Friday, April 1, 2011

UK Intends to Stop Animal Testing on Household Products - Animal Rights Groups Rejoice

Recently the UK government signaled that it would end animal testing for household products.  And at least one animal welfare group has expressed its pleasure.  The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, more popularly known as BUAV, said that they welcomed "a statement made by Home Office Minister, Lynne Featherstone that the Government intends to ban the animal testing of both finished household products and their ingredients." 

BUAV notes that the "statement comes in response to a Parliamentary Question tabled by Adrian Sanders MP on March 28th 2011" and that the ban will include “all products that are primarily intended for use in the home, including detergents and other laundry products, household cleaners, air-fresheners, toilet blocks, polishes, paper products such as infant nappies [i.e., diapers], paints, glues (and removers), other furnishing and DIY products and household pesticides.”

Governments and animal welfare groups around the globe are working on ways to reduce or eliminate animal testing of chemicals.  I have discussed before how organizations are working to develop alternative testing methods.   Current protocols for testing chemicals and products involve doing in vivo, that is, in life, tests using various animals - mostly mice, rats and rabbits - as surrogates to assess toxicity.  So while some NGOs argue that more testing is necessary to characterize the hazards of chemicals, animal welfare groups argue that such animal testing is both cruel and unnecessary.

For more about BUAV you can check out their web sites: BUAV and Go Cruelty Free.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Maine Takes a Look at its Chemical Control Law - Is the Kid-Safe Products Act a Goner?

In 2008 lawmakers in the state of Maine passed a law that "enables Maine environmental regulators to recommend bans on potentially hazardous chemicals in consumer products used by children." Called the Kid-Safe Products Act, the law is now getting another look as critics argue that it "is another example of over-regulation stifling business growth in Maine."  Proponents argue that the law "protects children from harmful chemicals."

Now lawmakers are considering two new bills that would modify the original law, for better or worse depending on who you ask.  As the Bangor Daily News (BDN) reports, one of the bills would:

...either add some flexibility to an over-reaching law that discourages business growth or essentially render toothless a statute that protects Maine children from toxic chemicals.

The other bill would adjust the requirements of the law such Maine DEP "would identify 50 to 100 high-priority chemicals for additional scrutiny."  The current law stipulates a list of 1,751 'chemicals of high concern' that many are concerned hamper business investment.  Needless to say the discussion brings out the usual differences between environmental and health advocacy groups and the business community, in particular the Maine Chamber of Commerce.  As Kevin Miller notes in his BDN article:

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has played a significant — and controversial — role in generating support for Hamper’s bill.

In an “action alert” to members and supporters, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce stated that the definition of a “children’s product” in the law encompasses “any item sold for residential or commercial use” in Maine, including packaging or components.

But critics accuse the Chamber of intentionally misleading members by leaving out the rest of the definition. Children’s products, according to the law, are consumer products “intended for use by children … and any consumer product containing a chemical of high concern that when used or disposed of will likely result in a child’s or a fetus’s being exposed to that chemical.”

Defenders of the Kid-Safe Products Act also accused the Chamber of causing undue concern by suggesting that the law gives the DEP broad powers to ban chemicals when, in actuality, the Legislature has final say on any proposed prohibitions.

Kevin Miller's Bangor Daily News article can be read in full here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chris Mooney -Are Scientists Ignorant About Ignorance...When It Comes to Understanding How Climate Denial Works?

Many have probably heard of Chris Mooney, the columnist, blogger and author of several books including "The Republican War on Science" and "Unscientific America" (co-authored with scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum).  He has in the past said that scientists need to get out and talk to the public more.  But today in his column in the blog called Desmogblog Mooney suggests that scientists have to have a better understanding of how climate denial, and science denial in general, works.  It isn't so much about ignorance.  He notes:
As anyone who reads DeSmogBlog knows very well, the top climate skeptics are, you know, scientists. They are not ignorant of the scientific method. They may cleverly twist and abuse its findings, perhaps, but they all learned it, and were awarded advanced degrees for doing so. These are not “poorly educated people” we're dealing with. Not remotely.

I think he may be giving too much credit to "skeptics" as opposed to "denialists," but he makes the case that there are actually skeptics who are scientists and they are most certainly not ignorant of how science works. Mooney goes on to say:
And as for the nonscientist citizens who encounter the climate debate, and don’t know what to think? They may be confused, but it doesn’t make them ignorant about the scientific method. They also may be deflated, uncertain about what’s true—because the media is not doing its job of adjudicating.
Mooney makes a good point, but may also be conflating separate issues here.  As he suggests, there are non-scientists out there who do have enough of an understanding of the scientific method to be able to intellectually understand the scientific principles.  That, however, doesn't mean there aren't also people who have no clue about science, method or otherwise.  Still, one must assume that those who are capable of understanding must intentionally have chosen not to understand the science.  Or perhaps more likely, to simply have chosen to deny the science.

Which presents scientists with the problem facing many scientists, i.e., "frustrated not only by the persistence, but by the powerful resurgence of climate denial, many scientists are outraged."  Outrage in itself rarely succeeds in winning over the public.  And yet scientists must ensure that the science isn't misrepresented by those in denial either, as this carries over to honest, hard working, yet non-scientific members of society who want to do what is right but truly can't separate the wheat from the chaff.

Hopefully Mooney in future columns will explore this issue further.  It will definitely be a topic of this blog in the future.

Read Chris Mooney's full Desmogblog article here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Newspapers and Two former EPA Administrators Speak Out Against GOP Attacks on EPA Authority

As most of us are aware, there is an effort underway by the Republican-led House of Representatives to restrict the ability of the USEPA to regulate, in particular EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  I came across a post on the climate blog Climate Progress that compiles several of the most recent editorials by newspapers, as well as an Op-Ed by two former EPA Administrators appointed by Republican Presidents.

In the latter, former EPA Administrators William Ruckelshaus (appointed by Ronald Reagan) and Christine Todd Whitman (a former NJ Republican Governor and appointed by George W. Bush) decry:
Today the agency President Richard Nixon created in response to the public outcry over visible air pollution and flammable rivers is under siege. The Senate is poised to vote on a bill that would, for the first time, “disapprove” of a scientifically based finding, in this case that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. 
These two Administrators point out that:
This finding was extensively reviewed by officials in the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. 

Rather than engage in an honest and responsible debate on possible policy solutions, House Republicans have instead chosen to deny the science in order to avoid responsibility.  In their Op-Ed, Ruckelshaus and Whitman remind Congress that the people demanded EPA deal with the sources of the pollution that had given us air we could see and rivers that caught fire.  Actions taken by Congress (e.g., passing the Clean Air Act), the President (Nixon created the EPA by Executive Order), and the EPA through responsible regulations have given us cleaner and safer air and water along with a host of other changes that protect our health and environment.  The Administrators say:
It has taken four decades to put in place the infrastructure to ensure that pollution is controlled through limitations on corporate, municipal and individual conduct. Dismantle that infrastructure today, and a new one would have to be created tomorrow at great expense and at great sacrifice to America’s public health and environment. The American public will not long stand for an end to regulations that have protected their health and quality of life. 

Links to newspaper editorials can be found on the Climate Progress siteClimate Progress is run by Dr. Joseph Romm, a former Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Clinton Administration.

Monday, March 28, 2011

EPA Declassifies Previously Confidential Health and Safety Study Information

Following through on its efforts to increase transparency, the USEPA last week declassified the chemical identities of a total of 42 health and safety studies.  Sounds all CIA and spy-ish, doesn't it.  Previously the chemical identity for each of these studies was considered protected by confidential business information (CBI).  Now the public can not only see the studies but know on what chemicals the studies were done.

According to EPA's press release, "in 2010, EPA both challenged industry to declassify unwarranted CBI claims and issued new guidance on EPA's review and declassification process for confidentiality claims for the identity of a chemical in health and safety studies."  So "the posted declassifications of confidentiality claims are the result of both the Agency's and industry's review of CBI claims."

EPA plans to post CBI declassifications on its web site "on a regular basis."  Almost all of the studies had been submitted as part of Section 8(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This section of the law "requires U.S. chemical manufacturers, importers, processors, and distributors to notify EPA immediately after obtaining information on any of their chemical substances or mixtures that reasonably supports the conclusion that such substance or mixture presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. 8(e) notices should be submitted within 30 calendar days after obtaining information that a substance or mixture presents a substantial risk."  In other words, any information suggesting substantial risk.

More information and a list of the documents being declassified can be found here.

Industry is wary of the declassifications, noting that confidential business information protections are needed to keep competitors from finding out what chemicals go into various products.  The NGO, Environmental Defense Fund, on the other hand, welcomed the release.  As EDF scientist Richard Denison put it:

I am very glad to see EPA's payment of this first dividend on its promise to ensure that health and safety information submitted under TSCA is, as Congress clearly intended, made publicly available — including the identity of the chemicals to which the information pertains.  EPA needs also to provide the public with the means to track the status of EPA's challenges, reviews and determinations pertaining to the legitimacy of CBI claims, and of industry's compliance with or challenges to EPA's noble effort...As this effort proceeds, let's hope it reaches the hundreds or thousands of other studies that should have been made public long ago.