Principle key elements (as described below):
The Key Elements of the San Francisco's Precautionary Principle:
Where threats of serious or irreversible damage to people or nature exist, lack of full scientific certainty about cause and effect shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for the City to postpone cost effective measures to prevent the degradation of the environment or protect the health of its citizens.
1) Anticipatory Action: There is a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent harm. Government, business, and community groups, as well as the general public, share this responsibility.
2) Right to Know: The community has a right to know complete and accurate information on potential human health and environmental impacts associated with the selection of products, services, operations or plans. The burden to supply this information lies with the proponent, not with the general public.
3) Alternatives Assessment: An obligation exists to examine a full range of alternatives and select the alternative with the least potential impact on human health and the environment including the alternative of doing nothing.
4) Full Cost Accounting: When evaluating potential alternatives, there is a duty to consider all the reasonably foreseeable costs, including raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, use, cleanup, eventual disposal, and health costs even if such costs are not reflected in the initial price. Short-and long-term benefits and time thresholds should be considered when making decisions.
5) Participatory Decision Process: Decisions applying the Precautionary Principle must be transparent, participatory, and informed by the best available science and other relevant information.
1. Welcome: Moderator: Michael Lerner, PhD, President, Commonweal
It’s always such a joy to be part of this extraordinary national partnership and these calls really bring together an incredibly knowledgeable community of people who share our concern about environmental health.
As we start the call and before I introduce Charlotte, I just want to emphasize, you all know as CHE Partners, that CHE never speaks for our Partners because we have such a diverse group of 1200 organizations and individuals involved in CHE. So the question of how we handle policy and advocacy within CHE is one that we’ve given a lot of thought to, because CHE, as a Partnership, does not take policy or advocacy positions. But what we do share in common, is a deep commitment to the science on environmental health and a deep commitment to the consensus statement that everyone signs as they join CHE. The consensus statement basically recommends a very precautionary approach to these environmental contaminants. So we thought that it was very important, as we discuss the science, that we also give CHE Partners an opportunity to understand what other CHE Partners are doing in terms of advocacy and policy and to create opportunities for CHE Partners who want to explore this or who may already be active on advocacy and policy to have opportunities to do that.
So it is in that context that we’ve put together the CHE Primer. Then we put together this call. Charlotte Brody played the lead role in putting together the Primer. So, Charlotte would you frame the call for us.
2. First Speaker: Charlotte Brody, RN, Executive Director, Commonweal & Health Care Without Harm
Thank you Michael and thank you to all the speakers who will come after me. I am so pleased that this day is actually here and that you all either have a physical copy of the Primer, or that you can see one on-line. This is the culmination of one of those simple ideas that takes a lot of time to get done. The idea, from the beginning, was to try to do something simple and to give people who aren't quite ready to go to the extraordinary Protecting Our Health website, that I hope you all have done many times, and read the peer reviewed papers that Pete Myers, Gina Solomon, Ted Schettler and others have worked so hard to put there, but rather, to take that kind of information and distill it into a starter's kit about what we're learning on environmental problems, how they're linked to health problems and what we can do to solve both.
The Primer is really meant to be an outreach tool, a starter kit, a give away to engage the people who are ready to take the first step toward thinking about environmental health. We put it together hoping to give CHE Partners who wanted to use it, the ability to have something to give to their Pastor after he mentions that he seems to notice that there's an increase in chronic disease in the congregation, to give to the State Legislator who has asked you what your organization is working on, to give to your mother-in-law who can't quite figure out what it is you do and why you do it, and really meant for us as a common tool that we can use to start the conversation about health and the environment and what we can do to improve both and then to share what we learn from that conversation to do the next iteration of the Primer.
So I hope that all of you will look at the Primer, think of ways that you can use it, and let it be part of our ongoing conversation together, so we can figure out if tools like this can help us to figure out the solution to environmental health problems.
Michael Lerner: Thank you Charlotte. Michael Belliveau, would you please describe your work in Maine?
3. Second Speaker: Michael Belliveau, Executive Director, Environmental Health Strategy Center
I want to talk about how we have used health-based strategies for advancing policies to prevent chemical hazards, particularly related to persistent toxic chemicals. Before I get to the Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs), for which there are emerging concerns about this new class of chemicals, I want to mention that the work started in the past five years by focusing on promoting safer alternatives to mercury-containing products. By focusing on mercury, we had the benefit of a relatively rich body of science on mercury hazards, mercury exposure, and we also have epidemiological studies showing subtle neuro-developmental effects of mercury on human populations subject to low-levels of mercury exposure. So there was a pretty broad consensus that mercury was problematic.
In Maine, as part of an over-all mercury reduction strategy that state government resources were marshaled around, we participated in promoting policies that said whenever there is a safer alternative to a mercury-containing consumer product, that does its job and is relatively affordable, than it ought to be required and the mercury-containing product ought to be phased out. That resonated with policy makers.
The original part of the mercury debate was based on environmental concerns: loons, fish and lakes. But when we ran into opposition from electrical manufacturers who wanted to keep mercury-containing thermostats on the market, for example, it was the health-affected populations that stepped forward and made the difference. So, that was where we saw the emergence, for example, of the leadership of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, which is a primarily volunteer driven service organization, for children and adults with learning disabilities. They stepped forward as public health advocates and said, "Mercury is a preventable cause of learning disabilities and from a public health perspective we ought to be taking steps to replace mercury-containing products with safer alternatives." That helped tip the balance and persuade policy makers to put Maine on the map of one of the leading states in the country that now says in our law books that almost all mercury-containing products are to be systematically phased out and replaced with non-mercury alternatives.
So mercury is simply one of a number of persistent and bio-cumulative toxic chemicals that we believe need to be prioritized for replacing with safer alternatives. In the last year or so, we called a lot of attention, as others have, to the so-called Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs), which is a kind of a poster child example of the need for precautionary-based policies. These are chemical additives that are put into synthetic plastics, such as the housings of computers and television sets, foam mattresses and synthetic fibers, such as upholstery, to stop the formation of flame, so they serve a useful safety purpose. But these chemicals do not stay in the product; they escape into people's homes and offices and into the environment and build up in the food chain. In the last five years there's been shocking evidence of these chemicals showing up in human breast milk. So we put forward a proposal that although we do not yet have human health hazard data on these classes of chemicals, we know enough to take action. We know that they are persistent in the environment. We know they bio-concentrate in living organisms. We know from animal toxicity studies, that they look and act similar to the PCBs, which when they were banned in the 1970's, were lacking human evidence of harm, except at extremely high concentrations, but since have found to be neuro-developmental toxicants in young children.
So we know enough to act on the BFRs and we proposed a sweeping policy proposal, working with concerned legislators to systematically replace this class of chemicals with safer alternatives. There was considerable opposition to this proposal from the Bromine Chemical Industry, which makes these substances. Now the framing of the issue as a public health matter and the participation of physicians and nurses and breast-feeding advocates made the difference. For example, we circulated a letter, signed by 25 physicians that we recruited through the Physicians for Social Responsibility in Maine, which made a strong impression on policy-makers to take action. That letter in turn, then leveraged support from the Maine Medical Association for this legislation. We also had breast-feeding advocacy organizations and moms front and center describing the problem and the need for action. Again, the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine and other developmental disability organizations stepped forward and said, "we are concerned that these substances are associated with neuro-developmental affects on children." So the law that was initiated and signed into action this year takes important steps in beginning to phase out our dependence on these chemicals.
I'll just close by saying that this is an example of a broader type of chemicals policy that is necessary. If you look in the Primer, you will see some information about a proposal on the table before the European Parliament, known by its acronym as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), which is a new way of thinking about proactively regulating chemical hazards before the body count, so to speak, based on science, but also based on precautionary action. That's what we're ultimately aiming to achieve in Maine and in other states. To build critical support for that type of chemicals policy reform, nationally and in the United States ultimately in the next five years.
Michael Lerner: Michael, thank you very much. I just want to say that what you have done in Maine is a classic example of bringing the patient and health professional groups to the table on environmental contaminant issues. This is an example of what CHE hopes to enable interested Partners do in their own ways as they wish to be involved. Our next speaker is Laurie Valeriano. Laurie would you please tell us about your work in Washington?
4. Third Speaker: Laurie Valeriano, Policy Director, Washington Toxics Coalition
I'm going to explain a little bit about what we have here in Washington and then really focus on how we got here. In Washington we have a precautionary-based policy to phase out persistent toxic chemicals at a state level. It's a policy as well as a program that's funded by the legislature, to do, among other things, chemical phase-out action plans. These plans basically identify sources of chemicals and recommend actions to take in order to phase-out chemicals. It's also a policy that's very broad as it is supposed to direct the state agencies, particularly the department of ecology and health.
How did we get the initial policy and strategy? It was pretty easy at first, we didn't have a big campaign or sophisticated lobbying, we just had a lot of passionate and sincere people speaking with some of the state agency people who could give us such a policy. We were working with local groups who are concerned about dioxins from incinerators and toxic sites. We had been meeting with the head of our ecology agency. At one point we suggested that the state really needed to have a more comprehensive, precautionary-based approach when dealing with these chemicals because what they were doing wasn't working. It was resulting in toxic sites, contaminated Orca Whales, all kinds of things that we were identifying in Washington as a problem. We were also telling them about what was happening in the Great Lakes. To our shock and amazement, the head of the Department of Ecology, at that time, said, "tell us how you would go about it." We responded with a memo that provided the basic framework to how they would go about it, and to our amazement again, in December 2000, the Department of Ecology announced this broad-sweeping policy and strategy to phase-out persistent toxic chemicals.
Now, I'm going to fast-forward again. We thought we were doing really well. We were moving ahead with the strategy. We had gotten the program funded in 2001, with a good coalition of environmental health, religious and civic groups. In 2002 the state had done a mercury chemical action plan and we had just passed a mercury bill in 2003 with a lot of diverse support from the State Nurses Association, Firefighters, health professionals and environmental groups. But the same year we won on mercury, we actually lost the funding for the program as a whole and the policy and we said, "wait a minute, what happened here, we just won this bill, we have broad support." The mercury bill basically passed without a lot of opposition, just one senator voted no. What happened was, the chemical industry and large businesses in Washington realized that the program was actually going to be about action and not just words, so they went behind the scenes to de-fund it.
So we really needed to re-group and think. We realized that we needed to be getting much broader support for the program from both Democrats and Republicans as well much broader support from health professionals and people who are impacted. We also had polling that told us that 80% of the public supported phasing-out the worst chemicals. So we asked how we would do this. We have a pretty broad coalition here in Washington, called the Toxic Free Legacy Coalition, made up of Physicians for Social Responsibility, WASHPIRG and other organizations. We decided we needed more credibility and that doctors and health professionals would provide that. We decided we needed more people who were really impacted to be telling their personal stories to legislators. This is similar to how they did it in Maine. Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, over the summer, went out and got over 100 health care professionals to sign onto a letter in support of the phase-out program.
We were also lucky enough to work with Northwest Environment Watch, a local environmental group, on a study of toxic flame retardants in breast milk and we got to talk with and meet with women who were tested and found high levels of these toxics in their breast milk and they wanted to get involved and talk to legislators about phasing out these persistent chemicals. Out of this we also got involved with organizations passionate about children's health, such as Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies and breastfeeding advocates.
In 2004, we went back to the legislature with both of these things in full swing, after a full summer of organizing and talking to lots of individuals and getting these letters of support. We realized that a very broad range of people really could embrace this issue.
I would like to end with one last story. We decided to bring the doctors to deliver this letter to the legislature as well as to bring down breastfeeding moms to tell them about their personal experience getting tested. It was really low-key, these people had never lobbied before, and we didn't really think it had much of an impact at the time, but afterward it was the talk of the town in Olympia. Everyone was talking about these folks who had come down, talking about flame-retardants and persistent toxic chemicals and how this program needed to be funded.
Just as evidence that this really worked, at one point we heard that one of the legislators that we had talked to, who was leading the fight to support the funding, who was a republican from Southwest Washington, was talking to Boeing and asking them why they were opposed to the funding. He told them that this issue was about women, children's health and clean breast milk and that there was really no reason that they should be opposed to it. As a result we won back the funding and now we're really thriving with lots more support with a broad range of folks working on this program. Now we're working on the toxic flame retardant issue. Really a lot of people coming out on the toxic flame retardant issue are really making the connection that we really need broader chemical policy reform. These chemicals that are similar to PCBs are winding up in our breast milk and in our bodies and now it's time that we prevent these chemicals from going in at a much broader scale. So we're getting people to make that connection now and it's very exciting and we're working like Maine to develop these policies for a much larger chemical policy reform.
Michael Lerner: Laurie, thank you very much. Again another classic example of what CHE Partners across the country are working for; toward the kind of precautionary approach that the European Union is trying to do with REACH. Jay Feldman, would you please give us an update on your work?
5. Fourth Speaker: Jay Feldman, Executive Director, Beyond Pesticides
Thank you Michael. The Primer talks about a school district in Baldwin, New York. I think what's happening generally in terms of school districts across the country is a true grass-roots movement that's health based, looking at tactical changes that can occur on the ground that reduce childhood exposures to toxins. In this particular campaign, the focus is on toxic pesticides. The Baldwin example is a good one because I think it reflects a turn around in terms of a community that was at one point fined for non-compliance with federal and community right to know act because of improper use of storage and poor training and access to information. The recognition after various publications were made available to the community that in fact there were serious exposure problems that children were suffering and there were indeed available alternative practices that could be put in place to eliminate exposure.
The community now represents a model in terms of its focus on non-chemical management and preventative approaches to pest management, typically called pest prevention, which includes a number of technical approaches to pest management than could serve as a model for the rest of the country.
In addition to the practical side of this, the example really serves to show that the benefit can be achieved with cost savings over time, which has always been a hurdle in moving changes and practices and policy. So in effect, this is a representation of what can be and has been achieved across the country.
Most of what's happening throughout the country, at the grass roots level, has been born out of the recognition that children are exposed to hazardous chemicals on a daily basis in an environment in which we're hoping to promote learning. This is because of inadequate regulation of chemicals that are widely available on the market, chemicals that have known adverse health affects. Many of these are cited in the Primer. The references to asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer are in fact tied directly to pesticides.
Parents, educators, physicians and environmental managers are becoming increasingly aware of this. The surveys that we've done show that of the 48 most commonly used pesticides in schools, 24 are known or probable carcinogens, 25 are linked to reproductive effects, 33 neuro-toxics and 33 cause kidney and liver damage and 39 are sensitizers or irritants. When you bring that information locally it causes the kind of changes that we're seeing and have seen in communities like Baldwin and throughout the country. Seventeen states now recommend or require integrative pest management as the alternative to chemical intensive management systems and 33 states have taken some position through state law as a stance on reducing exposure to children and creating a right to know scenario. At the federal level, the School and Environment Protection Act is still in congress, it has passed the senate twice and is held up in the house. The democrats have included the School Environment Protection Act in the Leave No Child Behind Act.
I'd like to leave you all with the sense that this is an opportunity and has been a grass-roots opportunity for change at the community level. The awareness that pesticides and toxic chemicals and children do not mix is really seen crystal clear at the local level. The opportunities for change in the absence of adequate state and federal laws is also an inspiration for communities across the country.
Michael Lerner: Thank you very much Jay. Now Debbie Raphael will share the work that she has been doing in San Francisco.
6. Fifth Speaker: Debbie Raphael, Toxics Reduction Program Manager, City and County of San Francisco
I am so honored to be on this call with such an amazing array with environmental leaders from around the country. I am a little bit different from the other speakers, in that I am a bureaucrat. Yet San Francisco could not have adopted the precautionary principle ordinance without the help and the guidance and the pushing of our activist community of health educators.
Basically what happened a couple of years ago, was that the Breast Cancer Fund and some other environmental organizations including Commonweal, came to our Commission on the Environment, which is a political body appointed by the mayor, and said, "we think this is a really important issue. We think San Francisco should make a statement and adopt this as policy."
That began a two year journey of trying to figure out how take an inspirational vision statement, which was what, in our minds, the wingspread statement that defined the precautionary principle was, and bring it down to the level of practical policy. We asked, "how do we take this good idea of taking preventative action in the face of scientific uncertainty and make it useable to people in their everyday decision making?" We took two years to do this. We had monthly public meetings. Industry was there at every single meeting. We reached out to the business community.
As we progressed on this journey, we ended up defining the precautionary principle as the five basic tenets; Anticipatory Action, Right to Know, Alternatives Assessment, Full Cost Accounting, and Participatory Decision Process. When we brought those five tenets together, we realized that we had created was a decision-making process and that those five steps could be followed by people like myself, by bureaucrats, as they embark on decision-making.
Next, we needed to get the support of elected officials if we wanted this to be policy. As an insider we are very limited in what we can do to work with elected officials and this is where the outside community is critical. The Bay Area Working Group on the Precautionary Principle was formed. It was a coalition of local NGOs. They got grant funding from a local foundation and started their lobbying efforts. They met with the decision makers of the elected officials on our board of supervisors. They gave out postcards at a rock concert and had people send in support postcards to our mayor. It worked; in the end we got a near unanimous decision. The decision was to create an environment code. What we realized was that San Francisco has many different ordinances that have to do with environmental decision-making; on pesticide use, on green building, on recycling, but they were spread out under this huge municipal code. So we brought them all together into an environment code and made the Precautionary Principle chapter one; the overarching principle that would guide environmental decision-making.
So, we've got this great principle, what does it mean to put it to use? I want to quickly give two examples. One is the example of arsenic treated wood. This is one of my favorite examples, because it shows that when you follow a precautionary approach, it doesn't automatically lead to a ban. This is what industry kept saying, "when you follow the precautionary principle, you throw science out the window and it always leads to a ban." We would suggest that when we follow the precautionary approach, we ask the question, "is arsenic treated wood necessary? Are there safer alternatives?" We got some interesting answers. In 99% of the cases, when we used arsenic treated wood in city construction projects, the answer was it was not necessary there are plenty of alternatives. But in one instance, the answer was that arsenic treated wood was the environmentally preferable choice. When you're talking about wood pilings in a saltwater environment, copper is the issue not arsenic and arsenic binds the copper. So working very closely with the Washington Toxics Coalition on this, we came up with an alternative assessment that maximized science, maximized information and minimized harm, yet did not lead to a ban.
Right now we're working on drafting a precautionary purchasing ordinance that will take the work that we've been doing for awhile and the work that other entities around the country are doing and saying that all city purchases will follow a precautionary approach. We will identify alternatives. We will insist on a right to know.
The example that keeps coming up today is Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs). We have found that most manufacturers don't even know if the foam in the furniture that they're selling us contains these BFRs. So one thing this precautionary ordinance will do is to require purchasing to send out a blanket questionnaire to all venders, whoever we buy from and we will ask some general questions: Does your product contain mercury? Does your product contain BFRs? Is your product easily recyclable? Whatever those criteria are. And that will allow us to start to gather information about products that we didn't even know were a problem. It will also give a heads up to manufacturers that San Francisco cares about these issues in our purchasing and that we intend to buy safer alternatives when they are available.
Michael Lerner: Debbie, thank you very much.
7. Questions, Answers and Comments
Philip R. Lee, MD, Professor Emeritus of Social Medicine, UCSF and the Institute for Health Policy Studies, Stanford University: I have three comments. The first is on Manganese. I think we need to get more information and there is some very recent work by Francis Crinella, professor of pediatrics at UC Irvine, which can be viewed at: http://www.today.uci.edu/news/release_detail.asp?key=922. There’s very strong information on primates, that’s very disturbing with respect to manganese and ADD and hyperactivity and people ending up in prison.
The second is on Breast Cancer. The California EPA is considering a regulation regarding second hand smoke and breast cancer. There’s very strong evidence, but the Cancer Society and NCI are not supportive of this move by CalEPA. So there’s likely to be a little fuss about that, but there’s very strong evidence there.
Also, on the national health tracking, Amy Kyle at UC Berkeley and the School of Public Health is involved in a group evaluating that and Amy is the person we should contact to get more information.
I think the CDC conceptual framework for the tracking is limited. So there needs to be more attention paid to what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
Julia Earl, MS, Coordinator, Preventing Harm Minnesota: I have a question for Debbie. We have been working to support the city of Minneapolis’ development of a precautionary principle amendment, which would comprehensively address this. It is called the Comprehensive Plan for the City. Joan Reinhardt Reiss and Joel Tickner came out and talked with us. What I’m curious about is if Debbie might recommend someone for us to talk to about pitfalls to avoid in crafting the language. In particular, what we’re hearing now is that philosophically the city council will probably be willing to adopt the precautionary principle. But in terms of when the rubber hits the road, as many municipalities and cities are concerned that the green purchasing requirements would be more costly than conventional cleaners.
Debbie Raphael: There are many potential pitfalls in language and I would be happy to talk to you or anyone else about what those are. For instance the issue of maximizing science and cost and benefit; those are words that industry wants to see, which is fine with me. I think they should be in there. The issue of added cost; we very deliberately put into our language that they needed to be cost effective solutions. Cost is an absolute factor when you implement policy. So the language does not ignore cost. What we’ve found in our own work on environmentally preferable purchasing is that it’s often pretty cost neutral. There will be instances where it’s not and you can decide whether or not you want to go there, but in most cases it’s pretty cost neutral.
Iona Conner, LPN: I have a question for Jay Feldman. When you talk about pesticides, do you mean to include herbicides and other toxic lawn care and bug killing products?
Jay Feldman: Yes, we use Pesticides as the umbrella term to include weed killers, herbicides, insecticides, spongicides, rodenticides and all of that. What are not included are the antimicrobials and the disinfectants. Right now, the state ordinances and local policies do not include the antimicrobials and disinfectants, which is an area that we really need to look at.
Michael Lerner: I’ve read studies out of the veterinary literature about the health impacts of lawn care products on pets. I wonder whether there is any solid work comparing health effects of pets and their owners coming out of veterinary literature?
Jay Feldman: As you say, there are studies looking specifically at pets. One is an NIH study looking at canine lymphomas. Another recently came out of the University of Illinois, and I believe it was picked up by the American Medical Association. I don’t know of any study that then looks at their owners as well, that would be very interesting.
Charlotte Brody: I wanted to ask the presenters for their thoughts on how working on a solution to a piece of the environmental health problem helped sharpen their descriptions of “problem,” and if it made it easier to talk about the environmental problems that are linked to health problems because they were linked to a piece of the solution?
Laurie Valeriano: I think that what helped the most is that when we were talking about these flame-retardants; it’s a lot more personal for people in that they are in their homes. It’s not a pulp mill five miles away. These products are in their homes and their babies are crawling around in it. We didn’t focus so much on the alternatives and providing a solution. It does make it easier from an advocate’s perspective to provide a solution. But for flame-retardants, the solution is not that easy. I think it really helped more that the issue could be talked about in a really personal way. It also helped because we had really compelling science about the levels in the environment and in people’s bodies and in breast milk.
Michael Belliveau: I would offer two useful frames. The first would be to talk about how the problem can be solved. The second would be to talk about how human health is affected as opposed to the environment more broadly. One way that those frames guided our work on the toxic flame-retardants is that we sat down early on with the State Fire Marshall and separately with representatives of the firefighters, so that we could acknowledge that, as with any chemical in a consumer product, they are added for a specific purpose. We acknowledged that fire safety was a very important, legitimate, necessary purpose and that our aim was to not sacrifice fire safety standards whatsoever. The approach that we were taking was to say that we are looking to promote alternatives that maintain the exact same fire safety standards, without the threats to human health and the environment posed by these particular additives. So it helped guide us toward key constituencies that need to be communicated that otherwise might have concerns that would delay action.
Jay Feldman: I think this is a very good question. In the case of pest management, at the local level, there are so many good examples and they need to be given a voice. But as part of a an organizing strategy communities have successfully pointed to models that have shown administrators that they can achieve the kinds of controls they want in terms of pest management with alternatives at a competitive cost and even over time even less of a cost. Obviously, folks are asking for change in cultural practices and management strategy and shifting of cost from one column to another, as an example, but there are enough examples that show us over time that people can point to.
Over the years, many of us have tried to embolden the folks working through the extension service, who have a lot of information at their fingertips and have over the years promoted integrative pest management to get more engaged in this issue and promote a definition, which is key to all this, because when we’re talking about alternatives, we need to clearly define what we mean by alternatives. Otherwise we get stuck in definitions that don’t achieve the kind of change we’re seeking.
In this case, communities have successfully empowered the extension service to engage in this issue. Some of our biggest promoters now, at the local level, working hand in hand with grass roots organizations and local school districts, have been extension agents who have been almost waiting for this kind of motivation and support to move the kind of philosophy that they believe in.
Phil Shabecoff: Michael Belliveau, in your campaign, were you able to point to examples of specific children who were suffering? Did you have case histories of how real children were impacted?
Michael Belliveau: No. We talked about the population of children suffering from learning and developmental disabilities, the National Academy of Sciences estimate of relating 25% of what appears to be a rising caseload of learning and developmental disabilities to environmental risk factors and the known neuro-developmental toxicity of mercury, Brominated Flame Retardants and other similar chemicals to connect the dots and argue for precautionary policy. But we did not have individual case studies, who could definitively speak to a relationship to their condition. We did have parents of learning disabled children, who were able to speak to their concern.
Lloyd Morgan, Director, Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States: I just wanted to point out a Swedish paper published in December of 2002, that showed for brain cancer a four fold risk with exposure to lead, 76% increase with exposure to mercury, a doubling of risk with herbicides and pesticides and 50% increase with exposure to petroleum solvents only when combined with exposure to electromagnetic field exposure. Independently examined the various agents had no effect and the electromagnetic fields had not effect. Navas-Acién, et al.; "Interactive Effect of Chemical Substances and Occupational Electromagnetic Field Exposure on the Risk of Gliomas and Meningiomas in Swedish Men;" Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, Vol. 11, 1678-1683.
Michael Lerner: This is relevant to the fact that CHE has just launched a new discussion group on electromagnetic fields. If anyone is interested in joining this group they should contact Frieda Nixdorf.
This has been a wonderful conversation. The European Union is seeking to pass, against very strong opposition from the United States, a precautionary approach to chemical management, similar and much more comprehensive than the state initiatives we heard about today. This is called REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals). It essentially says, that before we introduce toxic chemicals into the environment we should have data on their health and safety and we should phase out dangerous chemicals. It isn’t only about Europe; this is shaping up as the global struggle of this decade, over the question of whether toxic chemicals and heavy metals will be managed in a precautionary way or not.
So what we’ve heard today is the brave and leading efforts in the United States to develop at a state level or a national level, this same precautionary approach to chemical management. That’s what’s going on here. That’s the broader significance of these examples. That is the context in which the Collaborative on Health and the Environment has created this national partnership of over 1200 individuals and organizations, simply to share our commitment impeccable science on these issues and our commitment to sharing ideas about how we can move forward.
Now most of the policies that we have heard today are about precautionary chemical management. But there is a set of policies that we haven’t talked about, that very often health groups, which include equally, republicans and democrats alike and very often are very cautious about becoming involved in these policy issues, but there’s a set of policies we haven’t talked about today on which they can make a true contribution. Those policies include issues like objective science, the right to know, biomonitoring, and disease registries. For example if you were a national cancer organization and did not choose to become actively involved in precautionary chemical management, nonetheless a huge contribution could be made by rationalizing the cancer registries across the United States, so they could make a better contribution to our understanding of cancer incidence and exposures. In any case, I just thought I’d offer that sort of broad perspective that we’re partners in a global struggle over precautionary chemical management, that we are committed to solid science, that we have heard today about policies focused on phasing-out these chemicals, but also for Partners who come from organizations where that kind of engagement is not appropriate, there are things we can do to strengthen the science, to get better science out there and to encourage federal and state authorities to create mechanisms so we can see what the linkages between these chemicals and our health is.