Boohooing Over the Nanny State – NYC Proposed Ban on Polystyrene Cups & Containers

nannystateEver notice how the same people who freak out about increasing taxes also go mental over the expanding Nanny State?  In many instances the very same maligned Nanny State legislation actually saves tax dollars.  For example, Mayor Bloomberg is widely cited as the Poster Boy for the Nanny State and yet his bans on mini-keg sized sodas, smoking and requirement of calorie counts on menus are all designed to cut down on obesity, diabetes and other health conditions that cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year.  His latest proposal to ban styrofoam food containers is also designed to save money.  Interestingly, the Bloomberg Administration has been silent on the health concerns surrounding styrofoam, but they’re there and they’re real.

The Bloomberg Administration argues that banning styrofoam will increase recycling and lessen landfill impacts, thus saving money.  According to the New York Post, “it costs the city an average of $86 per ton to landfill some 2 million tons of regular garbage — including Styrofoam — per year.  By contrast, the city nets a payment of at least $10 a ton for recycling paper and about $14 a ton for recycling glass and plastic.”.  I can’t find specifics for how much the Bloomberg Administration thinks banning styrofoam will save but even the biggest anti-Nanny State conservative has to be in favor of netting payments for recycling instead of spending money on landfills.

The biggest foes of this legislation, besides the styrofoam lobby, are the vendors and restaurants because polystyrene is cheap and convenient.  My recommendation to combat that legitimate concern would be for the city to subsidize the extra cost of using compostable or recycleable food containers with some of the money its saving through the styrofoam ban.  That way the city still makes money and this legislation isn’t hurting struggling vendors and restaurants.  Once there is enough demand for non-polystyrene containers, the price of those should start to decrease and the city could stop the subsidy.

When you figure in the health benefits of this legislation and the potential millions it may save by reducing cancer risk to New Yorkers, it’s a no brainer.  Styrene was added to the list of “known carcinogens” in 2011.  Styrene leaches from styrofoam containing hot beverages or hot or oily food into our drinks and food.  Food and beverages with a high fat content (such as some hot cocoa or oily foods such as Mexican food with cheese or many Indian foods with high butter content) tend to leach more styrene from styrofoam.  So that awesome warm and fuzzy hot cocoa in a styrofoam cup moment with your kids may actually be poisoning them.  To be fair, styrene is also contained in some foods in larger quantities but it’s not clear whether naturally occurring styrene is synthesized differently in the body when eaten as part of those foods as opposed to carcinogenic manmade styrene.  Bottom line is that it makes sense to reduce our (and particularly our childrens’) exposure to known carcinogens.

As we all know, polystyrene convenient but it is an environmental disaster.  It doesn’t break down in the environment for something like 500 years, it’s very difficult and expensive to recycle, it harms marine life, and it floats everywhere.  Alaskans are reporting that their beaches are covered in polystyrene washing up from the Japanese tsunami.  Polystyrene accounts for 30% of the weight of the total debris that has washed up from the tsunami in Alaska.  Lessening our dependence on styrofoam is a definite plus for the environment.

Saving taxpayer dollars, saving the environment, saving our health?  Maybe Nanny knows best.

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She’s Baaaaack! What Happened to The Green Life Blogger?

poltergeist-tv-poster-hdrimgHi Everyone!  Thank you for reading my blog during my extended absence.  I hope the information has been useful or at least amusing.  I would love to tell you that I haven’t posted to this blog in over a year because I was doing something exotic like living with the natives on the Solomon Islands or studying tortoises in the Galapagos or chaining myself to trees in the Amazon, but none of those are true.  The truth is much more mundane, as it  usually is.  Last year we moved from Park City, Utah to Boston, Massachusetts where my parents live because my Dad was sick.  We were there for a very busy year, my Dad recovered (which was unexpected and great news) and we moved back to Park City.  I wasn’t doing my radio show in Boston so I stopped posting to the blog.  In hindsight, this made no sense.  It’s not like the environment improved dramatically because I wasn’t doing my radio show.

Anyway, I am back to posting.  Lucky you!  (Collective groan . . . .)

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Deciphering the New Report on Carcinogens (Including Styrofoam – Ha, Told You So!)

The 12th Report on Carcinogens put out by the National Toxicology Program added 7 ingredients to its list of known or strongly suspected human carcinogens. And none too soon, I might add.  The ingredients are a little tough to decipher, so we’re going to give you the low down on how to avoid these substances. It is particularly important to minimize your exposure to these substances if you have a high risk for cancer, are exposed to them frequently through work or other exposure, or if you’re pregnant or have little kids.  For the full report of all known carcinogens, you can click here.

1. STYRENE. Found in styrofoam. The cups in the Congressional Cafeteria were changed back to styrofoam due to Republican pressure this year. If it’s any consolation, you can take comfort in knowing that your elected representatives are slowing being poisoned by their bad choices. Read this post to learn more about the dangers of styrofoam which contains both styrene and benzene (another neurotoxin and carcinogen).

2. ARISTOLOCHIC ACIDS. This is an odd one. In 2001 the FDA issued a warning against Chinese Herbal Medicines and Herbal Teas containing or contaminated with this ingredient. The plants Aristolochea and Asarum are the source of these acids which have been used as anti-inflammatories and diet supplements. In addition to urinary bladder and urinary tract cancer, this ingredient has been linked with severe kidney disease and failure. The Chinese supplement Guan Mu Tong contains this ingredient. A partial list from the FDA is here.

3. CAPTAFOL (OR DIFOLATAN). This is a fungicide that was no longer produced after 1987 in the United States and no longer used after 2006. Don’t ask me why it took 20 years for people to stop using it – that’s above my pay grade. People were primarily exposed to this fungicide through agricultural applications and groundwater in the late 70s to mid 80s.  Suffice it to say, this one shouldn’t be at the top of your list of worries for present exposure.

4. GLASS WOOL FIBERS (THINK FIBERGLASS INSULATION). When we were kids my Dad worked for Owens Corning Fiberglass and we used to have lots of pink fiberglass rolls in our garage. It seemed so much like cotton candy that we loved playing with it, even though it was scratchy and we were not allowed to.  Well, now we know why! The danger of lung tumors developing from fiberglass insulation is lower than from “special purpose fibers” used in aircraft, spacecraft and acoustical insulation.  Nevertheless, it makes sense to wear a mask when removing insulation and replace fiberglass insulation with something safer and more eco-friendly like denim insulation (provided you can afford it, stuff is not cheap).

5. COBALT TUNGSTEN-CARBIDE. Used in making blades for tools. Basically you won’t have been exposed to this unless you work in a factory that makes blades using this ingredient or you live near a hard metal production or maintenance facility, such as in Fallon, NV.

6. FORMALDEHYDE. This is a BIG one and I’ll do a more comprehensive blog post on all of the possible risks for exposure.  Formaldehyde, as we’ve warned before, is in many products but it’s confusing because other chemicals are also made with or offgas formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is in many nail polishes, so make sure your nail polish is formaldehyde free (OPI is formaldehyde free, Sally Hansen and Orly are following suit).  It is also found in glues and resins, so opt for formaldehyde free wood products. Finally, it’s in car exhaust, tobacco smoke and even that new car smell is formaldehyde offgassing.  From what I understand formaldehyde is most dangerous in airborne form and the chemical DMDM hydantoin, found in many personal care products, works as a preservative by offgassing formaldehyde. So if you’re using a hairspray or detangler (Biolage Daily Leave In Tonic – very effective, hugely toxic detangler).  Another chemical Benzyl Alcohol is sometimes created by reacting phenylmagnesium bromide (C6H5MgBr) with formaldehyde. So, watch out for the Toxic Trio: Formaldehyde, DMDM Hydantoin and Benzyl Alcohol.

7. ORTHO-NITROTOLUENE. Okay, I’m going to admit this one is pret-ty technical so get ready. This ingredient is used in the manufacture of (or the manufacture of intermediates for) azo dyes and other dyes, such as magenta and various sulfur dyes for cotton, wool, silk, leather, and paper.  Exposure to this chemical is primarily through skin contact or inhalation, but it has also been found in U.S. water supplies, particularly near military training grounds and munitions production facilities and there have been documented cases of exposure through spills.  Bottom line: not a huge worry, but if you hear of a spill in your area, run do not walk to the next green planet.

8.  RIDDELLIINE.  The riddelliine-containing plant Senecio longilobus has been used in medicinal herb preparations in the U.S..  There isn’t a list of herbal medicines on the market containing this substance, but you can get more information about possible ingredients in herbal products that contain the Senecio plant (and hence, contain riddelliine) by clicking here.  A good rule of thumb is that if it says Senecio on the ingredients then you should avoid it.

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Adventures in Green Living-Gardening in the High Mountain Desert

In these parts, gardening can be a pain in the *$#   challenge. We live in an arid mountain desert in which our “soil” is more of a hellish sand/clay mixture. It’s lovely for growing! In spite of all of these factors, I decided that 2011 was going to be The Year of the Garden. Since deciding to eat animal-free, I subsist mainly on plants. (such a coincidence!) Even with weekly CSA deliveries, I wanted to ensure that I was getting quality, nutrient dense produce (in large quantities) all summer long. I was also interested in the cost savings of gardening. As I’ve shared, I love to cook; which means I buy a lot of ingredients. Mostly organic ingredients, to boot. This gets expensive. No shock there. I really wanted to see how much I could save between a garden and a CSA share. I spent about $50 on supplies for the garden and my CSA share breaks down to $12.50 per week. Depending on how well my garden fares, I think I will spend next to nothing on produce for many months to come. I also plan to can and freeze anything/everything I can. My mother is an AVID gardener, to say the least, so I immediately went to her for guidance. (My mother and sisters operate a CSA farm in my hometown. She is legit.) Although she has been growing in a drastically different climate, she was able to offer me some very sound advice on how to get started. My local nursery has also been an invaluable source for advice on what I can grow here. They have been more than helpful throughout this process! If you are just dipping your toe in the gardening waters, go to your local nursery. They know stuff! They can help! They are awesome at growing things! With the weather that mother nature through our way this “spring”, I needed all the help I could get. Case in point; here is my garden as of 10 days ago:

What is that you say? That doesn’t look like a garden to you? You think I’m making this whole garden thing up? I understand, this looks like nothing more than a pile of dirt covered in snow. (Which, let’s be real, that’s basically all it is.) Before I put anything in the ground, and when it wasn’t snowing, I turned the soil until my fingers bled. Literally. I added local compost and grass clippings and essentially treated the soil like the delicate organism that it is. I also started composting myself! Yay! I’ll obviously have to wait a while for my compost to….well, compost. Once it’s ready, I will add to soil regularly. I also throw my grass clippings on the soil each time we mow. (Another tip from Mom.) I hope this will keep my garden very happy and keep me veggie-rich! Eternal optimist, I am.
I did some research on what would be my safest bets in the veggie department. I went with two different varieties of carrots, both butter and green leaf lettuces, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, beets, bush beans a few hearty herbs. Everything but the potatoes has come up, which pleases me to no end. We shall see how well things go from here. I will keep you posted. PLEASE share tips and success stories in the comments section. Only your success stories, though. Please be kind and spare me any stories of your epic fails in the garden, I’m only allowing positive garden thoughts to travel through my conscious mind.
Oh and ps. The snow is *finally* gone. For now, at least. The kind gentleman at the garden center shared with me that our last snow day in 2010 was June 23rd. So we are not out of the woods just yet. I’ll keep that thermal blanket at the ready. If it does snow, I will find comfort in the wise words of my mother: “Snow is poor man’s fertilizer”.

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This Green Earth Interviews NY Times Eco-Journalist & Blogger Andy Revkin

On Tuesday,’s This Green Earth we interviewed Andy Revkin, world renowned environmental journalist with the New York Times.  He has traveled all over the world on assignment and in connection with books he’s authored.  He is now the writer of the Dot Earth blog which is a fascinating, well researched analysis of environmental issues.  Andy is a super nice guy and we had a great conversation – not always the case with very accomplished environmentalists.

Andy Revkin talked to us about population trends, climate change, fracking and a host of other environmental issues.  He said if you read just one of his blog posts, it should be this one, Confronting the Anthropocene.  His writing is like Lay’s Potato Chips (oh, the horror, you don’t actually eat those things do you?!), you really can’t read just one (oh, the horror, I just made a bad pun from a processed food tag line).  If you’d like to listen to the interview it’s posted on the KPCW website and you can listen by clicking here.  The second half of the interview is about solar hot water systems which is actually also very interesting.

On next week’s show, we’ll be talking about the corporatization of the organic food system and the epidemic of disappearing frogs and amphibians.  This Green Earth is every Tuesday from 9-10am on KPCW.  You can stream it live on http://www.kpcw.org or listen to past episodes on the website.  Thanks for listening!

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Holy Exploding Watermelons! One More Reason to Avoid Chinese Produce

We’ve been pretty harsh critics of products from China on This Green Earth and this is further proof that our criticism is justified.   Today we learned that watermelons are exploding in China because they were given high levels of a growth hormone, among other additives.  Apparently, the Land Mine Melons were given the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron.  This particular growth hormone is deemed “safe” (okay, sure, whatever), but the exploding melons have raised other concerns about Chinese farming practices.

According to this Yahoo article, “[i]n March last year, Chinese authorities found that “yard-long” beans from the southern city of Sanya had been treated with the banned pesticide isocarbophos. The tainted beans turned up in several provinces, and the central city of Wuhan announced it destroyed 3.5 tons of the vegetable”.

There is also widespread overuse of food additives like dyes and sweeteners that retailers hope will make food more attractive and boost sales.  Last year, there was an extensive study of arsenic in apple juice that found arsenic in almost all commercial apple juice but found particularly high levels in apple juice coming from China.
The bottom line is that the Chinese are just starting to police their food system, so it’s unclear what is being added to Chinese food.  Read your labels, don’t buy Chinese and buy local when you can.

In the meantime, it’s sad that these inexperienced farmers have lost their crops due to this growth hormone.  The crops have been ruined at alarming rates and they’re now using the watermelons as fish and pig feed.  I sure hope we don’t see exploding fish and pigs out of China next week!

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Crane Cam – We Have Babies!!! So Proud!

The Sandhill Crane Babies have arrived!  There are two and they are so cute and fuzzy.  The Crane Cam live feed is up but right now she’s sitting on the babies.  Here is a link to a recording from about an hour ago where you can really see the babies.  Yay, babies!  It’s time for diapers, binkies, bottles and playpens!  What should we name them?

Some more interesting Sandhill Crane Facts:

  • The babies can walk on the day they are born
  • Sandhill Cranes mate for life and migrate together
  • Sandhill Crane females and males look almost identical.  The male is slightly larger
  • One way to tell them apart is that the male calls once and the female responds twice
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