Science And Public Policy

Critics of this page frequently argue that C&EN's editor-in-chief should comment only on matters concerning chemistry or the chemical industry. There is no place, they argue, in the American Chemical Society's newsmagazine for commentary on public policies about which ACS members might disagree. The magazine, in fact, should stay out of public policy issues altogether, in the view of some of these critics. The stories in this week's issue of C&EN illustrate why this criticism is unrealistic in today's world. The first seven department stories—from the cover story to both stories in the Business Department, both stories in the Government & Policy Department, the single story in the Science & Technology Department, and even the first story in the ACS News Department—all deal with issues that have a public policy component to them. Science and technology and public policy are inextricably linked in modern societies. For example, the cover story, "Fluorochemicals Go Short" by Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter, is a comprehensive examination of the development of a policy for dealing with two particularly persistent long-chain perfluoroalkyl compounds: PFOS and PFOA. As an interim measure, chemical companies, with EPA's blessing, are replacing PFOS and PFOA with compounds with shorter perfluoroalkyl chain groups that impart the same functional properties as the longer chain compounds. "Although the alternatives are just as persistent, they aren't as bioaccumulative and appear to have a better toxicity profile—which is still being confirmed by testing—and are thus considered sound replacements," Ritter writes. This is not a trivial public policy issue. Fluorocarbons are extremely useful. Ritter quotes David W. Boothe, global business manager for DuPont Fluoroproducts, who says: "The societal benefits of fluoroproducts—boosting gas mileage in cars while cutting air emissions, adding durability to clothing, improving semiconductor and communications cable performance, and increasing fire-fighting speed—help consumers save money and make products safer, last longer, and environmentally friendlier." Nevertheless, in January 2006, DuPont and seven other major PFOA producers and users agreed with EPA that PFOA had to go. What Ritter chronicles is the scientific, technological, and public policy challenges that stemmed from this decision. This is a success story that should be applauded. A regulatory agency and chemical producers and users can work together to protect the environment. The second story in the Business Department, by Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch, is also a success story, but perhaps a bit more controversial than Ritter's. Reisch examines the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a CO2 cap-and-trade program that has operated for more than a year in the northeastern U.S., generating $500 million in 2009 for energy-saving projects in the 10 states involved. The program has its critics, Reisch notes, quoting one who calls cap-and-trade "a standard-of-living killer." Nevertheless, the Western Climate Initiative (seven states and four Canadian provinces) and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (six states) are adopting the RGGI model. When implemented, the programs will create a trading area covering more than 50% of the U.S population and more than 50% of U.S. emissions. Any mention of climate change in C&EN stirs up some people. RGGI is happening, however, and it shows that cap-and-trade can work. Finally, the first ACS News story by Associate Editor Linda Wang looks at the ACS policy statement on endocrine disruption adopted by the ACS Board of Directors at their December 2009 meeting. ACS has policy statements on a variety of topics. Statements are developed by ACS committees with expertise in the area covered by the statement, and they are reviewed every three years to determine if they should be retired, renewed, revised, or replaced. The ACS Standing Board Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations has responsibility for the review. One of the policy statements up for review in 2010, in fact, is the society's position on global climate change. Thanks for reading.

Author: Rudy Baum

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  1. As the late Howard Zinn said, you cannot be neutral on a moving train…

  2. I agree. The world’s largest scientific membership association should have policy positions based on the best available science. I am glad it does and that we can read about turning policy into action.