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 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 7, 2010

Ecological Intelligence

I recently began reading Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, who  is probably best known for his books on Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence.  He puts ecological intelligence in a different category that some of the other intelligences identified by Howard Gardner in that ecological intelligence has to be developed because the activities, and the impacts they have, are beyond our awareness and occur at such slow rates that there was no need for humans to develop that type of intelligence.  Climate change is one such example.

The subtitle is “How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything.”  He focuses on many of the same issues that William McDonough in Cradle to Cradle and Annie Leonard in The Story of Stuff do.  I found it delightfully surprising that a book by an author known for books on issues like emotional intelligence starts right off with a discussion of Life Cycle Assessment and industrial ecology.  (In fact, he refers to William McDonough’s “cradle to cradle” approach in several places.)

His discussion of why “green” isn’t always as green as it seems is useful for anyone wanting to make ecologically responsible purchases.

Goleman argues that one of the best ways to increase our ecological intelligence is through full disclosure of the impact of the products we buy, the notion of radical transparency.  He cites examples such as companies being required to disclose their financial workings as examples of how that disclosure helps investors make better decisions.

He weaves together stories about the effect of synthetic chemicals on our bodies, especially on our immune systems, and discusses how inflammation and oxidative stress could be at the root of all sorts of diseases (going well beyond cancer).  Body burden, toxicology, epigenetics, and green supply chains are all covered, even if only briefly.  He weaves together these topics in a very readable, understandable fashion.

Postscript: Just checked out his website for the first time.  His latest blog post is entitled “Leading sustainability” and discusses how consumers can use resources like GoodGuide.com to make more informed choices.  And I’m encouraged by the fact that he is working with folks like Peter Senge, a management guru.

April 5, 2010

National Conversation on protecting the public from harmful chemical exposures (April 5-7)

“CDC’s National Conversation Happening Now,” The Pump Handle blog post on the CDC and ATSDR’s National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures, a two-year project sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

There will be discussions about:

To register for the dialogue, click here.

March 25, 2010

The need for information about toxic substances in articles

For consumers to make informed decisions about whether the products we’re buying are safe, we need information about what is in them.  The following report discusses that issue.

Toxic substances in articles: the need for information
This report explores the benefits that can be gained by improving the provision of information on chemicals in articles.

Executive Summary (excerpt)

This report describes the problem of the lack of information on chemicals in articles. It illustrates specific cases where problems caused by chemicals in articles occur in all life cycle stages: manufacturing, use, recycling and disposal. The report explores the benefits that could result from the development of an internationally standardized information system for the chemical contents of articles; the challenges of disseminating such information; and existing models that could inform such a system. While an information system is not a substitute for other policy mechanisms to mitigate the harms from toxic substances in articles, it can be a powerful compliment [sic].

Note: This report was an input to the further development of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), adopted in February 2006, in particular to the objectives on knowledge and information (Objective 15) of its Overarching Policy Strategy and to some of the activities in the Global Plan of Action. The report was presented at an informal international workshop on stakeholders’ information needs on chemicals in articles in Geneva in February 2009.

The report was commissioned by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI), with funding from the Nordic Chemicals Group under the Nordic Council of Ministers. Responsibility for its contents rests with the authors. The authors are Rachel I. Massey and Janet G. Hutchins at the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute, Joel Tickner at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production and Monica Becker, Monica Becker & Associates.

Contents

Understanding the Problem: Case Studies of Toxic Substances in Articles

  • Case Study 1: Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in waterproof  textiles
  • Case study 2: Lead in children’s toys and jewelry
  • Case study 3: Nonylphenol ethoxylates: Water contaminants from textile manufacturing and use
  • Case study 4: Toxic materials in personal computers
    Toxic materials in personal computers include lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, antimony, brominated flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds, and polyvinyl chloride plastic.
  • Implications for policies addressing information on substances in articles

Models for information management

Existing legal requirements for information on substances in articles

  • California: Notification of chronic health effects and Toxics Information Clearinghouse
  • Maine and Washington: Notification of toxics in children’s products
  • Mercury products legislation
  • Restriction on Hazardous Substances: EU and China
  • Management of Information on Chemicals in Articles under REACH
  • Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Voluntary systems

  • Industry-specific systems
  • Corporate Restricted and Preferred Substance Lists
  • Consumer-oriented Databases
  • Voluntary Environmental Performance Labelling (Eco-labels)

The way forward

  • Toward an Internationally Standardized System
  • Scope of the system

Read full report (PDF – 2.28 MB)

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