The Good News Roundup

The Good News RoundupRight to roam, Namibia drops leaded fuel, Decriminalizing pot

Walkers roam freely in England and Wales
The Ramblers Association campaigned for full implementation of the CROW Act (Countryside and Rights of Way Act) for years, and finally won unrestricted access to countryside in the north and east, including the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds. Since the enclosure of the commons, these lands have been off-limits except along narrow footpaths. Now walking off the trails across parks and private property in the countryside is permitted, so long as the hikers do not cut across crops or disturb wild birds or livestock.

Wolf numbers recovering in France
The Italian gray wolf had been extinct in the southern Alps since 1900, but in the 1990s wolves began to reappear in the south of France. Now their numbers are estimated at between 80 and 100, the population is still growing, and Europe’s Bern Convention protects them from defensive ranchers. Marc Mallen, a former shepherd who describes himself as an ‘ethnopastoralist’, explained the sheep farmers’ predicament to the Christian Science Monitor: “Time,” he says. “We’ll help teach shepherds better ways to protect their flock, and the ecolos will understand that it’s okay to kill a wolf from time to time. [Asked if that sounds a bit harsh] You’d have to be a good shot to hit a wolf.”

Children’s environmental health grants
The U.S. EPA has awarded over $1 million in grants to focus on preventing environmental diseases in children in areas including Latin America, Africa, India, Eastern Europe and Haiti. The projects funded under these grants are focused on training pediatricians to diagnose and treat environment-related diseases in children. One grant to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell will focus on the low-income immigrant, refugee and minority populations in rural New England and small cities, “a population that is generally underserved by children’s environmental health capacity building efforts although it suffers disproportionately from the impacts of environmental contaminants.” Another will focus on indoor exposures to environmental contaminants in the home, since most U.S. children spend up to 90% of their time inside.

Namibia phasing out leaded fuel
The impacts of lead poisoning from fuel emisisons on children’s health and development are severe in polluted cities around the world – the World Health Organisation estimates that 15-18 million children are permanently brain damaged due to lead poisoning. Before Cairo switched to unleaded fuels, atmospheric lead concentrations cost the city’s children an average IQ loss of 4.25 points. Namibia has been working on a leaded fuel phase-out through a joint task force with the petroleum industry, and the transition is now near completion. By January of next year, leaded fuel will no longer be used in Namibia – a new grade of lead replacement petrol will be available for older vehicles susceptible to valve seat recession under some driving conditions. Neighboring South Africa will also phase-out leaded fuel production and marketing on January 1, 2006. Sold alongside leaded fuel today, the unleaded alternative makes up only 40% of sales in South Africa.

Whistleblower halts Pargluva development
Cardiologist and veteran activist Dr. Steven Nissen was the first physician to link Vioxx to heart attack and stroke risks in 2001, and when he blew the whistle on a new diabetes drug called Pargluva, the drug-makers listened. Pargluva is an experimental type 2 diabetes drug that was expected to lower blood sugar and improve heart health. But when Dr. Nissen reviewed the FDA clinical trial results, “cardiovascular markers were going in the wrong direction. There were increases in heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular death.” Nevertheless, the FDA approved Pargluva. Just days after the FDA approval letter, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a paper Nissen co-authored with Dr. Eric Topol, chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s department of cardiovascular medicine, describing the dangers apparent in the drug’s clinical trial data. CNN reports that a week later, Bristol-Myers Squibb dropped its agreement with Merck to develop Pargluva.

Plan B bill to sidestep FDA politics
No longer waiting for an initiative from the FDA, Congress has introduced a bipartisan bill to make Plan B available over the counter automatically “until the agency makes a decision” – ending the political deadlock FDA commissioner Crawford claimed as a reason for his resignation. The bill’s prospects in a Republican-led Congress are uncertain, although Plan B blocks the release or fertilization of an egg – unlike RU-486, which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. In a country that fears a cervical cancer vaccine might encourage promiscuity, the battle for reproductive freedom can only be uphill.

Congress blocks eminent domain measure
The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to counter the Supreme Court’s ruling that eminent domain authority can be used by local or state governments to obtain land for commercial developments. Any state or locality that does so will lose all federal economic development funds for two years, and the federal government is barred from using eminent domain land seizures for economic development. The bill now passes to the Senate, where matching legislation has already been introduced. “About half the states are also considering changes in their laws to prevent takings for private use,” The Washington Post reports. The White House also backs the bill.

Denver decriminalizing marijuana
Although Colorado still prohibits marijuana possession, the Mile High City has opted to make enforcement the lowest priority of Denver police. Adults over 21 can possess up to an ounce of pot in Denver without any penalty under the new law. The state issues a small fine for possession. Seattle, Oakland, and a few college towns have similar laws, but Denver is the first major city to take decriminalization this far.

Uzbekistan clears landmines from border
Six years ago, Uzbekistan laid landmines along the border with Tajikistan after a raid by insurgents based in Afghanistan, who crossed the Tajik mountains into Uzbekistan twice. Tajik civilians living near the poorly-marked border have been killed and injured by the mines, and the casualty count is 150. “How are we supposed to know that the border is there? We grew up here and never knew whose territory was whose,” Hotamjon Akram, brother of a Tajik man killed this year by a landmine when he was gathering fuelwood, told IWPR. The Uzbek government surprised Tajikistan with the announcement that it has begun removing the landmines and already cleared around 20% of the border.