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This was the question that was asked in today’s hearing. Last time I wrote about toxic chemicals in our everyday products. This time I’m writing about toxic chemicals in our drinking water, specifically endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mess with our endocrine system which is a system of glands that release hormones. They have been linked to the emergence of intersex fish, meaning there are fish that are starting to have both male and female sex organs. Gross I know, but the question is, are they bad for humans?
Most of the panelists agreed that endocrine disruptors are bad for us, even in the smallest doses. According to Dr. Birnbaum, the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the endocrine system works on tiny amounts of hormones, so low doses may disrupt the body’s system and lead to diseases. Furthermore, endocrine disruptors could lead to a wide variety of health problems because endocrines govern many organs in the body. To make thing worse, endocrine disruptors are ubiquitous and have effects far past the duration of exposure.
The only differing view point came from Dr. Borgert who leads the Applied Pharmacology and Toxicology consulting firm. He stressed the importance of basing our decisions on solid science and gave three criteria for it. One, we have to know what we’re measuring. Two, we have to test under controlled conditions. Three, the experiments have be repeatable with the same result. Needless to say, he was of the opinion that we do not yet have a thorough enough understanding to say that endocrine disruptors are causing problems in animals or humans.
Unfortunately, the research that should be done by the EPA regarding endocrine disruptors has been too slow and ineffective. The EPA has a screening process that selects certain chemicals to be tested to see if they are endocrine disruptors, but it does not determine which ones actually are. There was universal agreement that the EPA is not functioning sufficiently in this regard.
There were a couple of things that bothered me during the hearing. One thing that bothered me was the mention of solid science. Dr. Borgert made it clear that we shouldn’t act until we were certain that endocrine disruptors were causing health problems. He cited some historical examples of scientists being wrong and how their decisions based on incorrect science led to unintentional negative effects. But my understanding of science is that absolute certainty is very rare. It seems that there will always be a couple of scientists who disagree with something. So where do we draw the line? We have to act on what we think is correct don’t we? We can’t always wait until we’re 100% sure. Of course there are chances that our current understanding of something is wrong, but we can’t prevent that.
The other thing that bothered me was Dr. Borgert’s lack of alternative explanation on why we are seeing a rise in birth defects and health problems in America. I mean something has to be causing these problems right? What is it if not endocrine disruptors?
My suggestion is that we act on the majority of evidence because absolute certainty is just too rare to be reliable. If there is disagreement amongst the scientist on what direction the majority of evidence points to, then we should base our action on what the majority of scientists think.
Have some green hand washes for you.
Here’s another webcast of some more green products. Enjoy!
Consumers are exposed to thousands of untested chemicals.
Look around you right now. How many products are you surrounded by? 10-15? Chances are those products in your home and on your body contain thousands of untested chemicals. The EPA has only tested a couple hundred out of the 80,000 chemicals that are in our products today. Although not all 80,000 are in every product, the chances of the negative effects from exposure should be enough for us to worry. How many products do we purchase and consume? It is most likely that all of us have traces of toxins in our bodies.
Everyone in the committee agreed that regulation of chemicals had to be more strict. Senator Lautenberg has introduced the Kid Safe Chemical Act which would make industries prove that their chemicals are safe before introducing them into the market. It is important to note here that even fetuses are at risk from toxic exposure through the blood of the umbilical cord.
Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, introduced a test that they conducted. They tested 10 people for 413 toxins and they found 287. And yes, they didn’t test children, they tested blood taken from the umbilical cord. Not surprisingly, they also conduced a test with minorities and found hundreds of more toxins.
The most unsettling point that was made in this hearing was the unknown, the lack of understanding we have of toxic chemicals. We don’t know which chemicals are toxic, we don’t know what effects they’ll have and we don’t know at what level is each chemical ok. The question of quantity of exposure is very critical, but sometimes not spoken as much about. How low of exposure is low enough?
There are a number of steps that the panelists said we have to take. One is to have companies prove their chemicals are safe before they’re introduced; two is to find out what the respective safe levels are for certain chemicals; and three is to figure out all the dynamics of the chemicals (eg how they react with each other). The overtone of the hearing was that we don’t really know anything about which chemicals are in our products and what negative impacts they might have on our bodies.
This is one of the main reasons why I personally believe in the Cradle to Cradle philosophy. One of the core principles of Cradle to Cradle is to replace or phase out toxic chemicals and although Cradle to Cradle certified products aren’t perfect, they’re definitely better than the conventional ones.
Andrew J. Hoffman, a Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, recently posted an article titled A New Era of Climate Change Consciousness in which he presents an interview with David Hone, Shell’s climate change advisor. There is one excerpt I would like to point out in which Hone is asked his opinion on climate change policy.
Q. Hoffman: How important is the Senate bill on climate change (sponsored by Kerry Boxer) to ongoing action on climate change? What happens if it does not pass? Do you think the U.S. Senate is critical to global action on climate change?
A. Hone: Whether it is Kerry-Boxer or Waxman-Markey or a hybrid isn’t overly important — what is important is that the Congress delivers a clear and unambiguous piece of legislation designed to drive the economy along the emissions reduction pathway that President Obama has now announced. Ideally this should be a market based cap-and-trade approach as this delivers the outcome at lowest overall cost to the economy and provides business with the clear price signal that it needs to underwrite investment. In answer to the second part, yes, the U.S. is pretty important in the grand scheme of things. Just look at the change in overall momentum on this issue under the new administration, not only inside the USA, but also outside. Without a clear direction from the USA, adding to that already provided by Europe, the world could struggle to address the issue of climate change.
Seeing how global warming mitigation is inseparable from the business sector, it is crucial to seriously consider what businesses think. I’m not trying to imply that protecting the environment is something that should be solely left to the private sector, I’m just saying that they should have a big voice at the table. Therefore, we should consider what Hone said in this interview that it does not really matter which bill gets passed so long as we pass something.
However, we also need to keep in mind that what businesses want and what environmentalist think is necessary for a successful cap and trade are two different things. Here is a chart showing just that. On one side you have the suggestions from the US Climate Action Partnership which is a group of mostly businesses (including Shell) and a few environmental organizations. On the other side you have the suggestions from the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
1. A significant portion of allowances should be initially distributed free to capped entities and economic sectors
2. Policies to mitigate cost to people and business
3. 3 billion tons of offsets
4. Regulation Local Distribution Companies
5. No mention of price floor
6. No mention of reserve pool
FNCL’s 6 Keys To Cap and Trade
1. Auction 100 percent of the pollution permits
2. Rebate the majority of revenue back to the people
3. Eliminate or strictly limit offsets.
4. Cap at the first point of sale
5. Create a price floor
6. Create a permit reserve pool
In conclusion, I think many people agree that we need to pass something, but it has to be effective. What businesses want might jeopardize the efficacy of a cap and trade system and while they should have a big voice at the table, we must keep in mind that ultimately, businesses and environmentalist have different priorities.
Our Climate Intern Jason Chen talking about his side project Cradle to Cradle Products.
Looking forward to hearing more.
Two bills were discussed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on December 15th, S. 2052 (Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act of 2009, M. Udall) and S. 2812 (Nuclear Power 2021 Act, Bingaman). S. 2052 is a bill to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a research and development and demonstration program to reduce manufacturing and construction costs relating to nuclear reactors. S. 2812 is a bill to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to carry out programs to develop and demonstrate 2 small modular nuclear reactor designs.
As I was waiting in line, I noticed that there were a couple of colonels waiting in line behind. I do not know why the military had an interest in this hearing, but I thought it was something interesting to note.
The first guest was Dr. Warren “Pete” Miller who is the assistant secretary of the Office of Nuclear Energy at DOE. His main point, which was later repeated multiple times by the other panelists, was that modular reactors present many advantages over large reactors. Some of them being that they are much cheaper to construct, their fabrication is quicker due to their simplicity, they can be constructed in more off grid locations and that there is a large market for them.
Dr. Tom Sanders, the president of the American Nuclear Society, further added that 80% of the world’s grid cannot absorb large reactors and therefore shows a growing international market for small reactors. He stated that we can be the head of this nuclear technology as long as we have the collective will.
The third guest was Mr. Tony Pietrangelo, the senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute. He stated that one of the focuses of his organization is the safe operation of nuclear plants, specifically large scale reactors. This is due to the fact that large scale reactors already have licenses. However, he did mention that there is a growing demand for small scale reactors. Another point he made was that government industry partnerships are required if we want small reactors to be built in a short time frame. They are eager to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on implementing new designs, but there would be regulatory issues to work out.
The fourth guest was Mr. Michael Johnson, the director of the Office of New Reactors of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He also mentioned that large reactors have higher priority than small reactors. He later added that the speed which new designs can be licensed is determined on how much detail companies can give to the NRC.
The entire feeling of the hearing was that everyone was in favor of small nuclear reactors and wanted to speed up the process of implementing them. Sen. Murkowski asked the panelists to explain what the largest hurdle was for going forward with small reactors. The panelists concluded that commitment was the ultimate impediment.
Sen. Burr and Sen. Landrieu were critical on how structural regulations were slowing down everything. Furthermore, Sen. Landrieu stated that they should invest more money into this area because it shows a lot of potential in creating jobs.
Sen. Barrasso was focused on an issue completely separate from all the others. He was expressing his criticism to the DOE over a management plan regarding the sale of uranium and how this plan has dropped the price of it. Furthermore, he stated that this price drop has affected mining activities in Wyoming. He seemed to be mainly focused on issues pertaining to his own state.
The last point the panelists made was that the process of implementing small reactors will accelerate after the first one is implemented.