Monday, January 5, 2009

Environmental Health Resolutions to Start the New Year!

Inspired by my friend Brian's eco-resolutions blog post and Gina Johnson's excellent radio show "Its Hot in Here," I've decided to put together some environmental health resolutions for the new year. Add some more below if you've got them, and I encourage everyone to try to make some environmental health new years resolutions of your own.

1. Avoid products containing triclosan. Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical that is put in a lot of soaps and products, but is actually quite toxic. It is persistent and pervasive, contaminates waterways, and has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor in animals. For more information on triclosan, check out this factsheet.

2. Eat more organic food. Chemicals used in conventional agriculture are not only dangerous to our own health, but they pose major threats to farmworkers. Check out the website of one of my favorite organizations, Farmworker Justice, to learn more about some of the problems faced by farmworkers. A great alternative to organic food is buying from small local farms. 2009 = farmer's market time!

3. Eat less high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). (Thanks Brian!) HFCS is not only harmful to health (it has been linked to the rise in obesity), but anyone who has read or heard Michael Pollan knows how bad corn is for the environment. "The environmental footprint of HFCS is deep and wide. Look no farther than the dead zone in the Gulf [of Mexico], an area the size of New Jersey where virtually nothing will live because it has been starved of oxygen by the fertilizer runoff coming down the Mississippi from the Corn Belt. Then there is the atrazine in the water in farm country -- a nasty herbicide that, at concentrations as little as 0.1 part per billion, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites." High fructose corn syrup is in almost all processed foods, so this isn't an easy thing to avoid, but I'm going to try to be much more cognizant of it this coming year. For more on the environmental effects of HFCS, check out this Washington Post article.

4. Submit public comments to EPA on issues related to environmental health. The easiest way to do this is through groups that are active on regulatory issues- groups like Food and Water Watch, Environmental Working Group, and Beyond Pesticides often have action alerts about important items on the federal register, with directions on how to post comments, as well as talking points.

5. Get back on the blog wagon. Sorry for the lack of postings, y'all! I promise to do better this time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Birds and The PCBs talks about....Birds and PCBs

When I started this blog, I didn't think I was going to literally be blogging about birds and PCBs. But apparently I wrong.

I now present you with a heartbreaking story of songbirds, toxic chemicals, and tainted love. Sigh.

Researchers have found that chickadees that are exposed to very small, allowable levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can’t keep a tune as well as other birds. Like many bird species, in chickadees, the females go for males with the best songs. So, PCB-exposed birds might lose out on mates, says Sara DeLeon, an ecologist at Cornell University.

The Cornell scientists examined chickadees living along New York’s Hudson River, not far from a General Electric power plant that used PCB insulators from 1907 until the 1970s, dumping some 500,000 kilograms of the toxic chemical into the river. The US government ordered GE to clean the PCB-contaminated waters, one of the country’s largest waste cleanups. Even though current levels are below EPA's regulatory limits and thus deemed "safe," traces remain in many sites on the river, and are impacting wildlife in subtle ways

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a class of yucky chemicals that were banned in the 1970s for being persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They are found to bioaccumulate in people and animals. They also have subtle effects in human, such as influencing sex ratios.

While the lackluster love songs of the PCB-contaminated birds could be a warning to the female chickadees that their mates aren't healthy, this could pose some serious problems for bird populations. "[E]ven female choice against chemically tainted birds, as is the case with the Hudson River chickadees, can threaten local birds if males don’t seem a good mating prospect and females move elsewhere in search of untainted love, DeLeon says. 'Populations could end up declining and birds might not end up living there.'"

And there you have it. Heartbreak, heartache, and chickadees.

Source: New Scientist

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I'll have the plankton soup with my soupy swill, please

According to a report by two U.S. scientists, "Spreading Dead Zones and Consequence for Marine Ecosystems," there are 405 asphyxiating dead zones in our oceans. At this rate, one scientist says, all that will be left for the next generation to harvest from the sea is "plankton soup."

Dead zones are caused by nutrient pollution, such as fertilizer runoff from agriculture, that adds phosphates and nitrogen to the water, causing massive algae blooms. The algae then die, and sink into the ocean, where bacteria consume it, sucking up the oxygen from the water and causing what is known as hypoxia, or a dead zone.

North America's largest dead zone is in the Gulf of Mexico: a 22,000-sq-km sea morgue the size of New Jersey.

Other dead zones have been discovered off California, in Lake Erie, around the Florida Keys, in North and South Carolina creeks and in Washington's Puget Sound. Together, they have turned 246,048 sq km of the seas - an area the equivalent of all five of the Great Lakes - into marine wastelands.

Because fish and other organisms can't live without oxygen, dead zones can be extremely detrimental to the fishing industry, as well as to aquatic ecosytems.

The good news is that with proper pollution prevention dead zones may be reversible. But, if we keep going the direction that we are going, all we have to look forward to is seas emptied of fish and filled with "soupy swill" - algae, bacteria and jellyfish and their ilk - the "rise of slime." This brave new ocean will resemble ancient oceans - a soup of primeval muck where "microbes and jellyfish . . . may constitute the only surviving commercial fishery"

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Ahoy, mateys!

In honor of today, September 19th, being International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I've decided to take a break from the usual talk of toxic chemicals, environmental destruction, and the irreversible damage we've caused to the planet to offer some dumb hilarious environmental-themed pirate jokes!

Q: Whats a pirate's favorite owl?
A: A baaaarrrn owl

Q: Where does a pirate buy his/her groceries?
A: At the faaarrrmer's market (If pirates can buy local food, you can too)

Q: How do pirates fight global warming?
A: By reducing their caaaarbon footprint!

Q: Whats a pirate's favorite toxin?
A: Aaaaarsenic!

Q: What kind of milk do pirates drink?
A: aaaRBGH-Free (pirates say no to bovine growth hormone. obvs)

Leave your dumb hilarious eco-themed pirate joke below.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Consumer Rumors: Time to stop buying tissues

From Greenpeace's website, a new reason why we should all be wiping our noses with reusable hankies and wiping our bums with recycled toilet paper:
Shocking new photos released today reveal the existence of a massive stockpile of old-growth logs that are destined to become disposable products like Kleenex tissue and Cottonelle toilet paper for tissue giant Kimberly-Clark Corporation (K-C). The logs originate from the Ogoki Forest, the single most ecologically valuable area left in Ontario’s southern Boreal Forest and the site of growing controversy.

The stockpile is evidence of Kimberly-Clark’s egregious mismanagement of the forests despite company claims that “much of [the] fiber from the Canadian Boreal forest comes to K-C in the form of wood pulp produced from sawdust and chips – or leftovers – of the lumber production process.”

As these new photos and recent government correspondence reveal, Kimberly-Clark is currently purchasing huge quantities of pulp made primarily from whole, old-growth trees from intact areas of Canada’s Boreal Forest.
And, some astonishing facts from a recent report that Greenpeace put out on Kleenex, "Cut and Run":
  • Kimberly-Clark uses hundreds of thousands of tonnes of tree fibre from the Kenogami Forest every year to produce disposable tissue products, including Kleenex.
  • Kimberly-Clark directly managed and logged the Kenogami Forest for 71 years, from 1937 to 2004.
  • Since Kimberly-Clark started logging there, 71 per cent of the Kenogami Forest has been fragmented. Woodland caribou have been driven out of 67 per cent of the forest, and wolverines have completely disappeared from its boundaries.
  • Between 2001 and 2006 alone, 220,500 hectares (544,635 acres) of intact forest was fragmented—an area more than twice the size of Dallas.
  • Caribou are predicted to die-off in 95 per cent of the forest within the next 20 years, due to the logging that has already been done. Eighty per cent of the monitored species in the forest are predicted to decline substantially within the next 100 years.
  • Many of the remaining intact and old-growth forest areas in Kenogami, including critical threatened species habitat, are slated to be cut under the 2005–2010 and draft 2010–2011 plans.
(Eds note: Congrats to Rachel C. for winning the contest for naming this feature!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Children do not need to be made fire retardant

A new study by the Environmental Working Group found that toddlers and preschoolers typically have 3 times as much toxic flame retardants in their blood as their mothers. In total, they found 11 different flame retardants in the children, and 86 percent of the time the chemicals were present at higher levels in the children than their mother.

Why is it a bad idea to have flame retardants in kids' bloodstreams? Flame retardants, or PBDEs, are widely used in in furniture foams, industrial textiles, and consumer electronics. PBDEs have been found in human breast milk, wildlife, and in food. In 1998, Swedish scientists discovered that PBDEs may pose significant risks to human and environmental health. As a result, the European Union and the states of California, Hawaii, Maine, New York and Washington took action to reduce, or ban, the use of PBDEs.

The good news is that the Michigan Legislature is currently discussing legislation to ban deca-BDE, a type of toxic flame retardant that shouldn't be used anymore. I just took action to get deca-BDE banned in Michigan, and if you live in Michigan, you should take a second to take action as well:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Interesting Fact of the Day

Did you know that what we eat accounts for more than twice the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as how much we drive?

It may surprise you to learn that our diets account for up to twice as many greenhouse emissions as driving. One recent study suggested that the average US household's annual carbon food-print is 8.1 tonnes of "equivalent CO2 emissions" or CO2eq (a measure that incorporates any other greenhouse gases produced alongside the CO2). That's almost twice the 4.4 tonnes of CO2eq emitted by driving a 25-mile-per-US gallon (9 litres per 100 kilometres) vehicle 19,000 km - a typical year's mileage in the US.

Next time you are at the grocery store, make sure you look for local and organic food.

Source: New Scientist