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Snooze Desk

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Author: the Inkslinger

Been a sleepy news week here at the Enviro Desk. Not a lot going on. I suspect all eco-eyes have been on the climate crisis talks in Bali, where at last report a few hours ago, talks had extended past the deadline and hope remained for some kind of meaningful carbon reduction agreement. That and as we draw closer to Christmas things really start to quiet down. So the combination has created a perfect storm of nothingness on the wires

Still there are a couple of things worth noting as we close out the week….

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Keeping Abreast of Cancer News

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As the father of two young girls and the son of a mother who had breast cancer along with her aunt, back in the days when a radical mastectomy was the only option, breast cancer is a topic of great interest to me. This thoughtful article from New Jersey's Bergen County Record combines new information with practical steps we can take to minimize risk. Information we all need to put into action.

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Tangled Up In Toys

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Author: the Inkslinger

Here in my sphere, we’re trying to wrap up the Christmas shopping. It’s always a challenge to do that sanely and sustainably. This crazy world of ours, with its vast overabundance of fairly disposable made-in-Asia plastic yuck, does not make it easy to engineer that kind of holiday celebration. I find it takes a fair amount of extra effort, but I also find that it’s well worth it in the end.

I attempt to stay away from stuff from malls and factories as a general rule. I figure if I don’t do the mass-produced thing, I’m less likely to encounter hazardous toys and other unfortunate items, and more likely to give gifts that mean something special, which is the point, right? So I do a lot of shopping on e-Bay for collectibles and other one-of-kind items that are handmade or antique-oriented (and so haven’t consumed any new resources to make). There’s always some stuff from local artists under our tree. Books are a big favorite. And this year I’ll probably give a few of those funky gift bag household kits from our new online store to friends and family that aren’t quite clued into the importance of keeping it green when you clean.

But things get tricky when it’s time to shop for my nine tear-old daughter. It’s tough to find decent toys that aren’t completely cheesy and cheap and, frankly, more than a little suspect safety-wise. There’s no TV watching in the house where she’s concerned so we’ve isolated her from all the screaming toy marketing. That helps a lot. And there are a couple of quality mail-order catalogs we like. (Magic Cabin is a real favorite that seems to have a lot of stuff from Europe, where the toy-making foxes have been locked out of the regulatory henhouse). Between that and a handful of local toy shops, we piece it together.

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Heavy Breathing

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If you’ve ever sat at a restaurant while someone cleaned the table next to you, and you experienced an unpleasant sensation in your throat, nose and eyes, that was likely your body telling you that the contents of the spray cleaner were bad for your health. Studies over the past several years have documented that the VOC’s like those found in conventional cleaners are asthma triggers for children. Now, the evidence that spray cleaners are linked to asthma in adults is back in the news.

VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds. They’re carbon-based chemicals that form vapors at room temperature, and these vapors are very easily inhaled by anyone nearby. Cleaning product manufacturers like to use VOCs because their tendency to evaporate quickly means they help the surfaces being cleaned dry quickly. The VOCs evaporate and carry away much of the rest of the moisture in a given cleaning product with them.

We can’t tell from this new study whether or not it’s the VOCs in cleaners or something else they contain that’s triggering asthma in adults. The study only says that the more you use conventional cleaning products, the greater your chance of contracting the disease. It could be another compound or family of chemicals that’s responsible. There’s also evidence, for example, that phthalates contribute to asthma risk, and just a week or so ago I was talking about how aerosols can carry all kinds of chemicals deep into our lungs.

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Making Accidents Hurt Less

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A recent news story about a baby who died after crawling into a bucket of bleach left me thinking about the refrain, “our products are safe when used as directed.” We hear this over and over and over again. But we also hear of many cases – most of them accidents – where people fail to use products as directed.

To me, these cases raise many questions about the responsibility of manufacturers of products that contain harmful chemicals. For example, why do some companies make bathroom cleaners that require open windows when so many bathrooms have no windows? Why are some dishwasher powders filled with chemicals that are harmful to children if swallowed? Why do some glass cleaners come with ingredients you wouldn’t want a child to breathe if she pressed her nose against the window? The biggest question of all is when will these products be replaced by ones that are safe even if not used as directed? While we can’t prevent accidents, we can certainly take steps to make sure they hurt a lot less.

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Finding Furniture

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Author: the Inkslinger

As someone who recently moved to a “new” house and is doing a bit of furnishing, I’ve been concerned about what those furnishings might do to our new home’s air quality. This excellent article from yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle shows why.

It’s something not a lot of people realize: home furnishings can be a prime source unhealthy formaldehyde, flame retardants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other chemical bugaboos that get loose and pollute indoor environments. Things to watch out for range from out-gassing formaldehyde from pressed wood products to stain and fire-retardant treatments. Here’s a quick list of ways that my wife and I are trying to keep these things down to a minimum as we try to find a place to sit around here:

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Now THIS Is Scary…

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Author: the Inkslinger

Checking in for a quick second to forward this creepy article
from Seattle’s KOMO-TV about the spooky stuff lurking in Halloween costumery. Talk about things things that go boo in your body… Parents and everyone else be warned about these untreat-like tricks being played on our little boys and ghouls. We gotta think for ourselves and be precautionarily proactive on stuff like this so it doesn’t haunt us later. Don’t think just because it’s for sale that it’s safe. These deregulated days there are absolutely no guarantees. Caveat emptor.

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Exposed On the Radio

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Author: the Inkslinger

Last month’s issue of the Non-Toxic Times reviewed the new book from investigative journalist Mark Shapiro, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power. This is an important work not because it outlines the many ways Americans are being harmed by toxic products and the laissez-faire regulatory climate that places corporate protectionism ahead of consumer protections but becauase it addresses what this means for our economic future and American influence in the world.

Shapiro argues that in a world trending toward green, strong regulations based on the Precautionary Principle will serve a country well both ecologically and economically (as in Europe) and that those nations that don’t follow this path (as ours is currently refusing to do) won’t be able to compete in a global marketplace with higher environmental standards and so are destined to lose out in a big way. Excellent thesis and I totally agree. Ironically, in the long run, all these corporations that say regulations harm business and the economy are just shooting both in the foot.

All of which is a somewhat roundabout way of mentioning that Shapiro was on California’s KQED radio last week. The program is archived here for your auditory illumination . It’s very much worth listening to and the book is one everyone should read. Especially all these recalcitrant business types…

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This and That From Here and There

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Author: the Inkslinger

It’s going to be a little quiet around here during the next couple of days as most of the staff heads to the hills outside Stowe for a two-day retreat. That makes it a perfect time to dump my virtual in-box out on the table and see what seems post-worthy.

A new survey finds that Americans are getting ahead of the political curve when it comes to the climate crisis. 62% think that we’re headed for major trouble if we don’t act decisively and soon. Encouragingly, 40% say a presidential candidates position on this burning issue will be extremely or very important to them. Still, we apparently aren’t quite ready to put our money where our viewpoints are. 67% are against carbon taxes on gasoline and 71% are against taxes on electricity. In other words, we don’t want to pay the price of global warming but we don’t want to pay the price of avoiding it either.

But here’s the thing: with a little investment, we could all cool out. According to a study released last week by the alarmingly named National Security Space Office, we have the technology necessary to build a bunch of giant solar space things that could collect enough energy from the sun every year to supply the entire world with all the power it could squander seven times over. The energy would be beamed back to earth via lasers or microwaves (will we also be able to set our bowls of ramen noodles outside for convenient heating?). Of course, we’d have to build these orbiting juicers and get them up there, but with crude oil closing in on $100 a barrel, giant solar space things are actually getting cost-competitive. Something tells me that if you (ahem) taxed petroleum and other energy sources to account for the environmental damage they cause, we’d be launching them even as I write.

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Making Ourselves Sick

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Over the weekend, the Times of London reported on a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine by the American Thoracic Society. The results are not surprising and speak for themselves.

“The relative risk rates of developing adult asthma in relation to exposure to cleaning products could account for as much as 15 per cent, or one in seven, of adult asthma cases.”

In fact, the study found that subjects who used household spray cleaners at least once a week increased their risk of developing asthma symptoms by an incredible 30 to 50 percent.

Singled out as particularly likely to trigger asthma were conventional glass cleaners, furniture sprays, and air fresheners, which typically contain chemicals like ammonia, chlorine-releasing agents and sodium hydroxide. Researchers suggested that it's significantly easier to get exposed to these and other chemicals when they're released into the air in spray form. This, of course, is something we've been concerned about for years. When we spray a cleaning product, a certain amount never makes it to the surface we're cleaning. Instead, it goes out into the air in the form of something called aerosols, super-tiny microscopic particles that are so lightweight they can stay suspended in the air for hours--the same air we then breathe.

Let's wake up before too many more people smell the spray cleaners.

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