Spring 2012

Newsroom | Catalyst Spring 2012


A Wave of Problems
UCS documents health impacts of flooding

Damage from floods is typically measured in terms of lives lost and costs of damage to buildings and infrastructure. But often overlooked are the potentially costly public health impacts of exposure to disease-causing organisms, agricultural waste, chemical pollutants, raw sewage, and toxic mold that can affect families long after floodwaters have receded. For example, 3 million to 7 million U.S. asthma cases are attributable to dampness and mold, incurring billions in health-related expenses each year.

A new UCS report, After the Storm, draws on recent scientific literature to highlight the health hazards of extreme precipitation and flooding, strategies to protect families and communities from such risks, and the role global warming plays in certain types of extreme weather. While a variety of factors affect the potential for damage, flooding will likely only worsen as global temperatures rise, leaving even more people vulnerable. These findings underscore the urgent need to not only reduce our global warming emissions but also invest in measures to protect against future health-related impacts.



Help for Local Foods
Our analysis builds legislative support

Our 2011 report Market Forces, which showed that modest public support for up to 500 farmers markets each year could create as many as 13,500 jobs over a five-year period, struck a chord on Capitol Hill. The analysis helped shape the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act that was introduced in November, which will provide financial support to farmers seeking organic certification and help farmers growing heavily subsidized commodity crops (like corn and soybeans) plant more fruits and vegetables. It will also help low-income Americans gain easier access to healthy, locally grown food. These provisions, along with dedicated funding, would aid the development and expansion of local and regional food systems, including farmers markets.

UCS played a key role in developing and building support for the bill. Now, we’re asking you to visit our Action Center and ask your senators and representatives to co-sponsor this important legislation—with enough co-sponsors, it stands a strong chance of being integrated into this year’s federal farm bill, which sets the direction of our country’s food policy for the next five years or more.



Taking a Finger off the Button
UCS seeks to reduce risks posed by nuclear weapons

The United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal—developed for a cold war that ended decades ago—has become a liability rather than an asset, given the types of threats we face today. This spring, President Obama will prepare formal guidance that sets out criteria for when and why the U.S. military would use nuclear weapons. The Pentagon will then use this guidance to update the “nuclear war plan” and determine the size and structure of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

UCS is seeking to shape this process, calling for bold steps to end outdated nuclear war-fighting strategy. In meetings with administration officials, we have offered specific risk-reducing recommendations such as lowering the number of U.S. nuclear warheads and the number of submarines, missiles, and bombers that carry them, and taking nuclear weapons off high alert. At our urging, activists and security experts around the country have called on the administration to support these changes, and we are encouraging key lawmakers to do the same.

Taking these steps will encourage other nuclear-armed countries to join in reductions, and move us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons. Follow our efforts.



Nuclear Safety—or Lack Thereof
UCS monitors near-misses at U.S. plants

In February, UCS released its second annual report assessing the safety-related performance of the U.S. nuclear power industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which regulates the industry. The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2011: Living on Borrowed Time analyzes 15 special inspections performed by the NRC last year in response to safety equipment problems and security shortcomings that increased the risk of damage to the reactor core—and thus harm to employees and the public.

Our analysis found that misdiagnosed or unresolved safety problems often cause significant events at nuclear power plants, or increase their severity. For example, when a water pump failed at Michigan’s Palisades plant in 2009, workers replaced the broken parts with identical parts; the replacement parts failed for the same reason in 2011. The report concludes that, by consistently enforcing its safety regulations, the NRC can prevent plant owners from accumulating problems that eventually result in next year’s near-misses—or worse.



UCS Hosts a Healthy Discussion
Experts ponder future of science at the FDA

Congress must vote on legislation later this year that governs how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves and monitors new medical technologies and prescription drugs. Because the outcome will determine what authority and resources the FDA has to ensure the safety and efficacy of vital medicines and devices, UCS co-sponsored the “FDA at a Crossroads” conference with George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services in November.

In her keynote address, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg reinforced the importance of independent science to the agency’s ability to meet its mission. Several panels of experts from academia, government, patient and consumer organizations, and industry then exchanged ideas on patient safety, drug and device efficacy, scientific integrity, and institutional challenges at the agency; many of these same experts met again the next day to develop recommendations for improving how the agency uses science to make decisions.

UCS is closely following the FDA-related legislation and pushing for many of the reforms outlined at our conference. View videos of the conference and learn more.



UCS Teams Up with Teens
These Girl Scouts want forest-friendly cookies

Madison Vorva (left) and Rhiannon Tomtishen
In March, UCS released the report Recipes for Success, which shows businesses that it is possible to use palm oil and other vegetable oils in their products without contributing to tropical deforestation. Our recommendations came just a few weeks after two 16-year-old Girl Scouts from Michigan—based on our nomination—won the United Nations’ first-ever Forest Heroes Award for their efforts to persuade the Girl Scouts of America to stop using palm oil in its popular cookies. The two girls, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, started this campaign when they were 11, after learning how palm oil production causes tropical deforestation around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. With the help of groups like us, Madison and Rhiannon garnered press coverage including a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal and an appearance on the CBS Early Show.

UCS will continue to support Madison and Rhiannon, and use the findings published in Recipes for Success to pressure businesses like Kellogg’s, which makes Girl Scout Cookies, to change their practices and go deforestation-free.



A Chance to Talk Shop
…and show off what UCS can do

In December, we showcased our current work and achievements for scientists attending the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco—the world’s largest gathering of Earth and space scientists, attended by more than 20,000 potential UCS members and activists. Our experts organized and spoke at presentations on topics including political and corporate interference in science, science communication, nitrogen loss in agriculture and urban landscapes, tropical deforestation, and the growing conflict between energy and water demands.

In conversations with reporters, we congratulated the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for finalizing a strong scientific integrity policy, and gave attendees stickers showing support for the agency’s move. We also participated in discussions about the AGU’s own approach toward scientific integrity and ethics.

Visitors to our booth learned about our redesigned website dedicated to climate “hot spots” around the world and our ongoing defense of climate science and scientists from baseless, politically motivated attacks. Each visitor represented a potential recruit to the UCS Science Network. Learn more about our activities at the show.


Science Working for Local Change

Biologist Sandra Albers describes for members of the UCS National Advisory Board the challenge of protecting endangered southern steelhead trout when the obsolete Rindge Dam in California’s Santa Monica Mountains is demolished. Scientists have developed a plan to remove nearly a century’s worth of silt (harmful to fish) from behind the dam prior to its demolition.