I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

September 8, 2010

Protecting ourselves from harmful chemical exposures: Your chance for input

National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/

Project goals – http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/accomplish.html

The National Conversation’s vision is to ensure that chemicals are used and managed in safe and healthy ways for all people.  The goal of the National Conversation is to develop an action agenda—clear, achievable recommendations—that will help government agencies and other organizations strengthen their efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures.  The action agenda will help our nation identify better ways to

  • Collect information about chemical use, people who are exposed, and the levels at which they are exposed.
  • Understand how chemicals affect people’s health.
  • Use policies and practices that tell us about risks, how to reduce harmful exposures, and how to create and use safe chemicals.
  • Prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical-related emergencies.
  • Protect all communities from harmful chemical exposures.
  • Create a well-informed public and health care provider network to help people understand chemical exposure risks.
  • Involve the public in government decision making.
  • Encourage teamwork among partner groups and agencies.

To help with this, work groups were formed last year to discuss six cross-cutting issues.  After receiving public input, they have released draft reports for public comment.  You can download the report for each work group from the pages linked to below and submit your comments via those pages, e-mail or other means listed there.

CDC and ATSDR are working with RESOLVE, a non-profit facilitation group that will compile the comments, as well as other organizations such as the American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and National Association of County and City Health Officials.

September 7, 2010

Aftermath of the Gulf oil spill

More from Yale Environment 360, but these have to do with the Gulf oil spill.

The Legacy of the Gulf Spill: What to Expect for the Future?

by John McQuaid

The Gulf of Mexico’s capacity to recover from previous environmental assaults — especially the 1979 Ixtoc explosion — provides encouragement about the prospects for its post-Deepwater future. But scientists remain worried about the BP spill’s long-term effects on the health of the Gulf and its sea life.

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: An Accident Waiting to Happen (May 10, 2010)

by John McQuaid

The oil slick spreading across the Gulf of Mexico has shattered the notion that offshore drilling had become safe. A close look at the accident shows that lax federal oversight, complacency by BP and the other companies involved, and the complexities of drilling a mile deep all combined to create the perfect environmental storm.

McQuaid notes:

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a classic “low probability, high impact event” — the kind we’ve seen more than our share of recently, including space shuttle disasters, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. And if there’s a single lesson from those disparate catastrophes, it’s that pre-disaster assumptions tend to be dramatically off-base, and the worst-case scenarios downplayed or ignored. The Gulf spill is no exception.

McQuaid addresses the issue of risk in

Andrew Hopkins, a sociology professor at the Australian National University and an expert on industrial accidents, wrote a book called Failure to Learn about a massive explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City in 2005 that killed 15 people. He says that disaster has several possible insights for the oil spill: one was that BP and other corporations sometimes marginalize their health, safety, and environmental departments. “The crucial voice for safety in Texas City was shielded from the site manager, and the very senior agency people in the BP corporate head office in London had no role in ensuring safety at the site level,” he said. “The organizational structures disempowered the voices for safety and I think you’ve got the same thing here” in the Gulf spill.

But the more profound problem is a failure to put risks in perspective. BP and other companies tend to measure safety and environmental compliance on a day-to-day, checklist basis, to the point of basing executive bonuses on those metrics. But even if worker accident rates fall to zero, that may reveal nothing about the risk of a major disaster. “These things we are talking about are risks that won’t show up this year, next year — it may be 10 years down the road before you see one of these big blowouts or refinery accidents,” Hopkins said. “This same thing happened in the global financial crisis. Bankers were paid big bonuses for risks taken this year or next year, but the real risks came home to roost years later.”

That assumption — that catastrophic risks were so unlikely they were unworthy of serious attention — appears to have driven a lot of the government decision-making on drilling as well. The Minerals Management Service, a division of the Interior Department, oversees drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Since the 1980s, the MMS has routinely granted  a blanket exemption from doing a comprehensive environmental impact statement to individual drilling operations, according to Holly Doremus, a professor of environmental law at Berkeley. The Washington Post and the Associated Press reported last week that BP’s Deepwater Horizon lease received that exemption (called a “categorical exclusion”) last year. It was based on several analyses that downplayed the risks of a major oil spill. One, published in 2007, estimated the “most likely size” of an offshore spill at 4,600 barrels. NOAA’s current, conservative estimate of the Gulf spill put its total at more than 80,000 barrels, increasing at a rate of 5,000 per day.

Of course, “Energy companies have aggressively lobbied to avoid formally analyzing worst-case scenarios since the Carter administration first required them in instances where there was uncertainty about the risk of disaster….”

So, will we have learned?

Interviews

A Louisiana Bird Expert Assesses Damage from the Spill

The images of pelicans and other Gulf of Mexico seabirds drenched in oil have stirred sadness and outrage around the world. But, says conservationist Melanie Driscoll, the unseen effects are probably far greater, with some birds perishing out of sight, far from shore, and others facing spill-related declines in the fish on which they depend.

September 4, 2010

Using information about ecological impact of products to drive consumer decisions

Daniel Goleman summarizes some of the ideas he raised in his book Ecological Intelligence, which I discussed in a previous post, in an article in Yale Environment 360.

How Marketplace Economics Can Help Build a Greener World

by Daniel Goleman
Consumers now have little information about the true ecological impacts of what they buy. But that may be about to change, as new technologies that track supply chains are emerging and companies as diverse as Unilever and Google look to make their products more sustainable.


August 24, 2010

The economy vs. the environment? How much do environmental issues matter?

Blog post, ” The Eco-Debate: How Much Do Environmental Issues Matter?“, confronts the issue of the environment vs. the economy, and argues that the two are not inseparable but that we can, that we need to, pursue sustainability.

I was struck by a quote by Paul Hawken cited in the post:

At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product … We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation.”

(The post also notes that Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce was voted the No. 1 college text by business professors.)

First report released on global economic burden of cancer

First Global Economic Cost of Cancer Report released by American Cancer Society and LIVESTRONG®

Press release

Also reported on the Global Fight Against Cancer Blog, “American Cancer Society and LIVESTRONG® Release First-of-its-kind Study ‘Global Economic Cost of Cancer’

Link to report summary

This was also reported on by the Associated Press, “Report: Cancer is the world’s costliest disease.”  Costs, not including direct medical costs, are estimated at $895 billion.

LIVESTRONG® also sponsored a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which presents the results of research and analysis on the health
and economic burden of cancer, global expenditures for cancer control and the funding gap relating to achieving a global expenditure standard for treatment and care.  (It’s not clear what the relationship between these two reports is.)

The Economist/LIVESTRONG® report on the global burden of cancer

LIVESTRONG® Summary

Full report: “Breakaway: The global burden of cancer—challenges and opportunities” (PDF, 73 pp.)

The primary collaborators on this project were Nancy Beaulieu and David E. Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health, Lakshmi Reddy Bloom of Data For Decisions LLC and Richard M. Stein of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The American Cancer Society reports that in 2009 the National Institutes of Health estimated the total cost of cancer as $228.1 billion.  That included direct medical costs and indirect costs due to loss of productivity due to illness and premature death.

The recent global report did not include direct medical costs.

Other resources

World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

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