Copenhagen – Special Report; CA can stop methyl iodide; New EPA rules for farmworker children & pesticides, more…

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Support Panups!December 11, 2009



California governor pressured to block methyl iodide

Governor SchwarzeneggerCalifornia officials are expected to decide before the end of the year whether the new fumigant pesticide methyl iodide will be allowed on farms in the Golden State. Concerned scientists and environmental health advocates across the country are watching California’s decision, and EPA has publicly committed to revisit the Bush-era decision to register the chemical for agricultural use if California rejects its registration. Advocates have moblized calls and emails from across the country urging Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to block the use of methyl iodide in the state. Concerned Californians plan to gather for a Day of Action in Sacramento on Monday, December 14, to press Schwarzenegger to block the dangerous pesticide.

Exposure to methyl iodide is linked to severe health concerns, including miscarriages and cancer. During EPA’s registration process, more than 50 scientists across the country — five of them Nobel Laureates — sent a letter to the agency (PDF) expressing astonishment that the agency “would even consider the introduction of a chemical like methyl iodide into agricultural use.” The scientists reported that chemists working with methyl iodide in the laboratory “use the smallest amounts possible and take great precautions to avoid exposure” to this highly reactive and risky chemical. Despite this concern expressed by scientists and the known public health risks of the chemical, methyl iodide was registered nationally at the end of the Bush administration. California is one of the few states to conduct independent scientific reviews, and has done so for methyl iodide over the last three months. The state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation has indicated, however, that they may make a decision by the end of the year — regardless of whether or not they have the full and final scientific review in hand. Join the call on Governor Schwarzenegger to stop methyl iodide.

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Siddiqui confirmation held up in Senate

SenateSenate confirmation of CropLife Vice President Islam Siddiqui ran into another roadblock this week. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is reported to have placed a hold on a final vote on Siddiqui’s nomination, as well as that of two other trade officials, as a way to pressure the White House to address tobacco trade issues that have arisen with Canada. While it is expected that the three nominations will eventually be approved by the Senate Finance Committee, and would then proceed to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote, the timing of the vote remains uncertain. “While all eyes are on Copenhagen this week,” said Pesticide Action Network senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, “it is still possible that Siddiqui’s confirmation could be quietly rushed through. Senator Bunning’s hold is fortuitous but temporary, and it has nothing to do with stopping the rapidly revolving door between industry and government. That is why we are still asking people to call their Senators and urge them to strongly oppose putting a pesticide pusher in charge of U.S. agricultural trade.”

“If the US Congress confirms Siddiqui,” warns Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific, “he will be well-placed to advance CropLife’s agenda of pushing deadly pesticides and risky GMOs on consumers and farmers, not only in the U.S. but all over the world. It is this industrial model of energy-intensive, greenhouse gas-emitting agriculture that has contributed to the escalation of global food and climate crises that are threatening the survival of billions of people today.”

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EPA proposes new rules to protect farmworker children

Farmworkers The EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs has taken a step in the right direction this week with a proposal to finally close a longstanding loophole that left young agricultural workers and children exposed to pesticide hazards. Previously, most types of pesticide exposure were regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), with the notable exception of the occupational exposure of agricultural workers and children who might accompany them to work, which are covered by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The FFDCA was significantly updated to account for new science about pesticide toxicity in 1996 with the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), but FIFRA was not. The discrepancy, as Patti Goldman of EarthJustice puts it, was a “callous double standard… There is no justification for using weaker science when it comes to identifying the risks to workers. EPA is appropriately now poised to put an end to this practice.” The new policy would expand regulations to better protect agricultural employees ages 12-17 and the children in farmworker families by extending risk assessments from the FQPA to pesticide uses regulated under FIFRA. The proposal (PDF) states that, “as a factual matter, pesticide exposure is pesticide exposure. No scientific justification exists for distinguishing between otherwise identical exposures based on whether they occurred on-the-job or not. Further, children of agricultural workers may have additional exposures to pesticides related to their parents’ employment.” Benefits of the proposed rules include using risk-only analysis (instead of weighing risks against possible or perceived benefits),
a ten-fold protection factor for children to account for their increased susceptibility, and analysis of aggregate exposure from multiple exposures and cumulative effects.

“This is a really big deal!” says Jennifer Sass of the National Resource Defense Council. “In fact, in 2003 NRDC joined with other groups including Farmworker Justice, EarthJustice, and others to file a legal challenge against EPA for not considering farmworker children under FQPA.” According to the Revised Risk Assessment Methods (PDF) the change comes because they’ve come to agree with advocates that there was no scientific reason to differentiate between occupational exposure and other types of exposure. The additional protection for farmworker children is an overdue step for the EPA to begin following through on the 1996 congressional mandate to protect children from pesticides. In October 2009, Pesticide Action Network was part of a coalition, including many of the groups who sued in 2003, that filed a legal petition (PDF) asking the EPA to finally act after the 2006 FIFRA reform deadline came and went with no improved protections. EPA’s Dec. 7 proposal appears to begin to address some of those flaws. Unfortunately, as PAN staff scientist Margaret Reeves points out, “the new policy, now undergoing a 60-day public comment period, fails to address other key issues including accounting for pesticide exposure through inhalation, and the non-linear effects of exposure to some pesticides, including those that effect the human endocrine system.<>

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Groups urge EPA to finally ban endosulfan

Polar BearLast week, Pesticide Action Network and 41 other environmental, health, labor, and farming groups sent a joint letter to EPA (PDF) Administrator Lisa Jackson urging the Agency to act now on endosulfan, an antiquated insecticide already banned in more than 60 countries. “It’s time for the U.S. to step up to the plate and get rid of endosulfan,” said PAN’s Karl Tupper. “EPA’s review of endosulfan has been dragging on for years. Since 2006 they’ve invited some 270 days of public comment on the issue. Action is long overdue.” The letter cited the October decision on endosulfan by the Persistent Organic Pollutant Review Committee (POPRC), the scientific panel that evaluates chemicals for inclusion in the Stockholm Convention, the treaty that bans persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like DDT, PBCs, and dioxins. The POPRC found that endosulfan “is likely, as a result of its long-range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health and environmental effects, such that global action is warranted.” The Dec. 3 letter to EPA urged the agency to heed that call for international action and ban endosulfan in the U.S. Included among the 42 signers of the letter, along with authors Tupper and the Environmental Health Fund’s Joe DiGangi, were Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Center for International Environmental Law, EarthJustice, Farmworker Justice, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the United Farm Workers.

On the same day, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the EPA for failing to consider the impact of endosulfan and other POPs on polar bears and their Arctic habitat. “The United States has lagged far behind the international community in taking action to protect the species and people of the Arctic from pesticides and other contaminants,” said Rebecca Noblin, staff Attorney for CBD. “But the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act gives the EPA both the opportunity and the obligation to meaningfully address the poisoning of the Arctic.”

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CDC releases new report on toxic body burden

Human bodyExperts agree that the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on chemical contamination of people’s bodies is on the right track. The CDC has improved the detail and scope in its Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, released December 10. The report is based on biomonitoring — analyses of blood and urine samples that reveal contamination levels for 212 chemicals, “including 75 which have never before been measured in a representative sample of the U.S. population”.

But there remains much more information needed from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, according to physicians, environmental health advocates and scientists who are working on chemical exposure problems. Dr. Peter Orris, chief of service for Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, stated, “I would hope that CDC … will also look at intergenerational comparisons to help protect women of child bearing age from those chemicals that may damage the developing fetus.” Margaret Reeves, senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network, who works with farmworker and rural communities says, “It is necessary for CDC to link time of year of specimen collection and the occupation of the participant to see patterns with pesticide and other exposures.” Sharyle Patton, program director at Commonweal, suggests that the agency “should make individual results available to those they have tested,” something she notes the European Union plans to do as it begins its own pilot biomonitoring study. “We would also like to see them collecting data to reflect geographic location in order to assess regional exposure patterns,” adds Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.


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SPECIAL REPORT from Copenhagen – PAN calls for ‘climate justice’

Copenhagen protest

Copenhagen, Denmark – Pesticide Action Network representatives from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and North America are on the ground in Copenhagen, where climate talks have just finished their fifth of twelve days of negotiations. Government ministers from 192 countries, journalists, NGOs and other members of civil society have descended upon the dark and misty capital city by the tens of thousands (upwards of 30,000 are expected). With a growing body of evidence that global warming is happening much faster than scientists had predicted, more severe weather patterns already in play, and with the 2000’s just announced as the warmest decade on record, the world is watching Copenhagen. Politicians are behaving accordingly. As are activists. But the dynamic at this treaty negotiation is particularly tricky because nearly all parties want to solve the climate crisis and see these talks as pivotal. Complex fault lines center on what constitutes a solution, and who bears responsibility for implementing it. PAN has a stake in the outcome, because ecological agriculture can help cool the planet and climate justice is essential to food sovereignty.

COP 15 vs. Klimaforum  The convergence is mainly focused on the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is taking place at the vigorously policed Bella Center, where about 20,000 are expected. Mass demonstrations are planned beginning today and continuing for over a week. Danish police have set up makeshift prisons in empty warehouses outside of town and secured the right to pre-emptively arrest any person who looks like they are about to do something illegal. Across town is Klimaforum, the “people’s climate summit,” headquartered in an old slaughterhouse in the city’s red light district. Klimaforum expects at least 7,000 attendees from 95 countries, many of them from the NGO community. Naomi Klein, Friends of the Earth International’s president Nnimmo Bassey and Via Campesina’s general coordinator Henry Siraghi opened Klimaforum with speeches framing the forum as “the real event in Copenhagen” — both because the emissions cuts and schemes on the table at the COP15 are inadequate, and because Klimaforum brings together movements from around the world. On Wednesday, PAN hosted a workshop (PDF) on “Building Community Resilience to Climate Change through Food Sovereignty and Ecological Agriculture.” The panel presentation featured a strong and diverse line-up of experts and activists from Africa, India, the Netherlands, U.K. and U.S. and was well attended.

Not the end of Kyoto  Despite a widely shared sense of urgency, few observers expect the COP 15 to produce a legally binding treaty. World leaders have been managing expectations towards a “political agreement” which would then be worked into a legal framework in coming months. These talks are not — as has been reported and widely understood — intended to replace an expiring Kyoto Protocol. In 2012, the Kyoto Protocol is slated to go into a second phase of commitment, the terms of which are under discussion. It looks increasingly likely, however, that the industrialized countries will abandon the Kyoto Protocol’s legally binding framework (which the U.S. never signed onto but could be integrated into) and move to draft a less stringent climate regime that sheds critical principles from Kyoto such as “historical responsibility” and “common but differentiated responsibilities.” These last two principles are a sticking point for the developing world because they are the basis upon which the industrialized world is held to higher emissions cutting and transition funding standards in recognition of the fact that it is historically responsible for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem of climate debt  This fact of “historical responsibility” is also called “climate debt”. The newer, not-Kyoto agreement would be a collection of national efforts called “pledge and review” where Convention parties would review national performance against pledges. A “pledge and review” agreement is likely both because the U.S. “completely reject[s] the notion of a debt or reparations, or anything of the like,” and because the U.S. has indicated that it won’t sign a binding agreement unless advanced developing countries like China and India step up their emissions reductions commitments under Kyoto.

There were hopes for preserving the Kyoto architecture until the E.U. recently signaled its willingness to abandon it. The 130 developing nations that make up the G77+China block have historically aligned their negotiating positions vis-à-vis the industrialized world. Fears are that the stakes and dynamics of the Copenhagen negotiations will split the block, leaving developing nations and peoples — who suffer the worst and most immediate effects of climate change — in a weak position to defend their interests in being allowed the “atmospheric space” (the right to pollute) to develop their economies and infrastructures, and to tackle crushing poverty. Still, a not-Kyoto, non-legally binding “political agreement” could be significant, particularly if issued as a Decision of the Conference of the Parties, because it would have legal status and effect, setting parameters for any agreements.

Not enough  Whatever the architecture of the ensuing climate agreement, the emissions cuts currently on the table don’t cut it and the means of implementation are not forthcoming. Currently announced cuts from developed countries add up to 11% – 18% cuts from 1990 levels by 2020, when the latest science indicates that 25-40% cuts are needed to keep warming to a maximum rise of 2 degrees Celsius. Implementation requires two things: money and technology transfer. Current talks center on a fund of $10 billion annually, when a recent U.N. report indicates that $500bn – $600bn are required annually in mitigation and adaptation funds for developing countries.

The ‘Danish Text’  This North-South divide between industrialized and developing countries was exacerbated on Tuesday, when a secret Danish Text which the U.S., U.K. and Denmark had been working on behind closed doors was leaked. Parties to the conference had been assured that the negotiating text on the table was the only one under discussion, and were incensed to learn of the backroom dealings. The Danish Text would reverse key provisions of the Kyoto framework by: 1) stripping recognition of the industrialized world’s disproportionate “historical responsibility” for warming the earth; and 2) handing most control to rich nations while making the World Bank, rather than the more democratic UN, the arbiter of global emissions cuts.

Tuvalu’s ‘real deal’  This breach of trust was followed on Wednesday by impromptu protests inside the Bella Center, and a dramatic suspension of negotiations when the Pacific Island Nation of Tuvalu put on the table a request to amend the UN treaty to cap at 1.5 rather than 2 degrees warming, and to do so under a legally binding framework running parallel to a Kyoto Protocol. According to Reuters, more than 100 of the 192 nations in attendance support the 1.5 degree warming goal. Tuvalu also requested that emerging giant economies like China and India be bound to emissions cuts. The move has split the G77+China block of developing nations: while Tuvalu’s position is supported by 43 members of the Alliance of Small Island States and many of the least developed countries — as well as climate justice activists and scientists like — China and India are not in alignment. As a small island, Tuvalu would join the Maldives and other small island nations in being rendered uninhabitable – or submerged entirely – by the sea level rises that will accompany a 2 degree warming. Representing 1% of the world’s population and GDP, however, small island states hold relatively little power in these negotiations despite the fact that they have the most at stake. Walking away from the talks is just about the only card they hold. As this PAN report goes to press, it isn’t clear what Friday will hold at the Bella Center.

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