SEHN

Visionary Science, Ethics, Law and Action in the Public Interest

Year in Review

The Networker

Year in Review
December 2010

 

Dear friend of the earth,

With you, the Science & Environmental Health Network is dedicated to the intimate fact of the human connection to the earth.

What we do to the earth we do to ourselves. And this is what we have done. We’ve paved it over, drained the wetlands, acidified the oceans, altered the global climate patterns, caused the extinction of thousands of species and blanketed the earth with toxic chemicals. —SEHN Executive Director Carolyn Raffensperger, speech in Coral Gables, FL, October 2010

This year SEHN’s call for precaution was more crucial than ever—because it offers a different way forward that protects future generations and the earth they will inhabit. This work is not ours alone. Your financial support of SEHN makes it possible in these challenging times.

 

Our oceans, ourselves

We all felt the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico viscerally. With the oil gushing into the Gulf as her first grandbaby “headed down toward the birth canal,” SEHN Communications Director Nancy Myers wrote about theGrandchildren Standard: what would CEOs do if their grandchildren were their principle stakeholders?

During this painfully long teachable moment, SEHN was the go-to source for writers and experts explicitly calling for precaution. This energized national conversation on the precautionary principle is the result of vigorous groundwork by precautionary principle movers and shakers—that’s all of us—over the past decade.

The most positive possible outcome of this disaster would be not only an acceleration of renewable energy sources like wind, but a full embrace of the precautionary principle in science. —Naomi Klein, The Guardian

 

Our toxics, our health

The President’s Cancer Panel report in May lamented the scientific, medical, and policy communities’ neglect of environmental links to cancer and endorsed the precautionary principle—unprecedented at this level of US officialdom.

Recommendation # 1: A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure. —President’s Cancer Panel Report

SEHN Science Director Ted Schettler briefed Congressional staff members on the cancer report. Earlier in the year he testified to a Senate committee on the EPA’s neglect of children’s environmental health—as reported on CNN and in USA Today. The media turned to Ted’s reasoned authority on environmental health topics ranging from secondhand smoke and mental illness to climate change and new outbreaks of disease.

Schettler, who has served on EPA and National Academy of Sciences advisory committees, testified that the problems “are setting the stage for an overwhelming wave of disease and disability … in the coming decades.” Of particular concern: the lack of information about thousands of chemicals and how they interact with each other. —USA Today, March 18

 

Our chemistry, our future

SEHN Legal Director Joe Guth has been working tirelessly for two years to shape California’s Green Chemistry Initiative—from theory and concept to legislation and now implementation. The challenges are daunting, the pushback from industry is intense, and the stakes are high—other states and even nations are watching.

“This is a big project for society,” said Guth, who is on the state’s scientific advisory panel. “It’s going to take many decades and I think you have to look at it from that perspective.”—Naoki Schwartz (Associated Press), Washington Post, November 21

New ways of teaching chemistry are crucial. SEHN is sharing Joe and his groundbreaking legal theories with UC Berkeley, where Joe is developing law-and-policy curriculum for the university’s new Center for Green Chemistry. This program was featured on NPR’s Living on Earth.

So in my spare time when I am in my hood working up reactions, or on the bus on my way to lab, I find myself thinking about what else could you make that from? Instead of using this commodity chemical from petroleum, what else could you make that from? So it does, it does color the way I think about things and the type of daydreaming that I do. —Alison Narayan, organizer of the student-led green chemistry seminar at Berkeley

We hope you will support SEHN as an idea laboratory for policies that will take us beyond toxics—and inspire green daydreams in tomorrow’s students.

 

Our cumulative impacts, our communities

Cancer and other chronic diseases are often elevated in communities burdened by pollution. Members of these communities, like this woman from Ohio, frequently come to Ted for help:

After a great deal of pressure from citizens we have just today received a summary of the cancer incidence data for [our community]. As a layman I see at least two possible clusters (2X national rate). The local citizens are taking this information to their local board of health to ask them to come up with a plan to reduce the cancer in their community. Is it possible for the board of health to contact you to get your opinion on this data?

In this case, as in many others, possible causes for the cancers may be too numerous for one-to-one links: a local hazardous waste incinerator and other polluting facilities, along with high natural radon levels. Clearly, reducing the cumulative impact of these stressors is even more important than teasing out specific causes.

But our current legal system makes this nearly impossible. Joe has served since 2008 as an appointed member of a California government group tasked with implementing the precautionary principle by addressing cumulative impacts in stressed communities. The workgroup issued a draft report this fall—which the state health hazard office, under pressure from industry, is already rewriting.

This shows how much work we have ahead of us to build precautionary decision structures strong enough to withstand such pressures. We have therefore launched a comprehensive think-and-do-project on cumulative impacts. This will be a major focus of our work in 2011.

Thanks for all you do. We welcome your ideas and your financial support for this work. Let’s love the earth, ourselves, and future generations.

Happy holidays from the SEHN team!

Carolyn Raffensperger
Joe Guth
Katie Silberman
Nancy Myers
Sherri Seidmon
Ted Schettler

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