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Letters to the Editor

Saturday December 02, 2000

Better by the numbers 




The Oakland postmaster has unilaterally decided to remove the numbering system from all Berkeley post offices.  

The reason given me for this move is: Berkeley is the only post office on the west coast that has such a system.  

We all know that Berkeley is unique in many ways, so it’s not too surprising that its post offices are unique too. 

Right now it’s not such a hassle to stand in line rather than sit until one’s number is called. However, as the Christmas mail rush arrives, there are sure to be long lines inside and outside all Berkeley post offices of people trying to mail packages, etc.  

If you feel as strongly as I do about the “militarization,” where everything in the system has to be uniform, of the Berkeley post offices I urge you to write or call Congresswoman Barbara Lee at 1301 Clay St., Suite 1000N, Oakland, CA., 94612.  

Her telephone number is 510-763-0370. Request that she ask the postmaster general for a more satisfactory reason than the above for the removal of the numbering system in all the Berkeley post offices.  

You may be surprised how promptly post office bureaucrats respond to such an inquiry.  


John Schonfield 



City should polish the tool library jewel 





The Berkeley Tool Library is a jewel within the library system and a generator of tremendous goodwill.  

The thousands of us who use this south branch treasure have grown used to the help we receive from the knowledgeable staff. There is no problem we bring to Pete, Adam or Mike they aren’t willing to tackle, giving freely of advice and their fund of experience.  

They tell us where to go for information, supplies or tools if they aren’t available on site. And the new member of the staff, Candida, is being quickly brought “up to speed.” The staff know their patrons by name and always greet us in a professional, friendly manner.  

We count on them, we trust them, and some of us even bake them cookies. 

But there are some questions we have about the future: 

1. With the possible retirement of Pete McElligot, we are concerned that the Tool Library continue in its present fashion – generating goodwill and dispensing information. Pete’s retirement leaves his present position vacant and it seems to us, the users, that the most qualified person to succeed him would be Adam, who has seniority and the most experience on the job and the necessary communication skills the position requires.  

2. We would like to see another full-time position at the Tool Library and an additional part-time position, making two full-time and two part-time positions. This would move Mike to full-time and require hiring another part-time person. Over the years, the Tool Library has doubled in patrons and popularity and the lines at times are quite long and slow – due in part to the fact that we are not just picking up a tool, but wanting to know its uses, care and how to address our problem with it. We, therefore, think the added staff and time are justified. This is not a pass-the-card-through-scanner operation.  

3. We are troubled that, at times, people are working alone. This never happens in the regular library. There is just too much chance for quick theft for this to be acceptable, to say nothing of the safety of the staff. The building is essentially separate from the main building and a worker there is not within shouting distance of help in case of an emergency.  

4. Parking is also a problem. There is a bus stop on the corner and a lot of cars parked, full-time, on the east side of the street and only three spaces on site. We are not carrying away books here but 10 foot ladders and cement mixers, and some of us are little old ladies and can’t drag equipment to our cars a block away. Could AC Transit move its bus stop? Can we have 30-minute parking in front of the Tool Library and the community garden during Tool Library hours? 

5. With the passage of the bond for the branches we want to make sure the Tool Library gets its fair share. We want to know what plans there are for expanding, rebuilding or revamping and how we can become involved.  

No comments on the Tool Library would be complete without mention of another exciting feature, its Web site; a place with as many as 500 hits per month from as far away as England and Japan! Check it out and you will find articles about houses settling, earthquake preparedness, photos, artwork, and more by the Tool Library’s own Web Master, Adam.  

Questions and comments come in daily from Berkeley builders, contractors and fix-it fans. Questions come in from all over the United States asking how to start up a Tool Library.  

We are eager that his service continue and expand. Centris Computers, a Tool Library fan, set up the computer system and donated their services.  

People interested in joining us call 845-7621.  


Rosemary Vimont 



Council needs to rethink vinyl phase out 




The Berkeley City Council will soon consider a resolution that calls for the elimination of vinyl medical products and vinyl materials used in homebuilding. Ironically, the resolution is called “To Stop Cancer Where it Starts,” but the move won't help cancer sufferers. Instead, it promotes the ban of vital, life-saving medical technologies. The resolution is driven by activists who claim that vinyl products release “dangerous” chemicals called phthalates - which are used to make vinyl both soft and strong. Leading the charge is a coalition called Health Care Without Harm. While the name sounds mainstream, its members come largely from environmental activists, such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. This group couples junkscience with a savvy media and mobilization campaign has been able trump decades of scientific research demonstrating the safety and value of vinyl.  

As activists hype risks, the science on vinyl indicates that it is not only safe and effective, it's the best product available for the functions it performs. As one doctor noted in a letter to Hospital Practice: “... other products can't match its tough performance standards-or they would have replaced vinyl by now....[W]ith the spread of new and insurgent infectious diseases, the role of disposable – many of which are made with vinyl – is critical to ensure the safety of patients and health care workers alike. 

Vinyl is one of the most cost-effective materials used by the medical profession. With health care costs a major issue for our national economy and for millions of Americans, would searching for vinyl substitutes really be the best expenditure of limited resources?” 

Vinyl is a key component of thousands of products, including household goods and children's toys. But its most important contribution is to medical devices. Health care professionals favor vinyl because it is effective, cheap, flexible, and safe. In fact, 25 per cent of all medical devices are made with vinyl because of its unique properties - it's durable, transparent, sterile, and does not kink. 

With more than 40 years of usage, vinyl has never shown any adverse effects to humans. Activists' only “science” to support their assertions is that some studies show that vinyl caused cancer in some (but not all) lab animals. Yet the World Health Organization downgraded the phthalate used in most medical devices (known by its acronym, DEHP) from “possibly carcinogenic to humans” to “not classifiable as to the carcinogenicity to humans” - the same classification it applies to Vitamin K, rubbing alcohol, and tea.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stands by its decision to approve vinyl as safe for medical devices. Regarding HCWH's campaign, a spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted: “We would need to see substantial amounts of testing to make sure we weren't moving from a product with good characteristics to one that we didn't know much about.” 

Given that vinyl is safe for medical use, it clearly poses no threat when used as a housing material. Forcing a ban in that area will only raise housing prices, making it more difficult for lower-income and middle-income families to buy new homes. Likewise, since alternatives are also more costly, switching will contribute to spiraling health care costs. Of course any price hike in health costs always hits the poor hardest. In places like Africa, which is struggling to pay steep health care costs necessary to treat AIDS and malaria, such costs become a matter of life and death. 

Perhaps scariest of all is that there isn't even a reasonable alternative to vinyl for the storage of red blood cells. Indeed a report that HCWH itself commissioned notes: “To our knowledge, no commercially available substitutes have been identified for PVC [polyvinyl chlorine, which the technical name for this vinyl] to date in the storage of red blood cells.” 

Indeed, blood lasts twice as long in vinyl than the alternative containers. In a time of growing national blood shortages, this proposal to phase out vinyl blood bags is simply scandalous. 


Angela Logomasini  

Director of risk and domestic environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute . 

(Logomasini describes the CEI as a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the advancement of the principles of free enterprise and limited government. 

She says her articles have been published in the Boston Business Journal and the Washington Times, among other places.)