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New tax gouges gas guzzlers in London Add to ...

Porsche protests

THE NEWS Porsche will sue the City of London if the mayor goes ahead with plans to increase the city's tax on "gas guzzlers" - 4 x 4s and sports cars. Londoners already pay £8 ($16) a day to drive into the city. Under the new "polluter pays" plan, cars with the highest emissions - about 30,000 vehicles - would be charged £25 ($50) a day, while drivers of the cleanest cars would be let in free.

THE BUZZ The German car company says the plan is "unjust," would only marginally lower pollution and would damage the economy, driving (cough) away big business and the world's elite.

THE BOTTOM LINE The city says the charge, introduced in 2003, has reduced traffic by 21 per cent, increased cycling by 43 per cent and lowered levels of nitrous oxides and particulate matter (components of smog) and carbon dioxide each by at least 13 per cent.

The new charge - along with increased investment in public transport and bike paths - is designed to reduce the city's carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2025.

Feminized fish

THE NEWS Synthetic estrogen, excreted by women on the Pill into wastewater, disrupts the sexual development of fish, "feminizing" males and lowering the population's fertility. Last year, Professor Karen Kidd of the University of New Brunswick reported that estrogen in one Northern Ontario lake caused the fathead minnow population to decline by 90 per cent in three years.

Now, she has told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the decline in small fish is affecting other species: Trout, which feed on minnows, declined by about 30 per cent.

THE BUZZ "Feminized fish" are found in lakes and rivers all over the world, not only because of the birth control pill, but also because of a number of other chemicals - from pesticides to detergents - that mimic estrogen.

THE BOTTOM LINE It's not all bad news. Ms. Kidd says that once estrogen was no longer going into the lake, the minnow population, as well as that of other species, recovered in three years.

Crop talk

THE NEWS Germany has just approved a "GM-free" label and France wants to ban the only genetically modified crop it grows. Britain, however, is considering changing the law in biotech's favour. Currently, industry must disclose trial-crop locations online, which makes them vulnerable to damage by activists. Under new laws, the locations would be kept secret.

THE BUZZ Pro-GM factions say the only way to feed the world's growing population and cope with climate change is to breed new crops with higher yields, less pesticide use and greater resistance to heat, drought and salt. Opponents fear GM genes could spread to other crops and wild plants, hardy traits could breed new invasive species, insects could be affected and global crop biodiversity would be lowered.

THE BOTTOM LINE GM crops have been increasing steadily over the past 10 years; the vast majority of corn, soy and cotton in the U.S. is now genetically modified. But oppos-

ition has not waned.

Teflon turtles

THE NEWS Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Hollings Marine Laboratory in South Carolina will report some disturb-

ing news about sea turtles in an upcoming paper in the journal Toxicological Sciences: Blood samples from turtles in the wild contain perfluorinated compounds, substances used in the manufacture of non-stick coatings for cookware, fabrics, cosmetics and carpets.

Turtles with higher levels of the compounds in their bloodstream showed more signs of damage to their health; further lab tests in mice and in lizards at levels comparable to what was seen in the turtles resulted in damage to their immune systems.

THE BUZZ Where the compounds are coming from is unclear, says Professor Jennifer Keller, co-author of the report. Extremely resilient, they do not break down easily and may come from chemical factories or landfill sites.

THE BOTTOM LINE If we stop releasing them, will the damage to wildlife be mitigated? "The answer is both yes and no," Prof. Keller says.

There is evidence that levels in the environment decline when production of the compounds is reduced, "but they will probably still be around for a long time."

Zoe Cormier is a science writer based in London. Her column on environmental news and trends appears every other week in Focus.

 

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