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Unmuddying The Waters
Jon Devine March 20, 2007 Jon Devine is a staff member on the Clean Water Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Just the other day, my seven-year-old son explained that it was important to protect small creeks from pollution because the bad stuff can travel downstream. That observation might seem like common sense, but there’s a debate going on in Washington now that would make my child scratch his head. Polluting industries are trying to convince the Bush administration and Congress that the Clean Water Act should not keep certain water bodies clean. At the same time, leaders in Congress are reintroducing a bill that would define protected “waters of the United States” based on the decades-old definition in the Corps’ and EPA’s regulations. The Clean Water Authority Restoration was introduced in prior Congresses, and enjoyed bipartisan support. This Congress it stands a better chance of passing, and just in time. The Clean Water Act has long kept all of the “waters of the United States” safe from unregulated direct discharges, oil spills, and unrestricted destruction and filling. States must also develop cleanup plans for any “waters of the United States” that are impaired by pollution. In expanding the law in 1972 to cover the “waters of the United States,” Congress made clear that it intended that the law “be given the broadest possible constitutional interpretation.” Congress understood a basic truth—water moves in cycles between different water bodies, and because they each serve important roles, protecting the whole aquatic system makes sense. We know, for example, that small and seasonal creeks, brooks, and streams make up over half the river miles in the nation outside of Alaska and contribute to the drinking water of roughly 111 million Americans. Wetlands purify water, reduce the risk of flooding, and provide important wildlife habitat. The EPA and Army Corps regulations implementing the law have for decades reflected Congressional intent and scientific reality. The statutes cover, among other things, tributary streams, adjacent wetlands, and a variety of other intrastate waters. These rules had been enforced by the vast majority of courts that examined them, including the Supreme Court. But the simple fact is that it sometimes costs industrial operations money to prevent water pollution, so even though they had been largely unsuccessful in attacking the law's scope, polluters did not stop trying to use the courts to cut back on the kinds of water bodies that the law protects. In 2001, their persistence paid off when the Supreme Court—in a case called Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (or “SWANCC”)—held that non-navigable, intrastate waters could not be classified as “waters of the United States” solely based on the government’s “Migratory Bird Rule,” which protected aquatic habitat used by migrating birds. Despite this relatively narrow holding, language in the SWANCC opinion gave polluters an opening to pressure the EPA and the Corps to consider changing their rules. In response to this scheme, the agencies were inundated by more than 130,000 comments, including ones from dozens of states, overwhelmingly demanding that the rules be kept intact. This public outcry succeeded when the agencies cancelled the rulemaking process. However, EPA and the corps kept in place a policy document directing the agencies’ field staff to stop applying Clean Water Act protections to many waters unless they first receive permission from headquarters in Washington, D.C. In practice, the field staff have gotten the implicit message—don’t ask for permission to protect—and thousands of water bodies have been declared unprotected since the policy took effect. An estimated 20 million acres of wetlands are at risk of losing Clean Water Act safeguards nationwide because of the policy. Polluters also seized on SWANCC in the courts, saying that it the law was intended to protect only waters that are actually navigable. Though again this claim was largely rejected by the lower courts, those opposed to Clean Water Act protections were able to convince the Supreme Court to hear another case just last year—Rapanos v. U.S.—which examined whether the law protects non-navigable tributaries and their adjacent wetlands. The result was a messy split decision: The Court did not invalidate the existing rules, but the various opinions suggested different tests. Justice Kennedy would require the agencies to show a physical, biological, or chemical linkage—a “significant nexus”—between a water body and an actually navigable one to protect it. Four other justices would protect only “relatively permanent, standing or flowing bodies of water,” and would require wetlands to have a continuous surface connection to such waters to be protected. Today, there is significant uncertainty about what water bodies remain protected. Polluters are urging the agencies to write off whole categories of water bodies because of the rulings, even though there was no such directive from the Court and even though as a matter of science, tributaries, and wetlands surely have a “significant nexus” to the traditional navigable waters in their watersheds. Even if we avoid the worst rollbacks, even having to show that water bodies have a “significant nexus” to actually navigable waters will likely be confusing, time consuming, and expensive to implement in practice. Numerous suits are pending that address the extent to which the law can protect certain tributaries and wetlands, and it seems inevitable that many more will follow as long as the law remains this unclear. Court decisions thus far have dealt with the new decision inconsistently. One court even held that the Act didn’t apply to an oil spill into a small discontinuous stream. And at least one group is even trying to convince the agencies to deny protection to a host of waters based on the opinion of four Supreme Court justices that was rejected by a majority of the Court. Fortunately, there’s a solution. Congress can reaffirm what the Clean Water Act was meant to protect by passing a bill that would define protected “waters of the United States” based on the decades-old definition in the Corps’ and EPA’s regulations. A bill called the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act aims to do that. The bill has been introduced in prior Congresses, and has enjoyed bipartisan support. It will be introduced soon in the new Congress. I hope the House and Senate will quickly pass it—I’d hate to try to explain to my son why our political leaders ignored the facts that were so apparent to him. Petroleum-based cosmetics and skin care products found to co
A recent study by the non-profit Environmental Working Group showed that many cosmetic products -- including more than half of all baby soaps -- contained a carcinogenic chemical. Internal studies in the cosmetics industry show that many of their products can be contaminated by a carcinogenic impurity called 1,4-dioxane, and the EWG's independent study showed that 1,4-dioxane is fairly widespread among cosmetic products. Jump directly to: conventional view | alternative view | resources | bottom line What you need to know - Conventional View • The study found 22 percent of all cosmetic and skin care products may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. • It also found that 80 percent of all cosmetic products may be contaminated with one or more carcinogenic impurities. • In addition to 1,4-dioxane, six other major impurities are hydroquinone, ethylene dioxide, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, PAHs, and acrylamides. • The EWG analysis found 1,4-dioxane in a wide variety of cosmetic products on the market, including almost all brands of hair relaxers and more than half of the baby soaps on the market. Contamination levels found were as follows: 97% - hair relaxers 82% - hair dyes and bleaching 66% - hair removers 57% - baby soap 45% - sunless tanning products 43% - body firming lotion 36% - hormonal creams 36% - facial moisturizers 35% - anti-aging products 34% - body lotion 33% - around-eye creams • The analysis assessed the ingredient lists of 15,000 cosmetics and other personal care products. • Another impurity, hydroquinone, can potentially contaminate the products used daily by 94 percent of all women and 69 percent of all men, the EWG reported. • To avoid 1,4-dioxane, read ingredient labels and avoid any of the 56 cosmetic ingredients that can contain the contaminant, including "sodium laureth sulfate" and ingredients that include the clauses "PEG," "xynol," "ceteareth," and "oleth." • "One of every five adults is potentially exposed every day to all of the top seven carcinogenic impurities common to personal care product ingredients," the EWG said regarding a 2004 study. What you need to know - Alternative View Statements and opinions by Mike Adams, executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center • Common, brand-name skin care products often contain multiple chemical contaminants known to cause cancer, liver disorders and neurological disorders. • I strongly advise consumers to avoid using non-organic cosmetics or skin care products. Switch to trusted, organic products from companies like Dr. Bronner's ( or Pangea Organics ( • Remember that any creams or cosmetics you put on your skin get absorbed into your blood. Don't put anything on your skin that you couldn't safely eat! Bottom line Many cosmetic products include carcinogenic contaminants in them. ### Mysterious collapse of honeybee populations threatens nation
The honeybee population in the United States is currently suffering a devastating collapse. Honeybees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. Have they all been kidnapped by mad beekeepers, or is something more frightening occurring with the pollinators in our ecosystem? During the final three months of 2006, a distressing number of honeybee colonies began to diminish from the United States, and beekeepers all over the country have reported unprecedented losses. According to scientists, the domesticated honeybee population has declined by about 50% in the last 50 years. Reports of similar losses to the honeybee population have been documented before in beekeeping literature, but are widely believed to have occurred at this scale previously only at a regional level. With outbreaks recorded as far back as 1896, this is regarded as the first national honeybee epidemic in U.S. history. The phenomenon, referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is not yet well understood. Even the existence of the disorder remains in dispute. Nevertheless, what cannot be denied is that a shortage of honeybees in the continental U.S. has affected cropowners from California to the New England states. "There are shortages [like this] that pop up from time to time," said Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at Princeton University. "Whether there are more [shortages] than there were 20 years ago, one would guess yes, as there are fewer bees to go around, but it's not well documented." Subsequent investigations suggest these outbreaks of unexplained colony collapse were experienced by beekeepers for at least the last two years. Are the honeybees dying in the fields they pollinate, or do they simply become too exhausted and disoriented to find their way back home? Why honeybees are the invisible link to an abundant food supply Whatever the reason, why should we care so much? Why should it matter at all to Americans? When entire bee populations seem to disappear or die out in alarming numbers, the ramifications can be astounding. Bee pollination, which most farmers depend on, is responsible for as much as 30% of the U.S. food supply. "Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food," said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States. These include such diverse food sources as almond blossoms, pumpkins, cucumbers, raspberries, avocados, and alfalfa. Unless something is done to protect the honeybee population soon, many fruits and vegetables may disappear from the food chain. "The sudden and unexplained loss of honeybee populations is an early warning sign for coming disruptions in modern agriculture," explained Mike Adams, executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center non-profit group ( "If we continue to lose honeybees at this rate, we may find ourselves in a dire food supply emergency that will not be easily solved," Adams said. "During the last three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the eastern United States," said Maryann Frazier, a senior extension associate in the Department of Entomology at Pennsylvania State University's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Since the beginning of the year, beekeepers from all over the country have been reporting unprecedented losses. This has become a highly significant yet poorly understood problem that threatens the pollination industry and the production of commercial honey in the United States," she said. Honeybees are killed by synthetic chemicals Scientists, for now, have primarily attributed the honeybee decline to diseases spread as a result of mites and other parasites as well as the spraying of crops with pesticides. It may also result from the treatment of forests, rangelands and even suburban areas to control a wide variety of pests. "There is no question that the extremely irresponsible use of synthetic chemicals in modern farming practices is significantly contributing to this devastating drop in honeybee populations," said Mike Adams. "The more chemicals we spray on the crops, the more poisoned the pollinators become. And the fact that honeybees are now simply disappearing in huge numbers is a strong indicator that a key chemical burden threshold has been crossed. We may have unwittingly unleashed an agricultural Chernobyl." In order to deal with this devastation, a newly formed CCD working group has been organized in hope of finding a solution to the dwindling honeybee population. According to the CCD mandate, the group will explore "the cause or causes of honeybee colony collapse and finding appropriate strategies to reduce colony loss in the future." Comprised of university faculty researchers, state regulatory officials, cooperative extension educators and industry representatives, the working group hopes to develop management strategies and recommendations for this epidemic. Participating organizations include the USDA/ARS, the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania State University, and Bee Alert, Inc., a technology transfer company affiliated with the University of Montana. Research involving the value of honeybees to agriculture could be beneficial to both the beekeeper and the grower. The knowledge formed from such research maximizes the likelihood of finding answers that will aid beekeepers in promoting good health for honeybees within the pollination industry. It should also keep the grower well informed about the process of pollination and the relative damage of different pesticides to honeybee populations. A detailed, up-to-date report on Colony Collapse Disorder can be found on the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium Web site at The pesticide link to honeybee populations Pesticides, specifically neonicotinioid pesticides, including imidacloprid, clothianiden and thiamethoxam, poison the bee while it is in the process of collecting nectar and pollen. The poisoning may occur when the material is ingested, or it may be transported to the hive where it poisons other bees in the colony. According to a recent report, "Pesticides in Relation to BeeKeeping and Crop Pollination, even organic insecticides -- the chlorinated hydrocarbons, organophosphates, and carbamates -- vary in their toxicity and are not recommended." Pesticides can also damage wild bees, but the toxicity level of a specific insecticide to honeybees and wild bees is not always the same. Even among wild bees, some materials are more toxic to one species than to another. According to the CCD report, "If bees are eating fresh or stored pollen contaminated with these chemicals at low levels, they may not cause mortality but may impact the bee's ability to learn or make memories. This could cause the colonies to dwindle and eventually die." So far a few common management factors have been found, but no common environmental agents or chemicals have been identified. There is no one substance currently being branded as the culprit. Not limited to the United States, this problem is complex and the ramifications are alarming. Such a loss to the honeybee population can occur in other countries that have highly developed agricultural infrastructures. This only begs an even deeper question for society to answer: If we are so dependent on honeybee pollination for our food supply, what happens when the bees are wiped out? Mike Adams calls our current food production situation a "food bubble" and explains that as mankind disrupts nature and destroys sustainable ecosystems, the natural backlash will impact the food supply first. "Following a century of synthetic chemical poisoning of planet Earth, the human race is in for a rather abrupt population correction. The collapse of pollinators is merely a sign of things to come. Humans will either find a way to live in balance with the planet, or they may ultimately face the same fate as the honeybees." ###
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