The Week That Was
October 30, 1999


"Global Warming Likely to be Beneficial, Study Reports" a CSAB Press Release, issued on October 25, 1999. Alert readers of our web site may recognize the material, but it's worth looking at again.


Contrary to what is generally believed, the 1997-1998 El Nino had an overall beneficial impact on the United States. While Southern states and California were plagued by storms, the Northern half of the Nation experienced warmer temperatures during the cold season, and below-normal precipitation and snowfall. While 189 lives were lost, many due to tornadoes, an estimated 850 lives were saved because of better winter weather. While major economic losses were property and crop damages from storms, benefits included lower spending for heating fuels, less damage from spring floods, record construction levels, and savings in highway-based and airline transportation. Further, there were no losses from major Atlantic hurricanes. The benefits were approximately $9 billion against direct losses of $4 billion. Also, less government relief was needed than in prior winters. The accurate prediction of the course of the El Nino event allowed economic sectors to adapt and make substantial savings. According to the National Weather Service (NOAA/NCEP), this was due to advances in observation technology, real-time global monitoring, and better dynamical forecasting capability based on increased computer capacity.

[NB The improved prediction of El Nino cannot be claimed to validate GCMs since there was no change in radiative forcing due to greenhouse gases during the period.]

[REF: Changnon, Stanley. "Impacts of 1997-98 El Nino Generated Weather in the United States." Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 80, 1819-1827, 1999.]


Six invited experts independently addressed three questions important for public health and regulation.

1 Does the understanding of the mechanisms of toxicity affect how agencies such as the U.S. EPA assess risks from exposure to toxic substances?

2 Does an understanding of the mechanisms by which the body adapts (e.g., detoxifies, repairs, etc.) to the effects of exposures to toxic substances affect how agencies such as the EPA assess risks from exposures to toxic substances?

3 If low doses of toxic agents induce apparently beneficial responses (e.g., enhanced longevity, lower incidence of disease), how does and/or could agencies such as EPA address this?

The response to the first question varied. There was overall agreement to imply mechanistic information but some disagreement about the actual practice. The Linear Multi-stage Model in current use by regulatory agencies for cancer risk assessment was considered to be overly conservative. Often, different agencies come to different conclusions from the same data (for example, for MTBE in drinking water).

In response to the second question, most of the authors expressed concern that the regulatory agencies do not address or do not understand how to address the concept of hormesis.

On the final question, almost all agreed that the beneficial effects of low doses should be incorporated into mechanistically-based risk analysis. For example, they should consider as models that pharmaceuticals, vitamins, and micronutrients (such as selenium) all provide beneficial effects at low doses but can be toxic at high doses.

The six papers, an introduction, and a summary are printed in the BELLE (Biological Effects of Low Level Exposures) Newsletter, Vol 8, No 1, July 1999). See

The Newsletter also announces the 1999 Leonard Sagan BELLE Award and a forthcoming conference on "Scientific Foundations of Chemical and Radiation Hormesis" (January 19-20, 2000 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst).


An Electricity Daily article reports that hundreds of mayors and other local officials expressed great concern about the potential impact of global warming and called on Congress and the White House to do something about it. Their statement, issued in Sept 1999, cites a sharp rise in extreme weather, including heat waves and intense storms which "some scientists" have linked to global warming. "Federal disaster funds cannot begin to cover the economic and human losses that have been caused by these weather disasters," says the statement. "Local leaders are realizing that global warming could represent a serious danger to their cities and counties." They obviously don't realize that the 1998 El Nino has saved hundreds of lives and prevented some 10 billion or more of economic damage. They are probably unaware also that most scientists do not link extreme weather to global warming or to the emission of greenhouse gases. They should read the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (see above). This organized campaign stems from something called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), which started the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. Look them up on the web and learn about their sponsorship by the United Nations Environment Program.

[Speaking of heat waves, an objective measure is the number of "cooling degree days", the amount of refrigeration required to keep a house cool in the summer. For the U.S. as a whole, the number of CDD is normally 1193, with New England averaging 421 and the West-South-Central regions averaging 2460 CDD. According to The Energy Advocate (published by physics professor Howard Hayden), 1995 had the highest CDD total (1344), with 1996 and 1997 lower than the 30-year average.]


Canadian researchers have a new bio-remediation technology, a process that uses bacteria that love DDT. In laboratory experiments they were able to achieve 97% degradation of DDT in eight weeks. It sounds to be more cost effective and environmentally sound than incineration or burying contaminated soil.

According to the British medical journal The Lancet, fetal abnormalities did not increase in proximity to major steel and petrochemical facilities. In fact, the greatest incidence of low birth weights occurred furthest from those industries. No explanation was offered for this surprising finding.

The September 23 issue of Electricity Daily reports that the Russian Parliament wants to introduce a bill to allow storage and burial of radioactive materials from other countries. They hope to make a bundle from storing spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste, use the money for development of the nuclear industry, and employ thousands of nuclear scientists and engineers who are without jobs since the atomic weapons program closed down. Naturally, Russian environmentalists are opposed.

Belgian scientists at the University of Louvain published a study in Nature magazine, citing no health effects from the slight contamination by dioxin that caused the merciless slaughter of Belgian chickens by concerned health authorities. It seems that pigs also suffered an unnecessary death. Where was PETA, the animal protection people, when we needed them?


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