Revolt News 141
1. The Energy White Paper was issued 24.2.03 while I was away at the WHO meeting in Luxembourg. After the long delay it has been described as a fudge. It dithers on nuclear power, softens the unrealistic targets on renewables and pledges longer term aspirations. APPENDIX 1 below gives press trailers, key points and reactions, plus my own comments. Copies of the White Paper can be obtained from DTI and details can be found via
2. Two more issues of News@All-Energy have been gratefully received since
revolt news140. They do a comprehensive news summary on energy issues, with an
emphasis on renewables, and within that on wind, but still a good scan.
To receive the free emails ask email@example.com with "subscribe" in the subject line.
3. Angela Ovenston sends a selection of web news on fuel cells, at APPENDIX 2.
4. While the more strident advocates against precaution try to use pseudo-scientific barriers to avoid regulating EMF exposure, it is interesting to note the abuse of science in the industry in other ways. A case study from Australia, in the form of an academic paper, is at APPENDIX 3. Can we forget the central role of Enron in the energy industry? Abuse of science is the least we should expect.
5. Snips from Microwave News Jan/Feb 2003. For lots more see www.microwavenews.com . (a) Leif Salford and Bertil Persson of University of Lund, Sweden, have found nerve damage effects of a single two-hour exposure to mobile phone radiation. The findings are statistically significant at 0.02 W/kg, a non-thermal level a hundred times lower than the recognised ICNIRP levels. The authors conclude there may not be immediate consequences, but after decades of daily use, a whole generation may suffer negative effects in middle age. The paper is to appear in the NIEHS journal Environmental Health Perspectives and is posted at www.ehponline.org , tracking number doi:10.1289/ehp.6039.
(b) A 1993 internal memo of the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), just released under Freedom of Information legislation, concluded the available data "strongly suggest" that microwaves can accelerate cancer. At the time the FDA played down the possibility, with the result that influenced world wide regulatory opinion against precaution with mobile phones. The authors of the 1993 memo, Swicord and Cress, have changed their minds in the light of more than 300 studies since 1993, which they say show no indication of a problem.
(c) A study by Dr Marina Pollan et al, [Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 11, 1678-1683, December 2002] finds synergistic effects of exposures to ELF-EMF and to toxic chemicals, specifically for glioma, a type of brain cancer. EMF increased the risk of glioma by 50% for workers exposed to solvents, by 100% for those exposed to pesticides or herbicides and 300% for those exposed to lead, while no increase was seen in the absence of chemical agents.
(d) The US industry lobby, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), has updated its statement on ELF EMF at <www.nema.org>. While recognising the presence of ELF EMF, they claim the evidence indicates that public exposure is not a cause of chronic long-term adverse health effects. They accept that unusually high exposures may cause short-term effects. They urge that regulations and standards should comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for harmonising trade.
(e) Bekelman et al, Scope and Impact of Financial Conflicts of Interest in Biomedical Research [Journal of the American Medical Association, 289, 454-465, Jan 22-29 2003], review over a thousand studies and conclude that strong and consistent evidence shows that industry- sponsored research tends to draw pro-industry conclusions, and industry ties are associated with both publication delays and data withholding.
6. I was pleased to attend the joint EC/WHO/NIEHS meeting on the Precautionary Principle applied to EMF in Luxembourg 24-26 Feb 2003. Led by the WHO team, the meeting was a critical stage in forming WHO world- leading policy on this topic. The WHO has already decided that the Precautionary Principle must be invoked for EMF both for power supply and for mobile phones. My summary impressions of the meeting are at APPENDIX 4.
APPENDIX 1 - The Energy White Paper: press trailers, key facts, reactions.
This unusually long appendix is segmented into four parts (flagged ****):
1. Trailers, 2. Key facts, 3. Reactions, 4. My comments.
**** PART 1. Trailers
THE TIMES Business February 21, 2003 UK 'will depend on imported gas' By Carl Mortishead (extracts)
BRIAN WILSON, the Energy Minister, said that Britain will become heavily dependent on imported natural gas and gave warning that reliance on renewable energy would not be enough to power Britain in the future.
Mr Wilson believes that more needs to be done to ensure that the infrastructure and contracts are in place to supply Britain with enough gas.
Speaking ahead of the publication of the Governmentıs Energy White Paper next week, the Energy Minister predicted that 70 per cent of Britainıs electricity would be generated from gas by 2020 and 90 per cent of the fuel would need to be imported.
The Sunday Telegraph (Filed: 23/02/2003) Wind power will push up household electricity bills By Mary Fagan (extracts)
Household electricity bills could rise by 15 per cent by 2020 because of a Government drive to increase the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power.
The increase emerges in an energy White Paper, to be published tomorrow. The Paper will also confirm that there will be no new nuclear power stations in the UK without full public consultation, although it will stop short of ruling out any future nuclear build.
The hike in power bills is due to the relatively high cost of producing electricity from renewables. The Paper is also expected to estimate that, by 2020, industrial electricity and gas prices could increase by 25 and 30 per cent respectively.
The long-awaited Paper, which is widely viewed as a political fudge, will show that the Government has scrapped a pledge that 20 per cent of UK energy will be from renewable sources by 2020. However, although the firm target has been dropped after opposition from the Treasury, officials say it remains an "aspiration".
**** PART 2. Key Facts
From News@All-Energy issue 19 24.2.03: 1.2. The facts ....
Go to http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/whitepaper/index.shtml to learn more and for the link to the 138 page White Paper 'Our Energy Future - Creating a Low Carbon Economy'. Aimed at ensuring the UK leads the world in developing cleaner, greener energy to benefit generations to come, it has major expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency at its heart. The DTI press release, for a quicker read
The White Paper sets out four goals to work towards cutting emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent by 2050 to maintain the reliability of energy supplies to promote competitive energy markets in the UK and beyond to ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated
Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt announced a range of practical measures including: an ambition to double the share of electricity from renewables by 2020 from the existing 2010 target of 10 per cent £60m in new money for renewable projects bringing spending on renewable energy up to £348m in total over four years. (The Renewables Obligation and climate change levy exemption will provide the UK renewables industry with support worth £1billion a year by 2010) reforming planning rules to unblock hurdles to renewable energy a new carbon trading system to come into effect from around 2005 that will give energy suppliers and consumers incentives to switch to cleaner energy creating a new Energy Research Centre to help develop the latest cutting edge energy technologies setting up Fuel Cells UK to put UK industry at the forefront of clean fuel technologies. more at
**** PART 3. Reactions.
DAILY TELEGRAPH (Filed: 25/02/2003) Energy policy puts climate before consumers, by Charles Clover, Environment Editor
The Government claimed to have put tackling climate change at the heart of its energy policy yesterday in a White Paper that focused on renewable sources of power and efficiency and put off a decision to build new nuclear power stations.
The White Paper set out the "goal" of cutting Britain's fossil fuels emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, the amount needed eventually to halt climate change, placing this for the first time above the traditional goal of security of supply.
It also announced an "ambition" to double the amount of energy generated from renewable sources - which currently provide only 2.6 per cent of Britain's needs - by 2020. This replaces the existing target of 10 per cent by 2010.
Industry and environmentalists remarked that the White Paper was strangely muted compared with Tony Blair's zealous commitment the same day to lead the world on climate change.
BBC NEWS - Find out more about the White Paper and other Climate Change information in our feature < http://www.bbc.co.uk/climate/evidence/energy_whitepaper.shtml >.
From News@All-Energy issue 20 of 5.3.03:
9.A WEEK IS A LONG TIME IN THE RENEWABLES BUSINESS - REACTIONS TO THE WHITE PAPER The publication of the UK Government's Energy White Paper took place just over a week ago - our last News@All-Energy was rushed out on the day of its publication to enable you to go straight to the White Paper and find out for yourself what it said. Here's what key organisations and the media said about the 138-page document.
9.1.Spend more to go green! The government must show a more tangible commitment to green power if it hopes to gain the backing of business for its energy white paper, bankers and leaders of the renewables industry warn. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/renewable/Story/0,2763,903827,00.html >
9.2.Ofgem's reaction to the White Paper. Ofgem recognised that one of the
biggest challenges to realising the potential of green power is to develop
electricity networks capable of transporting that power to homes and businesses
..adding they are already working actively with industry to ensure that
Britain's electricity networks develop efficiently and are fit for the task
< http://www.ofgem.gov.uk/temp/ofgem/cache/cmsattach/2057_Ofgem16.pdf >
9.3. FoE's view. Friends of the Earth welcomed plans to "work
towards" cutting climate changing emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per
cent by 2050, through a major expansion of renewable energy and increased energy
efficiency. But warned that these plans must be accompanied by clear timetables,
targets and investment if they are to be achieved.
< http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/goodbye_nuclear_hello_wind.html >
9.4.Greenpeace's response. Greenpeace applauded the efforts of Patricia
Hewitt and Margaret Beckett in promoting sustainable energy but warned that the
dropping of firm targets for renewable energy from the Paper could put
investment into renewable energy projects at risk.
< http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/contentlookup.cfm?CFID=58063&CFTOKEN=14859 737&ucidparam=20030224130334 >
9.5.British Wind Energy Association's view. "We've got the resources and
the skills; companies have the appetite to build and it appears that Government
has embraced the vision. All we need now is to see Government follow through and
knock down the remaining barriers, largely institutional, to the widest possible
development of renewables, not just wind. Concerted effort to crack these
problems will see the Government's mild caution overcome. We're ready."
< http://www.bwea.com/view/news/whitepaper.html >
9.6.Useful links to White Paper reactions. The Renewable Power Association's
website not only features their reaction to the Energy White Paper, but has
useful links to comments in the UK broadsheets.
< http://www.r-p-a.org.uk/article_default_view.asp?articleid=472 >
9.7.The Guardian's comment. The government yesterday gave the renewable power
industry five years to prove it can meet a growing share of Britain's energy
needs - in effect leaving the back door open for the stricken nuclear industry
to stage a comeback.
< http://www.guardian.co.uk/renewable/Story/0,2763,902458,00.html >
9.8.Energy plan is writ too small. Labour's white paper on energy will be
remembered for what it missed rather than what it contained.
< http://www.guardian.co.uk/renewable/Story/0,2763,902390,00.html >
9.9.Bold energy proposals may mean higher bills. The massive expansion of
renewable power sources and commitment to save energy - which lie at the heart
of the Energy White Paper - could see "significant increases" in
consumers' electricity bills.
< http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/index.cfm?id=234662003 >
9.10.The view of The Times. Tony Blair is right to take seriously the threat of global warming and to echo scientists' calls for 60 per cent cuts in carbon dioxide emissions over 50 years. So it is disappointing that while the energy White Paper sets out an agenda for climbing the foothills in the next seven years, it ducks some of the issues that need to be addressed if Britain is to have any chance of achieving the grand vision in the longer term. < http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,542-590336,00.html >
9.11.Barriers must be removed. Urgent steps are still required to remove
barriers to the deployment of renewable energy technology if the Government is
to meet the green energy and emissions targets outlined the Energy White Paper
says Marcus Trinick, of Bond Pearce, and a board member of the British Wind
Energy Association, citing in particular the future of offshore wind
< http://www.bondpearce.com/whats_new/LinkFrame.cfm?Name=latestnews >
9.12.Blair's missed opportunities on energy. The UK Conservative party claims
that Britain could be plunged into darkness "thanks to Tony Blair's
dithering over long term energy policy".
< http://www.conservatives.com/news/article.cfm?obj_id=53814 >
**** PART 4. My comments.
FINALLY, here are my own brief comments made in response to Anne McIntosh MP who kindly sent me a copy of the White Paper.
My own response is one of some disappointment, but not surprise, that the manic rush to windfarms is not practical, and that dithering on nuclear is unhelpful. Because they are intermittent (delivering only a third of their capacity), windfarms need backup generation which must itself be intermittent (part-time when wind power is off). The diseconomy of backup generation is not properly taken into account, and should be regarded as an additional cost of wind power.
The White Paper continues to promote distributed generation, CHP and micro-generation, which is good economically and reduces the need for grid, but the White Paper also continues to promote windfarms which are bad economically and will add to the need for grid. It would be helpful to see a firmer principle of reducing the need for grid and promoting regional balance between generation and demand. The new precautionary policy developments on EMF in which I am involved with WHO will add to the case for this.
APPENDIX 2 Fuel Cell News Selection ftrom Angela Ovenston
Plug Power and LIPA Install Fuel Cell at McDonald's, LIPA to Purchase 45
More. Plug Power and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) have installed a
fuel cell to partially power a Long Island, New York McDonalds. The McDonald's
fuel cell was installed by LIPA as part of its alternative energy technologies
research and development program, which is part of its Clean Energy Initiative (CEI).
LIPA will purchase an additional 45 GenSys(tm)5CS fuel cell systems for
installation across Long Island this year. Twenty-five will be installed at
LIPA's West Babylon Fuel Cell Demonstration Site, which currently contains fuel
cell systems feeding directly into the Long Island electrical grid. The
remaining 20 systems will generate on-site heat and power for single or
multi-family residential sites.
< http://www.plugpower.com/news/press.cfm >
CA Certifies FCE DFC for Grid Connection. FuelCell Energy, Inc. (FCE) has received notice from the California Energy Commission (CEC) that its DFC300A Direct FuelCell(r) (DFC(r)) power plant has been certified for grid interconnection under California's "Rule 21" standard. According to FCE, the standard is a collaborative effort of CEC and California's three largest investor- owned utilities that specifies interconnection, operating and metering requirements for distributed electric power generators such as fuel cells.
Caterpillar and FCE Expected to Win Ohio Contract. Caterpillar Inc. and
FuelCell Energy, Inc. (FCE) are expected to win a contract to install one of the
nation's first advanced utility-scale fuel cell power plants designed to feed
power from a substation into a local electric distribution system. The
innovative project award is the first by the state of Ohio, which is investing
more than $100 million in a three-year initiative to expand fuel cell research
and development, including increased fuel cell generating capacity.
< http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/030227/cgth054_1.html >
Nippon Oil to Test Residential Fuel Cell System. Nippon Oil began testing
fuel cells for residential use in a model house in Yokohama's Nishi Ward. The
Tokyo-based oil company also plans to begin testing fuel cells in the official
residence of Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakada. The experiment, which uses propane
as fuel, will last for about a year. Nippon Oil plans to begin sales of the
system in 2005, at a cost of about 500,000 yen (approx. US$4,254).
< http://www.japantoday.com/e?content=news&cat=4&id=248316 >
DTI Report Examines Role of U.K. in Fuel Cell Market. The United Kingdom
(U.K.) Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Carbon Trust have released a
new report, which found that the country's fuel cell technology industry could
become a significant player in the world market, given the right investment. The
report, authored by E4Tech, urges the U.K. government to establish an industry
forum that will develop a vision for fuel cells in the U.K. and act as a central
liaison point for producers, government and academia.
< http://www.carbontrust.co.uk >
APPENDIX 3: case study from Basslink (Australia) on misuse of science. Forwarded by Madelon Lane.
Constructing barriers in the translation and deployment of science: Basslink - a case study Published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration, 61(4): 3-11 March, 2003 By Ronlyn Duncan, Centre for Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania
Summary (by Dr Charles Uber, PhD)
The author uses the impact assessment process for the 300 km Basslink submarine power cable project between Tasmania and Victoria as a case study to illustrate how proponents can translate and deploy science to present a case in its favour. By focusing on how one critic, the Tasmanian Fishing Industry Council, contested the Basslink proponent's claims, this paper looks at how the impact assessment process creates barriers to critique and effectively fortifies proponents' claims. The entire impact assessment process is undermined.
The impact assessment process rests on the assumption that the 'facts' can speak for themselves. This paper challenges that premise.
The impact assessment process creates a situation whereby scientific claims are reconfigured within and across the areas of science and policy by consultants who are not neutral. Therefore, the 'facts' cannot speak for themselves.
The Basslink proponent claimed that the submarine cable would cause 'no significant impact' to the marine environment. This was supported by reports of the effects of similar submarine cables in the Baltic Sea on the migration of fish and marine species. The Tasmanian Fishing Industry Council (TFIC) was critical of this claim. Importantly, rather than presenting counter-claims, TFIC deconstructed the science of the proponent by reconnecting the proponent's claims back to their local sources in the Baltic. By doing so, TFIC demonstrated the conditionality of the Basslink proponent's scientific knowledge claims. However, the effort required to do so was considerable and expensive.
TFIC's efforts were aimed at changing the technology of the submarine cable from a monopole cable to a bipole cable. The monopole system uses sea electrodes to direct current through the waters and sea bed of Bass Strait. Environmental impacts include the generation of chlorine gas at the anode; stray electrical currents accelerate corrosion of long metallic objects (like pipelines); and the power cable generates a magnetic field which combines with the earth's magnetic field. TFIC claimed that the chlorine gas would have undesirable effect on marine life and the magnetic field would affect the migration of marine species and the operation of navigational compasses. Major infrastructure owners argued that their marine structures and pipelines would corrode faster than expected.
TFIC argued that the bipole system would eliminate the marine impacts. The proponent claimed that the bipole system would cost an extra $150-200 million, and this would make the project economically unviable.
The ideal science in/policy out is a myth.
TFIC was not satisfied with Basslink's claim of 'no significant impact' on the marine environment. The proponent's claims were based on research in the Baltic with different species and different salinity from Bass Strait. TFIC sent its Executive Officer to the Baltic for four weeks to gather information. He met with people whose research had been used by the Basslink proponent to support the Basslink project. TFIC found discrepancies between, for instance, statements made by the Basslink proponent and the researchers in relation to eel studies, which supported the claim that the Basslink cable would not pose a significant risk to Tasmanian fisheries.
TFIC brought back from the Baltic information that traced statements about the monopole technology and the marine environment back to their source of production. This highlighted the conditionality of the science and brought the claims of the Basslink proponent into question. 120 Tasmanian submissions expressed concern about the monopole system. With support of infrastructure owners, the Joint Advisory Panel recommended that the cable technology be changed
Conclusions The paper suggests that the impact assessment process creates a situation whereby a proponent can not only present a biased case in support of its project, but it can also fortify its claims, "making them resistant to critique, analysis and verification" by objectors. As such, consultants for a proponent can 'translate' a conditional scientific claim into an unqualified 'fact'. As expert witnesses, the Basslink consultants "defended their claims of 'no significant impact' by reference to published papers". While objectors' claims were dismissed as not being supported by publication. The Joint Advisory Panel appeared to accept that the 'facts' speak for themselves, without any consideration that consultants had selectively trimmed the published papers to present the desired case for the proponent. The obstruction of critique questions the fairness and accountability of the regulation and enforcement of outcomes of the impact assessment process. Also it hinders opposing arguments put forward by the public and interest groups that are necessary to produce a legitimate outcome. The author concludes that the notion that 'facts' speak for themselves should be discarded in the impact assessment process.
EC/WHO/NIEHS Meeting on The Application of the Precautionary Principle to EMF Luxembourg 24-26 February 2003
Summary Impressions M J O'Carroll
This was an important meeting at a crucial point of determining world- leading policy changes and the recognition of the precautionary principle (PP) for both power-frequency (PF) and radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMF). It was cordial, with a wide range of views put together, but it tended to discursive consideration of fundamentals rather than pragmatic or constructive policy solutions. The outcome is that the WHO team will take away the ideas put forward and will, in further consultation with the working group, finalise its draft policy statement probably by June this year.
Structure of the meeting
The meeting was in two parts over three days: (A) Monday 24 February, open to the public, with 117 listed participants; (B) Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February, a closed workshop of 40 members operating partly in plenary sessions and partly in four discussion groups of 10 members each.
I am grateful to Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch UK for successfully pressing for my inclusion in the workshop (B) as well as the open meeting (A).
Circulated background documents
The EC position on PP is set out in its Communication from the Commission on the Precautionary Principle, Brussels, 2.2.00 COM(2000) 1 final. That statement emphasises the need for balance, so that proportionate, non-discriminatory, transparent and coherent actions can be taken. It warns against unwarranted recourse to the PP as a form of disguised protectionism. It defines the scope of the PP as applying where preliminary objective scientific evaluation indicates there are reasonable grounds for concern of potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health. It then sets out a structured approach for using the PP in risk management, giving cost- benefit analysis a prominent role.
Papers circulated for the meeting also included the conclusions of Late Lessons from Early Warnings [European Environment Agency report No. 22, 2001], which identified the role of "ignorance" as distinct from uncertainty, and the expectation that new widespread exposures are likely to bring surprises, which the PP should also take into account. A WHO perspective on the PP was given in a paper by Marco Martuzzi, who described the EC 2000 statement as representing a pragmatic approach, and who counselled a more holistic approach in which prevention was a goal as well as mitigation.
The most important document was a 16-page draft (plus 6 pages of references) WHO statement on the PP for EMF, called "Draft for the Precautionary Principle Workshop", drafted by Leeka Kheifets. It is based on the EC 2000 statement on the PP and applies it to both PF and RF forms of EMF. This is the document for the workshop was asked to finalise - see later.
Many other contributed papers were tabled or circulated, some by email. My own contribution, "If, when and how - PP for EMF" can be seen at If, when and how - PP for EMF and downloaded in pdf at http://www.revolt.co.uk/textfile/emflux1.pdf .
Meeting objectives and decisions
The invitation letter to the workshop said that the recommendations for the WHO policy on the PP and its application to EMF will be finalised at the closed workshop on the second and third days. The 16-page Draft for the PP Workshop had been circulated, with all lines numbered ready for amendment.
On page 1 the Draft raised the questions * should the PP be invoked for ELF and/or RF fields, and * if so, how do we decide what actions should be taken?
By page 8, following the EC Statement 2000 and distinguishing between invoking the PP and taking precautionary action, the Draft declared: In the EMF context, there is sufficient evidence, judged against these criteria, to invoke the Precautionary Principle both for ELF and RF electromagnetic fields.
This message was reinforced by Mike Repacholi, leading the WHO team, who declared on Day One that the meeting was not about "whether" to invoke the PP, as that had already been decided. It was about "how". He repeated the message a couple of times at the closed workshop. It was also made clear that the meeting was not expected to "wordsmith" the document in detail, but to work on the essential content.
The WHO was looking to establish, using EMF as an exemplar, a model which would provide a framework for other areas of uncertainty. So there were two objectives: to finalise the Draft WHO statement on the PP for EMF, and in doing so to establish a generic model framework. In the event, these ambitious objectives were not expressly achieved, and the WHO team will have to take away the final drafting work.
The open meeting
The 117 delegates came from 24 countries, the largest contingent being 20 from the UK. Just over 50 were from industrial organisations, the rest being mainly from regulatory bodies, government departments and academics.
Most of the first day was with prepared presentations, starting with introductory remarks setting out the scope and purpose of the meeting and the background EC Statement of 2000 on the PP. Keynote speakers presented strengths (David Gee) and weaknesses (Maurice Tubiana) of the PP in general and the case for (Raymond Neutra) and against (Ken Foster) its role in EMF, broadly speaking, though most speakers added their own special perspective.
There was an hour or so of conveyor-belt "pre-requested presentations", in which I had a two-minute slot, presenting a range of views, including strong industry views that trade should not be impeded by uncertain hazards, and equally strong consumer views that unknown risks shouldn't be imposed upon the public. My contribution had time only to question the pseudo-scientific pretensions of those regulators like NRPB who use a dividing line between proven and unproven risks to dismiss rational concerns, and to emphasise the artificial nature of thresholds either of proven risk or of reasonable suspicion to invoke precaution.
In general discussion, industrialist Ian Brooker of Sansormatic in Cork, Ireland raised interesting points. He makes shop detection equipment which creates exposures of a few kHz, being neither PF nor RF, and so with little or no direct evidence of health effects at that frequency. He was anxious that official admission of the need for PP would create unfair bad publicity (I made the point that official denial had in BSE been far more damaging), but he also felt that simple exposure management was practicable in his case.
The last presentation, at 4.00 p.m., was Dr Leeka Kheifets (WHO) with a summary of the Draft paper for the working group. Some delegates said that the presentation and set of bullet-point slides were very helpful and perhaps better than the Draft itself. It was generally well received.
The closed workshop
The workshop started in plenary session of the 40 delegates and split into four subgroups, each assigned a section of the Draft to scrutinise. I was in Group 4, chaired by Gil Omenn of the University of Michigan, and we were directed to review chapter 5 "Developing a comprehensive action plan". Our group also included California's Raymond Neutra, Italy's Paulo Vecchia and National Grid's John Swanson.
To put that in context, the chapters of the Draft were: 1. Introduction 2. Objectives of the PP 3. When to apply the PP 4. General considerations of the PP 5. Developing a comprehensive action plan. 6. Discussion
The Draft was largely in very general terms, becoming a little more specific to EMF towards the end, but never setting out precise policies for exposure control or avoidance or mitigation. The two different cases of PF and RF were always in mind but required quite different policy responses.
Therefore, Group 4's discussion on the first day was mainly on generalities with a general PP framework in mind. On the second day we did make a start on the "case studies", but agreed we would need the detailed data which we didn't have on the spot. Some members had experience in one or other of the case studies, but the wide range of data and considerations would warrant a much more thorough task. We thought there was a case for a preliminary (almost back-of-the-envelope) assessment of costs and benefits of possible actions, and we started this, soon to realise that once such a study starts it is likely to lead to new ideas and a need for new data.
Turning to the actual Draft, chapter 5 was not independent of the other chapters, so it was difficult to tinker with it. We liked its general methodical approach, but didn't like the diagram suggesting a linear relation between degree of certainty and type of policy response. While we were at it, we dipped into chapter 4 with similar criticisms. In the plenary session, Group 3 (chaired by Hilary Walker of the UK DOH), who had chapter 4 to consider, reported similar difficulties and recommended that chapters 4 and 5 be rearranged as a chapter 4 on the general framework with chapter 5 on the two case studies. That was agreed, but it was almost at the end of the workshop.
In the meantime, Group 4 had thought some of the general wording in chapter 5 could be omitted or shortened. An important element to me is the acknowledgement that what I call "credibility" should be evaluated. Where the Draft says "conceptually, it becomes necessary to derive a figure for the likelihood that the exposure actually does cause the disease", I made a margin note "hooray". The words I would offer (to replace sections in chapter 5 including lines 464-476) would be:
"Consideration of the PP focuses on the relatively new idea of the level of certainty or confidence in causality, which we call "credibility". There are then three major independent factors in risk assessment for uncertain hazards: credibility, probability and impact.
It has been said to be difficult to calculate probability when there is uncertainty of causal effect. Sometimes there are good statistics of incidence, as with PF EMF and childhood leukaemia, with an added incidence of about 1 in 20,000. In this case, the calculated probability (1 in 20,000) may be regarded as a conditional probability depending on the assumption of cause. The probability and credibility are then to be multiplied together.
In other cases there may be a lack of statistics to calculate probability, and a hypothetical figure may be considered. For example, with a billion mobile phone users, a one-in-a-million incidence of a long-term as-yet-unproven critical illness may be considered; then the credibility of such an outcome would need to be assessed and multiplied by the probability of one in a million."
As always, the meeting was of great value for the informal and wide- ranging exchanges of views from very different perspectives. I fear it wasn't as helpful to the WHO as they may have hoped, for it was some way of from "finalising" the working Draft.
Some members thought that the task of creating an exemplar framework would be unachievable, with situations as different as global warming and GM crops.
It will be interesting to see how the WHO team progress the draft, and I look forward to being involved in the consultation. The workshop didn't get far with specific policy proposals, but I intend to submit specific ideas for consideration. Apart from implications for controlling building new homes under existing powerlines, there are policy implications about distributed generation, aiming to reduce the need for transmission grid, and for regional balance of generation and demand, and for the EU Trans European Networks (TENS) policy. More of that later.