Rachel's Democracy & Health News #991
"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"
Thursday, December 25, 2008.............Printer-friendly version
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Featured stories in this issue... Carbon Sequestration: What's the Point? In addition to being pure fiction, "clean coal" is a really dumb idea. Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards In the wake of a massive spill of toxic coal-sludge in Tennessee, federal authorities are waking up to the fact that U.S. coal plants produce 129 million tons of postcombustion toxic waste each year -- the second-largest waste stream in the country, after municipal solid waste. And none of it is regulated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Study Warns of Environmental Crisis A new study concludes that avoiding climate disasters depends on rapidly reducing our reliance on fossil fuel. The study concludes that coal burning is the greatest source of atmospheric carbon dioxide and it needs to be phased out altogether. Fifth of Corals Are Dead, CO2 Destroys Ocean Habitat The fate of corals is crucial to the livelihoods of millions of coastal dwellers around the world. As the oceans grow more acidic, irreplaceable corals are dying on a grand scale. Study Finds Trace Levels of Pharmaceuticals in U.S. Drinking Water "...I just don't know what the long-term effects would be on human health from long-term, low-level exposures to complex mixtures of pharmaceuticals and a myriad of other compounds that has been shown to take place." Hairspray Exposure During Pregnancy Linked To Birth Defect in Boys Women exposed to hairspray during pregnancy put their unborn sons at risk of suffering from a birth defect, scientists have warned. We No Longer Have a Civilian-led Government in the U.S. We continue to be amazed by the explanatory power of Naomi Klein's "shock doctrine," which helps us make sense out of the headlines. Simply put, Klein shows that power elites turn crises and catastrophes into opportunities to increase their own power. For example mega-banks now are using the financial crisis to expand their own economic and political power. And this article warns that the military is using the "perpetual war on terror" to displace civilian rule in the United States. Environmentalists could be asking themselves: if we continue to ignore our fading dream of democratic rule, how will we protect the future?] :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Rachel's Democracy & Healthy News #991, Dec. 25, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] CARBON SEQUESTRATION: WHAT'S THE POINT? By Peter Montague [Rachel's introduction: An earlier version of this essay appeared on Discovery News Dec. 1, 2008. This updated version includes new information, plus documentation.] Whenever we burn fossil fuels (gasoline, natural gas, oil, or coal) we emit carbon dioxide (CO2) as a waste product. This waste CO2 contributes to two big problems: (1) The earth is getting warmer, producing more and bigger storms, more floods, and worse droughts, thus disrupting food production and water supplies. This is serious. (2) The oceans are growing more acid (CO2 plus water = carbonic acid). Many creatures at the base of the oceanic food chain live inside a thin, hard shell -- and carbonic acid attacks their shell, threatening the base of ocean life. This too is serious. The ideal solution would be to stop making waste CO2 by phasing out fossil fuels and getting our energy from solar power in all its forms (direct sunlight, wind, and hydro dams). We know how to do this today but solar power remains somewhat more expensive then fossil fuels. Solar has three big advantages -- (1) the sun shines (and the wind blows) everywhere so it provides "energy independence" for everyone; (2) using solar emits little waste CO2; and (3) the supply is endlessly renewable, so we won't run out. The sun doesn't shine at night but the wind blows at night and a "smart grid" with diverse power storage can keep the energy flowing everywhere 24/7. Today, the sun can provide the "base-load" power we need. What prevents us from adopting renewable solar power is not the cost; it's the political muscle of the fossil fuel companies (oil and coal). Obviously they want us to keep burning fossil fuels because they're heavily invested. The people who run these companies aren't dumb -- they know CO2 is a big problem, so recently they devised an end-of-pipe solution: they propose to capture the CO2 and pressurize it until it turns into a liquid, then send it by pipeline to a suitable location and pump it a mile or so underground, hoping it will stay there forever. They call this "carbon capture and sequestration," or CCS for short. To make it sound easy and attractive, they call it "clean coal." What's wrong with this plan? In a nutshell: 1) The plan entails as many as 100,000 separate CO2 disposal sites in the U.S. alone. This would require creation of a hazardous-waste-CO2 disposal industry as big as, or bigger than, the oil industry. 2) Creating and running an enormous CO2 hazardous-waste disposal industry would roughly double the cost of fossil-fueled electricity. But this would make solar energy cost-competitive, so why not invest in renewable solar power now instead of investing in a dead-end CO2- waste disposal industry? 3) It would take decades to build this huge new CCS industry -- but we need solutions to the CO2 problem soon. Solar power plants can be built much faster than this experimental CCS plan could develop. 4) The coal industry calls coal-with-carbon-capture "clean coal." But in reality coal-with-carbon-capture emits 60 times as much CO2, per kiloWatt of electricity, compared to a wind turbine making the same electricity. 4) CCS itself would require lots of energy. For every four power plants, we would have to build a fifth power plant just to capture and store CO2. This would waste even more coal and oil. 5) Every engineer knows that avoiding waste is far better than managing waste. So CCS is fundamentally bad design. [For example, see the widely-endorsed Principles of Green Engineering.] 6) Instead of solving the CO2 problem that we've created, CCS would pass the problem along to our children and their children and their children's children. Basically buried CO2 could never be allowed to leak back out. We should take responsibility for our own problems, not pass them to our children to manage. 7) Scientists paid by the fossil fuel companies say the CO2 will never leak back out of the ground. What what if they're mistaken? Then our children and grandchildren will inherit a hot, acid-ocean, ruined world. 8) Sooner or later we're going to run out of fossil fuels -- all of them -- so eventually we have to adopt solar power. CCS just delays the inevitable -- a huge waste of time and money. We should skip CCS and go solar today. ==============  If you take just the CO2 from coal (2162.4 million metric tonnes [MMT] in 2007) and compare it to the mass of crude oil produced in the U.S. (258.8 MMT in 2007) plus imported crude oil (512.6 MMT in 2007), you find that CO2 is 8.4 times domestic production, and 2.8 times the combined domestic plus imported. That is mass. In terms of volume, the numbers are larger. If we use 500 kg/m3 [kilograms per cubic meter] as the density of supercritical CO2 (one possible operating point), then 2162.4 MMT of CO2 is 27.2 million barrels, or 15 times domestic oil production, and 5 times combined domestic plus imported oil. Thanks to Earl Killian for these calculations. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: New York Times (pg. A1), Dec. 25, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] COAL ASH SPILL REVIVES ISSUE OF ITS HAZARDS By Shaila Dewan KINGSTON, Tenn. -- What may be the nation's largest spill of coal ash lay thick and largely untouched over hundreds of acres of land and waterways Wednesday after a dam broke this week, as officials and environmentalists argued over its potential toxicity. The spill took place at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a Tennessee Valley Authority generating plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville on the banks of the Emory River, which feeds into the Clinch River, and then the Tennessee River just downstream. Holly Schean, a waitress whose home, which she shared with her parents, was swept off its foundation when millions of cubic yards of ash breached a retaining wall early Monday morning, said, "They're giving their apologies, which don't mean very much." The T.V.A., Ms. Schean said, has not yet declared the house uninhabitable. But, she said: "I don't need your apologies. I need information." Even as the authority played down the risks, the spill reignited a debate over whether the federal government should regulate coal ash as a hazardous material. Similar ponds and mounds of ash exist at hundreds of coal plants around the nation. The Tennessee Valley Authority has issued no warnings about the potential chemical dangers of the spill, saying there was as yet no evidence of toxic substances. "Most of that material is inert," said Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority. "It does have some heavy metals within it, but it's not toxic or anything." Mr. Francis said contaminants in water samples taken near the spill site and at the intake for the town of Kingston, six miles downstream, were within acceptable levels. But a draft report last year by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce electricity, does contain significant amounts of carcinogens and retains the heavy metal present in coal in far higher concentrations. The report found that the concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold. Similarly, a 2006 study by the federally chartered National Research Council found that these coal-burning byproducts "often contain a mixture of metals and other constituents in sufficient quantities that they may pose public health and environmental concerns if improperly managed." The study said "risks to human health and ecosystems" might occur when these contaminants entered drinking water supplies or surface water bodies. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter federal controls of coal ash, but backed away in the face of fierce opposition from utilities, the coal industry, and Clinton administration officials. At the time, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of power utilities, estimated that the industry would have to spend up to $5 billion in additional cleanup costs if the substance were declared hazardous. Since then, environmentalists have urged tighter federal standards, and the E.P.A. is reconsidering its decision not to classify the waste as hazardous. A morning flight over the disaster area showed some cleanup activity along a road and the railroad tracks that take coal to the facility, both heaped in sludge, but no evidence of promised skimmers or barricades on the water to prevent the ash from sliding downstream. The breach occurred when an earthen dike, the only thing separating millions of cubic yards of ash from the river, gave way, releasing a glossy sea of muck, four to six feet thick, dotted with icebergs of ash across the landscape. Where the Clinch River joined the Tennessee, a clear demarcation was visible between the soiled waters of the former and the clear brown broth of the latter. By afternoon, dump trucks were depositing rock into the river in a race to blockade it before an impending rainstorm washed more ash downstream. The spill, which released about 300 million gallons of sludge and water, is far larger than the other two similar disasters, said Jeffrey Stant, the director of the Coal Combustion Waste Initiative for the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental legal group, who has written on the subject for the E.P.A. One spill in 1967 on the Clinch River in Virginia released about 130 million gallons, and the other in 2005 in Northampton County, Pa., released about 100 million gallons into the Delaware River. The contents of coal ash can vary widely depending on the source, but one study found that the mean concentrations of lead, chromium, nickel and arsenic are three to five times higher in the Appalachian coal that is mined near Kingston than in Rocky Mountain or Northern Plains coal. Stephen A. Smith, the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said it was "mind-boggling" that officials had not warned nearby residents of the dangers. "The fact that they have not warned people, I think, is disastrous and potentially harmful to the residents," Mr. Smith said. "There are people walking around, checking it out." He and other environmentalists warned that another danger would arise when the muck dried out and became airborne and breathable. Despite numerous reports from recreational anglers and television news video of a large fish kill downstream of the spill, Mr. Francis said the T.V.A.'s environmental team had not encountered any dead fish. On Swan Pond Road, home to the residences nearest the plant, a group of environmental advocates went door to door telling residents that boiling their water, as officials had suggested, would not remove heavy metals. Environmentalists pointed to the accident as proof of their long-held assertion that there is no such thing as "clean coal," noting two factors that may have contributed to the scale of the disaster. First, as coal plants have gotten better at controlling air pollution, the toxic substances that would have been spewed into the air have been shifted to solid byproducts like fly ash, and the production of such postcombustion waste, as it is called, has increased sharply. Second, the Kingston plant, surrounded by residential tracts, had little room to grow and simply piled its ash higher and higher, though officials said the pond whose wall gave way was not over capacity. Environmental groups have long pressed for coal ash to be buried in lined landfills to prevent the leaching of metals into the soil and groundwater, a recommendation borne out by the 2006 E.P.A. report. An above-ground embankment like the one at Kingston was not an appropriate storage site for fly ash, said Thomas J. FitzGerald, the director of nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council and an expert in coal waste. "I find it difficult to comprehend that the State of Tennessee would have approved that as a permanent disposal site," Mr. FitzGerald said. The T.V.A. will find an alternative place to dispose of the fly ash in the future, Mr. Francis said. He said that at least 30 pieces of heavy machinery had been put in use to begin the cleanup of the estimated 1.7 million cubic yards of ash that spilled from the 80-acre pond, and that work would continue day and night, even on Christmas. The plant, which generates enough electricity to support 670,000 homes, is still functioning, but might run out of coal before the railroad tracks are cleared. About 15 houses were affected by the flood, Mr. Francis said, and three would likely be declared uninhabitable. "We're going to make it right," he said. "We're going to restore these folks to where they were prior to this incident." A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, Laura Niles, said the agency was overseeing the cleanup and would decide whether to declare Kingston a Superfund site when the extent of the contamination was known. United States coal plants produce 129 million tons of postcombustion byproducts a year, the second-largest waste stream in the country, after municipal solid waste. That is enough to fill more than a million railroad coal cars, according to the National Research Council. Another 2007 E.P.A. report said that over about a decade, 67 towns in 26 states had their groundwater contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps. For instance, in Anne Arundel County, Md., between Baltimore and Annapolis, residential wells were polluted by heavy metals, including thallium, cadmium and arsenic, leaching from a sand-and-gravel pit where ash from a local power plant had been dumped since the mid-1990s by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. Maryland fined the company $1 million in 2007. As it grew dark in Kingston, a hard rain enveloped Roane County, rendering the twin smokestacks of the steam plant, as locals refer to it, barely visible amid the dingy clouds. Angela Spurgeon, a teacher and mother of two whose dock was smothered in the ash-slide, said she was worried about the health effects, saying that on the night of the accident everyone was covered in sludge. "The breathing is what concerns me, the lung issues," Ms. Spurgeon said. "Who knows what's in that water?" Felicity Barringer and Robbie Brown contributed reporting. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Yale Daily News, Nov. 14, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] STUDY WARNS OF ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS By Stephannie Furtak If new research [2.5 Mbytes PDF] by Yale scientists is any indication, it may already be too late for the environment. An international team of 10 researchers -- including Yale professors of geology and geophysics Mark Pagani and Robert Berner -- determined that current levels of carbon dioxide have already surpassed the estimated cutoff level that would cause damage to the planet. The study [2.5 Mbytes PDF] also found that this threshold level is actually much lower than previously estimated. Still, one Yale climate expert said it would be impossible to implement policies to reach the goal the study sets out. Past research on greenhouse gases indicated that 450 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 would be the "tipping point" beyond which the effects of global warming would begin to rapidly escalate. But the study, which was headed by James Hansen, a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies at Columbia University and NASA's lead climate scientist, revised this theory, showing that this threshold level is closer to 350 ppm. The level of CO2 found in the atmosphere -- 385 ppm -- is already higher than this, and is increasing annually by two ppm. "It appears as if we have reached CO2 levels not seen for the past several million years," Pagani said in an e-mail to the News. The study concluded that avoiding climate disasters depends on reducing our reliance on fossil fuel. "The point of identifying dangerous levels is to focus the attention of policy makers that decide our fate," Pagani said, "and give them estimates that they can use to develop national policy and international agreements." In their paper, the researchers noted that if left unchecked, current consumption of fossil fuels will eventually result in levels of atmospheric CO2 that are double those of pre-industrial civilization, leading, down the road, to "a nearly ice-free planet." "We cannot yet predict the precise CO2 levels that will force the climate state to radically shift," Pagani said. "We don't understand how fast this change might come, but we know Earth's climate system has the capacity to change rapidly." An escalation in climate changes that are already occurring -- including heavy rainfall and floods, more intense dry periods and fires, and shifting of climatic zones -- will eventually bring about irreversible changes, such as extermination of species and sea level rise as a result of ice sheet disintegration, Hansen said. President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has said it plans to implement an economic cap-and-trade plan that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and invest into renewable energy sources. According to the study, coal burning is the greatest source of atmospheric carbon dioxide and its use needs to be phased out altogether. Twenty-five percent of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels linger in the air for several centuries, Pagani noted. The authors cited several recommendations for reducing CO2 levels, including improving agricultural practices and reforestation. Geo- engineering methods, such as artificial removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, were discounted as too expensive. "Coal supply is finite, so we must move to other fuels eventually," Hansen said. "Why not do it sooner, rather than later?" Hansen said that re-attaining climatic conditions similar to those of the pre-industrial period can only be achieved if the carbon contained in our remaining fossil fuel reserves is never emitted into the atmosphere. But Arnulf Grubler, professor of energy and technology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, said that the study does not make any practical suggestions for achieving such a low level of atmospheric CO2 in such a short period of time. "If we want to take that seriously, we have to stop emitting CO2 immediately," Grubler said in reference to the study's new CO2 threshold. "We have to shut off the entire world's energy system, and even then we're not reaching that target!" Grubler also said that the study did not take into account the other factors that must be addressed before any plan for reducing CO2 levels can be implemented. The study also betrayed a lack of awareness about policy making, Grubler added. "There are international legal structures," he said. "From an economic, an engineering perspective, it's infeasible." The study was published in the 2008 edition of the Open Atmospheric Science Journal [2.5 Mbytes PDF]. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Bloomberg.com, Dec. 10, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] FIFTH OF CORALS ARE DEAD, CO2 DESTROYS OCEAN HABITAT By Alex Morales One-fifth of the world's corals have died and many remaining reefs may be lost by 2050 as carbon dioxide from cars and pollution-spewing industries make ocean water warmer and more acidic, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network said. While natural disasters such as the earthquake that set off the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 killed some reefs instantly by forcing them out of the water, seas made warmer by heat-trapping CO2 gas is the biggest threat to corals, said the report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Gland, Switzerland-based group is one of eight that manages the network. The study was released as delegates from about 190 nations are meeting in Poland to lay the groundwork for a new treaty to fight global warming that is due to be signed a year from now in Copenhagen. The report shows that to sustain corals, CO2 emissions as well as damage from human activities must be kept to a minimum, said Clive Wilkinson, coordinator of the monitoring network. "If nothing is done to substantially cut emissions, we could effectively lose coral reefs as we know them, with major coral extinctions," Wilkinson said in the report. The fate of corals is crucial to the livelihoods of millions of coastal dwellers around the world. Reefs are worth about $30 billion a year to the global economy through tourism, fisheries and coastal protection, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a United Nations-supervised study. Reef-Damaging Humans Coral reefs, however, have been damaged by human activities including fishing, chemical pollution and by disasters such as the tsunami four years off Sumatra that killed about 229,000 people. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says temperatures have risen by about 0.76 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century due mainly to greenhouse-gas emissions from burning oil, coal and gas. Further gains of 1-2 degrees would result in the bleaching of most corals, a process that makes them more vulnerable to dying off, the UN said. The biggest future threat to reefs is climate change, scientists and researchers say. Losing corals would spell the "death of a nation," Amjad Abdulla, director-general of the Maldives Environment Ministry, said last week in an interview at the UN talks in Poznan, Poland. "Coral reefs are the natural barriers from sea-level rise and storm surges," Abdulla said. "With the sea level rise and the bleaching of corals, we'd be homeless." Expelling Friends Corals build reefs by secreting exoskeletons of calcium carbonate that accumulate over hundreds of years. The corals have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, single-celled algae that shelter in their tissues and provide the reef-building organisms with nutrition and energy, enabling faster growth. Warmer temperatures, disease and pollution cause corals to expel the zooxanthellae. Because the algae are the source of the corals' bright colors, when they are rejected, it is known as bleaching, and the process makes corals more likely to die. Contact the reporter Alex Morales amor...@bloomberg.net. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Environmental Science & Technology, Dec. 17, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] STUDY FINDS TRACE LEVELS OF PHARMACEUTICALS IN U.S. DRINKING WATER A series of news stories by the Associated Press (AP) on pharmaceuticals in drinking water published in the spring of 2008 stirred up a flurry of concern over the quality of tap water in the U.S. The articles detailed the findings of a reporter-led investigation of tests conducted by drinking-water utilities, and they prompted a hearing before the U.S. Senate. Research published in Environmental Science & Technology (DOI 10.1021/es801845a) provides scientific backing to the statement that trace levels of pharmaceuticals are found in drinking water in the U.S., researchers agree. The paper also is the first to analyze samples taken from the tap water of U.S. homes, says Shane Snyder, R&D project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA). The 1-year study by Snyder and colleagues at SNWA's Applied R&D Center examines samples from 19 drinking-water treatment facilities across the U.S. The samples were taken from three sources: source water, finished (or treated) water, and distribution water that goes from the drinking-water plant through a series of pipes to private homes and businesses. The team looked for traces of 51 compounds, including 20 pharmaceuticals, and then took the analysis a step farther than the AP investigation by searching for 25 known or suspected endocrine disrupters. The results show that 34 of the 51 targeted compounds were detected in at least one sample, and the remaining 17 compounds were not found at all. Eleven compounds were found in more than half of the source-water samples; only atrazine, meprobamate, and phenytoin were detected in more than half of the finished-water or distribution-water samples, the paper notes. "The paper is a nice step forward and provides a very good baseline set of data that will help regulators and other scientists," adds U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research hydrologist Dana Kolpin, project chief of the USGS's Emerging Contaminants in the Environment project. "I think that the study shows that the concentrations are so minute that you really don't have to worry about pharmaceuticals in drinking water, especially when compared with levels of regulated and unregulated disinfection byproducts [DBPs] from finished water using chlorination," says Jorg Drewes of the Advanced Water Technology Center at the Colorado School of Mines. However, other experts are not ready to concede that these compounds are not harmful. "Current research suggests pharmaceuticals in drinking water are not a huge problem for humans," Kolpin says. "Yet there are a growing number of studies documenting the effects of these compounds on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife," he adds. "I'm not ready to say that these are absolutely of no concern, because I just don't know what the long-term effects would be on human health from long-term, low-level exposures to complex mixtures of pharmaceuticals and a myriad of other compounds that has been shown to take place," Kolpin says. Other scientists mentioned the unknown effect of adding DBPs to this mixture of drugs, which might actually enhance their toxicity. DBPs are formed when chlorine, a popular disinfectant, is added to drinking water. A recent paper by the U.S. EPA and other researchers indicates significant levels of DBPs in U.S. drinking water. Studies that detect DBPs show they are found at the microgram level, which is 1000 times higher than the concentrations reported in the new ES&T manuscript, adds Drewes. The high profile attained by the AP series caused some concern among scientists working on this area of research. "Although [the AP series] did report on a topic of emerging interest and concern, it included some errors," says Mike Focazio, a USGS research hydrologist. "At least now people can make more definitive statements about pharmaceuticals in our nation's drinking water that are based on a peer-reviewed scientific study," Kolpin adds. Trace levels of pharmaceuticals and endocrine-disrupting compounds make their way into tap water from drinking-water plants. This plant pulls water from Lake Mead, which is downstream from a wastewater discharge site, and provides drinking water for Las Vegas. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Telegraph (London, U.K.), Nov. 21, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] HAIRSPRAY EXPOSURE DURING PREGNANCY LINKED TO BIRTH DEFECT IN BOYS By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent Researchers found that women who come into contact with the hair product during early pregnancy more than double their chances of giving birth to a son with hypospadias, a genital deformity. The defect normally affects around one in 250 boys in the UK, causing the urinary opening to be shifted beneath the penis. Although it can be corrected by surgery before a boy's first birthday, more severe cases can lead to urinary, sexual and fertility problems. Hormone-disrupting hairspray chemicals called phthalates, which can affect reproductive development, are believed to be behind the connection. But the same study showed that taking folic acid reduces the risk of giving birth to a child with the condition by 36 per cent. An increased risk was only seen in women whose jobs led to high exposure to hairspray chemicals, such as hairdressers, beauty therapists, research chemists and factory workers. The link was made after researchers conducted detailed interviews with 471 women whose sons had been referred to surgeons for hypospadias, and 490 "control" mothers of boys not born with the defect. The women lived across 120 London boroughs and local authority districts. They were asked a range of detailed questions about health, lifestyle and occupation, covering topics such as smoking habits, diet, possible exposure to 26 different chemical substances, and use of folic acid (folate) supplements. Exposure to hairspray in the first three months of pregnancy increased the chances of having a son with hypospadias two-to-three-fold. The risk was reduced by taking folate supplements over the same period. Professor Paul Elliott, from Imperial College London, who led the research, said: "Hypospadias is a condition that, if left untreated, can cause problems in later life. Although surgery to correct it is usually successful, any surgery will be traumatic for the child and his parents. "It is encouraging that our study showed that taking folic acid supplements in pregnancy may reduce the risk of a child being born with the condition. Further research is needed to understand better why women exposed to hairspray at work in the first three months of pregnancy may have increased risk of giving birth to a boy with hypospadias." In Europe, certain phthalates have been banned from hairsprays and other cosmetic products since January 2005. The women who took part in the study detailed below gave birth in 1997 and 1998 and they were interviewed between 2000 and 2003. The Department of Health recommends that mothers-to-be take folate supplements up until the 12th week of pregnancy to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Earlier studies had suggested that hypospadias might be linked to vegetarianism, but this was not born out by the new findings. Phthalates are found in many cosmetic products, including deodorants, perfumes, and nail varnish, as well as hairspray. They are also used in adhesives and paints, and added to plastics to make them more flexible. Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Washington Post (pg. B1), Dec. 21, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] PENTAGON MUSCLING IN EVERYWHERE. TIME TO STOP THE MISSION CREEP By Thomas A. Schweich* We no longer have a civilian-led government. It is hard for a lifelong Republican and son of a retired Air Force colonel to say this, but the most unnerving legacy of the Bush administration is the encroachment of the Department of Defense into a striking number of aspects of civilian government. Our Constitution is at risk. President-elect Barack Obama's selections of James L. Jones, a retired four-star Marine general, to be his national security adviser and, it appears, retired Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair to be his director of national intelligence present the incoming administration with an important opportunity -- and a major risk. These appointments could pave the way for these respected military officers to reverse the current trend of Pentagon encroachment upon civilian government functions, or they could complete the silent military coup d'etat that has been steadily gaining ground below the radar screen of most Americans and the media. While serving the State Department in several senior capacities over the past four years, I witnessed firsthand the quiet, de facto military takeover of much of the U.S. government. The first assault on civilian government occurred in faraway places -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- and was, in theory, justified by the exigencies of war. The White House, which basically let the Defense Department call the budgetary shots, vastly underfunded efforts by the State Department, the Justice Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to train civilian police forces, build functioning judicial systems and provide basic development services to those war- torn countries. For example, after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Justice Department and the State Department said that they needed at least 6,000 police trainers in the country. Pentagon officials told some of my former staffers that they doubted so many would be needed. The civilians' recommendation "was quickly reduced to 1,500 [trainers] by powers-that-be above our pay grade," Gerald F. Burke, a retired major in the Massachusetts State Police who trained Iraqi cops from 2003 to 2006, told Congress last April. Just a few hundred trainers ultimately wound up being fielded, according to Burke's testimony. Until this year, the State Department received an average of about $40 million a year for rule-of-law programs in Afghanistan, according to the department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs -- in stark contrast to the billions that the Pentagon got to train the Afghan army. Under then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Defense Department failed to provide even basic security for the meager force of civilian police mentors, rule-of-law advisers and aid workers from other U.S. agencies operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, driving policymakers to turn to such contracting firms as Blackwater Worldwide. After having set the rest of the U.S. government up for failure, military authorities then declared that the other agencies' unsuccessful police-training efforts required military leadership and took them over -- after brutal interagency battles at the White House. The result of letting the Pentagon take such thorough charge of the programs to create local police forces is that these units, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, have been unnecessarily militarized -- producing police officers who look more like militia members than ordinary beat cops. These forces now risk becoming paramilitary groups, well armed with U.S. equipment, that could run roughshod over Iraq and Afghanistan's nascent democracies once we leave. Or consider another problem with the rising influence of the Pentagon: the failure to address the ongoing plague of poppy farming and heroin production in Afghanistan. This fiasco was in large part the result of the work of non-expert military personnel, who discounted the corrosive effects of the Afghan heroin trade on our efforts to rebuild the country and failed to support civilian-run counter-narcotics programs. During my tenure as the Bush administration's anti-drug envoy to Afghanistan, I also witnessed JAG officers hiring their own manifestly unqualified Afghan legal "experts," some of whom even lacked law degrees, to operate outside the internationally agreed- upon, Afghan-led program to bring impartial justice to the people of Afghanistan. This resulted in confusion and contradiction. One can also see the Pentagon's growing muscle in the recent creation of the U.S. military command for Africa, known as Africom. This new command supposedly has a joint civilian-military purpose: to coordinate soft power and traditional hard power to stop al-Qaeda and its allies from gaining a foothold on the continent. But Africom has gotten a chilly reception in post-colonial Africa. Meanwhile, U.S. competitors such as China are pursuing large African development projects that are being welcomed with open arms. Since the Bush administration has had real successes with its anti-AIDS and other health programs in Africa, why exactly do we need a military command there running civilian reconstruction, if not to usurp the efforts led by well-respected U.S. embassies and aid officials? And, of course, I need not even elaborate on the most notorious effect of the military's growing reach: the damage that the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and such military prisons as Abu Ghraib have done to U.S. credibility around the world. But these initial military takeovers of civilian functions all took place a long distance from home. "We are in a war, after all," Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told me by way of explaining the military's huge role in that country -- just before the Pentagon seemingly had him removed in 2007 because of his admirable efforts to balance military and civilian needs. (I heard angry accounts of the Pentagon's role in Neumann's "retirement" at the time from knowledgeable diplomats, one of them very senior.) But our military forces, in a bureaucratic sense, soon marched on Washington itself. As military officers sought to take over the role played by civilian development experts abroad, Pentagon bureaucrats quietly populated the National Security Council and the State Department with their own personnel (some civilians, some consultants, some retired officers, some officers on "detail" from the Pentagon) to ensure that the Defense Department could keep an eye on its rival agencies. Vice President Cheney, himself a former secretary of defense, and his good friend Rumsfeld ensured the success of this seeding effort by some fairly forceful means. At least twice, I saw Cheney staffers show up unannounced at State Department meetings, and I heard other State Department officials grumble about this habit. The Rumsfeld officials could play hardball, sometimes even leaking to the press the results of classified meetings that did not go their way in order to get the decisions reversed. After I got wind of the Pentagon's dislike for the approved interagency anti-drug strategy for Afghanistan, details of the plan quickly wound up in the hands of foreign countries sympathetic to the Pentagon view. I've heard other, similarly troubling stories about leaks of classified information to the press. Many of Cheney's and Rumsfeld's cronies still work at the Pentagon and elsewhere. Rumsfeld's successor, Robert M. Gates, has spoken of increasing America's "soft power," its ability to attract others by our example, culture and values, but thus far, this push to reestablish civilian leadership has been largely talk and little action. Gates is clearly sincere about chipping away at the military's expanding role, but many of his subordinates are not. The encroachment within America's borders continued with the military's increased involvement in domestic surveillance and its attempts to usurp the role of the federal courts in reviewing detainee cases. The Pentagon also resisted ceding any authority over its extensive intelligence operations to the first director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte -- a State Department official who eventually gave up his post to Mike McConnell, a former Navy admiral. The Bush administration also appointed Michael V. Hayden, a four-star Air Force general, to be the director of the CIA. National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley saw much of the responsibility for developing and implementing policy on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- surely the national security adviser's job -- given to Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, Bush's new "war czar." By 2008, the military was running much of the national security apparatus. The Pentagon opened a southern front earlier this year when it attempted to dominate the new Merida Initiative, a promising $400 million program to help Mexico battle drug cartels. Despite the admirable efforts of the federal drug czar, John P. Walters, to keep the White House focused on the civilian law-enforcement purpose of the Merida Initiative, the military runs a big chunk of that program as well. Now the Pentagon has drawn up plans to deploy 20,000 U.S. soldiers inside our borders by 2011, ostensibly to help state and local officials respond to terrorist attacks or other catastrophes. But that mission could easily spill over from emergency counterterrorism work into border-patrol efforts, intelligence gathering and law enforcement operations -- which would run smack into the Posse Comitatus Act, the long-standing law restricting the military's role in domestic law enforcement. So the generals are not only dominating our government activities abroad, at our borders and in Washington, but they also seem to intend to spread out across the heartland of America. If President-elect Obama wants to reverse this trend, he must take four steps -- and very quickly: 1. Direct -- or, better yet, order -- Gates, Jones, Blair and the other military leaders in his Cabinet to rid the Pentagon's lower ranks of Rumsfeld holdovers whose only mission is to increase the power of the Pentagon. 2. Turn Gates's speeches on the need to promote soft power into reality with a massive transfer of funds from the Pentagon to the State Department, the Justice Department and USAID. 3. Put senior, respected civilians -- not retired or active military personnel -- into key subsidiary positions in the intelligence community and the National Security Council. 4. Above all, he should let his appointees with military backgrounds know swiftly and firmly that, under the Constitution, he is their commander, and that he will not tolerate the well-rehearsed lip service that the military gave to civilian agencies and even President Bush over the past four years. In short, he should retake the government before it devours him and us -- and return civilian-led government to the people of the United States. ============== * Thomas A. Schweich served the Bush administration as ambassador for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan and deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement affairs. Copyright 1996-2008 The Washington Post Company Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all. The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few. In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what might be done about it?" 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