Monday, June 29, 2009

EPA releases high hazard coal ash waste sites--one in PA!

Gives a whole new meaning to CYA (Cover Your Ash)...I borrow and paraphrase from the EPA site (if you want to read the whole thing, go here):

Fact Sheet: "Over the past several months, EPA has undertaken a concerted effort to identify and to assess the structural integrity of impoundments, dams, or other management units, within the electric power generating industry, holding wet-handled coal combustion residues or CCRs ... electric utilities have so far identified a total of 427 units managing slurried CCRs. Forty-four (44) of these units at 26 different locations have been assigned a high hazard potential rating..."

"The National Inventory of Dams hazard potential ratings address the potential consequences of failure or misoperation of the dam. A high hazard potential rating indicates that a failure will probably cause loss of human life. The rating is not an indication of the structural integrity of the unit or the possibility that a failure will occur in the future; it merely allows dam safety and other officials to determine where significant damage or loss of life may occur if there is a structural failure of the unit."

Sounds scary, but why should you care? "CCRs consist of fly ash, bottom ash, coal slag, and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) residue. CCRs contain a broad range of metals, for example, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury, but the concentrations of these are generally low. However, if not properly managed, (for example, in lined units), CCRs may cause a risk to human health and the environment and, in fact, EPA has documented cases of environmental damage."

So, where are these sites? AZ (9), GA (1), IL (2), IN (1), KY (7), MT (1), NC (12), OH (6), PA (1), WV (4). See the Fact Sheet for cities and specifics.

What's being done about these sites?
"The list of units was compiled from information submitted to EPA by the electric utilities in response to EPA’s March 9, 2009 information request. The 44 units will receive high priority attention as EPA continues its assessment of impoundment safety. As announced by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, on March 9, 2009, EPA has committed to proposing regulation on the management of coal combustion wastes by December 31, 2009."

I am hopeful but not exactly holding my breath. I do commend the EPA for coming forward with this information.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kate Hudson spotted in Hair-isburg

My source met Kate yesterday while she was here to promote her haircare line with David Babaii (presumably to Rite Aid). Silly me, I didn't know her eternal cuteness was shilling beauty products, much less ones that are eco-friendly and support WildAid.

About the products: "Volumizing vocanic ash. Rich Cupucacu butter. Blue Algae. Wild Orchid. Kiwi. Mango. Jojoba seed. Dead Sea Salt." Ooooh, sounds scrumptious.

"All part of the exclusive blend of exotic natural ingredients in our David Babaii for WildAid products. Free of Sulfates, Parabens, Petrochemicals, animal products. And, of course, free from animal testing." A bit of a red flag for me is that they do not list their ingredients on the website--at least I did not find them. This omission suggests to me that they are not as eco-friendly as they could be. Otherwise, why hide ingredients?

If you know me, you know I love a good tagline: "David Babaii for WildAid. It’s beautiful to be good." I could not agree more (frankly, I'm surprised no one's using line already)!

Next time I'm out, I'm going to check out the ingredients in the Bohemian Beach Spray and maybe the Amplifying Shampoo. I'll report back with a review. If you've tried any of these products, please comment.

Umm...just found the ingredient list for the Amplifying Shampoo on (ones in red pose a risk of 4 or greater, on a scale where 10 is worst):
Water, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Cocamide MEA, Lauramine Oxide, Spirulina Platensis Extract, Glycol Stearate, Cymbidium Grandiflorum Flower Extract, Volcanic Ash, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Theobroma Grandiflorum Seed Butter, Hydrogenated Hemp Seed Oil, Panthenol, Thymus Serpillum Extract, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil (Olive), Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Avena Sativa Kernel Extract (Oat), Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides, Algae Extract, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Mangifera Indica Fruit Extract (Mango), Actinidia Chinensis Fruit Extract (Kiwi), Urtica Dioica Extract (Nettle), Equisetum Hiemale Extract, Orchis Mascula Flower Extract, Cucumis Sativus Fruit Extract (Cucumber), Hedychium Coronarium Root Extract, Zingiber Officinale Root Extract (Ginger), Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Extract (Rosemary), Arctium Lappa Root Extract, Hedera Helix Extract (Ivy), Trigonella Foenum Graecum Seed Extract, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Wheat Amino Acids, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Butylene Glycol, Amodimethicone, Citric Acid, PEG 150 Distearate, Fragrance, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Benzoate, Retinyl Palmitate, Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch, Panthenyl Hydroxypropyl Steardimonium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA.

It's not looking like these products would qualify as nontoxic...though I will say the reviewers on loved the shampoo and commented favorably about its scent. If the scent is naturally derived, it's probably not phthalate-laden, but the chances are slim.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New finds for glamorganic goods

I'm always on the lookout for great organic style (aka glamorganics). Here are a few new finds with some paraphrased descriptions from their websites:

Fierce Hugs packs imagination, sustainability and a healthy eco-friendly lifestyle into remarkably soft, organic baby clothes using 100% organic cotton. Made with fair labor and designed by independent illustrators for cool and original graphics. Packaged in a cool eco-friendly gift box. Risk-free return policy.

Mama Om is "for trendy moms and hip girls." Organic clothing that is trendy and comfortable to promote the wonderful and unique bond between mothers and daughters, by wearing matching clothing, sharing a sense of style, caring for the earth and having a little fun! Fashion and play mix; comfort and caring for the environment are major priorities.

Green Edge Kids offers the largest selection of designer organic kids clothes online. Organic children's clothing is not only good for the environment, but it is very well-made and almost all of it is made in the USA. Offer a 100% price match guarantee. Best deals are reserved for newsletter members only. Also offers everyday free shipping (minimum order applies).

SafeKiddo is an environmentally and safety-conscious store sourcing products that are Organic, Made in the USA, Handmade, Fair Trade, Wood from managed forests, and/or toxin-free...essentially, the purest, highest quality products available. Each product description includes a stamp with an explanation of why it's safe, healthy and earth-responsible.

Care for Me Naturally stocks eco-friendly, nontoxic and organic products for baby and toddler. All are free from harmful toxins and contaminants. Many have been tested and approved by pediatricians and dermatologists, received industry awards and been acclaimed by parents internationally. Strong preference for suppliers showing environmental conscience by deploying only fair trade and eco-friendly manufacturing practices.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids books that teach earth-friendly ways

When you're reading a book to your child do you ever stop to consider exactly what you're teaching him or her? It's amazing all the "norms" that are engrained through simple, cherished stories we share with our kids. For instance, Three Little Bears reinforces the notion of a nuclear family (mama, papa, baby). Where The Wild Things Are concludes that there really is no place like home, especially for a bratty little boy with his hot supper in his cozy room. The Poky Little Puppy elevates dessert to a God-given right.

While these and most are pretty harmless, many reinforce consumerism, gender stereotypes and wastefulness, most times not with overt themes, but in the actions of the central characters.

But don't worry, you don't have to give up on reading to your kids. Great alternatives do exist. You just have to work to find them. Here are a few I've unearthed (ha ha, no pun intended) that would be nice options for your summer reading lists:

Green Sugar Press "Books to engage, entertain and enlighten children with the wonders of nature."

  • An Environmental Guide from A to Z (ages 8-13)

  • Earl the Earthworm Digs for His Life (ages 5-9)

  • N is for Nature: An Environmental Alphabet Book (ages 2-6)
Simon & Schuster also has a line called "Little Green Books" with titles such as Don't Throw That Away! and The Adventures of an Aluminum Can. The books are made from recycled materials and cover earth-friendly topics.

Want the most comprehensive list anywhere I could find? Here's the site in all its ugly glory.

But, wait. Before you buy another new book from a big bookseller, consider a new model--Better World Books. Their motto: "Buy used books to fund literacy worldwide." When I checked, the stats at the top of the page were staggering, and growing before my eyes:
  • Funds raised for global literacy: $6,427,439.60

  • Books saved from landfills: 24,688,398

  • WOW.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Here's your official notice: You are in charge

Think what you're buying is safe to eat / bathe in / slather on / chow down? Um, in a word, NO, it's not. The government is not doing its job with regard to monitoring, evaluating and regulating chemicals in food, consumer products, etc. In addition to falling prey to heavily funded lobbies, government agencies are not equipped to keep up with the proliferation of chemicals bombarding us everyday from a preposterous number of sources.

Here's a wake-up call: It's up to you to keep your family, your pets, your neighborhood, and our whole planet safer and healthier for everyone. I'm serious. Did you see Erin Brockovich? That was not an isolated incident. It takes people like her (and you) to pay attention, raise a red flag, go the distance [insert more bad clich├ęs here].

Really, if it sounds hard, it's not! It just takes a little determination and a little research. Here are nine things (not necessarily in order of importance) you must consider doing for yourself, your loved ones and our planet. Now.

(1) Vote with your dollars. This means buy from companies you trust. Buy organic when you can. Don't buy disposable crap made shoddily in China or anywhere for that matter. Companies are paying attention to what people are buying and they will make available what you will buy at a price you will pay. You can find out more about companies' track records here, here and here.

(2) Ask questions.
Don't assume the fish is fresh, ask where it came from, whether you're at the grocery store or in a restaurant. Don't assume coffee or chocolate is fair trade, ask the clerk or check the label. If your store doesn't carry a good selection of organic, fair trade or local foods, ask them to stock more. The more people ask about where their food's coming from, the more stores and restaurants will realize they need to pay attention to what they're offering. But it doesn't stop at food. If your nail salon reeks of chemicals, ask them to try eco-friendly brands. If your kid's school still uses noxious chemicals for cleaning, educate them to the dangers of that exposure and suggest greener options. If your neighbor's treating their lawn with chemicals, find a way to peaceably suggest that they find an alternate solution, like tucking a brochure from a safe company inside their screen door.

3) Follow the leaders. Lots of smart people have dedicated themselves to righting the ship. They send newsletters out with really good information. Subscribe to them. Some of the best are: Environmental Working Group, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, The Green Guide and Healthy Child Healthy World. I'm sure there are more. Comment with your favorites. (Aside, speaking of leaders, the E.U. is way ahead of the U.S. in protecting its citizens from harmful substances.)

(4) Make your voice heard.
When these esteemed organizations above send you action alerts, read them. Pick the ones that matter most to you and use the automated form to send letters to your elected representatives. It's easy. Really easy. You can even post them to Facebook or forward them to your friends through email to spread the word. Of course, we don't know if these officials are listening to us, but not saying anything is a sure way to go unheard.

(5) Gear up your recycling.
Recycling is not just for cans and bottles. And it's not just something to do at home. It starts by making a habit of only buying stuff you can recycle (reference the little number in the recycle symbol). Then collect your batteries, light bulbs, old TVs, cardboard, junk mail, newspapers, scrap paper, plastic hangers and that pile of unclaimed pages by the work printer. Don't forget you can also compost fruit & vegetable scraps, newspaper, unbleached paper towels & napkins (if you haven't switched to cloth!), even biodegradable diapers and dog training pee pads. Make it a little game to see how little trash you can throw out each week.

(6) Use (and reuse) what you buy.
Beyond recycling, try "Being a Responsible Consumer 101." Buy what you need and nothing more. Really pay attention to what you are some examples: Do you choose paper greeting cards or online cards? Do you wrap presents in paper or in a reusable bag? Do you buy individually wrapped servings of foods? Still buying bottled water? Using something made from virgin materials once and recycling it is not solving, just delaying the problem. Upcycling once and then throwing it out, also not solving the problem. When you're done with something and it still has life in it, donate it or give it away. Try to think about the impact you're having, what you're throwing away, and challenge yourself to cut that in half. You will be amazed at how quickly it adds up. One day hopefully more products will be Cradle to Cradle.

(7) Cut your chemical consumption.
No more ChemLawn, Roundup or OTC Flea & Tick Treatments. You don't need these toxic chemicals and surely the aquatic life in your local water table doesn't need them either. Natural alternatives exist, or you can grow a garden or plants instead of grass, using native plants that don't need a lot of extra attention to flourish in your area. No more chemical pest control. A Terminix agent told my parents that they use the lowest concentration of the least toxic thing possible to get rid of termites. Same thing that's in Frontline, but far less of it, they said. My mom was convinced; I was not so sure. I looked on the website as the agent suggested and found nothing credible or detailed about the chemicals they use. Proprietary? I doubt it. I suspect their lawyers probably squelched any mention because it's not, in fact, nontoxic. If it was, they'd be touting it. Point is, ask questions. Do your research. Make sure what you're putting on your lawn, in your house, on your body, is not full of harsh, toxic chemicals.

(8) Don't make excuses, make time.
Educating yourself is easy these days. If you have not seen Fast Food Nation, rent it. You also need to see Food Inc., which is coming out this month. Based on the trailer alone, I think this movie will help inspire you. Hot, Flat & Crowded contains sound thinking (and it's easy to pick up and put down because Mr. Friedman kindly drills the points home). Some more good ones are Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, The Omnivore's Dilemma and Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home.

Keep tabs on your utilities. You know those little brochures they put in your utility bills (or attach to your online bill)? They are chock full of not-so-boring details you should know about the water, electric, gas, etc. that you are consuming. I looked at mine this week and realized that they only filter "the required amount" of cryptosporidium (a microbial pathogen). They went so far as to recommend that immuno-compromised people, some elderly and infants seek advice about drinking water from their healthcare providers. So basically, the water is safe for "normal" people, but the rest of the population is on its own. (Good luck to those infirm and infants getting advice from overburdened doctors.) Needless to say, as a mother of an infant and a six pound dog, these things make me mad. My husband and I are purchasing a whole house water filter this weekend.

I saw a bumper sticker that hit home the other day: "Good planets are hard to find." Think about it. And DO SOMETHING.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Eco-fabulous skincare straight from...Iowa?

I don't remember where I bumped into this brand, but I immediately liked Aguacate & Co.'s branding and the sensibility. So I checked it out and it seems to be the real deal in terms of safe ingredients. Most products are Certified Vegan (honestly didn't know there was such a thing, but now I do). As a company, they are approved by Green America, are a member of the Organic Trade Association, are a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and participate in 1% for the Planet.

Billed as "premium skin care with organic ingredients," Aguacate offers cleansers, exfoliators, toners, moisturizers, replenishers, gifts sets and -- best of all -- trial sizes. I've been to the site a few times and they are frequently sold out of the trial sizes, though.

You can buy it online at the company site, or a handful of other eco sites. If you happen to be in San Diego you can shop for it at The Hidden Spa. Or if you find yourself in Fairfield, Iowa, stop by the At Home Store.

There's not much in their About Us section, but a little research shows that the company has been around since 2007. It's hard to confirm, but I'm fairly sure they are Iowa-based. In case you're wondering, aguacate means avocado in Spanish, which references the line's key ingredient, avocado oil.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dial down on the 1,4 dioxane

Would you be surprised to find out that a "contaminant" known to be a carcinogen since at least 1988 could be lurking in popular personal care -- and BABY CARE -- products at relatively high levels? And it does not have to be listed because, technically, it's a by-product of a manufacturing process and not an ingredient.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) reported that "EPA May 7 released a draft Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of 1,4 dioxane that includes a new cancer slope factor that is 17 times more potent than the agency's 1990 IRIS assessment."

OCA did their own 1,4 dioxane testing on personal care products, both "natural" and big brands, and detected 1,4 dioxane at 18 ppm in Dial Clean & Soft Aloe Antibacterial Hand Soap. So-called natural products were not exempt, with biggest offender -- Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap -- registering a whopping 204 parts per million! Testing was conducted in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and some products, like Method's Dish Naturally Derived Ultra Concentrate, have been reformulated to dramatically reduce levels (though it still contains 2.9 ppm).

"The chemical also shows up in nearly half of the personal care products that EWG includes in its 'Skin Deep' database, which compares more than 42,000 personal care products with some 50 toxicity and regulatory databases, the EWG source says."

So what's a safe level? That's up to the EPA to determine, but it's up to us to then calculate all our exposure sources and add them together. That's the part the EPA can't seem to factor. With this toxin showing up in so many products, you have to imagine that your aggregate exposure is 20-50x that of any single source it's in.

Speechless. The more I learn, the more I want answers! Get angry, people, and demand answers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

E.U. spies some suspicious food dyes

I've spent some time with a great book by Dr. Doris Rapp called, "Is This Your Child?" (Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies). Dr. Rapp is a board-certified environmental medical specialist and pediatric allergist in Arizona, who's made a career out of helping parents figure out what's making their sometimes normal children become wildly inattentive or otherwise unwieldy. She figured out that a wide variety of environmental and chemical factors could in fact cause children to experience uncontrollable states, from rage to lethargy. It's a really amazing book, especially because she's got something like 30,000 kids on video tape before exposure to their trigger and after she treats it. I really don't understand why she's so under-the-radar, except maybe that pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness types don't want parents to wise up.

Anyway, I saw this GoodGuide article about the E.U. examining some food colorants that may "have adverse reactions in children" and it made me think of that great book. Anecdotally, a woman I know who did in-home childcare for 30 years told me about a young boy she used to watch who was a hyperactive mess. Finally, the mom found a doctor who tested and found that he was allergic to a certain red food dye. Once she removed it from his diet, he was a different child. How scary is that?

The UK's Food Standards Agency was reviewing (as of March 2009) these six coloring agents and placed a voluntary ban on them (these are the US equivalent names):
  • FD&C Yellow 5
  • FD&C Yellow 6
  • FD&C Yellow 10
  • FD&C Red 4
  • FD&C Red 40
  • Carmoisine

As of May 1, 2009, many UK companies voluntarily removed the above dyes from their products. You can see a list here.