Environmental ▼ News Controversial agricultural air monitoring program gets under way UNIVERSIT Y OF CALIFORNIA , DAVIS
n response to rising concerns over the unpleasant odors and possible health impacts of large livestock and poultry farms, the U.S. EPA has begun intensive studies of these farms, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). However, the close involvement of the industry is raising concerns about the program. The new monitoring program, which is the largest effort of its kind to date, grew out of an air quality compliance agreement finalized between EPA and the livestock and poultry industry at the end of January. Although EPA has brought Clean Air Act enforcement actions against some CAFOs, agency officials say that just how big a problem these farms pose to overall air quality conditions is unclear. However, they expect some answers from the voluntary, two-year, nationwide monitoring program, which is slated to begin later this year (www. epa.gov/compliance/agreements/ afo). The data could also be of interest to state officials, who are under pressure to regulate the air emissions from CAFOs, which tend to be clustered in certain areas. The monitoring program also reflects EPA’s response to a 2002 National Research Council report that called on the agency to improve its methods for estimating CAFO emissions. The quality of scientific data being collected on agricultural air emissions “has improved drastically over the past 2–3 years,” notes Albert Heber, an agricultural and biological engineer at Purdue University and the leader of EPA’s monitoring program. Nevertheless, “There’s still a need for more data,” he says. A key goal is to collect enough data to develop models that predict emissions from CAFOs.
It appears that bovine indigestion may be the biggest source of emissions from certain confined dairy feeding operations, according to new research from the University of California, Davis.
The new program will monitor a representative sample of about 28 farms for ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, nitrous oxide, and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. “What’s unique about this study is that it will provide continuous, long-term measurements of emissions coming from barns, plus periodic measurements of lagoons and other manure storage facilities,” Heber says. The agricultural industry will recommend which farms will be monitored. However, according to an EPA spokesperson who requested anonymity, the agency will focus on the most typical operations located in different geographical regions, because weather can affect how emissions disperse.
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But environmentalists and state and local air pollution control officials question whether the monitoring program will deliver the data EPA needs, noting that the program was created by industry, for industry, and monitored by a contractor of industry’s choosing. Moreover, farmers who sign on to the voluntary agreement will be immune from liability for past violations, which leads environmental groups and pollution control officials to contend that the amnesty offer will interfere with the ability of states and localities to attain and enforce health-based air standards. “I’m concerned that the small number of farms EPA anticipates including in the data collection process will not provide a signifi© 2005 American Chemical Society
other bioaerosols, like endotoxins, that could be of concern.” Chapin and her colleagues recently reported that a large swine operation contained airborne bacteria resistant to human antibiotics (Environ. Health Perspect. 2005, 113, 137–142). Meanwhile, the data coming in from several studies of CAFO air emissions nearing completion in California are raising unexpected questions. For example, preliminary new findings from a University of California (UC) Davis study of dairy operations show that most of the emissions are coming from cows belching, not from manure. This research indicates that “we have to rethink [the idea] that the only good solutions are engineering solutions, such as capping or aerating manure lagoons, and consider biological avenues such as animal feeding and management,” says Frank Mitloehner, the lead investigator of the UC Davis study. —KRIS CHRISTEN
Estrogens light up genetically modiﬁed ﬁsh abdominal pigmentation for 14 days, any liver fluorescence can be directly observed for up to 2 weeks. Insertion of the GFP system into another medaka strain that remains pigment-free through adulthood would allow for longer-term surveillance, suggests Masato Kinoshita of Kyoto University, the corresponding author. —BARBARA BOOTH MASATO KINOSHITA, K YOTO UNIVERSIT Y
The glow in the liver of this transgenic medaka fish could mean bad news for the environment. In research published in this issue of ES&T (pp 2762–2768), Japanese researchers describe how they genetically engineered medaka to create the first transgenic fish capable of serving as a live environmental monitor. They chose the medaka because it is a small fish able to survive in fresh- and seawater over a broad temperature range—handy traits for environmental monitoring. To create medaka that can reveal the presence of environmental estrogens, the scientists inserted a gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP) into the fish’s genome so that the light-emitting protein is produced in tandem with an estrogen-responsive liver glycoprotein. Because the hatchlings lack
Researchers believe this genetically engineered medaka hatchling could be used for real-time monitoring of sewage effluents or surface water samples.
News Briefs Vehicle emissions may harm fetuses
For the first time, research shows that airborne PAHs, commonly found in tobacco smoke and emissions from cars, trucks, and buses, may alter the structure of chromosomes in utero. Frederica P. Perera and colleagues at Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health published their findings in the February issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention (2005, 14, 506–511). The team observed 4.7 chromosome abnormalities per 1000 white blood cells in umbilical cord blood from mothers with low exposure levels and 7.2 abnormalities when mothers had high exposure. The findings are troubling, say the authors, because previous results have validated this type of alteration as a biomarker of cancer risk, although it’s too soon to estimate the precise increase in risk. The study is part of a multiyear research project called the Mothers & Children Study in New York City.
Politics trumping science
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists say they are not allowed to do their jobs without political interference, according to results released in February of a survey sent to 1400 employees by the nonprofit groups the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The survey highlights the continuing presence of issues that UCS raised in a statement published last year. Despite agency directives not to respond to the 42-question survey— even on personal time—nearly 30% of the scientists completed surveys. For more information, visit http://ucsusa. org/global_environment/rsi/page. cfm?pageID=1601.
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cant enough sample to be representative,” says Michele Merkel, a former EPA staffer and now a senior counsel for the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental enforcement watchdog. “Farms have a large amount of variability across their waste management systems,” explains Joe Rudek, a senior scientist with Environmental Defense, a nonprofit group. “So, even if you have a farm using the type of management system that represents the majority of the industry, there are many things being done on the farm that could significantly influence the emissions.” The monitoring program also won’t look at potential health effects associated with these facilities, notes Amy Chapin, an environmental health scientist at Johns Hopkins University. “In addition to the gases, particulates, and VOCs, we’re also finding airborne, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as well as
An effort to simplify the EU’s contested Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) regulatory plan is drawing broad support in the European Parliament and from industry associations and environmentalists. Experts tracking the issue say the move could advance legislative approval of the measure. The proposal, called “one substance, one registration” (OSOR), would allow groups of manufacturers to register similar chemicals only once, instead of requiring each manufacturer to submit its own registration. It was introduced last year by the British and Hungarian governments as part of their examination of the chemical legislation in the European Council of Ministers. Karl-Heinz Florenz and Giles Chichester, the chairmen of two key European Parliamentary committees considering the REACH legislation—which has been controversial since its introduction nearly two years ago (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2003, 37, 241A–242A)—told other legislators in January that the OSOR proposal looks promising “in principle.” Because REACH requires chemical manufacturers to submit data demonstrating the safety of their products before they can enter commerce, it represents a dramatic departure from the current arrangement. Currently, the EU leaves the burden of demonstrating the risks posed by chemicals to regulatory agencies. The REACH plan would also strengthen regulatory scrutiny of persistent, bioaccumulative toxins; carcinogens; mutagens; and reproductive toxins. One of the reasons that OSOR is appealing to chemical makers is because it would allow them to form consortia to share the costs of complying with REACH, and both European and U.S. chemical trade associations have expressed general support for OSOR. Adoption of the approach could soften
opposition to elements of REACH by manufacturers in Europe and the United States as well as by the Bush Administration (pp 171A– 172A), all of whom have raised concerns about administrative burdens, costs, and possible disruptions to trade, the experts say. However, a number of implementation issues must still be worked out. For example, the European and U.S. chemical trade associations say consortia formation should be encouraged but should remain voluntary, given that toxicity data can be proprietary. Michael Walls of the American Chemistry Council says, “The concept of OSOR is a good one. The problem we have is with the mandatory consortia formation and the ground rules for data sharing and data ownership. We hope the Council of Ministers takes a good, hard look at these issues.” The OSOR proposal aims to address this concern by only pooling “core” information on a chemical’s properties. But European Commission officials and some environmental groups say that may exclude some key supply chain information, which can be crucial in evaluating risk and exposure and is one of the key objectives of the REACH plan. Michael Warhurst, formerly with the World Wildlife Fund U.K. and now at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, says that OSOR is a “much cheaper, much easier alternative” and that companies may be allowed to independently register compounds. But he adds, “The goal is to have single registrations be the exception rather than the rule.” The full European Parliament is not expected to vote on the REACH measure until October, and then it must be approved by the Council of Ministers. The earliest date for final passage would be sometime in the spring of 2007, according to several EU sources. —STEVE GIBB
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News Briefs Remotely quantifying carbon ﬁxation
A global remote sensing method that determines how much carbon is fixed by marine phytoplankton during photosynthesis has been published by scientists from Oregon State University and NASA in Global Biogeochemical Cycles (2005, 10.1029/2004GB00229 9). Previously, the only direct way to measure phytoplankton productivity was field sampling, which cannot determine global productivity. Now, researchers report that optical backscattering at certain wavelengths of light can be used to directly measure carbon biomass in plankton. Using this new method, the researchers found that carbon-based values are considerably higher in tropical oceans and show greater seasonality at middle and high latitudes than previous estimates. “What is really amazing is that a signal detectable from space has been found that tracks changes in the activity, not just abundance, of phytoplankton,” said first author Michael Behrenfeld.
China becoming world’s largest consumer
China’s consumption of four out of five basic food, energy, and construction commodities has surpassed that of the United States, according to data collected by the Earth Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization. The United States still consumes more oil, but China uses more grain, meat, coal, and steel. Per capita consumption is still much lower than in the United States, but China’s use of nonrenewable energy sources is increasingly unsustainable. “With its coal use far exceeding that of the United States and with its oil and natural gas use climbing fast, it is only a matter of time until China will also be the world’s top emitter of carbon,” predicts Lester Brown, the institute’s president. “China is no longer just a developing country.” For more information, visit www.earth-policy.org.
Dueling factions hail move to simplify controversial EU chemical legislation
Environmental▼ News PERSPECTIVE
Since 1998, Europeans have been working on legislation that will require industry to prove that chemicals being sold and produced in the EU are safe to use or handle. The current system requires governments to prove that a chemical is dangerous. If passed, the legislation will send European chemical manufacturers scrambling for safety and health data on chemicals that have been marketed for years; many experts predict that it will change the industry worldwide. With billions of dollars in trade and investments at stake, U.S. companies are expressing concern. “Clearly, the EU represents a huge swath of the chemical industry, and REACH will have global implications,” says Michael Walls, director of science policy with the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group. Called REACH—Regulation, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals—the policy will require registration of all substances that are produced or imported into the EU in quantities greater than 1 ton (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2004, 38, 10A). The amount of information required for registration will be proportional to the chemical’s health risks and production volumes. Companies will also need to seek authorization to sell and produce problematic chemicals, such as carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens. Toxic chemicals that persist in the environment or that bioaccumulate will also need authorization, which will be granted if risks can be adequately controlled or if there are no alternatives. The European Parliament and the European Council are holding hearings on REACH, which is slated for enactment in 2006. But many familiar with the policy say they don’t expect anything to be passed until 2007. U.S. companies have a lot at stake if REACH becomes law. According to Penelope Naas, director of the Office of EU and Regional Affairs for the U.S. Department of Commerce, EU and U.S. markets are intricately
U.S. companies get nervous about EU’s REACH
Researchers say that over 99% of the more than 30,000 chemicals currently on the market in Europe do not have sufficient safety data that are publicly available.
linked. U.S. chemical trade across the Atlantic is worth $600 billion every year, but more importantly, she says, U.S. companies have $2.5 trillion invested in Europe. Lawyers representing multinational companies are now lobbying European officials to weaken REACH and may sue the EU before a World Trade Organization panel when the law is finally implemented. Many of the U.S. concerns were given voice in December at a meeting in Cambridge, Mass., that was attended by top representatives from such major chemical-producing and -consuming companies as Estee Lauder, S. C. Johnson & Son, Dow Corning, Merck, Procter & Gamble, and Lyondell. Walls says that the direct costs of testing will not be the only way companies will be impacted. Onethird of the U.S. chemical industry is foreign-owned, and the United States is a net importer of chemicals from Europe. “If products are removed because of REACH, we will be affected,” he pointed out. The new layers of bureaucracy that would be put in place also cause concern. All the information gathered under REACH will be stored in a central database that can be publicly accessed, and the whole initiative is likely to be handled by a soon-to-be-created EU government agency. Detractors say
the process in all probability will be unwieldy and a barrier to trade. Others are worried about the amount of information that will have to pass up and down the supply chain. Companies formulating chemicals will have to ensure that end users have sufficient safety information. For instance, because they will be exposed to greater quantities, industrial chemical workers will have different exposure scenarios than those only using the compound for household applications. But even different industrial users might have varying exposures. For example, workers spraying a cleaning agent in an auto factory would encounter the chemical as a fine mist and might inhale it, while people using the same chemical in the textile industry would probably encounter the chemical in its liquid state. The scenarios would require different safety information. This problem became apparent during a government–industry simulation of REACH in four different supply chains, says Andreas Ahrens, a co-founder of the German consulting company Ökopol, the Institute for Environmental Strategies. The simulation showed that for product formulators to prepare proper risk assessment documents, a great need exists to determine how consumers use a product and what terms and language they can understand. “Users will buy based upon the information available,” says Ahrens. “And companies will have markets based upon whether they choose to develop that information to service certain markets.” Ahrens worries that some companies may become overburdened by the necessary paperwork, especially small- to medium-size firms with fewer than 250 workers. A representative from the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), a U.S. industry trade group representing smaller chemical companies, agreed and said that the high costs of REACH may keep new products from ever getting to market. “It could have a detrimental impact not only on exports but [also] on investments,” added Naas.
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Environmental▼ News PERSPECTIVE In an interview with ES&T, European government officials charged that U.S. government agencies have worked closely with business to weaken REACH, but they did not wish to state this publicly for fear of alienating U.S. officials. Naas dismissed those criticisms at the conference: “The press likes to publicize this as the U.S. attacking the EU.” However, documents gathered by the environmental group Environmental Health Fund under the Freedom of Information Act and released by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) last spring paint a very different picture. These documents indicate that various agencies within the U.S. government have conspired with chemical companies and chemical trade organizations to derail the scope of REACH. According to the documents, U.S. government lobbying on behalf of industry included a cable in April 2003 from then Secretary of State Colin Powell to diplomatic posts in the EU that provided “talking points” for U.S. government officials to use when speaking with their European counterparts. The arguments were notably similar in language to themes developed by industry at the request of a U.S. trade official, charges Waxman. For instance, one of the themes developed by industry reads: “REACH will work to stifle innovation and the introduction of new, safer chem-
icals.” In his cable to U.S. diplomats, Powell wrote, “These compliance costs may negatively impact innovation and EU development of new, more effective, and safer chemicals and downstream products.” “The United States has not conducted studies on the health and environmental impacts of REACH,” Waxman tells ES&T. “It [simply] began to lobby against REACH on behalf of U.S. industry interests without a full understanding of these impacts.” The EU’s own analysis of REACH projected a possible savings of ¤50 billion in health-care costs, he says. “My primary concern is that the Bush Administration has allowed special interests to dictate government policy.” Industry experts contacted by ES&T declined to respond to Waxman’s report. The most interesting wrinkle in the debate over REACH is now occurring in California. In early 2004, State Assembly member John Laird (D), chair of the assembly environment committee, and former State Sen. Byron Sher (D), chair of the senate environment committee, tasked the University of California, Berkeley, with developing a modern chemical policy for the state. When interviewed by ES&T in November, Michael Wilson, an assistant research scientist in the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at Berkeley, said the report’s
recommendations will have many elements in common with REACH. He expected the report to be released sometime in early 2005 and said that chemical industry representatives were already talking to state lawmakers about the topic. A senior science advisor to the California State Legislature said that certain legislators are exploring changes to state chemical policy because federal regulations are broken. In the past decade, California has been hit with a number of costly chemical scandals, including the discovery of perchlorate in foods and the gasoline additive methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) in drinking water. “California needs to go beyond this inadequate federal oversight,” said the science advisor, asking to remain anonymous. The advisor added that chemical trade groups are “nervous about what we’re up to” but that many companies would like to see better chemical policy along the lines of REACH, so that they can quickly remove harmful chemicals from the market and protect themselves from lawsuits. Geert Dancet, the European Commission official in charge of REACH legislation, was more direct in his assessment: “Companies in America are probably worried because if Americans see that Europe has these protections, they might want them as well.” —PAUL D. THACKER
REACH defenders say it is good policy “Once you go through the REACH process, you have chemicals that have a ‘blessing’, and you create better markets,” argues Robert Donkers, the environmental counselor to the EU’s delegation to the United States and the person credited as the author of REACH. He predicts that the policy will increase the public’s confidence in consumer products that have suffered a series of scandals, including mad cow disease and the discovery of dioxin in chickens. “Our industry is [also] heavily reliant on imports,” says Thomas Jostmann, a director with CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council. In fact, with a net surplus in chemical trade to the United States, the EU would seem to have more at stake. The direct costs of REACH to EU companies are projected at about ¤3.5–4 billion over 11 years, with most costs stemming from safety testing and registration. Annually, this comes to about ¤315 million, or 0.06% of annual chemi-
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cal sales, according to a study by the European Council. “This is not a crippling blow to industry,” says Frank Ackerman, an environmental economist at Tufts University, whose own study on the costs of REACH confirmed these numbers. European officials said that REACH could both benefit and hamper smaller companies. Because REACH requires businesses to generate safety information for a specific market, the regulation could open up opportunities to smaller companies that find it profitable to furnish these niche customers with the safety information. And as chemicals are removed from the market for safety reasons, small businesses are more likely to respond with innovative products that are safer for users. “At least in Europe, the innovation is coming from the small- to mid-size companies,” says Robert Foster, a senior science advisor to Notox, a company that tests chemicals for safety. —PDT