Now With Less Toxic Chemicals (Eventually)! UNEP Adds to “Dirty Dozen” List

Recently the United Nations Environment Program added nine new chemicals to it’s original “dirty dozen” list of toxic chemicals that have been banned or restricted. The chemicals on this list are known as POPs, or Persistent Organic Pollutants, which not only accumulate in the tissues of living beings and can cause significant health and environmental problems, but they also tend to stick around for…oh, about forever, once released into the environment.

The UNEP first banned/restricted what became known as the “dirty dozen” POPs in 1995; the list includes chemicals such as aldrin, chlordane, DDT, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenols.

Although DDT has been in use in some countries, for battling malaria, enough alternative methods have been created that the UNEP has decided to phase out the use of DDT by 2020.

Dan Shapley at The Daily Green did a great job of outlining the list, so I’m just going to post his:

  1. Pentabromodiphenyl ether
    This PBDE congener, sometimes referred to as “penta,” was used as a flame-retardant in foam upholstery and furnishing. It was first banned in Germany, Norway and Sweden in the 1980s and 1990s, then in the Europe Union in 2003. The last U.S. manufacturer stopped producing the chemical in 2005, and the Environmental Protection Agency subsequently banned its production in the U.S. It is still manufactured elsewhere, primarily in China, and can be imported to the U.S. Maine and Washington have banned it and nine other states have proposed bans.

    The chemical may cause a range of health problems, including liver disease and reproductive and developmental problems. It has been found in human breast milk.

  2. Octabromodiphenyl ether
    Like its sister “penta” this polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PBDE, has been linked to health issues and has largely been phased out in developed nations.
  3. Chlordecone
    This insecticide, also known as Kepone, was used until 1978 in the United States on tobacco, ornamental shrubs, bananas and citrus trees, and in ant and roach traps. It is chemically almost identical to Mirex, which was one of the original “Dirty Dozen” banned by the treaty.

    Workers using chlordecone suffered damage to the nervous system, skin, liver and male reproductive system. It may still be in use in developing nations, despite its being banned in the industrialized world.

  4. Lindane
    An agricultural insecticide also used to treat head lice and scabies in people, lindane has been banned in 50 nations because the organochlorine pesticide can attack the nervous system. In the United States, it was used until 2007 on farms, and it is still used as a “second-line” treatment for head lice when other treatments fail.

    Additionally, because Lindane is the only useful product in a family of chemicals generated to produce the pesticide, there is persistent chemical waste created by the process. For every ton of Lindane produced, six to 10 tons of waste are produced.

  5. Alpha-hexachlorocyclohexane
    One of the persistent chemical waste products produced by making Lindane, alpha-hexachlorocyclohexane may cause cancer and liver or kidney problems.
  6. Beta-hexachlorocyclohexane
    Another of the persistent chemical waste products produced by making Lindane, beta-hexachlorocyclohexane may cause cancer and reproductive problems.
  7. PFOS
    The company 3M used PFOS to make Scotchgard fabric and other stain-resistant products until 2002. The chemical is also used in a number of industrial processes. It is found in the bodies of people around the world, and in relatively high concentrations in Arctic wildlife — reflecting the global transport of persistent chemicals like these. Unlike the other chemicals on the “nasty nine” list, PFOS will have its use restricted, not banned.
  8. Hexabromobiphenyl
    A polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB, hexabromobiphenyl is a flame retardant that has been linked to a range of health problems, including weight loss, skin disorders, nervous and immune systems effects, and effects on the liver, kidneys, and thyroid gland. While it is no longer used in developed nations, it may still be in use in developing nations.
  9. Pentachlorobenzene
    Used in the manufacture of an insecticide, and as a flame retardant, Pentachlorobenzene may damage the nervous and reproductive systems, as well as the liver and kidneys. It is also used as a head lice treatment and can be found in the waste streams of some paper mills, petroleum refineries, sewage treatment plants and incinerators.

~ Marsha

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New EWG Healthy Home Tips for Parents a Great Tool; But It Could (and Should) Be Even Greater

latinofamilyoutsideThe Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that has been at the forefront of helping protect public health and the environment. Part of their focus is to help parents protect their kids from environmental toxins, contaminants and other nasties, and to provide information and resources so that parents can make healthier choices for their little ones. Their pages for parents include tips, resources, research reports, calculators and other useful tools, and EWG also works to promote legislation (such as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act) and to encourage citizen activism (such as insisting that the EPA reduce Americans’ exposure to rocket fuel in their water). I find them to be a valuable resource, and I often refer people to their cosmetics safety database.

Recently they’ve come out with a 1-sheet “Healthy Home Tips for Parents,” (PDF) a downloadable guide to “the most important steps you can take at home to promote your family’s environmental health.”

The list includes suggestions such as:

  • Choose better body care products.
  • Go organic & eat fresh foods.
  • Pick plastics carefully.
  • Use greener cleaners & avoid pesticides.

And you can sign up for their e-newsletter to receive more detailed tips about each item on the list.

I’m glad that EWG is promoting the positive steps for parents that they are, and they have some great suggestions, but I’m saddened and disappointed that they’re not going further. I know that change can be scary and inconvenient and confusing for some people, but when we’re talking about our children’s health and the health of our planet, I would think that EWG would offer larger measures, too. For example, in their tips, they suggest that parents “choose milk and meat without added growth hormones.” How about suggesting to parents that they not feed animals and their products to kids at all? Awareness about the environmental and health impacts of eating animals only continues to grow and evidence of the benefits of choosing a plant-based diet rather than eating animal foods only continues to strengthen.

One of their tips is to “Eat good fats.” Instead of recommending plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds or flax seed oil, or certain types of seaweeds, (although they do mention that you can get omega-3s from “nuts, oils and produce”), they recommend choosing “low-mercury fish.” Low-mercury still has mercury in it.

They recommend using a HEPA-filter vacuum, but don’t suggest preventative strategies such as getting rid of carpets, which can be full of toxins and hold in all kinds of pollutants and allergens. They suggest that parents choose “snug-fitting cotton pajamas” for their kids, but don’t mention the enormous environmental impact of cotton production (such as the pesticide and water use). How about suggesting an alternative for parents such as shopping at thrift stores, so that they can find used pajamas for less cost and less environmental impact?

I realize that they’ll be providing more in-depth suggestions regarding each tip in their e-newsletters, but since many parents may only look at the single sheet tips, it’s important to include such essential information there.

EWG does some very valuable and credible work, and I’m glad they’re providing such important information to parents. I just wish that they – and many of the other non-profit groups working to make the world a better place – wouldn’t stop shy of suggesting broader and deeper actions that parents and citizens can take. Let’s offer parents and citizens a range of suggestions that shows them the ideal choices, as well as some easier stepping stones, so that they can make the best and most informed choices based on their current circumstances and willingness to enact change.

~ Marsha

Be Part of the Energy Solution: Focus the Nation

focusthenationlogoMany Americans have come to realize that we need clean, sustainable, just energy solutions. On Saturday, April 18, across the U.S., students, business leaders and engaged citizens will connect with their elected officials in town hall meetings focused on determining local and national energy solutions that also promote jobs, cooperation and respect for the planet. Focus the Nation is the organization sponsoring this “Nationwide Town Hall on a Just and Clean Energy Future.” Find out more about events in your area, or if you want to organize your own event, download the organizing guide.

Take Calculated Steps to Reduce Your Eco/Carbon/Water Footprints

Most of us pursuing a MOGO life pay attention to the impact of our choices on people, animals and the planet. We have some vague idea of our ecological footprint  — the amount of land, water and other resources it takes to support us, and the amount of waste that we generate. But, have you ever calculated your footprint? There are a slew of “eco” calculators, and of course, they can only give you a general idea of how your choices affect the environment and its inhabitants, but they’re still a helpful and fun tool that you can use yourself and share with others. Here are 4 popular ones that I’ve found:

~ Marsha

Earth Hour: A Vote for the Planet (But Not a Very Big One)

earthhourlogo
On Saturday, March 28, families, businesses and organizations around the world will be turning out the lights in order to turn on support for the planet. Earth Hour is a campaign, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, encouraging people to turn off their lights for an hour, from 8:30 pm – 9:30 pm in their timezone, in order to bring awareness to the importance of our energy (and other environmental) choices and of the crisis issue of climate change. This year, turning off the lights is also being considered a “vote” for the earth (not turning them out is being considered a “vote” for global warming). So far the campaign has more than 2,700 cities and towns in 83 countries participating.  The goal is to get 1 billion people to “vote” by switching off their lights for that hour.

On the one hand, I think that it’s really terrific that so many people are participating in a collective action. I know the folks organizing this are completely serious about it being a major tool for positive change, and I applaud their efforts. Hopefully this worldwide event will inspire families, businesses and policy makers to commit to making significant choices that will help curb climate change and protect the planet.

But, really, the action people are taking is turning off a few lights (and using social media to encourage other people to do so). I worry that the message this sends is that all we have to do to help create a sustainable, just world is a few simple actions, like using less electricity or switching to compact fluorescent bulbs. And, while small steps are an important beginning, it’s important that people become aware that it’s going to take significant positive changes, both in our personal lives, and in society’s systems, in order to have a humane world.

Imagine if 1 billion people signed up to turn off the TV,  computer or radio and volunteer in their communities. Or to take an hour and clean up their streets. Or to take an hour and feed some hungry folks. Or, if 1 billion people agreed to stop eating animal products for 1 day. Or to shop locally. Or to write letters to their lawmakers in support of the 350 policy, or in support of an end to slavery, or any other significant topic.

I’ll be participating in Earth Hour, because I want to be supportive. But, I’ll continue to seek significant MOGO choices that can have a larger positive impact on the planet.

~ Marsha

20 Years After the Exxon Valdez: A Great Time to Kick the Oil Habit

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, reportedly the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Nearly 11 million gallons of oil poured from a gash in the ship’s hull, spreading  out into one of the most pristine and delicate areas of the U.S.: Prince William Sound. The spill eventually covered more than 1,200 miles of coastline, killed millions of animals and devastated numerous communities.

Nature has written an article about the spill, reflecting on the disaster and examining the impact that lingers today, and you’ll find plenty of other media coverage.

People, animals and the planet are still feeling the impact of that spill. What a great reminder that our actions can have enormous and long-lasting consequences. What a great time to pay attention to all the choices we make that involve the use of oil — not just for transportation, but for our food, the products we buy, and so on.

Today, make a list of  all the connections you can think of that your life has to oil. Then brainstorm ways that you can reduce your impact, such as:

  • walking or biking whenever you can
  • eating a plant-based diet
  • using natural alternatives to petroleum products
  • choosing renewable energy options
  • writing your editor, legislators and other people in authority to encourage them to create systems that are sustainable and restorative.

Why support something that can cause enormous suffering and destruction (Iraq War, anyone?), when we can create and use the humane alternatives available to us now, and continue to work for better future alternatives?

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of USGS.

What’s Your Water Footprint?

Sometimes it can be challenging to really get a good sense of how much water we use, especially when we don’t think about all the water it takes to grow our food, create the products we use, and so on. Good Magazine has a great chart that maps out your potential water use and impact throughout the day, from what you eat to how much you use to shower, and do laundry and dishes. The chart also offers a few suggested water savers and notes the amount of water savings.

This is a great tool to use for sparking discussions with loved ones and colleagues about  water use and/or the hidden impacts of our choices.

There’s also a great little online water footprint calculator from H20 Conserve that helps you estimate your water footprint and gives suggestions for reducing your water use. A friend told me about this tool, and she says that her college students are “fascinated with it.”

~ Marsha

(Thanks, Cool People Care, for the heads up about the chart.)