Between the Lines

Conservation Cover-up

UNDER PRESSURE from the Bush Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this year stopped publishing an annual report which showed new cars' fuel efficiency could be significantly enhanced without changing car size. A July 2, 1991 letter from Barry Felrice, associate administrator for rulemaking at the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, to Karl Hellman of the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA said, "[W]e are disturbed over the ębest in class analysis' which makes it appear that CAFE [corporate average fuel economy] can be greatly improved without changing the size mix of vehicles." The letter was recently made public by the Sierra Club and the Center for Auto Safety (CAS).

 A CAS analysis of EPA's 1992 data showed that the 1992 passenger car fleet would attain an average of 35 miles per gallon (mpg) if every car did as well as the best car in its class, without requiring any new technology or shifts to smaller cars. According to CAS, shifting to a "best-in-class" fleet would save 800,000 barrels of gas per day and would reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 125 million tons. The Sierra Club says that reducing auto pollution is the clearest way to curb threatened global warming, and that raising CAFE standards to 40 mpg will save the average U.S. family $650 per year at the gas pump.

CAS and the Sierra Club are calling on the EPA to restore the annual analysis. Daniel Becker, director of global warming and energy at the Sierra Club, says, "This is an atrocious case of political interference in science. The political hacks in the Bush Administration have pulled the plug on the technical experts at EPA because the facts don't support the president's political agenda."


Toxic Relocation

SIX CHEMICAL COMPANIES and a real estate developer have agreed to pay $207.5 million in relocation fees and damages to residents of a Houston, Texas neighborhood poisoned by a toxic waste dump. Area parents blame toxic chemicals dumped in the site for causing severe illnesses in their children, including birth defects and leukemia.

 To settle a number of community lawsuits, insurers for Farm Home & Savings Association, the developer of the neighborhood, agreed to buy the houses of 212 families still living near the dump site. The insurer will also pay the families and other plaintiffs in the case $128 million in damages, some of which will go to pay for the college education and health treatment of neighborhood children who attended an elementary school near the dump site.

Six chemical companies which dumped at the site have also agreed to pay damages to residents of the neighborhood. Monsanto, the company which is paying the largest amount, $39 million, buried toxic chemicals in unlined holes in the ground. No defendants admitted to wrongdoing in settling the case.

 According to the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, the settlement over the Houston Superfund site is the largest ever in toxic waste cases in the United States.


Depo-Provera Returns

THE CONTROVERSIAL CONTRACEPTIVE Depo-Provera is likely to become available on the U.S. market following a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel recommendation on June 19 that the FDA approve the use of the injectable drug. Depo- Provera is currently approved for use in the United States as a treatment for endometrial and renal cancers. The drug's manufacturer, Upjohn, markets Depo-Provera as a contraceptive in over 90 countries.

 The FDA has in the past prohibited the use of Depo-Provera as a contraceptive because tests of the drug on dogs and monkeys indicated a link to cancer of the cervix, liver and breast. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Women's Health Network (NWHN), animal and clinical studies further link use of the drug with infertility, diabetes and hypoglycemia, anemia, increased risk of blood clots and excessive bleeding leading to a need for hysterectomies [see The Upjohn Nightmare," Multinational Monitor, November 1991 ]. Recent studies also link Depo-Provera with loss of bone mass, according to NWHN.

 In 1991, FDA decided that dogs are not an appropriate model for carcinogenicity studies for steroidal contraceptives to be used by women. In the June hearings, Upjohn presented data to the advisory committee which the FDA says demonstrates that the relationship between Depo-Provera and breast cancer is not strong enough to warrant withholding approval of the drug.

In a statement before the FDA committee, NWHN's Cynthia Pearson expressed concern that low-income and minority women will be encouraged and perhaps coerced into using the drug if it is approved [see The Case Against Depo-Provera," Multinational Monitor, February/March 1985 ]. "The women's health movement has already documented many cases of coercion even while Depo-Provera was not approved as a contraceptive," Pearson told the committee. "It is likely that these practices will continue after approval."

 - Holley Knaus