Friday, October 31, 2008

Green Eyes in Italy - Laundry Photos Make Art

What a sight. Italy in the sunshine, the steep green hillsides terraced with grape vines, brightly colored houses and ...laundry. Lots of it.

Statistically 95% Americans have dryers compared to 12% Europeans. (Hopefully the use of the dryer is coming down in this new age of energy reduction since the dryer is the second energy household hog after the refrigerator.) My guess is most of those 12% Euro's are in the northern climates, particularly England. If I were a betting environmentalist, I would say less than 1% Italians have a dryer.

Why bother with a dryer? The weather is mostly glorious, balconies are easy to hang from, you save tons of money and...colorful, waving laundry is ... beautiful.

My daughter's apartment, with 6 other female college roommates, didn't have a dryer and not one complaint about having to hang it out. They also had a tub sink with a rubbing board in it that they used. Their sheets and clothing were scattered all over the place but the bathroom was well equipped with lines and so were many of the windows. So now my daughter has no excuse, eh?

I became snap happy with all the opportunity to make laundry art. Laundry photos in Florence, Venice and along the Mediterranean. I have quite a galley to share. Stay tuned for more laundry art and why you need to hang it out too.


FDA and BPA Infighting Continues

Plunged in darkness this morning. We need that time change quickly.

The "Science Board" on the FDA evaluating BPA is going back to the chalk board for some more lessons on how to interpret real science. Someone in Milwaukee is staying on top of this issue and we should all be glad for this kind of tenacious journalism. Please read the article as it covers the highlights about the process up to now about how our government lacks the fortitude to do what it was assigned to do and that is to protect us from bad things. It also reminds us the power of outside interests and how money speaks so loudly in Washington.

In an earlier blog I commented about Dr. Philbert. For the record, Dr. Philbert who chairs the committee, a man who could possibly have a conflict of interest after receiving a 5 million dollar donation for his academic department, is not being allowed to vote on the BPA matter but being allowed to stay on. bloody #=!(@^%!

Stay tuned for the outcome... and happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Safety - No PVC Please

Most leaves have turned to brown with the occasional yellow tree, clear and cold.

Yikes. One day to Halloween and one day to give you the heads up. This wasn't on my radar until I received an email but this is just one more thing we need to think about in our plastic engulfed world.

Most Halloween masks are made out of PVC. Just google it and wham o, there they are. Can you imagine giving your child a PVC mask to breath through? Holy cow! No wonder the costume isle always has this odor to it. The masks out of PVC, and all those plastic capes... yup, PVC.

I always made my kids' costumes so I guess I forgot about this aspect. And the kids love to pull them out and "remember this one?..." Don't have time?. Sure you do. Think simple or let them figure it out, they love it! Try makeup or face paint, what kids doesn't like fun makeup. Just beware those ingredients too. Make sure you are not put in the lessor of 2 evils situation.

Remember the plastic rule: if it smells bad, it is bad.

And remember to roast the pumpkin seeds...yum.

Happy Halloween. (and my daughter at 17 just went down stairs and pulled out an old red cape so she can be...well you know.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

6 Candle Burning Tips - Tis the Season

Rain, rain, rain - it's okay.

After cigarette smoking, burning paraffin candles is the #2 cause of poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). The burning of paraffin candles releases at least 11 toxins, two of which are well-known cancer causing agents, benzene and toluene. Black soot, or carbon, coats your walls, curtains, and windows with a fine layer of black. Ever have to wash down woodwork covered with black soot? The small particles of soot also travel deep into your lungs. Many paraffin candles still have leaded wicks (added to prevent the wicks from bending!) which, when burned, leave the lead suspended in the air, eventually falling to the ground as house dust. Any added artificial fragrances, like Yankee Candles, when burned ( see the video) cause the IAQ to drop further. Paraffin is non-renewable being made from the leftovers of petroleum production and is then bleached, creating dioxins. Burning paraffin candles create the same fumes as from burning diesel fuel.

Consider the new soy wax candles or the ancient beeswax candles. Soy lasts 20-50% longer than paraffin, burns cleanly, and is made from a renewable source. 100% soy is relatively soft and is sold in containers such as glass or tin. Unlike paraffin, soy wax cleans very easily with hot soap and water. 85% of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, so look for soy candles that contain non-GMO soy.

Beeswax candles have been around for thousands of years. Like soy, beeswax candles burn cleanly and have a high melting point so they don't drip or smoke. Beeswax has a light honey scent and can be molded into various shapes while being solid enough to be free-standing. They may be more expensive initially, but they last 3-5 times longer than paraffin, (really they do!) so the burning cost per hour is actually less. Be sure to ask for 100% beeswax candles since in the U.S., a candle has to be only 51% beeswax in order to obtain the label "Beeswax". Pure beeswax candles normally develop a white film (or "bloom") caused from minerals rising to the surface which can be wiped off leaving a beautiful glow. Either way, by burning soy or beeswax, you can enjoy that warm and fuzzy feeling and clean air at the same time.

For more information on healthier indoor air, The American Lung Association provides these "Top 10 Tips for a Healthy Home", Top 10

Six Candle Burning Tips -

1 - Switch to Soy and Beeswax candles
2 - Keep all wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch at all time,
a tall bright flame is a dirty flame, time to trim
3 - Minimize drafts which cause smoking and dripping
4 - Avoid artificial fragrances
5 - Never burn wicks with metal, it might be lead
6 - NEVER leave a candle unattended

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's In Your Halloween Candy?

Frost on the pumpkins and grass - finally, it's very late in the season. (?)

Recent headlines about melamine (an industrial plastic resin) being added to infant formulas are of great concern. Over 53,000 children in China have been sickened and some deaths have occurred. Melamine is used in the plastics industry to make bowls and plates, glues, counter tops, and fertilizers. In an effort to increase their output, it is believed that suppliers in China actually diluted their milk, then added melamine - a completely non-food item - because of its high nitrogen content. The added melamine can trick lab tests which indicate a higher protein content because protein, like melamine, is also high in nitrogen. And it's cheap to make.


Several dairy organizations in China are responsible for adding melamine to their dried milk to make the milk appear to have a higher protein content. Apparently this has been known for some time but has been slow to be publicized. In the mean time, tainted milk by-products have circulated world wide where we now find it in...candy. How low can you go?

This is not the first time melamine has entered our food chain. Back in 2007 melamine was found in feed stock used for cattle and fish consumed by humans. It was also determined to be the cause of thousands of pet deaths in the U.S. from pet food contamination.

Back to candy... Contaminated candy was found in four stores in Connecticut. Melamine was also found in Cadbury candies, Snickers, M&Ms, milk chocolate made by Mars, as well as Kit Kat wafers made by Nestle and a biscuit by Lotte Confectionery Co. manufactured in South Korea. This is not an effort to scare as much as point out how far tentacles can reach and to also question: just what does go into our candy anyway?

So what's an eco-conscious Halloween participant to do? My advice is to stay local. Head to your favorite locally made, candy shop and take advantage of the peace of mind that comes with buying local. Be sure to ask where their ingredients come from. My guess is that they will have an answer and will be confident about what they sell.

Purchasing certified organic candy , such as Yummy Earth,is another way is be sure your candy is safe. Either way, you can be sure that your little (and big) Halloween visitors will be safe from melamine.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Canada Bans BPA in Baby Bottles - It's Official

Glorious fall day in New England - the colors are amazing.

Yes that's right. It is finally official. Canada has the courage to tell the baby bottle industry it can no longer use BPA in plastic baby bottles. Canada says BPA is Toxic. Congratulations Canada for taking the better safe than sorry road. Please Read:

This says it all!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

FDA in Sticky Situation

Low level clouds, sweet birds chirping with bursts of color poking through.

The FDA relationships are just a little to cozy for me. Dr. Martin Philbert Chairs the FDA Subcommittee that is making all these recommendations of BPA, pretty serious stuff. Dr. Philbert's other hat is director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan.

The FDA asks its committee members to disclose gifts so as to avoid conflict of interest. But it seems that Dr. Phillips had a memory laps or at least is sticking to the excuse that the recent 5 Million dollar donation to the UM Risk Science Center from a Mr. Gelman is no big deal because it was not a personal gift. Turns out Mr. Gelman is a supporter of BPA and poo poos all this science on BPA safety or lack of. And guess how Mr. Gelman made all his money? Making medical supply devices out of...BPA. HELLLOOOO, conflict of interest?

The links provided above tell the story. They are good reads from good newspapers with their own good links. What they can't do is jump up and down, and tell the world how ridiculous and outrageous this is - that these conflict of interests continue to infiltrate our government agencies. These are not little decisions that are being made, like a bridge repair or something. These are impacting regulations that affect all of us through the insidious chemicals in our environment, bought and paid for my big money.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal has asked for Dr. Philbert's resignation, so I'm not that off base here. If you want to do the same, here is the link to the FDA Contact page:

Imagine if everyone today wrote? I just did, now its your turn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cotton Industry Begins Discrediting Campaign

Mornings are dark now but the glow of the moon makes it beautiful.

Let the games begin... Seems the Cotton Industry is worried about the growth of organic cotton ( I would have thought that all kinds of cotton were a good thing, but heck, what do I know.) So to safeguard their niche of conventionally grown cotton, the industry has produced this really tacky quiz to discredit YOU. By using the "always" and "never" words in carefully selected questions, it can seem like being green isn't all its cracked up to be.

The website Fabric of Our Lives is touting cotton as "natural" (that's another blog), green and environmentally friendly. Their "Did You Know" page is fluffed with veiled answers and blatantly not environmentally suggestions like dry cleaning because they (shirts) "require professional pressing and finishing, such as starched oxford shirts." While discussing permanent press fabric they omit the nasty little detail about the chemicals used to soak the fabric straight - DMDHEU - a formaldehyde based chemical. The bleaching process using chlorine is totally not part of any discussion that I could find. Never mind the whole anti-staining and nanotechnology also invading the cotton industry.

They have also teamed up with Macy's to promote their Reusable "Natural" cotton bag. Reusable bags are key to the new world life style but using recycled cotton sure makes a lot more sense, and they do come in organic cotton too. The website even has the gall to have an "earth-friendly"section which basically pushes conventional cotton. This is "green washing" at its best.

Though cotton is a plant (duh) the conventionally grown cotton industry took the growing of cotton to new heights and has done a lot of damage along the way. As with many conventionally grown products, the over use of pesticides and fertilizers, soil erosion and water pollution is taking its toll on our environment. And this includes cotton. The comparison between conventional cotton and organically grown cotton is huge, as is the processing as well.

And what about the labor issue? Ever wonder why cotton can be so cheap? They aren't making a living wage and that's for sure.

So buyer be ware. You'll probably start to hear about the virtues of "natural" cotton if the campaign succeeds in getting their message out to the masses. Remember asbestos is natural too so take little stock in the word "natural". Certified organic cotton assures you a quality, earth-friendly product but it is best to look for fair labor/wage practices as well. This is a winning combination that the cotton industry isn't willing to tackle.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Phthalates Linked to Smaller Penises

Even on this glorious cloudless morning, the horizon hints of brown. :(

So as to avoid beating a dead horse, I will simply encourage you to read the article that I referred to before about phthalates linked to smaller penises and feminized male genitalia. (Who know s what the heck happens to the inside of girl babies.) The scientific article in whole is available only through purchase so this is the next best thing - a comprehensive summary.

Please note the reference by the ACC. At least the writer did justice to who the ACC actually represents and what their first priority is.

Please keep in mind that phthalates are everywhere. Please read the ingredients in personal care products, particularly lotions and hair products. Phthalates are added to plastics to make them soft. And most importantly, keep soft plastic toys away from kids who still put things in their mouth. Those damn rubber duckies...

Monday, October 6, 2008

SIGG - Still Not Green and Here's Why

Perfectly clear morning, more color popping up.

It is time to update some facts and commentary with regard to the previous SIGG vs Klean Kanteen blog. There are 3 areas of "greenness" that I would like to update and clarify.

At the top of the list is the amount of energy required to make the product, its carbon footprint and pollution, typically the first and most important eco criteria of any "environmental" product.

First stainless steel. There is no doubt that producing stainless steel is energy intensive and grossly polluting, pumping out 2-8 tons of CO2 per ton of steel. Using recycled steel greatly reduces CO2 by as much as 60-75%. Luckily this has been common practice for so long that 66% of the steel is from recycled steel. A Klean Kanteen spokes person verified that their steel is 50% recycled content prior to the introduction of the alloys. In addition, there is no lead in either aluminum or stainless steel, the seams in the KK bottles are welded (melted) not soldered.

The manufacturing of virgin aluminum is more polluting than steel, releasing 18 tons of CO2 per ton of aluminum. One source says that manufacturing aluminum releases 10 times the CO2 vs steel, per ton. The manufacturing of aluminum is responsible for 1% of the CO2 released world wide with most of the energy needed in the initial smelting phase. Using recycled aluminum saves 95% of the energy, CO2 and pollution. Recycled aluminum offers the greatest opportunity of reducing CO2 compared to any other recyclable product while at the same time not losing any of its integrity.

In the perfect world we would have a water bottle made out of impervious non-breakable 100% recycled content glass. But our world isn't perfect and so we pick and choose what's next in line. With Carbon Footprint in mind, using part recycled stainless steel over virgin aluminum wins hands down. If all the soda cans can have a high recycled content, so can SIGG. I will maintain my position on this as I find it incomprehensible that SIGG washes itself environmental yet uses virgin aluminum, while recycled aluminum would only use 5% of the energy.

With regard to the potential of BPA in the SIGG lining, this is considered a product's chemical footprint. For review, SIGG's only one test for BPA did not show any BPA "detectable" above 2 parts per billion, PPB. They did not test below 2 PPB. Since my first blog about SIGG vs KK, more research has shown disturbing findings of hormonal disruption from gender bending chemicals - BPA, Phthalates and pesticides. In one study the serious affects of BPA showed at 1 PPB, with affects also down at 1 parts per trillion, PPT. The gold standard is to test using the calibration of PPT, parts per trillion, not PPB. SIGG claims 0% leaching but what they don't put in parenthesize is (above 2 PPB). Is this a big deal? My opinion is if genitalia are being deformed at PPT, then BPA seems to be a problem. BPA has traditionally been part of an epoxy mix and until proven innocent, I think it is fair to be cautious given that continued research shows that minute levels of gender benders do bend the genders. A quote from Environmental Defense of Canada, "Concentrations at much lower levels (parts per trillion) have been found to cause adverse health effects in animal studies." From a biological stand point, humans are part of the animal world.

The last area is labor issues. Most of us would prefer if products were made in our own back yard (unless it is polluting then its okay to have it made in China) (you know that is sarcasm, right?), employing our neighbors and feeding our own economy. I am not happy that KK is made in China, and as a reminder, the new SIGG stainless steel bottles are also made in China. So KK visits their factories 4-5 times per year and SIGG says they have full-time employees located there. I am not sure where "there" is - could be in the next city over - but I hope to find out. Either way, being made in China goes against the grain of many. However, the global economy is here to stay. China is where the steel is made. So either, you don't get steel, or you work with China to change and improve their labor issues. Both SIGG and KK have tried to be responsible in addressing this labor issue. Some small stainless steel water bottle makers have no idea where the factories are even located. So at least the 2 biggest manufacturers of water bottles are taking steps to insure good manufacturing practices. Not my preference by any means, but it is a start. As consumers, it is our job to hold companies accountable for their labor conditions - so go forth and question. China has been in hot water recently but it is also a huge country. Just like we would not want the world to assume that all of our banks are corrupt, (my local bank is fantastic) so we should not assume that all of China has bad working conditions. To do so is...uh...prejudice.

So let me recap:
1 - Klean Kanteen's partly recycled stainless steel produces 10 times less CO2 than SIGG's virgin aluminum..and the winner is...Klean Kanteen.

2 - Klean Kanteen's food grade stainless steel is not lined while SIGG's aluminum is lined with an undisclosed epoxy lining that has not been tested below 2 PPB, where levels show birth and genitalia abnormalities... and the winner is... Klean Kanteen.

3 - Klean Kanteen's factories are in China, supervised and visited 4-5 times per year. SIGG's aluminum bottles are made in Switzerland and the stainless steel bottles are made in China with full time employees. It is my opinion that you can not assume that a factory in a given country has a given working condition. Yes there are trends to be sure, but the subjectiveness of this comparison can not guarantee anything...and if there has to be a winner...SIGG.

So in summary, my personal eco criteria considers carbon footprint first, followed by chemical footprint, followed by social footprint. This is an environmental blog first, not a humanitarian blog, though it does not diminish my personal interest and commitment to social and labor issues. Therefore, I stand by my original assessment which is: SIGG aluminum water bottles are not green in and of themselves, only in that they are reusable, and that Klean Kanteen is the greenest choice for reusable water bottles.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

EPA Choked by ACC

Glorious fall day. Dots of changing colors here and there.

The poor EPA - under staffed, over worked, under funded, disrespected and very vulnerable.

The EPA, born out of the 1969-1970 concern for the environment and propelled by the book "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, was formed by the Nixon Administration to address our exploding pollution issues. The unregulated industrial revolution and post war chemical tactics had finally caught up with us and our country was disgustingly polluted. The litter bug mentality needing reigning in.

Like many government agencies, they shovel against the wind but in particular it seems the EPA just can't keep up. With over 80,000 chemicals to keep track of and only 5,500 scientists employed, the ratio means there is so much to do with so little time and staff. The pace of added chemicals and industrial commitment has far exceeded the ability of the EPA to keep us safe.

Now throw in the additional reality of lobbying, bribes, and pressure by outsiders and you can see how things get really mucky. Back in April, a survey revealed that over 800 of the EPA scientists complained of political interference and pressure from superiors to skew their research findings, pressure that has been escalating the last 5 years. Hhhmm. The Bush culture has blatantly succumb to the all too powerful oil and chemical companies and has even fired leading researchers after the lobbyists jumped up and down about conflict of interest. (Talk about conflict of interest!)

So as scientists are able to catch up to our polluted state, create instruments for testing and provide good research, not only on animals but also on humans, (most relevant eh?) we still have news reports sabotaged by the ACC. Yesterday's report about maternal phthalate levels and genital alterations in baby boys is of grave concern. Or at least it should be. Until of course you get to the end of the article and there it is, the doubt meister called the ACC, the American Chemistry Council gets quoted once again to set every one's mind at ease, applauding the safety of phthalates and that a messed up penis is no big deal.

How does the ACC get to even be in an article anyway? Was it to "balance" the reporting? Talk about conflict of interest. Shame on those reporters. The ACC is a 119 million dollar/year lobbying trade association, protecting their chemical industry's interests, who gets to be quoted on a regular basis. The ACC is NOT a or the professional organization of chemists, the American Chemists Society holds that honor. And how often do you hear the ACS quoted? I never have. The ACC seems interested in only protecting their profits. The ACC also carries a big stick in Washington and has set up camp inside the EPA. And I am tired of it. The article was well written right up until the "balancing" part. That's like reporting on global warming and then quoting someone who blogs about junk science.

Does this really matter? YES. I can't tell you how many times people have the come back "the levels probably aren't high enough to do any real harm" to the concerns about certain chemicals and recent findings. Define "real" harm anyway. This attitude is a result of the ACC spinning the doubts and unfortunately it is working. We, our children and our future can not afford the ACC damage control tactics. If you have the activist bug in you, hold these reporters accountable for their reporting. Explain to them that quoting the ACC is like asking the fox which chicken looks good. With any luck, that reporter won't take that free dinner any more.