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Chemical Toxins

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This Moment On Earth

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Author: the Inkslinger

The day’s dawned bright and sharp here in the hinterlands of Vermont. In cloudless skies, winter’s own thin brand of blue telegraphs all we need to know. That the cold just beyond window etched in swirls of frost is deep and unmovable. And indeed the thermometer reads just 6° at morning’s first glance. It’s shiver-inducing fragment of briefest knowledge magnified by hard-edged north country sunlight rising frigid and unforgiving over the gleaming snowpack. A fine morning day to stoke the fire, uncork the informational bottle, and see what news of this moment on Earth pours out.

Let’s begin on the open seas where a coming U.N. report finds the world’s fast-growing shipping fleet is responsible for about 4.5% of global CO2 emissions, a figure that could rise 30% by 2030 because of zooming rates of international trade. It appears that when transportation-related environmental costs are factored in, goods from overseas aren’t so cheap after all. In fact, container ship ports have been identified as one of the biggest sources of pollution in the U.S. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two largest, have recognized the problem and are taking steps like requiring all ships to shut-down their on-board power systems when docked and banning vessels built before 1989, the year pollution-controls became standard gear on freighters. This is the sort of stuff regular folk like us never think too much about, but it’s good to know someone is. For our part, the lesson here is that the farther away something was made, the more CO2 its shipping generated. As always, sourcing whatever we can as locally as possible is hugely important where the climate crisis is concerned. Buy local!

News like that is why I like this:

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Is Too Clean Carcinogenic?

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Author: the Inkslinger

The more we learn, the more we learn we’ve really learned nothing at all, at least when compared to all the secrets that still lie hidden.

For example, there’s this absolutely fascinating article in today’s L.A. Times, which reports that some scientists think humanity’s ongoing obsession with hyper-cleanliness and its ever increasing microbiophobia (fear of germs), as evidenced by exploding sales of anti-bacterial products, may be contributing to the increases in some kinds of cancer we’ve been seeing lately.

Simply put, several studies have found that people regularly exposed to large amounts of bacteria, like farm workers who work amidst lots of manure, have much lower rates of certain cancers than people who aren’t exposed to large amounts of bacteria, like farm workers who spend most of their time outside the barn.

It’s an intriguing idea and one that deserves a lot of scrutiny. If you’ve read the Non-Toxic Times or Naturally Clean, you know about the Hygiene Hypothesis, which essentially says that it’s most likely not such a great idea to live in a sterile environment because it could make your immune system fat and lazy. If there are no germs around to fight, our immune systems become sedentary, deactivated in a sense. When they finally do encounter something to fight they’ve become so soft and out-of-shape that they can’t respond effectively. Because they evolved in a dirty world, our immune systems need a certain amount of that world preserved in order to remain fit and trim.

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‘Round and ‘Round We Spin

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Author: the Inkslinger

If news falls in the forest and no one is there to report it on the Inspired Protagonist, does it make a sound? Oh my, yes, my green philosopher children. It’s been roaring for weeks while I’ve been elsewhere. In fact, so much worth mentioning has been piling up in my digital in-box that I briefly considered tossing the whole thing into my virtual trashcan and starting over. Seemed easy than trying to wade through it all. But that’s a bit of a cheat and the losers would be you, dear reader. So I’m biting the informational bullet, sifting through it, and aiming to play catch-up over the next few days. Here goes…

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Good Night & Have a Pleasant Tomorrow…

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Author: the Inkslinger

So remember how I said yesterday I had a mountain of stuff to dig through? I did. Until my e-mail crashed this afternoon precipitating two hours of empty folders where there should have been big piles of blog fodder and triggering a tide of rising panic that threatened my cranium with explosive decompression. It’s all better now thanks to my friend Google and some laborious repairs. But it does make you think…

When I moved this summer to my new house, I found the now ancient memo I wrote to Jeffrey asking permission to spend $30 a month on an internet subscription and an e-mail address for the company. It’s dated June 15, 1995. In it I carefully explain what the World Wide Web is and how it all works and how it’s maybe going to be the Next Big Thing and maybe we could even someday sell our stuff on it. A couple of people were already via these things called “web sites. The idea seemed to have potential, I wrote.

How far we’ve come in just a decade. Now e-mail is a necessity. The net is all. And life without either, as I found out this afternoon, is a bleak nightmare of technological despair in which I don’t really remember how we functioned. We stream. We download. We play. We blog. And we report newly rescued news items like these…

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Butter Nuts

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Author: the Inkslinger

Returning to the blogosphere after a refreshing holiday hiatus spent largely away from all issues green (‘cept for that tree in the middle of my living room…), I’m finding a lot of news and other items to catch up on. For no real reason other than it was the first thing I encountered this morning, I’ll start with this item, which I think aptly illustrates the dubious art of corporate responsibility misdirection.

Here’s the deal: A week or so before Christmas, ConAgra Foods announced that it was joining three other microwave popcorn manufacturers, General Mills, the American Pop Corn Company and Weave Popcorn Company, in removing a butter flavoring ingredient called diacetyl from their products. You may have heard about this. Workers at microwave popcorn factories have been suffering devastating lung disease that’s been traced to diacetyl fumes in the air where they work.

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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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Desk Dump

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Author: the Inkslinger

Continuing the round-up of round-ups here. Clearing the table for the holidays, so to speak. Here’s what spilled onto my virtual desk when I upended my digital box of electronic news and related clippings.

I Am An Activist has a nice slide show from the October 23rd tribute to Anita Roddick. Not quite sure where this site is from or what it’s all about, but it’s got some worthwhile features in addition to the photos. It’s a nice tribute to Anita and, more importantly, it keeps her flame burning by helping us all continue her work on those causes she believed in so strongly.

Another interesting site recently stumbled upon is Playgreen, which purports to be a green wiki. The wiki thing can be a bit dangerous depending on how responsible it’s users choose (or not) to be, but in general I would have to say it’s a great idea that’s proving it’s worth. This wiki seeks to create the “biggest book on green living.” Opening that process to a nation of both formal and informal green experts could yield a powerful tool. Stay tuned…

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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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USA Yesterday

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Author: the Inkslinger

We got some good ink in yesterday's edition of USA Today. More to the point, we got a nice photo and the issue of unhealthy chemicals in consumer products got some much needed mainstream media coverage, which I think we can all agree is even better.

Following the paper's sound-bite tradition of never printing more in any given article than can be digested between subway stops, the article doesn't t dive into the deep end of the subject by any means, but what really matters is that USA Today gave any ink to this issue at all . They did, and that's a good thing no matter what. Even more impressive, the piece generally falls on the precautionary side of things and rather than give manufacturers a soap box to spin the damning PR their way, it instead chooses to cite independent sources like the Environmental Working Group and Consumers Union. That's a positive development. Let's hope for the sake of public health that it's the beginning and not the end of paper's coverage of the subject.

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