Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dryer Balls - Made Out of PVC, an Eco Oxymoron

I remember when I first came across dryer balls - they're funny looking, almost cute. Dryer balls are a soft plastic with spikes that are meant to bounce around in your dryer and lift the clothes so they will dry faster, some claim as high as 40% faster. Some claim to reduce static too. Well, hold on to your seat.

I found 3 dryer balls on the market: Dryer Max Dryer Balls, The Original Dryer Balls by Mystic Wonders and Nellie's Natural Dryer Balls. Most reviews I found said the balls didn't live up to their claim but did reduce drying time on the average of 10-20%. Reviews also were very mixed about the anti-static properties, some yeahs, some nays.

So what's the big deal? Here's the part that I (and I hope you will too) find absolutely outrageous. All 3 of these balls are made out of PVC, Polyvinyl chloride, . The Original Balls boast of being made out of high grade virgin PVC, like that is suppose to be better or something. But this is my favorite - Nellie's Natural Dryer Balls, are also made out of PVC. There ain't nothin natural about PVC. THEN (sorry about the caps but this is legit) goes on to claim "it's toxic-free, environmentally friendly". How this claim is allowed to continue to be marketed is beyond me. So here's some scoop on PVC, Polyvinyl chloride, the most toxic of all plastics, and nothing natural about it.

PVC, number 3 plastic, is the worst of the worst of plastics. It is the most toxic in production, presents problems during its use, creates a nightmare for disposal, with recycling barely and rarely done. In order to soften it, like some toys that are now banned in Europe, additives are added to the PVC. These additives are also very unhealthy, some say toxic, and include chemicals such as the phthalates and lead. PVC is considered the the most damaging plastic to the environment.

You know all the warnings recently about vinyl showers curtains and that new car smell we keep hearing about. Well that's all PVC off-gassing some pretty seriously bad stuff. Released chlorinated dioxins and furans are unwanted byproducts of the manufacture, off-gassing and burning of PVC. A lot of literature considers this to be the most toxic environmental hazard known to man. No point in making a list here, it's too long, please click through to all the links.

So getting back to Nellie's Natural Dryer Balls made out of PVC. What's wrong with this picture? Maybe I missed something on Nellie's website. Maybe PVC means something else that I don't know about. Maybe it is a misprint. It's all too hard to believe. Imagine, you heat these soft things up in the dryer and let them bounce around all the clothing. What chemicals are being released from the PVC onto the clothing that causes the anti-static cling? Is there a film or layer of plastic coating on the clothing giving it the softness and reducing the static? PVC is notorious for degrading with heat unless you add more additives to stabilize it. Hmmmm. Kind of makes me sick to think about it. This is PVC we're talking about, the skull and cross bones plastic, and then you heat it up to boot.

And, and, and...dryer balls are suppose to be eco-friendly because they cut down a little on the drying time? Who said it was eco friendly to even use your dryer? Aren't we as eco minded enthusiasts suppose to be encouraging line drying clothing? (okay, maybe a final 5 minute max dry time fluffs up the shirts and towels, though still hypocritical) Given that the dryer is the second energy hog in the house next to the frig it is really hard to justify its use. Co-op America makes it clear that hang drying your clothes is the green way to dry. And with the latest news that CO2 is way up compared to last year, exceeding expectations with the dire consequences to come, anyone who wants to even pretend to have an environmental bone in their body should not be using their dryer.

Any green, earth friendly, sustainable, organic, natural, environmental business worth their weight in gold should not even be carrying these dryer balls, made out of toxic PVC, (which continue to promote using a dryer). My goodness, this has to be the eco oxymoron of this century.

Monday, September 22, 2008

FDA No Cred with BPA

A drizzly peaceful morning here and sorely needed.

On Tuesday the FDA made their long awaited decision on BPA, on the same day the JAMA reported linking BPA to heart disease, obesity and diabetes. The FDA hailed the science that they used to support their decision. However, there were some hic ups that day that normally don't get reported. But thanks to some other dedicated writers, we have more information.

I don't and won't normally do this but this is too important to not get out there. These are the little details that the public doesn't normally see - the little details of the powerful chemical industry's attempt to stop real science and consumer protection. Please read:

Thank goodness for Dr. Fred vom Saal and his dedication to the truth in science. Without persistent scientists doing the right thing, who knows how much worse off our planet would be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

FDA Says BPA Okay - FDA Wimps Out

Pea soup this morning, can't see 50 feet.

The same day the Journal of the American Medical Association releases their largest adult human study regarding BPA, leaving no doubt that there is serious doubt about BPA, our FDA declares BPA safe. What's wrong with this picture?

I was mad yesterday and I am even more mad today. This is deja vu of the tobacco industry's decades of deception all over again, this time being lead by the American Chemistry Counsel. The ACC has continued to cast doubt and is the biggest and most powerful lobbyist for the plastic and oil industry. Without this organization, BPA would probably have been banned years ago. The ACC is the bully on the block and has pulled some pretty scary and unethical behavior.

I strongly urge you to read the links I have provided. They are hot off the press and you can draw your own conclusion. The FDA's and EPA's own scientific advisory program called The National Toxicology Program advised BPA caution after reviewing 261 scientific publications. The FDA drew its conclusion based only on animal studies, a few at that, and studies produced by researchers tied to the chemical industry. (talk about 10 foxes guarding the chicken coop)

With over 83,000 chemicals available for human contact, and many known for their questionable safety issues, it is unbelievable that we are ignoring top scientists and hundreds of research projects. Again, I urge you to review the links provided.

The ACC is the mouthy parent in the stands playing the ref, so the ref (FDA and EPA) can't do their job and succumb to pressure. Pretty wimpy if you ask me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lead in Toys Is Dead - Almost

A surprisingly sunny, clear morning, just lovely.

Lead in toys - still? Are you serious? Yes, that's right. But wasn't it 30 years ago, in 1978, that lead was banned in paint? (I guess they meant only wall paint?)Yes, that's right. And wasn't it banned because 13 million children had elevated blood levels of lead? Yes, that's right. Isn't lead poisoning really serious? Yeees, that's right. So 30 years later we're just now talking about getting the lead out of toys? Hmm, you guessed it - Yes, that's right.

It is beyond mind boggling that we are just now restricting lead in toys - you know, any toy, that a baby can bang, pick or suck. Are we so naive to assume that if our government is going to declare lead in paints unsafe for children and ban lead in all paints ( how many children eat paint chips compared to sucking on toys - hello???) that our government would also apply that same safety concern to all products that might be part of a baby's life? Well silly me! We're talking toys here, baby's best buds, 24/7.

However, this is what makes me so mad. The new lead limit became law on August 14th, 2008. (yes, that's limit, not omission-limited to 600 parts per million phasing down to 100 ppm ?*%!@#!) But, and here I go getting more wound up, it does not go into effect until February 10, 2009. That's after Christmas and after post holiday sales. How conveeeeenient. (and we know who really is in charge in D.C.) And guess which toys will have huge Pre Christmas sales in order to dump all their leaded inventory?

Luckily, despite pressure from the toy industry, leaded toys will not be grandfathered so all toys with lead levels above 600 ppm must be off the shelf Feb. 10th. Whew. Already some toy companies are whining that they have produced their Spring 2009 leaded toys and will lose lots of money. Oh Pleeease. If they had been doing business ethically in the first place, they wouldn't be in this mess.

What's a concerned parent to do? My advice is stick to classic plain old wooden toys. They are usually made with locally harvested wood, made in the USA and support local small businesses. And, it takes out the guesswork and worry factor.

It has taken 30 years to make the leap from lead in our paint to lead in our toys. Now that's a disappointment (lots of other words come to mind but...) Doesn't it make you wonder what else has lead in it? I'm sorry, I just can't go there today...

Organic Harvest Month - Or Hug Your Local Farmer

Organic Harvest Month! Makes sense to have some sort of harvest month but it is officially Organic Harvest Month: What better time to discuss the importance of eating and using organic products.

Reasons for eating organic are pretty obvious-less exposure to pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and chemicals that have been shown to negatively impact the body. Certified Organic guarantees the product is GMO (genetically modified organisms) free. Organic foods have just recently been shown to offer higher nutrient levels than their conventionally grown counter parts.

These are good reasons why eating organic is good for you. But organic foods also have a positive impact way beyond your plate and mouth: Organic farming improves water quality by avoiding pesticide and over fertilizing run off. It also improves soil quality by using proper soil management and avoiding chemicals that break down the soil and cause soil erosion. Organic farming is safer for all other animals and birds, including in the wild. It also saves energy which reduces CO2. Organic farming helps restore biodiversity and protects future generations. Lastly, there is a chance you are patronizing your local organic farmer, reducing transportation costs and helping preserve your community.For some supportive reading, try : Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

If you really want to jump in, go to: to find your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This is a fantastic program where you support your local farmer by paying up front. In return, you receive a weekly amount of farm fresh food during the growing season.

If the cost of some organic foods seems high you might want to keep in mind the top dirty dozen for health reasons. See:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What Is Fragrance Anyway?

A crisp morning with fog in the low spots.

Ah, that lovely fragrance - spring lilacs, fresh apples, and newly picked basil. Fragrance according to the dictionary is any sweet or pleasant odor. The key word is pleasant since it really doesn't have to be sweet. Pleasant is in the eye of the beholder, but we all know unpleasant (I don't have to list) which makes it no longer a fragrance, we call it plain old smell. Fragrance can go on to be intertwined with perfume or cologne (of which some stink) but the point is that fragrance is a very loose term.

Before test tubes, folks wanting fragrance around or on them, did it the old fashion way - using the smells from nature, a practice going back thousands of years. Who wouldn't want to capture some of the delightful smells of flowers and spices to cover the "never take a bath" human smell. Most of us take baths now, obsessed with not "smelling" and, more than ever, obsessed with pleasant smells.

Fragrance is now everywhere, just read labels, usually listed near the end of ingredients. Its small size is not without a powerful punch. So what's wrong with wanting things to smell nice? It's the source that's the problem, its the source.

The fragrances listed on all those ingredients do not come from happy farmers reaping their aromatic harvest. The typical fragrance now a days comes from a test tube that chemists have concocted using one or more of any four thousand chemicals (yes that was 4,000). These are not natural smells from nature but made up chemical potions to imitate not only nature but basically anything you want. They make smells for hamburgers and french fries to enhance your dining experience. So what's the big deal? It comes down to the chemicals that are being used.

Phthalates is the common and most dangerous chemical used in fragrances. They are derived from petroleum and are used to soften plastic but also to make fragrances last longer. Unless the product you are scrutinizing says phthalate free, assume it has phthalates in them. Phthaltes have deservedly received mountains of attention because of studies showing their link to cancer, hormone disruption and other serious health issues. Phthaltes are being phased out of products all over the world but the oil industry is fighting it all the way with lobbyists, misinformation and fraudulent websites that create skeptics. Ingredients are required to be listed but fragrance is exempt. Buyer beware.

Many other academic scientists ( I'll go with academic scientists over paid-for industrial folks any day) are doing ongoing research and have published results, concerns and alarms. I won't repeat them here but I urge you to click through to them for the details. My point here is there are dangerous chemicals in them sweet smelling fragrances and the consumer needs to be educated so they can make the safest choice - just read the ingredients.

Fragrance is totally unregulated in our country but becoming partially regulated in Australia, Canada and the EU (and maybe California) as they slowly omit (not totally omitted, just reduced to a very low level, they call it a compromise with the big oil guns) the most egregious chemicals in products. Did you know that some leading personal care companies have 2 different formulas for the same product? The safer formula goes to Europe and the US gets... the other. There are excellent investigative books devoted to this subject: Exposed by Mark Shapiro and Not Just A Pretty Face.Com

So for now, check the label - fragrance is everywhere. The worst offenders are air fresheners, sprays, candles and dryer sheets (you shouldn't need dryer sheets since you are using a drying rack, right?) - you know Air Wick, Glade plug-Ins, Yankee Candle and Febreze. How on earth can you concoct "Clean Cotton" without using a test tube? But most important, they are bad for you. We can actually make our indoor air quality worse by using these products.

Fragrance is a touchy subject for now, both in the industry and in daily life. Because of these health concerns and some down right odoriferous products, "Fragrance Free" zones have started to pop up. (loath the 7th grade boy wearing too much Old Spice). But the message today is think - think about what goes into making products and the chemistry behind them. Ask yourself, how does Yankee Candle get Lilac Blossom when lilac essential oils basically don't exist. Think about that smell being small bits of petroleum by-products floating in the air and yes, they are a health concern.

If you must attempt to enhance the smell of yourself or your surroundings, try the old fashion way - use natural potpourri (not enhanced with fragrance) or the many natural safe sprays, essential oils and candles (soy and beeswax) on the market. (that's another blog for sure) Artificial fragrances are just that, artificial, test tube made from any number of 4,000 chemicals that have not been tested for safety. Too small to matter? Not according to continued research. So if precautionary is your style, become an informed consumer. Our world is complicated and its time sit back and smell some real roses.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Good News! Seas Won't Rise Over 6 Feet This Century

Clear, still sunny morning, a few scattered clouds.

That's right, scientists have declared that it is impossible for the waters to rise beyond 6 feet (2 meters) by the year 2100. That's the maximum predicted at least for this century. So there Al Gore, you were wrong. Sea levels are rising about 3 millimeters per year now which is about an inch every 8 years but the rate of sea level rise is predicted to sharply increase as time marches on. Great news, eh?

So a 6 foot rise would be the worst case scenario (whew) if all the right glaciers melted in Greenland and certain parts of the Antarctic have a melt down. If we are lucky, it will be less.

So imagine the ocean rising even half that amount, say only 3 feet, or even less. The sea coast I am familiar with already has problems during storms that hit at high tide. Certain streets flood, and erosion is barely repairable with many properties waiting to be swallowed. It is unimaginable to think what 6 more inches,12 more inches or even 2 more feet would do to the sea coast. A Google map allows you to check out your coast line of interest and see the affect of rising sea levels.

Places like New Orleans (already below sea level), Delaware, Maryland or major cities like New York or Boston which are currently at sea level are going to be devastated by just a few inches, never mind 2 to 3 feet. Maybe people don't have good imaginations. Maybe we need more computer models to really show us what this kind of sea level means and what it will actually look like. Maybe people don't want to know. Maybe people don't care.

I am totally mystified by the lack of interest or alarm of the news of seas rising, fascinated really. What on earth is it going to take to get people's attention to what is predicted for our earth? Are we so unengaged to the point that we think that a sea level rise of only 6 feet is a good thing and because this is way below previous predictions that 6 feet is now no big deal? And this is good news? Not in my book.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Safe Bottle Nipples - What's Your Baby Sucking On?

Welcomed light calm rain, and smells good too.

There is a lot of loose terminology when it comes to products and so at this point it is up to the consumer to do their homework. Unfortunately this includes products our children breath, play with, drink from and...suck on.

Baby bottles have rightly so received a lot of attention after finding out that all those cute plastic bottles are leaching some serious BPA. But what about the part that actually goes in the mouth, the nipple that the baby sucks, chews and nibbles on? What the heck is the nipple made from anyway?

The market is divided into basically two options, silicone or latex. And what are these things anyway?

Silicone is actually made from silicon, the second most abundant element on earth, and most benign at that. Silicon in its natural form is mixed with some stuff to create silicone. There are many different grades of silicone, not regulated by the FDA, except in the FDA category of food grade silicone and the allowed additives ( a list which is huge) (think twice about those pretty red silicone muffin bakers). Even in the area of Medical Grade or"High Quality" silicone there is a lack of definition except it seems to have a lot less additives than Food Grade.

And Latex-You've seen the labels before: latex, latex rubber, natural latex, natural rubber and more. Again, since there are no regulating definitions except some very loose FDA clarifications, the products industry can be very clever in its labeling. Lets start with what is, or can be latex.

Latex is what flows from the rubber tree. This is truly natural latex, which is then taken and made into rubber(y) or latex containing things. Latex can also mean synthetic latex, a rubber like material, mostly petroleum based, but can be called just latex. So when ever you see the word latex, it is fair to ask, is it natural or synthetic, because otherwise no one has to tell you.

There is also the latex allergy consideration. Some people are very allergic to natural latex (a protein in latex). And perhaps there are a lot of latex allergies because of early exposure to natural latex. But the protein in latex that causes the allergy can be removed during the processing of latex though not very often.

Then there is the good old name game: made from latex, contains latex, 100% latex (synthetic?) or just plain latex. This applies to silicone as well. Is it 100% silicone? medical grade? food grade? (much lesser quality) made with silicone? And how do you find out? Good luck - it will take some major phone calling because your top leading nipples makers might not tell you the full details.

For instance Playtex has no available information about what they mean by "made from natural latex". (Platex has also kept BPA in several of their products) So is it 100% latex? If so, why don't they just say that? If they are 100% natural latex, any marketing person worth their weight missed the boat. Dr. Brown's nipples only say "high grade silicone" (not medial grade), which again is not a regulated term, and then goes on to say made in Germany like that is suppose to guarantee safety. (although they are more safety conscious there, Dr. Brown's baby bottles also leached the highest BPA) What's the difference between high grade and medical grade? Probably the amount of additives.

Then there is the Nanotechnology issue that is totally unregulated, putting silver and other particles into the nipples for anti-bacterial purposes before any of us can yell "stop", and they don't even have to tell you. Nipples have also been made with nitrosamines, suspected carcinogens and hormone disruptors. The FDA immediately dealt with the nitrosamine issue by NOT having the industry omit nitrosamines, but merely reducing the detectable level. To top it all off, phthalates are still unregulated and were only voluntarily taken off the market for toys and nipples in 1998, but that is not to be assured they aren't in there unless the product says phthalate-free.

So what's a consumer to do? Stick with clear medical grade silicone or 100% natural latex nipples. If you are concerned about latex allergies, stick to silicone. Yes silicone is stiffer, not as nice and squishy or "natural", but it sure offers peace of mind. If you really want safe and natural, as a last resort you can use... the breast.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Arctic Island - First Time in History

Early morning fog deep in the valley woods-beautiful.

For the first time in human history the Arctic is surrounded by water- an island by definition. The HITS (heads in the sand) grumble that there's been water in the arctic before and this is just overreacting warming gobley gook. That is true - every summer a little ice melts only to refreeze in the winter. But the ice has been melting more than is refreezing so the net loss has resulted in 2 passages opening that have not been free from ice at the same time for 150,000. That's why the headlines all over the world say "First Time in History".

The major articles are amazing, scary and definitely worth the read, so be sure to click through to the original articles in this sentence. They include how shipping companies are now able to re-route their ships some 4,000 miles to save money (less energy). This melting IS a big deal. Why?

These two passages being open at the same time isn't since just a few years ago, a 100 years ago , 2,000 years or 10,000 years ago. This hasn't happened since way before man/woman as we know him/her. This is since 150,000 years ago. Our current genetics is from around 60,000. Humans didn't venture from Africa until about 54,000 years ago (unless of course you believe the earth was created 7,000 years ago). This really drives the point home about the magnitude of this earthly event. So yes, we can say the passages have been opened before, but hello, we have to go back before the beginning of the last ice age.

So both passages open at the same time and scientists reporting (remember they report evidence, they don't make it up) that the entire Arctic could be water within just a few years should be a wake up call to action. Action needed to reduce our green house gases. (see previous blog) How much of a bang on the head do we need anyway?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

CO2 Rising at Double the Rate

Perfectly still morning, a few dark clouds.

This is bleak news indeed. A study published 2 days ago by the Royal Society out of the Tyndall Centre, one of the world's leading research centers for climate, concludes that the CO2 levels will continue to rise to 650 parts per million before our efforts maybe make the necessary down turn.

But hang on...we're at around 387 PPM with the noble attempt to reverse this number NOW and bring it to 350 PPM. This just doesn't add up. Conclusion after computer model after scientific study warns we are under predicting the course of climate change. Even now at 387 PPM we are seeing increased extreme weather patterns, changing season, less rain, more rain, rising sea levels etc. Dr Dixon, director of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Scotland, said an increase of more than two degrees (C) could mean a "tipping point" is reached. "That's when you get to a runaway situation," he said. "The big systems of the world start to go wrong when you get beyond two degrees."

These scientists aren't too happy with our politicians either. The scientific experts say "a reluctance "at virtually all levels" to address soaring greenhouse gas emissions means carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are on track to pass 650 parts-per-million (ppm), which could bring an average global temperature rise of 4C." They have strongly urged politicians and countries to take drastic measures now.

Tough situation to be in since few politicians have the guts to say what needs to be done, the costs that are necessary and oh, by the way, still get elected at the same time. That's because WE don't want to hear it either. WE don't want to make the necessary lifestyle changes. WE don't want to pay for it. But we WILL be paying for it in the future.

Even these scientists, who know it's not nice to play with Mother Nature, are suggesting making ecological interventions like growing algae and blocking the sun's rays as the ice shields melt as a possible last ditch effort to save the world. Predictions are millions of people will be displaced due to rising waters (ditch that water front property) and millions of plant and animal species loss, up to 50%. Helloooooooo, are you listening?

In case your imagination can't grasp what this all means, I recommend the book Six Degrees - Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas. While some (with their head in the sand) say he is an alarmist, scientists have applauded his efforts.

What to do? Energy efficency first. Please read: Energy Efficiency-It Can Be Easy. Then talk, talk talk about this. Convince your neighbors (maybe head in the sand) and everyone who will listen (some heads in the sand) and even those who won't listen. Please click and read these articles. They are hot off the press from the world leading institutions on climate change. They know their $#!+.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day and Fair Trade - What Do They Have In Common?

Perfect sunny day - no excuse to labor outside!

Labor Day, the day we were meant to take off and rest. Over 120 years ago our country wanted to pay tribute to ordinary workers. It was during a time when factories were beginning to boom and labor organizations needed to stand up for themselves. It was a day designed to guarantee working men (and women) a day of rest. (which meant the rest of the year they were working their behinds off.) It is too bad that some stores and businesses are open but feel free to not patronize them and make a statement.

Fair Trade, has a varied world history that began for economic reasons so that goods could be traded more on the open market and get the money that was deserved. It has expanded from its original intent to include protection for workers, allowing unionization, no child /slave labor, and transparency. Fair Trade also includes treating then environment right. After all, if you pollute your environment, then your working and living conditions aren't very good.

What they have in common is the acknowledgment of ordinary workers that our country and world can not do without. That ordinary people deserve the basics in life - fair pay, good working conditions, regular unburdensome hours and a day off once in awhile. It is unfortunate that we have to regulate these conditions in light of abuse, but there in lies the human condition.

So on this Labor Day, think about what makes this great country tick, all the workers who are the skeleton of our very fabric. Remember that everything you have has a story and a person behind it. Take the day off yourself and do what you want to do, which could mean working out in the garden. That's where I'm headed.