Archive for the ‘exposure’ Tag

Passing On The Recycled Hose   Leave a comment

This weekend we had to replace one of our garden hoses (although I’m planning on just cutting off the split end and keeping the part that still works fine), and I amused myself by perusing the hose shelf at the hardware store. There are lots of choices out there! Two in particular stood out to me, as my eye is generally caught by “green” claims even if it is often to dismiss them as greenwashing. The first was the hose with the “lead safe” mark on it, and the second was a hose claiming to be made from recycled materials. Oh, there was also a hose specifically stating that it was a vinyl hose. The other hoses don’t say what material they are made of, except for the rubber hoses, so I can’t say if I managed to avoid getting a PVC hose. Since I purchased the “lead safe” hose, I’m fairly certain that it is not vinyl, or at least not the part in contact with the water, since lead is sometimes an additive in PVC. The hose that concerned me the most was the recycled one. It didn’t say if that is recycled plastic or recycled rubber. If it is recycled plastic, it might be okay; but if it is recycled rubber, I want to stay far from that hose. Recycled rubber might mean tire rubber, which means trace amounts of petroleum compounds, lead, and other heavy metals. Yuck. This is foresight that kids drink from hoses, no matter what parents say (I think I remember even drinking from the hose as a teenager when I really knew better), so I want the hose that does not need to have a Proposition 65 warning on it. While I can’t do anything about bacterial growth in the hose (and wouldn’t even consider an anti-bacterial hose if someone paid me a boatload of cash to use it), I can avoid toxics. Sometimes buying recycled is not necessarily the best choice.


Posted May 9, 2011 by mayakey in gardening, shopping

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From BPA to BPS   Leave a comment

This past November news came out that the BPA-free receipt paper currently being marketed may be no better or only slightly better than the receipt paper containing BPA (bisphenyl A). The new receipt paper is made using bisphenyl S, which is a slightly less potent hormone mimicking compound that is more persistent and less studied.

I’ve been waiting for this shoe to fall on the whole BPA thing. From the very beginning the conversation has been very frustrating to me and I’ve tried to stay out of it because it has been almost entirely focussed on one chemical, and not the class of chemicals. It’s been frustrating seeing “BPA-free” plastic hailed as green with no regard for the fact that plastics contain other problematic chemicals as well. It’s been frustrating seeing environmental organizations talk only about the concerns with BPA without also educating the public about estrogenic activity in general. There were a few refreshing bits of fresh air (like the Sigg water bottle issue, where one of the concerns voiced online was that they are only testing or releasing results for the new lining for BPA, not estrogenic activity), but it has been a very focussed campaign.

So when I read the news about the new receipt paper, I had a bittersweet laugh. Laughter because that’s my response to everything (I’m one of those people who can’t suppress the giggles at funerals, or in response to uncomfortable statements), and this inevitable news deserved it. Bittersweet because it is a big deal and something needs to be done, but really, are we going to take a couple of years to make grassroots campaigns to eliminate all of the thousands of harmful chemicals ONE AT A TIME? That’s why we need to incorporate the Precautionary Principle into our systems. That’s why we need to pass the Safe Chemicals Act (It was introduced in the Senate in April 2010 and currently is in committee).

This is not the first time in our history that we’ve replaced something with a more “environmentally-friendly” alternative to later find that the replacement is very environmentally unfriendly. One great example is MTBE, which was added to gasoline when lead was removed. Unfortunately, MTBE is very mobile in the subsurface and now large plumes of MTBE contamination in groundwater are common around fueling facilities with leaking tanks or spill histories. In the BPA/BPS issue, the thing that stands out the most to me is that BPS is more persistent. Persistency is just what it sounds like. It means that the chemical will be around in the environment for along time because, for whatever reason, it is difficult or slow to degrade/denature it. For example: pesticides that were banned in the US decades ago but that are still detected in some places in soil and animal tissue.

Posted January 3, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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To Gas Up Or Not To Gas Up   2 comments

I grew up seeing a warning on gas pumps that pregnant women should not pump gas. And I took a human exposures class in grad school where I learned how significant the benzene exposure can be at a gas station. (For all intents and purposes, benzene is the primary constituent of concern in the soup that is gasoline.) So now that I’m looking at possible pregnancy, I have a decision to make regarding whether I pump gas or have my husband do it.

During the last few years, knowing that this question would come I looked for that warning again and didn’t find it. The state of California does require vapor recovery systems that apparently do a good job since I rarely detect a petroleum hydrocarbon odor when gassing up any more. I thought maybe the warning disappeared in this state because the vapor recovery systems are considered good enough. But on our trip back to New Mexico, I looked at the pumps in Arizona and New Mexico (neither of which require vapor recovery systems) and did not see the warning for pregnant women. On the internet the issue appears to be very mixed with some medical websites not mentioning the issue or saying it’s fine and others advising that pregnant women not pump gas.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I think I’ve worked out something that I can live with. But there has been one big looming question: does the vapor recovery system reduce the concentration of benzene (and other constituents of concern) to a level that makes the risk vs. benefits spectrum tilt towards benefits? In other words, do these systems reduce the exposure to a point where the increased risk to the fetus is overtaken by the difficulty/inconvenience of not being able to refuel when needed? Just because I can no longer detect petroleum odor with my nose does not mean that it is not there. This is the kind of question that should elicit a trip to a university library to search the medical journals, but I’m lazy and just looking for what I can access on my computer at home. I found a few references, including a study published in EHP. Interestingly that study did not find a difference in the exposure with or without EVR, however the percent non-detect was higher with EVR. The study was also an occupational study looking at service station workers and not customers.

So what to do? I think that I will continue to gas up my own car unless it is convenient for my husband to do it. I’m not going to make him come to my office after work, drive my car to the gas station, and fuel it up for me; but if we are in the car together I’ll ask him to do the actual pumping while I wait in the car. I have always breathed as shallow as possible while pumping, but I’ll try to also pay attention to wind direction and stand upwind of the pumps. And even when it is cold or raining, I’ll make a more concerted effort to open my windows and ventilate the car after leaving a service station (and having a particularly smoggy car drive by me).

Posted January 1, 2011 by mayakey in environment, health, pregnancy

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Why Do I Buy Organic?   Leave a comment

A few months ago a study came out saying that organic food was not more nutritious than conventionally raised food. The tenor of the news blurbs and discussions that I saw was along the lines of “there is no benefit to eating organic” and even going so far as to suggest that this one study was going to collapse the organic market. My husband and I had similar reactions when we first heard about the ruckus: “there are other benefits to organic, you know”. Actually, my first reaction was an utter lack of reaction because over the years there have been many studies done on the subject with varying results, so whoop-de-do here’s another study in the same inconclusive line. What irritated me was how it seemed that this complex decision was being boiled down to one facet and then blown way out of proportion.

Why does anyone buy organic? It varies, of course, by the person. For me, first and foremost it is an environmental decision. Every item I purchase that was raised organically instead of conventionally eliminates that amount of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers released into the environment. In fact, my biggest commitment to buying organic is not actually food, but cotton. I’ve seen statistics indicating that cotton is the single crop with the highest pesticide usage in the world. So every item in my closet fits into one of three categories: new organic fabric (with minimal processing and eco-dyes since I don’t want toxic dyes, formaldehyde, or fire retardants on my clothing either), second-hand conventional fabric, or grandfathered items (I am my father’s daughter, I admit to having clothing dating back to high school and college before I went organic). I simply will not purchase something made from conventionally raised cotton for my house, including towels, sheets, etc. I have also reached the point where it is absolutely painful to purchase something as a gift for someone else that is not organic cotton.

My second reason for buying organic is personal exposure. I purchase organic food to minimize the potential for exposure to pesticide residue in my food. Even if the amount of pesticide residue on a single item is negligible, I believe in the Precautionary Principle, and I am concerned about the cumulative effects of consuming a negligible amount of pesticide on every item in my diet. I don’t have the Environmental Working Group’s “clean” and “dirty” lists memorized any more, and I think that the list is different than when I last looked at it several years ago anyway. I only buy waxed cucumbers, berries and stone fruits, and “rough textured” foods organic if I can find them. Since we do all of our produce shopping at the farmer’s market, I don’t have many certified organic options. There are a handful of farmers that are certified organic at my farmer’s market, but there are many more that simply put “no pesticides” on the pricing signs. I’m fine with that. Some of the farmers use integrated pest management, which I consider to be perfectly acceptable. In general, at the farmer’s market if two vendors have the same item but one says “no pesticides” then that is the one I will buy. I don’t worry too much about it since I figure even if the farmers are using pesticides, small farms probably use a lot less pesticides than industrial farms.

For me the nutrition aspect is sort of a distant third. I say sort of because in my mind, higher nutrient content is associated with small local farms, not specifically organic farms. I’m sure that industrial organic fields produce food that is statistically nutritionally identical to food produced in conventional industrial fields. But when you can harvest something at the peak of freshness from your backyard, or pick it up at a farmer’s market, I would think you are getting a more nutritious item than if you bought it at a grocery store where it was harvested before fully ripening. It also makes sense to me that using more natural methods of restoring nutrients to the soil, rather than just applying synthetic fertilizers and mining the soil, results in better quality produce.