Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rachel Carson's Birthday

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find
reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature— the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

— Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was born May 27, 1907 and died on April 14, 1964— at age 57— of breast cancer. She wrote Silent Spring, credited with starting the current environmental movement. Ms. Carson was alarmed by the hundreds of new chemicals, particularly synthetic pesticides, that were being introduced into the environment each year. The effects of these chemicals on human health and the environment was not known, but even in the course of her lifetime, Ms. Carson observed the "silencing" of spring—fewer birds, bees, butterflies and other life.

She was villified by chemical manufacturers, not accustomed to being challenged, especially by a woman. She continued to speak out, even when ill with breast cancer. Her illness was not publicized at her request, which was not an unusual approach in the 1960s.

Today we continue her battle—trying to protect ourselves from the even greater number of toxins being released into the environment. And we continue to gather strength from the beauty of nature.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Toxic Sofas

We've been hearing about the dangers of brominated flame retardants for awhile now, yet there was always the assumption that they served some purpose. Nicholas Kristoff's column in the 5/20/12 New York Times, "Are You Safe on that Sofa?" tells us the truth about these chemicals and how they became so widely used.

In his words:
It turns out that our furniture first became full of flame retardants because of the tobacco industry, according to internal cigarette company documents examined by The Tribune. A generation ago, tobacco companies were facing growing pressure to produce fire-safe cigarettes, because so many house fires started with smoldering cigarettes. So tobacco companies mounted a surreptitious campaign for flame retardant furniture, rather than safe cigarettes, as the best way to reduce house fires.

The documents show that cigarette lobbyists secretly organized the National Association of State Fire Marshals and then guided its agenda so that it pushed for flame retardants in furniture. The fire marshals seem to have been well intentioned, but utterly manipulated.

Brominated flame retardants are known to be endocrine disrupters and pose health risks to pregnant women and young children in particular. In fact "The breast milk of American women contains the highest levels of BFRs in human breast milk found anywhere in the world."1

The NYT article is eye opening and will hopefully lead to changes in the pervasive use of these chemicals.

1 Health Care Without Harm

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kids, Crayolas & Recycling

A a group of elementary school children in California are campaigning to get Crayola to take back used markers and recycle the components. Inspired by their teacher, the fifth graders set up an online petition called Crayola: Make Your Mark. So far they have gathered over 60,000 signatures.

The petition states:
"Every year, Crayola makes about half a billion markers — enough markers to wrap around the earth more than three times! — and sells them all around the world. Millions of kids use and love Crayola products — including the students at Sun Valley School, where I volunteer. That's why we're asking Crayola to make sure these markers don't end up in our landfills, incinerators and oceans."
Sometimes the environmental problems we face seem overwhelmming and solutions unobtainable. Yet tackling the issues one bit at a time, as these students are doing, can make a real difference.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hawaii Bans Plastic Bags at Checkout Counters

Hawaii became the first state in the nation to ban the distribution of plastic bags at checkout counters. Rather than passing statewide legislation, the ban took effect county by county. This week Honolulu joined Hawaii's three other counties that had already passed bans. The county law bans non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout as well as paper bags that are not at least 40 percent recycled.

The legislation is the result of two years of rallies and lobbying, organized by the Sierra Club. Retailers in Honolulu County have until July 1, 2015, to make the change. Kauai and Maui counties already enforce bans, while Hawaii County's ban will become effective on January 17, 2013.

Treehugger notes that there are loopholes in the bill. For instance, plastic bags can still be used to package loose items (produce, grains, coffee, etc.), prepared foods, frozen foods, flowers and prescriptions. The Sierra Club will continue consumer education to encourage the use of reusable bags in all situations.

The site PlasticBanReport has a geolocation map showing bans and fees for plastic bags throughout the world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

More Greenmarkets Take Food Scraps & Textiles

GrowNYC is opening new food scrap and textile drop-off sites this spring! Celebrate spring cleaning by starting food scrap collection in your kitchen and culling unwanted clothing or linens— ripped or torn is fine—from your closets. If you have questions about what you can bring, see GrowNYCs FAQs. Check the GrowNYC website for a complete list of collection days and times at various Greenmarkets in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Vermont Becomes First State to Ban Fracking

The Vermont House of Representatives voted 103-36 today to pass legislation that will make Vermont the first state in the nation to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas from deep in the ground by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into dense rock formations such as shale, in order to crack the rock and release the gas.

According to a minority staff report released last year by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, more than 650 commonly used fracking products contain chemicals that are "known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants."

While New York State has not taken this step, many towns have acted to ban or delay any fracking in their area. On April 27, Bethel became the most recent town in upstate New York to ban fracking. This interactive map shows the locations of the 100 towns and municipalities in upstate New York which have banned fracking.

Many local groups have joined the New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition to urge Albany to pass a statewide fracking ban in New York. Individual groups, such as the Catskill Mountainkeeper are very active in this issue and can keep you up-to-date on developments.