Rachel's News #991

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #991

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, December 25, 2008.............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org
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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?]

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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.[1]

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.

==============

[1] 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.

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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.


Coal sludge


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.

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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].

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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