Monday, March 29, 2010

Chocolate and Cell Phones - You Don't Want to Know

It's interesting to me how information disseminates.  Years ago my daughter was doing a project on chocolate in about grade 3, so I told her that a lot of chocolate comes from plantations that use child slave labour.  She told her teacher who refused to listen to such nonsense.  Slavery's been over for decades!  Even after I sent 30 pages of information from reputable sources, she wouldn't be swayed.  A couple of years later, a few books were published on it, it hit the papers, and now it's almost common knowledge.  At the very least people aren't as confident taking up the opposition to what is largely accepted as fact:  Much of our chocolate, Nestle, Hershey's, M&M/Mars, Cadbury... comes from places that buy or steal children, some as young as ten, who are beaten if they don't work fast enough.  Cadbury and Mars have made some chocolate bars fair trade, but don't get those few token bars confused with the majority, which aren't.  Look for the fair trade label on each bar.  This Easter, if you do the rabbit thing, please buy fair trade chocolate:  Cocoa Camino, Divine, Green and Black's...  

Now the most recent issue of GQ has an article on cell phonesFinally someone is making problems more public....

Chocolate being slave-produced is a much easier sell now that it's out there. There's a collective knowledge that people seem to absorb. I'm willing to bet nobody will argue about the problems with chocolate production, and I'm hoping a reminder at this time of year will help people make a better choice when buying Easter chocolate.  But we love our cell phones!  People really don't want to hear anything bad about a product they're absolutely obsessed with.  It's the umbilical cord to all social networks.  You can't go for a hike in the woods without hearing someone's cell phone go off.  But this isn't about how they affect me, but how they affect people who actually own one.

Devra Davis took them on for a few pages of her book The Secret History of the War on Cancer.  She found that cell phones are connected to brain cancers. Several poorly conducted studies show no connection by monitoring only light-use clients. Tumors of the auditory nerve are three times more frequent in people who have used cell phones for more than a decade, and always on the side they favour.

The GQ article indicates that doctors are seeing more cases of brain cancer particularly in young professionals, and they think the industry has been discrediting studies showing a risk.  Many reports out of Europe link cell phones to brain aging, early-onset Alzheimer's, DNA damage and sperm die-off from the phones being kept in guy's front pockets.  According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, after a decade of cell-phone use, the chance of getting a brain tumor goes up 40%.  It gets worse:  People who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 - like the entire population of my school - were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor.

I love the article because it gets at human behaviour questions:  "...much of the comfort of our modern lives depends on not caring, on refusing to recognize the dangers of microwave radiation."  Short term comfort outweighs the potential of tumors many years from now.  The article explains the hows and whys in detail.  Yes we get radiation from the sun, and it's all around us, but we're exposing ourselves to excessive directed radiation which is harming us.

So what do we do?  Unlike the fair trade option for chocolate lovers, there's no radiation-free cell phone option.  According to Devra Davis, quoted in the article, "The most important thing you can do is use a speakerphone and an earpiece."  Okay, that's not going to happen.  It looks too dorky for teenagers to do.  It helps that most teens text instead of talking.  However, instead of brain problems, this can lead to serious reproductive problems.  And nobody's going to wear a lead-lined fanny pack.  We can encourage them to keep their phones in their knapsacks furthest from their bodies, and stop hiding it under the desk to text during class!  Get them out of their laps!  Every inch away from the body reduces the risk dramatically.  They need to be taught to text at arm's length.       

Another concern raised by all this - one that affect me directly - is wireless signals.  We have wireless everything in my house, and I'm going to try, deep breath, to convince my guy to plug back in.  The little cord that runs to the wall, or from the mouse to the computer, is not as big a hassle as cancer will be.  They also suggest, "If you can't bring yourself to plug back in, at least place the hub far away from your head."  Now I just have to figure out what a hub is.  

Here's a trailer for a film about one man who had himself prosecuted for buying slave-made chocolate: Tony and the Chocolate Factory  

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Learn from Others

Earthfest 2010 in 24 days!  Vote for the best everyday eco-hero film at Earth Day Canada.  OneEarth recycled our assembly film for the contest; it's under Waterloo.  My short list:  Becoming Green (Blyth), Solar Pop Man (Epworth), Tale of Two Peters (Hamilton), Dancing with the Wind (Holland Landing), Portrait of a Composter (Toronto), and Rickshaw Run (Toronto). 

George Stroumboulopoulos has a new series call Love, Hate, Propaganda.  They had a contest to create propaganda posters or films for current crises.  I like Oil at What Cost, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the videos Air Dry and Plastic Bag Monster.  It's unfortunate that the "Read" poster has a spelling mistake. 

Other views?

That's it!
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Earth Hour Do-Over and Over and Over and Over

For some reason that now escapes me we decided to let the 5-year-old stay up for earth hour. She coloured pictures by candlelight and was tucked in a good two hours later than usual. The upside is that she's still in bed now. The downside is I've forgotten how to sleep in. More to the point, I had a booth at the festivities at Kitchener City Hall yesterday...

Most my neighbours didn't turn out their lights last night, and I know a lot of people who roll their eyes at it, "What's one hour going to do?" What it does is remind us that we don't need to live with lights and electronics on all the time. It is possible to turn them off more. At school we did it all day Friday, and it reminds teachers they can teach with the lights off and the kids are actually calmer for it.

The regional event had very low attendance until the end - just as I packed up of course. Maybe if the focus of an evening is from 8:30-9:30, don't start at 4:00 in the afternoon. A 7:00 start would have been more intensive and perhaps more useful. People who did come by my table wanted an Earthfest flier to take away with them. I directed them to the facebook site. It's funny how people seem to take one copy of everything offered, and I can just imagine what they do with it all when they get home. We're going to plaster the city with posters soon enough anyway.  We were all filmed for a video that will be on the Living Earth Festival site one of these days. 

The best part of the afternoon was talking with the people at the other tables. There were some I knew about, some I learned about, and some I didn't agree with and was looking forward to getting to the bottom of a few issues with. Some people are more receptive to that than others.

The People's Car Co-op was there. I had been part of it at the beginning to do groceries, but I found it easier and cheaper to walk to the grocery store and call a cab to go home, than to book a car, walk to the car pick up area (past the grocery store), drive to the store and home again, drop off the car, and walk back. And it's more expensive than renting a car once you need it for a long distance or long time. It's particularly useful for anyone who needs to run many short errands in one day. KW-Y-Camps has energy-efficient digs with composting toilets. REEP was there, and their zero impact house will be done May 14th. That'll save me the trip to Montreal to see the one built there! And KCI had a few meetings with Reduce the Juice to look into getting solar at the school. It's a bit daunting, and we're not quite ready for it yet. 

I got to find out about CREW. That was a great table because the guy heading it actually had geo-thermal and solar at his house, so he could speak from experience about costs and payback. And Merlyn Power and Power Savings Blitz were right next to it. The City of Kitchener table was all about littering, and the City of Waterloo was about energy conservation.

And there was a rapid transit table. The woman there was excellent and answered all my questions even though I'm a nay-sayer. She seemed able to see both sides of the issue well enough to have an intelligent discussion with me. It will essentially replace the iXpress bus, but the LRT will take up a lane, making less room for cars which will dissuade people from driving, and they'll also get rid of free parking in the city. These alone will get people driving less. That the LRT gets a dedicated lane means it will go much faster and solve the problem with congestion in front of the bus.

I suggested doing what they do in some other areas: make a dedicated lane for buses and cyclists without ripping up the road. Just call the outside lanes of King Street car-free zones (except to move over to park, of course). People will find it harder to drive, the buses will move faster, and more people will bike on the road instead of the sidewalks, and more people will bike in general, AND it will cost NOTHING - well some advertising, and maybe the next term of whomever implements it, but that's it. Once people get used to the system, they'll see the benefits. And then I can cycle with my kids on the street!

Finally, there was a guy selling "Oxo-Biodegradable Poly Bags." I asked what they're made of: poly-ethylene (petroleum), but they're made to biodegrade faster. Okay, but what do you mean by "bio-degrade"? Are they decomposing, or are they just degrading? Do they turn back to their original components found in the earth, like a banana will, or do they just become smaller bits of a processed material? 


This is the question I really want explained thoroughly by a chemist who works with the stuff.  So far I've asked a chemistry teacher how plastics can be compostable because the big deal about plastic is that once made it can't be unmade.  It was created to last forever - which is really useful sometimes, but not with stuff we want to pitch immediately.  I was told that there's something added (like corn starch) that composts, leaving tiny bits of plastic behind.  But the plastic itself doesn't actually compost; it's just small enough not to be noticed by naked eye.  That makes sense to me based on other things I've read, but it doesn't bode well for "compostable" plastic because I don't want microscopic bits of plastic in my garden.        

So I asked, can you eat this or grow food in it once it's degraded? "Well," he said, "you can."

"But will it be full of toxins that could be harmful to you - like endocrine disruptors?"

"There's lots of that out there anyway."  The implication here is that we have so much crap in our world, hey, what's a little more!

My final question: "Why promote a new kind of plastic bag when you could just carry a cloth bag or basket when you go to the store? Why do we need more new products that will just be thrown out at the end."

"You're not going to carry a basket if you're shopping for clothes, are you?"

"I bring my knapsack to shop for clothes."

"Well, most people don't, so I make bags for clothes stores to use."

So as far as I understand, we'll have bags that degrade faster so we can inhale and ingest the plastic dust faster. We'll see fewer bags stuck in trees, but there will be more toxins stuck in us.  On the website it says there's no difference between this and regular plastic until they're exposed to UV light. That's what makes them fall apart. So really they're photo-degradable, which is how other plastics fall apart too, only not as fast.  And they're advertised as "tree-less" bags.  But they're still disposable!  We need to get rid of our single-use mentality.  Don't buy or accept anything that will be pitched immediately.  It's one really easy thing to do that will have a huge impact on our lives, and it's really really easy thing to change.  Well, it seems like a no-brainer to me.  

Finally, here's a suggestion if you're running a green event: Give everyone working at a table a travel mug at the beginning as a thank-you for coming. Then they won't all be walking around with disposable cups from the coffee shop next door.

Just a thought.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Green Infrastructure, Earth Day, and Global Awareness

Hey, a guest post!! This is from Dan Grifen from Everything Left

Spring 2010 is approaching, and there’s a lot of buzz around topics like the economy, taxation, global poverty, restoration in Haiti/Chile, and lastly, green awareness. With spring, Earth Day also draws nearer (April 22nd); as individuals, we must remember and realize the importance of global warming and all of its implications. Subsequent topics discussed as of late include space travel/burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and green building. As nations like Haiti and Chile prepare for rebuilding and new construction, there are many things to consider when advancing. Moving towards cleaner, greener infrastructure is vital in ensuring a successful restoration campaign....

The U.S. Green Building Council is a 501(3)(c) non-profit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everybody. It’s one of the many organizations playing its role in green progression. Heavy discussion lies on green topics, especially the more recent ones like space travel; others include deforestation, green crops, clothing, energy, and much more. It’s important that we as individuals/citizens stay up-to-date on important global topics like warming. As organizations like the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative), AFH (Architecture for Humanity), and the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) conducts sustainability campaigns and enforce strict green constraints, our world will continue to become a better, cleaner place. Machines behind the CGI, Doug Band and Former President Clinton have been pursuing an emission reduction plan in the San Francisco Bay area. Meanwhile, GEC (Globetrotters Engineering Corporation) is underway with green building projects in Chicago, IL. Despite these few national examples, green infrastructure, particularly in places like Haiti, has become an integral part of restoration and construction.

This aligns with the implications of "economic viability" and long term sustainability, posing the questions, "Can Haiti really make it through all the costs of repair and reconstruction?" Infrastructure can take a toll on any economy, especially if the funds aren't there. This goes hand in hand with meeting modern day LEED standards and approaching this in a "greener" sense. Organizations like Architecture for Humanity will make this possible. Architecture for Humanity (1999) is a nonprofit design services firm building "a more sustainable future through the power of professional design." It was formulated through a group of building professionals whose overwhelming passion for construction drove them to provide a way for underdeveloped, suffering countries to rebuild. Through their dedication and hard work, these people will be able to not only create new buildings and infrastructure, but make them bigger, better, and greener.

To touch on just some of the things that AFH covers:

• Alleviating poverty and providing access to water, sanitation, power and essential services
• Bringing safe shelter to communities prone to disaster and displaced populations
• Rebuilding community and creating neutral spaces for dialogue in post-conflict areas
• Mitigating the effects of rapid urbanization in unplanned settlements
• Creating spaces to meet the needs of those with disabilities and other at-risk populations
• Reducing the footprint of the built environment and addressing climate change

As polluters continue to buy their way out of Carbon Cuts globally, and large organizations continue to dump their waste into lakes, ponds and rivers, communities and must play their role in ensuring sustainability. Organizations like the CGI, AFH, and USGBC provide repercussion and policy change for acts such as. Most of the results from warming and climate change are miniscule and unnoticeable now, but our youth and earlier generations will experience firsthand the effects of pollutants and unsustainable efforts. Feel free to visit to learn more about what you can do to support your world.

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Garbage Reminders

One of our art classes had an assignment to make a poster that would go on a garbage can to tell people what NOT to put there.  We have signs on the recycling bins and compost bins, but if people aren't going to them in the first place, they never see those signs.  This assortment of posters will be taped to garbage cans around the entire school (thanks to the support of our Principal!).  See more below.  Regretfully, some of the posters wouldn't upload to blogger; it's amazing the things students came up with!   With 27 days to go to Earthfest, put some reminders on the trash cans! 

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010


We're down to only 29 days until Earthfest!  I haven't been writing or doing much of anything because we all got hit with a flu (on your left).  It reinforced the reality that environmentalism takes a back seat when we're rushed or sick or, well, almost anything.  Being eco-friendly, like morality in general, is a luxury for good times.  For today, try to forge a new eco-habit.... 

Some things have become habits for me, and that's key.  We all turn off lights when we leave a room.  Even when I'm scrambling to get out the door, I remember to hit the lights.  But it takes time and will to develop those habits.  And it's curious to me how that happens and why it doesn't happen for more people.  I don't think about composting; it's just second nature and has been for decades.  But it's just recently that I got to the point where I stop myself from giving a class handouts that are single sided or not on re-use-it paper if they're only one side long.  People at school still forget to turn off computer monitors when they're done, yet that one became ingrained in me easily.  I have no idea why.  I started putting a travel mug beside my guy's workboots every night for him to use in the morning.  He still forgets to grab it.

I realize drive and interest are important factors in developing habits, but I wonder if some people are just more open to change than others.  Something like that.  

This week, sick as dogs, my 5-year-old tried valiantly to make it to the bathroom, but let loose a torrent of bile on the only carpet we have in the house - the basement stair runner.  The runner's hiding the fact that the stairs are seriously sagging, but we're not up for fixing them any time soon.  I scrubbed it immediately - baking soda, vinegar, plain soap.  That did nothing.  Later that night, we tried harsher detergents.  Still the entire basement was malevolently fumigated.  Our only TV is in the basement and the smell seemed to sink down to ground level, so we couldn't doze in front of the idiot box while we recovered.  Could it get any worse?  We had to get out the big guns:  first a steam cleaner.  Nada.  Then a chemical assault:  Febreze, and later some Odour Destroyer.  I'm not sure what's in either, but I pretty much lost my eco cred using them - and maybe a few days of my lifespan.  To add injury to insult, after giving up on environmental cleaners and going to the dark side, my efforts again failed.  The air refused to clear.  We ripped up the carpet and set it out with the trash.  It's off to top up the landfill, and we're in the market for a new runner. 

Really we don't need a runner, but if we want to present a modicum of, I don't know what, decency?  civility?  something - we need to cover the tattered steps or risk being shunned by friends and family alike.  I typically think nothing's more important than helping the planet recover, but I could be wrong.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Remind Yourself. It's Later Than You Think

I wrote recently that we need constant reminders to keep ourselves on track.  I teach courses that focus on social issues, so I'm immersed in this stuff all year.  But about mid-July, I start to forget - about fair trade, about slavery, about factory farms.  So I got this tattoo.  It's Matisse's dancers circling a shifting Pangaea.  And it's on my right forearm, clearly visible when I'm about to hand over my Visa card for some unnecessary trifle.   It's a reminder that my actions here affect life everywhere else.  Tread softly.

That's it!.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Make Art from Garbage

Yesterday I spent some time with fabric paint and some shirts from our school's Free Store.  I made a few lunar photo shirts with the earth on a black background and the moon horizon below.  I included a few different phrases at the bottom:  "We are all part of the same compost heap" by Tyler Durden, "We have met the enemy, and he is us" by Pogo, and "Before it's too late" - the title of the collective song/letter we put together for Stephen Harper.  I did a bunch of them because the visual is the focus of this year's Earthfest (35 days left!) - the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which was inspired by none other than photos of the earth from space take a year before.  See more designs below....

This one says "Plastic never dies - but we do."  Last year I sold quite a few dead-fish-surrounded-by-water-bottles t-shirts.  Macabre bunch.  The lunar photo shirts take about an hour each - hand painted with fabric paints.  This one is magic marker and took under five minutes.  And I bet more people will want it. 

I like the frog in this one.  I did another one like it, but the frog was a bit of a mutant.  It says "It's not easy being green.  Plastic kills."  There's a bit of a theme going on here.  This one took about 20 minutes to get the frog all stripey and splashy.

This was another quick one - it's simple and some people will go for that.  It just has Earthfest 2010 in the bottom corner.  The vine was easy to paint.  On a light-coloured shirt, I could do it even faster with markers.  Let me know which you like or if you have any other ideas.  Want to make some shirts with us at KCI?  Come to room 271 at 2:35, on Thursday, March 25th.  You really don't need to know how to paint.  Check out those dead fish again!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Find a Mentor

Only 36 days until Earthfest! Today I found this inspirational video (h/t Penny) and realized I really need a mentor. I'd prefer a cooking mentor, someone to help me do the whole organic thing, but I think my guy is going to take on that job thereby verifying my assumption that if you cook badly enough for long enough, someone else will take over. This is about reducing plastic. I'm pretty good for that, but not like this:

Think of one thing you could be better at and find a mentor, even one who doesn't know she's a mentor (like Fake Plastic Fish), and copy them. It's easier when you see someone else doing it. That's why I really liked No Impact Man (which we're showing at Earthfest at 8pm): because he does all this stuff with a kid!!

My downfall with teenagers in the house is junk food. I have to get them on popping pop corn so we can avoid the chip bags. We bought a bulk pack of CFL lightbulbs (I know the lightbulbs part is redundant but otherwise some people won't know what I'm talking about), and they were all surrounded by a giant plastic form - of doom. We don't do paper towels, grocery bags, CDs, DVDs, or water bottles, and pop is always in glass (thanks Jones Soda). But shampoo, dish soap, bread, and vinegar come in plastic bottles. There used to be a place to re-fill vinegar jugs in town, but they stopped doing that. If anyone has solutions to those that don't involve making my own soap and shampoo in mason jars, let me know. And how do I get my guy to bring a travel mug to Tim's every bloody day?? That is, besides putting it in his truck every night - ah bullocks, I'm totally going to do that.

Suggestions welcome.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Ditch the Dryer

I missed yesterday, so today's day 38 and 37 until Earthfest.  Ditch the dryer.  Really.  Get it right out of your house so it doesn't tempt you ever again.*  The clothes dryer is typically the second largest energy hog in a house, getting trampled only by the refrigerator.  It's that time of year when the dryer beckons a little more than usual, but I can resist.....

In the dry, dark winters, my wet clothes are ready to be put away usually within 24 hours.  But once we get these rainy days, and I stop getting shocks from petting the cats, clothes start to take a few days to dry.  This is when I consider turning on the de-humidifier but realize that makes about as much sense as tossing them in the dryer - well, less sense really.

Maybe I live a pretty boring life, but I get quite excited about hanging laundry outside.  Tomorrow and Wednesday I'll be on that.  I already did loads of sheets and blankets on that first day that hit ten degrees last week.  I was pumped!  All the bedrooms smelled so fresh afterward.  I should do commercials - but for what?  Clotheslines?  The sun?  

At the very least avoid dryer sheets.  They're full of toxic crap you really don't need in your life.  I told a colleague that I don't use scented laundry stuff or dryer sheets or anything.  She was shocked and actually came over to smell me.  She was impressed that I have no discernible odour - neither good nor bad.  And if your laundry is static-y, you can turn off the lights and watch the blue sparks for kicks.

I should get out more.
*Okay, don't ditch it if you have kids in diapers or bed wetters.  I'm a bit fanatical about dryer-use, but even I cave when faced with a mountain of pee-soaked cotton.  If you can do the diaper thing all winter without a dryer, then I bow down to you, my liege.  I am not worthy.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Plastic Can Cause Obesity

39 days to Earthfest! Woot!

Today's Globe and Mail had an article that focused on what I've been bellyaching about for the past week or two:  toxins.  The article:  Eureka! Less really is more - deadly. Well, duh. So today's really difficult eco-task is to give up something plastic...

"For 500 years, science has believed that we can tolerate a little bit of almost any kind of poison. Those days may be gone...and the implications are staggering." And he goes on to name phthalates, PBAs, perfluorinated compounds, polybrominated flame retardants, and mercury in the list of pollutants that can harm us in very tiny amounts.  The book Slow Death by Rubber Duck explains how small consistent doses cause more health problems than large one-time doses, but the article doesn't get into that (despite the headline). 

From the article:  "Not only are small doses of hormone disruptors dangerous, he says, they may well explain the mysterious rash of modern ailments - attention-deficit disorders, thyroid problems, obesity, precocious puberty in girls, hormonally influenced cancers - that have gone from rare to commonplace....Many chemicals used to make plastics and pesticides have, upon closer testing, been found to be able to play havoc with hormones."  Okay, upon closer testing that was done about sixty years ago.  Yeesh! 

When the paper reported a couple of years ago that phthalates can cause smaller penis size, I thought that would be the end of them. Sure they cause cancers and all sorts of other ailments, but surely they'll put a stop to something that hits below the belt like that. Now BPAs are being linked to obesity. That's gotta be another stopper.

I know what made me quit smoking wasn't a fear of cancer - I was invincible. What got to me was a poster at school of a woman with really pruney-looking lips - apparently caused by sucking on cigarettes all day. That did it. I didn't want to look like that. Vanity trumps health any day. We think those health concerns just won't affect us. They'll happen rarely and to other people. But we see the little signs of our looks fading, and we'll latch on to anything that might help the show go on. So get the plastic out of your house quick. It's not just about your health; it's about your beauty. This time it's personal.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty day countdown to Earthfest.  Party on.  Excellent.

I'm aiming for forty easy eco-tips in forty days. The first one isn't really easy, but I thought I'd do it first because it might take the whole forty days:  stop smoking....

It never fails to surprise me how many eco-minded teenagers smoke.  Smoking pollutes the air, obviously, and butts are the number one piece of litter found on the ground.  If they get into the storm drains, they seriously pollute rivers.  And all those butts on the ground?  It's no mystery where they go.  They make their way into the storm drains.   We need little elves with spears to come out at night and pick them all up.  Or we need people to carry them with them until they hit a garbage.  I think the former is more likely. 

Check out this bookMerchants of Doubt.   It's about how a handful of scientists convince us that smoking and climate change are totally cool.  You can see the author on this video too. 

On a non-eco note, my daughter is extraordinary at choosing lovely names for her pets and stuffed animals.  The turtles on my iGoogle page are Sophie and Elliot, and her pet rat was Francie.  I asked her what she'd name herself if she could have any name in the world:  Dogdodge.  Of course.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Give a Hoot, Dammit!

Happy water bottle free day! I checked my classes for plastic water bottles, and I'm happy to report not a one. But then as I left the building to bask in the gorgeous sunshine melting the mounds of snow, armies of bottles and bags emerged from hibernation from under their chilly blankets all around the schoolyard. I'm still shocked that people just toss crap cavalierly on the ground, but I was raised with that guy on the left there...

I didn't realize he had a name, Woodsy Owl; that's besides the point.  He reminded me every time I turned on cartoons to, "Give a hoot; don't pollute!"  And I wanted him to like me because he was really cool, so I never ever polluted.  And it stuck with me for life.  I can also recite bits of the preamble of the US Constitution thanks to this series we watched while we were staying tuned for station identification.

It's all the power of repetition.  I think most people really want to be good and do nice things, but we forget the right thing to do really easily.  We need reminders - anchor charts! - surrounding us.  What better place than mixed in with our entertainment?  But someone important has to be willing to use tax dollars to pay for the time slots.  The childhood edu-ads for the generation I'm teaching now focused on how to safely dispose of hypodermic needles found in a playground.  I've never seen a needle in a playground, but maybe that's because children everywhere are giving them top priority.  Way to go, kids.  Now lets get back to general litter.  

At school, we're going to put posters on every garbage can telling people what can and cannot go in there - mainly just styrofoam, mixed packaging (junk food bags), and meats and dairy.  But we'll also leave eco-tips in each classroom where everyone can see them.  I'll add "don't litter" to the list of reminders.  We'll see if it makes a difference by the next big thaw.  

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Gentle Art of Persuasion

Monbiot's got a great post up about why people aren't easily swayed by clear facts.

He sites a study that finds, " some cases debunking a false story can increase the number of people who believe it. In one study, 34% of conservatives who were told about the Bush government’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were inclined to believe them. But among those who were shown that the government’s claims were later comprehensively refuted by the Duelfer report, 64% ended up believing that Iraq had WMD."... 

Even more interesting, the researchers further found this:  "Those who see themselves as individualists and those who respect authority, for example, “tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire.” Those with more egalitarian values are “more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted.”  These divisions, researchers have found, are better at explaining different responses to information than any other factor: race, gender, class, income, education or personality type. Our ideological filters encourage us to interpret new evidence in ways that reinforce our beliefs. “As a result, groups with opposing values often become more polarized, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information.”

Isn't that a kicker.  So what do we do now?  I know from social psych courses way back when that to be persuasive, we should look and act as much as we can like the people we're trying to persuade, i.e. a power suit.  Yet I balk at that.  I look like you'd expect an environmentally-minded social science teacher who organizes festivals to look, and I'm too stubborn or lazy to change that.  But it's not to say I don't care about being persuasive, but that I want people to be smart enough to look at the information objectively and see that I'm right, dammit!

According to this study, a change in costume won't help anyway.  We need environmentalism to be seen as not restricting commerce by focusing on business opportunities created by solar and wind power.  That's a hard sell because coal and nuclear plants create a ton of jobs and money immediately in one place.  Solar and wind tend to be smaller, more spread out opportunities.  It's just not as enticing. And when it comes to certain ingredients, we really do want to be restrictive.  How do we morph banning toxins into a good business deal?

Monbiot finishes with this:  "Perhaps we have to accept that there is no simple solution to public disbelief in science. The battle over climate change suggests that the more clearly you spell the problem out, the more you turn people away. If they don’t want to know, nothing and no one will reach them. There goes my life’s work."

Oh, George.  Just because we can't think of way around this one doesn't mean there isn't one.  You just need a longer life.  

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Bottled Water Free Day: March 11

This Thursday is Bottled Water Free Day.  Check out the website here, but also check out this very informative and funny video.  There's some posters you can use below the fold.

We'll be putting up posters around school, and giving pamphlets with information about water bottles to anyone who has a plastic water bottle in their hands. We sold water bottles last year, and it really made a difference. It's gotten trendy again!

Here's my posters:

Poster #1

Can you make it one day, this Thursday, without any bottled water? Can you make it forever?

It’s a major source of pollution.

It’s a health hazard for fish and birds, and US as plastic disrupts hormones in whatever eats it.

It takes a quarter of bottle of oil to make
each bottle and transport it to you.

Over half of bottled water brands have been recalled at least once due to high bacteria counts.

Use the fountain or a reusable container!!
Poster #2
This is where plastic ends up.

80% of the garbage in the ocean blows there
from land. It harms animals, and it harms us.

This Thursday is Bottled Water Free Day.

Join us in refusing to buy water in a bottle
that will add to this garbage crisis. 

Poster #3

There’s an area in the ocean twice
the size of Texas that’s full of plastic. The majority of it, 80%, blew there from land.

Don’t add to this garbage patch.

This Thursday is Bottled Water Free Day.

Use a stainless steel, glass, or ceramic bottle
or travel mug Thursday and every day.
I decided against adding our pamphlet because the format will get messed up beyond all reasonable understanding.  But if anyone wants some handy anti-water-bottle pamphlets, e-mail me, and I'll send you one to copy within a few hours!  Get the word out!!

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Everything Does NOT Cause Cancer

When we dwell on the toxins around us, sometimes it seems like everything is a problem, so why bother.  But that's really not the case.  There have been several chemicals developed in the last eighty years or so that are causing serious problems.  We could dramatically reduce cancer rates today by totally banning these chemicals worldwide.  But we won't.....

In the past week I've written about Teflon (PFCs) in pans and lining food,  phthalates in fragrances and plastics, flame retardants (BFRs) in furniture and electronics, mercury in fish from landfills and electricity and paper production, Triclosan in anti-bacterial soaps, pesticides on golf courses and crops, and Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics.  Yikes!  But if you notice where all these chemicals tend to be, you can avoid them.

Buy all natural organic materials from people you know whenever you can.  Hemp, wool, glass, steel, wood:  they won't make you sick.  Wash everything with simple, fragrance-free soap, baking soda, and vinegar.  Use cast iron cookware.  Drink tap water from a glass.  Eat low in the food chain - organic fruits, vegetables and grain mainly, and some small fish or grass-fed beef or free-range chickens less often.  Buy as local as possible to reduce the amount of fuel used which reduces how much pollution you breath.  If you're buying electronics, ask what's in them first, and dispose of e-waste, CFLs, and batteries in hazardous waste depots. 

But who's going to do that?  A bunch of crazy hippies maybe, but probably not you.  Because fitting in with the latest trends is way more important than being healthy.  It really is.  So we need governments to ban toxic crap outright so nobody can buy it ever. But there are a few problems with that path.

The chemical industry will never admit there's a problem with their products.  Over and over they defend the stuff while people are getting sicker and dying, and they're cashing in on it.  And it's nearly impossible to prove exactly what caused which illness.  Most toxic poisonings are slow and quiet deaths.  And that's what producers rely on.  If governments were forced to adopt a precautionary principle mandate, then companies would be forced to prove each product is completely safe, from extraction to processing to disposal, before they could begin to market it.

Corporations advertise not only the product, but the need for the product.  Remember "new studies" that suggested we need eight glasses of water a day, and that it couldn't come from food or tea or juice.  It had to be pure water??  The studies were created by the water bottling industry.  We don't need 64 ounces a day, and we have no problem absorbing water from other sources.  They wanted us buying lots and lots of bottles of water.  Now there's an area twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific full of decomposing plastic.

And we're told we need BRFs in electronics or they'll burst into flames.  And we need Triclosan on everything or we'll get the plague.  Without perfumes or room deodorizers we'll be friendless and alone.  Without pesticides, we'll all starve to death as weeds and bugs take over all the crops.  We're being made to fear fire, insect, body odour, and germs.  We lived without this crap for most of human history.  I think we can do it again. 

Enough public debate on an issue can cause companies to pull product just to avoid the fuss and a potential class-action lawsuit.  But we can't just complain about stuff that bothers us personally, we have to get on board with anything that might cause an illness in anybody.

If a teacher is accused of sexual misconduct, s/he is removed from the school until the end of the trial. S/he could be completely innocent, but is still taken away from children on the chance s/he could possibly present a danger to them. As it should be. We're allowing ourselves and our kids to be exposed to tons of chemicals until someone is absolutely sure they harm us. Everybody knows someone with cancer now. We need toxins removed until enough studies make it absolutely clear and certain that each one won't harm anybody in any way.  Only then should they be allowed back in production.

I understand what stops you from changing your life dramatically to reduce toxic exposure, but what stops you from taking five minutes to write to your local MP about it?

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bisphenol A: Score One for the Babies

This is the last toxin discussed in Slow Death, and it's a success story of sorts.  At least Canada didn't wait for other people to act before banning BPA in baby bottles.  Yay us!   The fact that two out of my three kids refused to drink from a bottle is small comfort indeed though because this stuff is everywhere....

* Polycarbonate plastic - the hard, clear plastic with a recycling #7 and is in CDs, DVDs, water bottles, drinking glasses, kitchen utensils, eyeglass lenses, big water jugs, hocky helmet visors, baby bottles, medical supplies, faces of laptops and blackberries, headlights, toys, carbonless paper (receipts), recycled paper (from newspaper ink)....  Epoxy resins in sporting equipment, airplanes, cars, dental fillings, wire coatings, piping, and the interior lining of most tin cans.
* Glass.  It's heavier and breakable, but it doesn't leach toxins into our bodies. Drink any carbonated drink out of glass, not plastic or cans - they're a particularly high source of BPA.  Switch to Jones Soda if you have to! 
* If plastic is necessary, use only plastic with recycling numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5.
* Don't microwave plastic, and avoid cling wrap. 

Prevalence / Persistence
* 93% of people tested have measurable amounts of BPA in their bodies.
* They've found that "stunningly small" exposures have specific and dramatic effects.   

Health Concerns
* Hormone-disrupting properties have been known since the 1930s. 
* Breast and prostate cancer
* Learning disabilities, ADD
* Type 2 diabetes
*Infertility and miscarriages
* Can cause damage to multiple generations at the same time as it affects eggs in utero (i.e. little girls of moms with high BPA levels are born with damaged eggs). 

Why it's still in use
* People were convinced it would stay put in the materials, and not get into our food or lungs or be absorbed by our skin.

2007 - A "baby rally" outside Queen's Park convinced Premier McGuinty to establish Canada's first Toxic Pollution Reduction Act with a focus on BPA.  He said, "I've always had this sinking feeling that we haven't really fully explored the potntial downsides associated with using these new materials and chemicals in consumer products."  Canada was first for a change! 

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Pesticides: Yet Another Reason to Avoid Golfing

Remember that scene from North by Northwest when Cary Grant has to outrun a crop-duster.  Hitchcock knew how to instill terror in us:  pesticides - yikes. Industry claims they're perfectly safe.  Perhaps we're better off listening to Grant's character:  "In the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggerations."

Lawns use 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides each year in the U.S.  DDT is still used for malaria control - but mosquitoes become very resistant to pesticides (even DDT). 2,4-D disrupts hormone processes in plants to kill off dandelions.  (2,4-D was an active ingredient in Agent Orange.)  When sprayed on crops, it ends up in rivers and in our groundwater.

* Avoid creating a mono-culture that can easily be invaded by pests (i.e. a lawn).  Add clover to the lawn, or rip it up and grow other plants like vegetables or ivy or myrtle.
* Wash produce well to help remove pestiide residue
* Download the EWG's list of foods to avoid that likely contain more pesticides than others.

Prevalence / Persistence
*DDT is still found in our bloodstream even though it's been banned for decades (1972).

Health Concerns
* 2,4-D and other hormone-disrupting chemicals follow a U curve of harm meaning that very low doses and very high doses both can lead to serious health complications.  There is no safe exposure limit.
* Nausea, headaches, vomiting, eye irritation, difficulty breathing, lack of coordination immediately after exposure 
* Lawn-care workers are prone to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (blood cancer), and leukemia
* Links to learning disabilities and other neurological impairments as they attack neurons int he brain.
* Strong links between pesticides and many forms of cancer
* Asthma
* Reproductive problems, miscarriages and birth defects
* Farmers in Ontario who use pesticides have lower sperm counts than non-farmers
* Testicular cancer

Why it's still in use
* Companies work hard to convince us pesticides are safe.  Canada typically restrict products only after they've been banned in other countries.  We have some of the  most lax standards in any Western country.

* Since 2004 there have been 200 municipal bylaws created in Canada that ban pesticides for residential use.  Agriculture and golf courses are a different story.   Environment Minister include 2,4-D on a list of banned chemicals on an Ontario province-wide law.  He said, "It's about protecting kids playing in their own yards or other properties."

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Triclosan: An Ounce of Prevention?

In the words of Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine:  If you make them afraid, they will consume.  Marketers know that if they can get you really worried about something, you'll spend a small fortune to protect yourself. Germs are the terrorists of the developed world....

Anti-bacterial soaps, Microban - which is in many many products, lots of cosmetics, Hasbro toys, kitchen tools, countertops, toothbrushes, garbage bags.....  Originally it was used in hospitals for surgical equipment.  Companies realized they could take a product with a small market, water down the concentration, and build it into a saleable brand. 

* Triclosan works no better than products without triclosan.  It's so watered down on each individual product that it's ineffective. A study found that people who use antibacterial products have no reduced risk for infectious disease symptoms.
* You don't have to disinfect everything; just washing hands with regular soap is enough.  If you're worried, avoid touching your face.  The eyes and nose take in more germs than the mouth.  So touching the glass someone drank out of, then rubbing your eye will give you more germs than finishing their drink with a straw.

Prevalence / Persistence
* It's in our groundwater and soils.
Health Concerns
* Wide-scale use can propagate resistant organisms; it's contributing to the rise of superbugs.  So anti-bacterials can actually increase the risk of infection by a serious illness.
* It's in the landfills and can get into our groundwater
* It interfers with thyroid activity, lowering body temperature and depressing the nervous system
* It's an endocrine disruptor
* Nano-silver (another anti-bacterial) kills off beneficial bacteria used in wastewater treatment - it gets into our groundwater too.
* Bacteria are what make soils work.  We need them to grow food.
* It produces chloroform when exposed to chlorinated tap water which causes liver ailments and cancer.
* Mixed with sunlight, it converts to dioxin which causes a whole host of health problems.
* Birth defects and uncontrolled cell growth

* It's banned from supermarkets in the UK.
* It's banned from toothpaste in China.

Also read The Dirt on Clean:  An Unsanitized History  by Katherine Ashenburg and The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu by Dr. Chuck Gerba

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mercury: Poison Poisson

Chapter 5 of Slow Death deals with a naturally occurring toxin, the incredible element mercury.  When I was a kid, my dad broke open a thermometer on a glass plate to show me how wondrous it is.  We disturbed it with a pencil end, then watched it rejoin itself.  Very cool.  But he warned me to never touch the stuff with my bare hands.  When I saw The Cove, I thought the most disturbing part wasn't dolphins being slaughtered, but the footage of the children affected by mercury poisoning.  They looked a lot like the boy in this video...

It's a natural element, but it's turning up in problematic areas because of the way we use it.  It's found in certain fish we eat.  It gets in the lake from the use and disposal of everyday items.  It's an electrical conductor in some electric switches, thermometers, electronics, batteries, fluorescent lights, the tilt switch that turns the light on when you open the fridge or your car trunk, fillings, and it's in vaccines, PVC manufacturing, hydroelectric dams, and the pulp and paper industry. It's also sometimes used to extract gold and silver in mining. Right now most of it comes from waste incinerators and coal-fired power plants.  It used to be used widely to cure many ailments like syphilis, and, of course, as a fungicide in hats. 

* Make sure that all products containing mercury (like CFLs and batteries) are taken to the hazardous waste depot and not shoved in the bottom of the garbage bag.  It's not a problem if it's contained, only when it's not disposed of with some care.
* Buy hemp paper instead of bleached white tree paper.
* Use less electricity to reduce the need for coal-fired plants.
* Eat smaller fish, and print a copy of Canada's Seafood Guide for your fridge.

Prevalence / Persistence
* One in six women have elevated mercury levels.  It can damage the brain permanently even if blood levels diminish.
Heatlh Concerns
* Unlike many toxins, it can cause harm at very low levels.  There is no safe level of mercury.
* Itchy rash and uncontrollable trembling are the first signs of poisoning
* Low-grade depression and irritability
* A potent neurotoxin causing loss of memory, brain fog, disorientation...
* Kidney failure
* Minamata disease - named after a city with rampant mercury poisoning
* Could be linked to autism, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease

Why it's still in use
It's shocking that's it's still in some vaccines, but it will take many letters and protests to get it banned, and to get waste management facilities to recycle CFLs or at least advertise that they're hazardous waste material.  Even Energystar suggests CFLs should go in the normal garbage.  

* Regulations in Europe and the U.S. means mercury use in products has dropped dramatically over the past twenty years. 

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Flame Retardants - The Danger of Dust Bunnies

Toxins Part 3 takes us to brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in chapter 4 of Slow Death.  I grew up in a home with matches and lighters on every table, never too far from my mom's reach.  But I never played with them. Apparently I'm unusual that way.... 

* It's not flammable.   PBB Firemaster and Deca are in moulded plastic parts like televisions, computers, cellphones....   PBDE is the most common BFR found in  pillows, mattresses, furniture, carpets, insulation, car interiors, air plane interiors....  Tris-BP is in less than 1% of pyjamas now.

* Hide the matches and stop smoking. Don't leave candles unattended.
* Use natural fibre products like wool, hemp and cotton.
* IKEA doesn't use BFRs anymore. 
* Reupholster old sofas or chairs.
* Dust your home regularly.
* Ask the store for BFR-free electronics - many have stopped using them including Sony, Philips, Panasonic and Samsung. 

Prevalence / Persistence
* They're lipophilic - they accumulate in our fat tissues and stay there a long time.  They're concentrated in top-level predators, and sit in breast tissue which contaminates breast milk
* They're persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which have long half-lives in the environment and in people and animals, similar to PCBs.
* They can pass to a developing fetus in utero.
* Concentrations have increased fivefold around Quebec City in the past ten years
* Levels in Harbor Seals in BC are increasing exponentially and will surpass levels of PCBs this year.
* The typical Canadian home has high levels in the dust alone
Health Concerns
* They're very similar to PCBs which were banned in the 70s because of health concerns.
* There's been concerns since the 1970s that it's a mutagen and carcinogen.  In 1977 it was found that Tris-BP is a potent cause of cancer, 100 times more powerful than cigarettes, and that it could be absorbed by children through their skin - discovered by testing the urine of kids wearing treated pjs. 
* When PBB was accidentally put in cattle feed, the cows got hematomas, absecesses, abnormals growths, hair loss, and reproductive abnormalities. 
* They're endocrine disruptors which can act like estrogen or anti-estrogens.  They can shorten the duration of lactation.
* Neurodevelopmental cognitive-motor deficits.  They are neurotoxins - affecting brain development. 
* Intellectual impairment in children
* Greater risk of cancer.
* Disrupt thyroid hormones.  

Why it's still in use
* One answer is because kids play with matches on furniture. Instead of hiding the matches, we need to make everything not flammable.
* Bromine is only found in three specific areas: Arkansas (Great Lakes Chemical Corporation), China, and Israel. It was used in leaded gasoline, but when that was phased out in the 60s, the companies searched for a new use for all their bromine supplies. They tried it as a pesticide, but it was banned in 1983 because of evidence that it's a carcinogen and a mutagen and was contaminating groundwater supplies in the states.  Luckily the move to try it as a flame retardant in the 70s took off.  
* Pyjamas used to be cotton, but that didn't mix with BFRs well, so they started making pjs out of polyester to be able to make them fire-proof.
* Chemtura Corporation and Israel Chemicals is fighting hard to keep PBDEs.

* The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for action in the 70s.  Tris-BP specifically was discontinued in garments because the safety testing necessary to assuage public concern was too costly.  All the treated clothes were shipped out of the U.S. for sale in other countries. 
* In 1998, a study in Sweden found that breast milk contained decreasing amounts of PCBs finally (30% of the levels since it was banned in the 70s), but PBDE levels were increasing exponentially.
* 2008, Europe banned Deca in electronics.  Canada labelled it toxic, but hasn't banned it yet. 

* April 7-9, 2010 in Kyoto, there's a symposium on BFRs. 

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Phthalates: It's not Just a Fragrance. It's a Birth Control!

Part 2 of a series on different toxins that are convenient but largely unnecessary in our lives. Much of my info comes from the excellent book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck (chapter 2). If you don't have time to read the book, read this instead. Today's issue is phthalates (thay-lates), in which we have to choose as a species whether we'd rather smell pretty or continue to reproduce

I didn't care much about what the government did or what things were made of until I was pregnant  in 1993, and my midwife said, "You know not to wear nailpolish when you're pregnant don't you?"  I had no idea....

* makes fragrances last longer (in room deoderizers, deoderants, perfumes, shampoos...)
* makes plastics soft and rubbery (vinyl in children's toys like Barbies and rubber ducks, shower curtains, window blinds, raincoats, and they leach out of soft plastics like medical IV bags, milk bags, packaging on a lot of food, soft plastic jars, and plastic wrap - all of which can also decompose and become dust that we breath in)
* helps products penetrate our body (personal-care products like lotions, creamy make-up, nailpolish)
* They're not in baby wipes or diaper cream, but they are in baby shampoos and lotions.

* Use ceramic or glass bowls in the microwave.  Don't ever microwave food in a plastic container even if it says microwave safe.  That could just means it won't melt, not that you won't get chemicals leaching into your food.  Remember, better safe than sorry.
* Don't wear fragrances, creamy make-up, or nailpolish.  Try to get used the way you look and smell without it all.  You can go without make-up and not be a hippie.  You will still have friends and attract a mate.  I've had no problems since giving it all up back in university (mainly from sheer laziness). 
* Use a deodorant stone.   I find they work for a few weeks, then stop working as well.  I don't know why.
* Use hemp fibers, wood, glass, and metal instead of plastics whenever possible.  Board and batton cladding looks way better than vinyl siding anyway.  Remember when pop all came in glass bottles and you'd spend Saturday morning collecting them from school yards and other teenage hangout for the deposit money and then buy a chocolate bar for a quarter before your parents were even out of bed yet?  I do. Jones Soda still just comes in glass bottles.  And no HFCS either! 
* Light a candle under a splash of essential oils to make a room smell nice.
* Shampoo and soap are a stopper for me.  I get the least fragrant ones because perfumes make my eyes water anyway.  But I'm not at the stage of making my own yet. 
* Yet another reason to avoid processed foods which tend to have significant levels of phthalates in them. 
* Check the EWG's Skin Deep database for ingredients of cosmetics.  They rate the toxicity of all sorts of products.  Or look at this study which found phthalates in 52 of 72 products. 
* Write to every food company that's started packaging in plastic when, just months ago, they used glass. 

Prevalence / Persistence
* They are in all of us even infants, and they cross the placenta during pregnancy.  But they break down relatively quickly.  If we stop making them, they'll disappear from most areas.  But currently phthalates add up, and often people get them from a variety of sources. 
* They're in the soil, but don't get absorbed by vegetable matter, but do accumulate in fats of animals (and their milk - and our milk).  So if you wash your vegies and avoid meat and dairy, you're fine there. 

Health Concerns
* Serious reproductive problems:  they mimic estrogen, so create male demasculinization or TDS (smaller penis size, incomplete testicular descent, scrotums that are not distinct from surrounding tissue; "phthalate syndrome" - it shortens the length between the anus and base of the penis, hykpospadias - a penis deformity, and impaired sperm quality)  "The male reproductive system is acutely sensitive to phthalates." - Stolen Futures
* Testicular cancer
* Studies found a very strong correlation between phthalate levels in the mother and gonad problems in her baby boy
* Asthma
* Low-birthweight births and premature births
* Attention deficit disorder
* Autism
So, you're beginning to think you just need to worry if you're pregnant or your son starts wearing make-up? Think again:
* There's a strong link with breast cancer as phthalates activate estrogen receptors; and elevated phthalates levels are linked to premature breast development, which ups the cancer risk. Children are particularly sensitive to hormonal disruptors. How cute is nailpolish on your little girl now?

Why it's still in use:
* Vinyl toys have been played with for fifty years and nobody got sick from them.  It's hard for people to see the connection between chewing on a plastic teething ring and low sperm count thirty years later. 
* The Toy Industry Association (TIA) has a strong lobby.
* People care more about smelling good than avoiding cancer.  They care more about smoking than cancer too.

*1998 - EU proposed an emergency ban of six phthalates in toys likely to be gummed by infants which was made permanent in 2005.  In the US, 12 different groups petitions for the CPSC to ban toys containing phthalates, but nothing happened.
* 2003 - US - the CPSC ruled that PVC toys aren't a health risk.  Industries cheered.  They were called "the new tobacco lobby."
* 2007 - Fiona Ma in San Francisco banned phthalates in certain products, then she introduced the  California Toxic Toys bill which Schwarzennegger signed.
* 2008 - George W. Bush signed a law prohibiting the sale of children's toys with more than 0.1% phthalates. The legislation made industry demonstrate that phthalates are safe before allowing them back on the market - a first with respect to toxic pollutants.  No toys were ever recalled though, so many are still in the hands of children.  And it's not banned from food packaging or anything else that also affects children.  Just toys.  
* 2009 - Health Canada's thinking about banning some phthalates in toys.  

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