Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What Do Styrofoam Packing Peanuts and Sweet Potato Fries Have in Common?

Actually, not a lot.  But wait, I’m trying to solve two very different, but very similar problems.

Let’s start with packing peanuts.  If every town, school district, business, and store contacted their suppliers and told them they would not accept shipments packed in styrofoam peanuts or other plastic packaging, manufacturers and distributors would have to source biodegradable packaging materials to keep their business. And, by the way, packing peanuts made out of corn starch work just as well! 
There are lots of alternatives to packing peanuts!

I don’t have a good transition line here, but let’s talk about sweet potatoes vs French fries. Since French fried potatoes are a major food group for kids and adults alike, and since they definitely contribute to obesity and associated illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, why not switch them out for baked sweet potato “fries”?  

It could go like this.  Next time your school sends out a RFP (Request for Proposal) for a cafeteria food service company/supplier, they cross off French fries and substitute baked sweet potato “fries.”  If the company wants their business, they’ll find a supplier for the sweet potatoes!

Maybe it’s just the way my mind works, but if somebody wants your business, you can actually make them help you save the planet (and your children’s health!)

- Patti

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What's Happening at the EPA?

This summer we were delighted to welcome five really smart and dedicated college interns who worked tirelessly researching peer-reviewed studies on a variety of important emerging environmental  health issues.  They also poured through our various websites, checking links and finding new sources of scientific information.  

In the process, they also made a very disturbing discovery: one by one, links we had to the EPA’s website for information on chemical toxins were disappearing.

Gone was the information on many of the problematic chemical toxins that permeate our lives.  Instead, links to pages about these toxins on EPA’s website displayed a troubling message: “PAGE NOT FOUND”

It’s well known that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has nothing but contempt for the Agency he leads, and is a climate change denier. But what is going on inside the EPA is a wholesale dismantling of a vital government agency, one that provides critical information on toxic chemical exposures that can help local lawmakers and citizens alike protect their communities and families.

Today’s New York Times article sheds some light on this extremely disturbing trend.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Climate Change is Personal

It’s been a record hot summer here in New York (and elsewhere), with heat waves lasting way longer than usual. But at least I didn’t have to worry about our house being in the path of an uncontrolled forest fire or flooded by extreme rainfall.
So, is this weather the new norm? Are we on a path for sustained high summer temperatures and dangerous weather-related catastrophes? People much smarter than me have been raising warning flags for years and finally, most of our elected officials are realizing that this is not just a possibility, a passing phenomenon…climate change is real and it is here. The scientists were right. 

But is our government - any government - capable of actually turning this around? I'm afraid the answer is no. In large part, it will be up to each of us. Climate change is personal.

Preserving our planet and our way of life for the next generation depends on how we, as individuals, heat, cool and power our homes, how we use transportation and even what we choose to eat!

The idea that we can't develop enough renewable, sustainable energy to power our lives was developed and is still being heavily promoted by the fossil fuel industry and some of their elected shills. But it’s not true.

Solar energy is available everywhere, and offshore wind farms can deliver a large percentage of our energy needs. Geothermal uses the constant temperature of the earth to heat and cool homes and businesses, and real conservation can make up the balance. Have you heard about PASSIVE HOUSE?

We also have to consider electric cars, or those with good gas mileage, and of course, try to drive our cars fewer miles. And public transportation, especially when it's electric, has to step up to the plate and become an attractive alternative. Trains are incredibly energy efficient and they need to be clean and comfortable, and move us to popular destinations all over the country.

But it gets more personal than that. The fact is that production of meat for human consumption is arguably the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the world.

More than one third of the fossil fuels used in the United States are used for animal production. And if that's not bad enough, it also requires enormous amounts of pesticides and pharmaceuticals (more on that problem later), and animal waste is a major source of water pollution.

Here is a good link to get the whole picture.

So let's skip the steak, vote for the wind farm, and make that call to the solar company. Every one of us needs to do our part to save this magnificent earth for our children and grandchildren.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wireless in the City

We received an email a few weeks ago from a woman who had visited our BabySafe Project website. She wondered how concerned she should be about wireless radiation in her apartment building in New York City.

As far as we can determine from the evidence we have, the greatest risk comes from very close exposures - holding a cell phone against your head, for instance, or keeping it in your pants pocket if you’re a man, or keeping it close to your developing baby if you’re a pregnant woman.

You don’t want to have your wireless router on your desk, or within a few feet of where you spend a lot of time. Certainly not in your bedroom, close to your bed.

No doubt, city dwellers also face other difficult obstacles when it comes to reducing their exposure. There's usually no need to worry too much about picking up the wi-fi signals from other apartments, unless you determine the neighbor’s router is directly on the other side of the wall from where you or your kids sleep.  But banks of smart meters on exterior walls, cellular repeaters on rooftops (or directly across the street), and wi-fi “hotspots” on lighting poles directly outside apartment windows may be cause for concern.

The best way to achieve some peace of mind is to get a meter and do some readings around your apartment. You may or may not have a problem that needs to be addressed. 

A few weeks ago the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health released the first findings from its $25 million study on the health impacts of radiation from cell phones. Not surprisingly, there was immediate controversy over what the data showed.

But one fact stands out, even to the casual observer: 46 of the 540 rats exposed to cell phone radiation developed cancer or pre-cancerous cells, as compared to none of the 90 rats which were not exposed.

Therefore, we can conclude that, at least in this experiment, the radiation from the cell phone caused the cancer. That should put to rest any question as to whether or not cell phones are capable of causing cancer. Clearly they are.

Exactly what other impacts cell phones may have isn't clear yet, but independent scientists around the world are building the evidentiary case for caution, particularly for young children.

The bottom line is there's no risk in being careful. Scientists would say we need to employ the Precautionary Principle. Or as we tell our kids, better safe than sorry.

Monday, June 6, 2016


Last weekend we loaded up the car with our video gear and drove to Minisink, New York, a small town in Orange County, located about 90 minutes north of New York City. We had an appointment to interview Pramilla Malick, a local resident and one of the opponents of the natural gas build-out that is taking place across the country.

It's a personal fight for Pramilla.  She had fought valiantly against the construction of a giant natural gas compressor station in her neighborhood, but the industry, awash with money and political influence, got its way and the compressor station was built. Now it operates day and night, actively polluting the air around Pramilla's home with toxic chemicals.

The compressor station is one link in a giant network of pipelines, metering stations and other infrastructure required to move fracked gas from the hills of Pennsylvania and Ohio to export terminals on the Atlantic coast. The "gas" contains not only methane, but a toxic brew of legacy chemicals left over from the fracking process - chemicals that are known to cause cancer and other serious human health problems. Release of these chemicals takes place regularly during compressor operations.

In deciding whether to approve projects like the Minisink compressor stations, government agencies typically employ a risk/benefit model. What are the potential risks and what is the potential benefit? Yes, there are regular emissions of methane and toxic chemicals, and yes, there is always the possibility of a catastrophic explosion, but the benefit is an abundance of "clean" natural gas. (And Lord knows, we need more and more and more energy!)

In a theoretical analysis, you could argue that the benefits of pipelines and compressor stations outweigh the risks. But life is not theoretical, it's real. The people who are exposed to the chemicals are not theoretical people, they are individuals with lives to live. And most importantly, they are not the ones who will benefit. The people of Minisink will see no benefit from the gas that traverses their town, but they'll get all of the the increased risk of disease and potential catastrophe.

So who does benefit from the natural gas build-out? A small group of Wall Street investors, banks, entrepreneurs and politicians who are aggressively ignoring climate change and practicing business as usual, developing and building out new fossil fuel infrastructure that will permit the continuation of the profligate energy policies that have put the planet in peril.

Our film is called The Gas Rush. We will name names of those who are pushing the gas agenda, and focus our lens on those brave souls who are working to bring some common sense to bear on the issue before it's too late. They are our heroes. And Pramilla Malick is one of them.