International science group urges building global S&T capacity
Without delay, developing nations must increase their science and technology capacity. That is the conclusion of a study panel convened by the InterAcademy Council, an Amsterdam-based organization created by 90 of the world's science societies. The report, "Inventing a Better Future," was presented on Feb. 5 at United Nations headquarters in New York City. It calls for a global movement to build science and technology capacities in all nations. Enhancing local science and technology capacity is essential, the report says, to address the growing gap between so-called have and have-not nations. The study panel's recommendations focus on five major areas. In the area of science, technology, and society, the science and technology community should provide knowledge and advice and the public should be informed about science policy-making. In human resources, there should be new efforts to attract, develop, and retain science and technology talent in all nations. With regard to institutions, centers of excellence should be established where science and technology can flourish. In development of the public-private interface, the private sector should be recognized as the primary global force in R&D. And regarding financing, adequate funding for science and technology capacity building should be ensured. The complete report is available on the Internet at http://www.interacademycouncil.net/report.asp?id=6258.
EPA last week released a plan for revising its heavily used database on chemical risk. Called the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), this database provides EPA's expert judgments on how much exposure to a chemical is safe, as well as other chemical data. It is used by regulators in the U.S. and abroad. IRIS has been criticized for not incorporating new information on chemicals quickly enough. Under the plan, EPA will add or revise at least 58 entries in the database during 2004 and 2005. These will include new entries on ammonium perfluorooctanoate, which is used to manufacture perfluoropolymers such as DuPont's Teflon, and the potassium salt of perfluorooctane sulfonate. Scotchguard products based on perfluorooctanyl sulfonate (PFOS) chemistry were phased out by 3M in 2002. Meanwhile, EPA plans to update or add IRIS entries on four chemicals, including ethyl tert-butyl ether, by 2006. The agency's complete plan for revising IRIS is available at http://www.epa.gov/iris/frn_02_09_04.htm.
The Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board is urging OSHA to take stronger action to reduce industrial accidents caused by chemical reactions during manufacturing. The dispute between the two federal bodies has been simmering for almost a year, with the board asking OSHA to aggressively include reactive chemicals in its Process Safety Management Standard protocols and OSHA refusing to do so. A board study found that 167 accidents, 108 worker deaths, and damages totaling millions of dollars were due to out-of-control reactions at chemical manufacturing facilities since 1980. The explosion (shown) at Napp Technologies, Lodi, N.J., in 1995 that killed five workers is a tragic example of this problem. But OSHA has argued that its programs to increase awareness are adequate and that disagreements among stakeholders as to what should be done about reactive chemical accidents block action. The board disagreed and issued OSHA with a formal determination that its actions are "unacceptable." The board is an investigatory body without regulatory authority, unlike OSHA. However, at a briefing, board officials promised to increase pressure on OSHA for change.
An EPA researcher has estimated that as many as 630,000 newborns in the U.S. have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. Previously, EPA had estimated that about 300,000 newborns carry mercury at unsafe levels. The increase is due to new information showing that mercury in the fetus can be nearly twice that of mercury levels in the mother. It had been assumed that the two levels were similar. Also, a study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health published last week in the Journal of Pediatrics found that 14-year-old children in the Faroe Islands who were exposed to high levels of methylmercury in the womb had retained some neurological deficits into their teenage years.
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has released a preliminary list of the top 10 universities to receive patents in 2003. With 439 patents, the University of California holds the top spot on the list, which is available at http://www.uspto. gov/main/homepagenews/bak2004feb09.htm.
Charles V. Shank has announced he will step down as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory this year. Shank, 60, has led the lab since 1989 and has overseen a doubling of the lab's budget. Shank says he will return to the University of California, Berkeley, as a faculty member, where he is tenured in physics and chemistry.