The Week That Was
May 25, 2002

1. BUSH SIGNS FARM BILL. He should have done it over the weekend or in the dead of night when no one was looking to indicate his distaste, instead of in the company of Senate Democrats who sponsored the bill… Will the WTO save us? cites the rejection of Kyoto as one of the few bright spots on a dismal federal landscape.

2. EPA REVIEWING ROLE IN HOMELAND SECURITY: The safety of chemical plants










2. EPA Reviewing Role In Homeland Security: The safety of chemical plants

EPA is conducting a series of internal reviews in order to define more clearly the agency's role in homeland security, particularly when it comes to overseeing chemical plant security. The report currently being prepared will include an examination of any possible regulations or legislation that would be necessary to aid the agency in this effort, an EPA source says. According to Chemical Policy Report, the report will be sent to Administrator Christine Todd Whitman in June. At a forum sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute, Robert Bostock, EPA's homeland security liaison, mentioned that there is a "heightened degree of concern" over the possibility that chemical plants could become targets for terrorists, adding the agency is still evaluating whether to develop regulations on chemical security. Speaking at the same ELI forum, Rick Hind of Greenpeace said activists believe the Clean Air Act does give EPA the authority to regulate the security of chemical plants. However, Jamie Conrad of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said the industry is working to make plants more secure, and that voluntary security guidelines should be finalized in June. ACC recently signed an information-sharing agreement with the FBI so federal agents can track criminal acts at chemical plants across the country.


3. California Assembly to Vote on Chemical Security Bill:

A California Assembly committee has approved chemical security legislation that would build on pre-existing programs administered by the state's department of toxics, focusing on the reduction of hazardous materials generated by industrial facilities. Opponents argue that the bill increases costs for businesses by establishing new fees and conflicts with pre-existing counter-terrorism programs by setting up a dual task force. Also, a provision in the bill that calls for disclosure of the state's most at-risk sites has been questioned because it could provide information to terrorist groups. However, according to Chemical Policy Report, provisions that would have required all facilities using high-risk or hazardous chemicals to submit risk management and use-minimization plans to the California Environmental Protection Agency were revised to apply to only a narrow group of hazardous waste generators already operating under requirements to reduce the use of certain chemicals.


4. House Approves EPA Deputy Administrator for Science:

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would create the position of deputy administrator of science and technology at EPA, according to BNA's Daily Environment Report. Currently, much of the agency's scientific activity is managed by the assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD). In 2000, the National Research Council issued a report urging Congress to create a deputy administrator for science, Baird noted. The report, Strengthening Science at EPA: Research Management and Peer Review Practices, also suggested that the head of ORD become the agency's chief scientist and be appointed for more than four years to decrease the political influence over the agency's scientific activities.


5. WHO Completing Chemical Assessments:

Updated assessments of five chemicals - including chlorine dioxide - will be completed soon by the World Health Organization's International Program on Chemical Safety. The assessment will summarize relevant scientific information concerning the potential effects of chlorine dioxide on human health and the environment, and provide information on the doses at which health problems may occur. The assessment also will include examples of exposure estimations and risk characterization to help government agencies make policy decisions. According to BNA's Daily Environment Report, each assessment undergoes extensive peer review by internationally selected experts to ensure its completeness, accurate representation of the original data, and validity of conclusions, according to information from the program. Summaries of each draft chemical assessment are available at .


6. Air Toxics Report Will Cite High Cancer Risk for Some Pollutants:

EPA is in the final stages of review of the National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), which is expected to conclude that some compounds present a cancer risk for half the U.S. population that is 10 times the risk level the agency commonly finds acceptable. NATA assesses the health risks posed by 33 substances emitted into the air that present the greatest threat to public health in the largest number of urban areas. The study also looks at particulate matter emitted in diesel exhaust. A draft version of the report submitted to EPA's Science Advisory Board in 2001 said that three pollutants - benzene, carbon tetrachloride, and formaldehyde - were present at levels that exposed 50 percent of the U.S. population to an increased cancer risk approaching or exceeding 10 cases in 1 million exposed persons. Under several statutes, EPA has designated 1 in 1 million as an acceptable cancer risk, the official said, although the agency's approach toward cancer risk varies according to the environmental medium and pollution problem. EPA in 1996 estimated that a 1 in 1 million lifetime risk to the public was equivalent to 250 (statistical) cancer cases over a 70-year period.

SEPP Comment: Compared to the naturally occurring cancer rate this number is negligible, of course.


7. "African Malaria Day" Highlights Continent's Deadliest Disease:

Aid agencies across Africa recently marked Malaria Day in an attempt to raise public awareness about this parasitic disease that is the continent's biggest killer. Almost eradicated a generation ago, malaria began to reappear throughout the continent in the wake of environmentalist pressure on African governments to ban the use of the pesticide DDT. More than 300 million people are infected by this illness every year, with almost 2 million, mostly children, dying. In fact, 90 of all malaria-related deaths occur in children under the age of 12. Particularly worrisome is the recent emergence of drug-resistant strains of malaria that are proving immune to traditional therapies like chloroquinine. Newer pharmaceuticals are available, but their expense often places them outside the reach of poverty stricken African nations. Yet, Dr. Kamini Mendis has commented these more expensive therapies can be cheaper in the long run, because people with resistant malarial strains go repeatedly for treatment without ever being cured. Faced with this burgeoning public health disaster, the governments of South Africa and several other African nations have renewed their use of DDT to combat the anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria to humans.


8. Bread and The Precautionary Principle:

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal called attention to the unworkable reality of the precautionary principle. The editorial looked at a recent study by Sweden's National Food Administration that cautioned the public about possible carcinogens present in cooked starch foods (bread, French fries, etc). "So, now that we know that bread kills, what next?" asked the article. "The precautionary principle, enshrined in EU law… surely indicates that a bread ban is in order, at least until more evidence about its real risks can be gathered." Dismissing the idea of bakery quarantines as nonsense, the editorial says "the precautionary principle takes a maxim - better safe than sorry - radicalizes it, and turns it into a public-policy mandate. The result is an official standard - that nothing is considered safe until it is incontrovertibly proved safe - that is impossible to meet."


9. Utility Buys Out Contaminated Ohio Town

American Electric Power has agreed to buy an entire town in Ohio that has been contaminated by sulfuric acid from one of the utility's coal- burning plants. The company will spend $20 million to acquire about 200 parcels of land that make up the southeastern Ohio community of Cheshire, relocating all 221 residents of the tiny hamlet. Last summer, blue clouds of sulfuric acid gas drifted into the village more than a dozen times, causing headaches, burning eyes, sore throats, and chemical burns on the mouths of local residents. A federal study concluded that the sulfuric clouds were not life threatening, but noted they could be harmful to people with asthma.

Members from about 68 Cheshire families attended a town meeting to discuss American Electric Power's (AEP) offer to buy out their homes. After the meeting, almost all of the town's residents voted to accept the deal.

American Electric Power's 2,600-megawatt General James M. Gavin plant provides nearly all of the power for the city of Columbus, Ohio. The plant's emissions became a problem after the utility installed new emissions-control equipment last year. The new scrubbers, required under the federal Clean Air Act, remove nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions that lead to smog. However, the new scrubbers also produced a small increase in the level of sulfur trioxide (SO3) in the emissions coming from the plant's two 830-foot-high smokestacks. The situation was compounded by weather conditions that periodically forced the stack exhaust plume to the ground producing a blue haze at ground level.
"At no time during the plant's operation did emissions in the plume exceed any health based ambient air quality standards or permissible exposure limits established by federal or state regulations," the American Electric Power (AEP) company said in a release.

The village will literally disappear, buried under tons of dirt to form a new site for barges to dump the tons of coal they bring to fuel the Gavin plant. The relocation project could be completed by the end of the year.

The company is now installing three separate systems for controlling the plants sulfur emissions, at an estimated cost of $7 million. Combined with the $20 million costs of acquiring the town of Cheshire - a price well above the $6 million estimated market value of the lots - the company's investment is still expected to be much cheaper than the costs of settling lawsuits that Cheshire residents had threatened to file over the plant's pollution.


10. WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE POLAR BEARS? Maybe nothing - since Arctic temperatures seem not to be warming

Polar bears will become extinct in the wild within 60 years as a result of global warming; a new report will reveal this week.

By 2060 climate experts believe Arctic pack ice will have melted to such an extent that all of the existing population of 22,000 polar bears will starve as the animals they feed on, such as seals, become harder to find.

Twenty years after that, in 2080, forecasters from the Norwegian Polar Institute believe that the last of the Arctic pack ice will disappear completely.

From New Zealand Herald, 14 May 2002


Research in the American Arctic has revealed that the polar bear and bowhead
whale populations are booming after decades of decline, and part of the
reason for that may be global warming.

Although the long-term predictions suggest many Arctic species could be
jeopardised by any continued rise in temperatures, scientists think that at
the moment some animal populations may be benefiting from a slightly warmer



Thin Polar Bears Called Sign of Global Warming
Environmental News Service | 05/16/2002

WASHINGTON, DC, May 16, 2002 (ENS) - Hungry polar bears are one of the early signs that global warming is impacting Arctic habitat, suggests a new study from World Wildlife Fund. The report reviews the threats faced by the world's 22,000 polar bears and highlights growing evidence that human induced climate change is the number-one long-term threat to the survival of the world's largest land-based carnivores.

Global warming threatens to destroy critical polar bear habitat, charges the report, "Polar Bears at Risk." The burning of coal and other fuels emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases that blanket the earth, trap in heat and cause global warming. Increasing CO2 emissions have caused Arctic temperatures to rise by five degrees Celsius over the past 100 years, and the extent of sea ice has decreased by six percent over the past 20 years. By around 2050, scientists now predict a 60 percent loss of summer sea ice, which would more than double the summer ice-free season from 60 to 150 days.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change in the polar region is expected to be the greatest of anywhere on Earth.

SEPP Comment: But that's not what's being observed. Anyway, the solution is simple. If you find a thin polar bear, offer it a chubby tree hugger.




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