In the news: The Chemical Industry is the New Tobacco

Tyrone Hayes, professor of biology at UC Berkeley.

I’d like to bring to your attention two recent news articles on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) with a disturbing connection. They’re both great reads, so I’ll try not to spoil them for you.

Endocrine disruptors seem to be in the news every day. (So does reducing our intake of animal products- is this just because I am more conscious of it now?) The USDA released the results of a BPA study last month that led to the headline “Maybe That BPA In Your Canned Food Isn’t So Bad After All” (on NPR, no less, and it’s a terrible article so I won’t even bother to link to it). The flawed study used a species of rat known to be insensitive to estrogen, and on top of that had contaminated controls. You have to have an unexposed population to compare to or else the results are worthless!

Ok, enough rant. The fact I want to make you aware of is that the chemical industry is the new tobacco industry; they’re employing not only the same tactics but also the same people to preserve their economics interests, no matter what the science says. Sounds an awful lot like the history of lead to me. Continue reading

Meatonomics & Sometimes Vegan

When I was a freshman in high school, I read Fast Food Nation in English class and I didn’t eat a hamburger again for years. I went for hotdogs and chicken fingers instead, which aren’t exactly the greatest alternatives, but everything about a burger was wrong to me. I don’t even remember anymore what part of the beef story convinced me to quit burgers cold turkey (hah), but that book certainly did it. I still sort of feel weird when I eat one, even when I make it myself from grassfed beef.

I just finished reading another book that is going to change my diet a lot more than Fast Food Nation ever did, and it’s called Meatonomics. Written by lawyer David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics explores the “rigged economics” of the meat and dairy industries.  It hits hard in all the areas that get to me; sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and corporate control of consumption.

I really enjoyed reading Meatonomics because it is well researched and clearly written. Each chapter has a thesis sentence, subtitles on almost every page, and a bulleted summary of important points at the end. Everything is described in economic terms, which usually means unfathomably large sums of money, but the quantification is powerful. Simon also devotes a significant portion of the book to outlining solutions to the problems he describes, and they’re not absurd. And finally, of course, I learned a ton reading this book. I’m going to recommend it to my vegetarian economics-major sister, to my sometimes-vegan other sister, and to my parents: read it, because our family has fallen for a lot of the problems described in Meatonomics. Continue reading

Environmental Book Review: Toms River by Dan Fagin

I’m usually skeptical of pop science journalism, but I decided to give Dan Fagin’s Toms River a go after coming across a grumpy amazon review complaining that it was too scientific.

Toms River is about chemical pollution and its consequences in the coastal New Jersey community of the same name, focusing on a childhood cancer cluster that made big headlines around 2000.  However, this isn’t just the story of evil chemicals that hurt innocent people; Fagin’s narrative, punctuated with historical background on chemical manufacturing, toxicology, epidemiology, and molecular genetics, is organized like a mystery novel but with an unsatisfying, anticlimactic ending.  It’s a true story after all, and the intricacies, flaws, and knowledge gaps in law and science make it almost impossible bring the responsible parties to justice.

Continue reading

In the News: Target Announces Sustainable Product Standards

Last month, Target announced a new program in which it will rate products based on their transparency, ingredients, and environmental impact.  According to Target’s website, the 100 point system will be implemented first on personal care, beauty, household cleaning, and baby care products.

Given how big of a reach Target has, this is big news: zillions of customers, average Americans (as opposed to the average Whole Foods shopper), with more sustainable and less toxic affordable products at their fingertips.   Continue reading

Toxic Air Fresheners

I hate air fresheners.  Hate hate HATE.  All they do is cover up smells with other sickly smells.  Seriously people, there are better ways to make your home or car or garbage cans more olfactorily pleasing.  (Is that a word?)

Taylor and I recently came in close contact with a hawaiian scented Febreeze thing that was meant to cover up garbage stench in our building. A few minutes later Taylor was turning pink and having a hard time breathing.  Meanwhile, I was shuddering at the thought of all the hormone disrupting chemicals in those things.

A little research when I got home told me that the only “ingredient” in that air freshener is “fragrance,” which we’ve talked about before. Fragrance is a catch-all term that may include tens or even hundreds of different ingredients.  Fragrances are proprietary, so companies don’t have to disclose what is in them. Additionally, the government does not have any safety regulations in place for air fresheners.

So how do we know what’s in them if the ingredients aren’t disclosed? Continue reading

Twelve Endocrine Disruptors to Avoid

Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a “dirty dozen” list of endocrine disruptors to avoid, similar to their dirty dozen list of produce to buy organic.

Endocrine disruptors, quite simply, are chemicals that interfere with hormones in the body. They’re particularly scary because very small amounts can have very big effects, particularly during development.  

You and I don’t have unlimited time to investigate every single ingredient in our shampoo, so it is great to have a list like this to know what to look for, just like we know to buy strawberries and apples organic but not worry too much about avocados.

Most of the endocrine disruptors on the list are names you will recognize, big baddies like lead and dioxin, but some you may not recognize by name.  The list describes in plain English what is so bad about these chemicals and gives suggestions for avoiding them; most enter our body either through food or water.  It’s definitely worth taking a look at. Continue reading

My Lovely Green Flame Retardant Free Couch

Our wireless is down right now at home.  The internet that magically comes out of the modem still works, so it isn’t Comcast’s fault (for once!) but my cheap-o refurbished router seems to have kicked the bucket in the middle of a streaming a James Bond movie.  Sad, because we didn’t get to finish the movie, but actually not so sad at all because we’re finding the lack of wireless to be quite refreshing.

In my daily perusal of The Kitchn this morning, I spotted this little piece on a family who has decided to ditch all technology pre-1986.  This is pretty extreme, but I get it.  I don’t like how America’s tendency is to come home from school or work and immediately flip on the TV or browse the depths of the internet (keep me away from the food blogs) for hours instead of doing something, anything.

In our living room, we have a couch, but no TV. (It’s in the bedroom, not hooked up to anything, not even Netflix.) How many American families do you think have a living room that isn’t arranged around the TV? We’re probably one of the few.

I like to sit on my couch and read or even just look out the window. It’s the first couch I have ever owned and I plan to keep it for a long time, so I took great care to find an affordable one that wasn’t going to poison me.

That’s right, toxic chemicals!

A year ago, flame retardants (FRs) were all over the news. The crusade against flame retardants, chemicals put in furniture to slow fires, was led by environmental health scientist Arlene Blum.  Her research in the 1970s contributed to the ban of carcinogenic flame retardants such as the molecule brominated tris in children’s pajama fabric. The tris family of flame retardants didn’t just go away though; they continued to be used in couches, notably by Ikea until quite recently.

TDCPP, or chlorinated tris. Yum.

Since the 1970s, Blum has continued to study flame retardants. She found FRs in 85% of couches purchased in America between 1985 and 2010, mostly polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and halogenated organophosphates such as TDCPP, a relative of the tris from the 70s. Scientists have known for a long time that these chemicals cause cancer.  Some PBDEs were even banned in 2005 because they mimic the thyroid hormone in the human body and bioaccumulate.  These chemicals are persistent, resisting breakdown in the environment, and so are the couches that are filled with them. Continue reading