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.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Top Cosmetic Chemicals You Should Avoid

Cosmetics and personal care product labels give consumers no information about the toxicity of chemical ingredients.  If the manufacturers  were regulated by U.S. consumer protection agencies, which they are not, the label warnings would probably convince most people to think twice before making a purchase. There is also no restriction on the use of words, such as “natural,” “earth friendly,” “pure,” or even “chemical free.”  Actually, there is no conventional beauty product that is chemical free!

Even “organic” needs some clarification.  You can use an organic label if all (100%) of the ingredients are certified organic, but you can also say “made with organic ingredients” if the product contains a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients. 

We recommend choosing products that give full disclosure of certified organic or food-grade ingredients.  For a list of manufacturers who make truly safe personal care and cosmetic products, visit and click on “Common Exposures.”

1. Parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben): Used in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial and shower cleansers, and scrubs to prevent bacteria growth. Parabens are linked to endocrine disruption, cancer, and are developmental and reproductive toxins.

2. Formaldehyde: Used in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body wash, and color cosmetics as a preservative. Formaldehyde has been identified as a known human carcinogen by many expert and government bodies, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the United States National Toxicology Program.

3. Coal Tar: Used in shampoos, soaps, hair dyes, and lotions as colorants. Coal tar has been linked to skin tumors, as well as lung, bladder, kidney, and digestive tract cancer. It may also cause neurological damage.

4. Triclosan: Used in antibacterial soaps and detergents, toothpaste and tooth whitening products, antiperspirants/deodorants, shaving products, creams, and color cosmetics as an antibacterial. Triclosan may be harmful to a developing fetus and act as an endocrine disruptor, with a documented effect on the thyroid gland in particular. Moreover, studies have proven that antibacterial products, in which triclosan is often utilized, are no more effective than the application of soap and water.

5. Ethanolamine Compounds (MEA, DEA, TEA, etc.): Used in soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners and dyes, lotions, shaving creams, paraffin and waxes, eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases, foundations, fragrances, and sunscreens as emulsifiers and foaming agents. Ethanolamine compounds are linked to cancer and organ system toxicity.

6. Synthetic Fragrances: An almost universal component in personal care products, chemical-based fragrances are found in sunscreen, shampoo, soap, body wash, deodorant, body lotion, makeup, facial cream, skin toner, serums, exfoliating scrubs, and artificial scents.  Thought not required to list their chemical compounds under a “trade secret” loophole, studies of chemicals in fragrances show links to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, allergies, asthma and skin sensitivities.

7. Phthalates: Used in color cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body washes and hair care products, nail polish, and nail treatments to help the product cling to the skin (or to increase longevity). Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, as well as reproductive toxicants. The National Toxicology Program and the U.S. EPA also report that certain phthalates are likely to be classified as human carcinogens. 

8. Chemical Sunscreens: (with Retinyl Palmitate, Oxybenzone, and Octyl Methoxycinnamate that may or may not be combined with mineral sunscreens), absorb ultraviolet light and are also absorbed by your skin. Potential health impacts include endocrine disruption and reproductive system toxicity.

9. Talc: Used in baby powder, body and shower products, lotions, feminine hygiene products, eyeshadow, foundation, lipstick, deodorants, and face masks as an abrasive, an absorbent, an anti-caking or bulking agent. Talc can cause respiratory irritation if inhaled. Perennial use of talc has also been classified as possibly carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

10. Sodium Laureth Sulfate: Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoo, cleanser and bubble bath as a surfactant, detergent, and emulsifier. Sodium Laureth Sulfate may cause organ system toxicity, as well as skin, eye, and lung irritation.

11. 1,4-Dioxane: Found in foaming personal care products, such as shampoo, baby shampoos and body washes, liquid soap, bubble bath, and hair relaxers, 1,4-Dioxane is a byproduct of certain cosmetic ingredients, including detergents, foaming agents, emulsifiers, and solvents. It is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. EPA.

12. Benzophenone & related compounds: Used in lip balm, nail polish, foundations, baby sunscreens, fragrance, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, moisturizers, and foundation as a fragrance enhancer and as an ultraviolet light absorber and stabilizer. California EPA’s Proposition 65 list identifies benzophenone as a possible human carcinogen. Benzophenone may also lead to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, and irritation.

13. BHA and BHT: Used in lip products, hair products, makeup, sunscreen, antiperspirant/deodorant, fragrance and creams as a preservative. BHA has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in addition to being linked to endocrine disruption. Exposure to BHT has been linked to liver, thyroid, and kidney problems in mice and rats.

14. Hydroquinone: Used in skin lighteners, facial and skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, and nail glue. Banned in the EU, hydroquinone is linked to cancer and organ-system toxicity.

15. Lead and other heavy metals: Used in lip products, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner, nail color, foundations, sunscreens, eye shadows, blush, concealer, moisturizers, and eye drops. Exposure to metals could lead to reproductive, immune and nervous system toxicity.

16. Paraphenylenediamine (PPD): Used in hair dyes to achieve a particular color of dye and to bind that color to the hair permanently. PPD has been linked to skin sensitization, cancer, mutagenicity, and organ system toxicity.

17. Petrolatum: Used in hair products, lip balm, lipstick, and skin care products as a barrier to lock in moisture and to make hair shine in hair care products. It has been associated with cancer, skin irritation, and allergies.

18. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Used in conditioners, moisturizers, and deodorants as thickeners, solvents, softeners and moisture-carriers. PEG may be contaminated with compounds that are possibly carcinogenic to humans and may cause organ system toxicity.

19. Siloxanes: used in moisturizer, makeup, and hair products to soften, smooth, and moisten. Siloxanes are possible endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxicants.

20. Toluene: Used in nail polish, nail treatment, and hair dyes as a solvent to dissolve other substances, such as resins and plasticizers. Toluene has been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, and irritation.