April 30, 2010

Food labels confusing you?

Need help deciphering eco-food labels?

Mother Nature Network can help you out. Click here.

Good news and bad news in one month

It's been an emotional roller coaster for the environment this month. It’s time to smack some corporate hands.

First, some good news: The Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound got Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's blessing this week after nine years (yes years) of opposition and permitting. [see earlier posting about Cape Wind project]

The Chesapeake Bay was in the news again last week as the EPA stuck it to one of the nation’s largest home builders, Hovnanian, with a million dollar fine for a history of violations of clean water laws. It seems that Hovnanian looked the other way at 591 construction sites in 18 states in dealing with—or not dealing with—storm water runoff. Can you believe 82 million pounds each year of sediment and construction debris, according to EPA?

A portion of that $1 million fine will help protect the Chesapeake since 161 of those Hovnanian construction sites were in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and thus affected the bay watershed. That meant a lot of sediment runoff, used oil, paint, solvents, concrete washout, etc. but what about the jillions of acres of lawns, rooftop, and streets after their mega-developments are completed? Otherwise known as non-point source pollution, this is one of the biggest sources of nitrogen and phosphorus into the bay. And then there’s the chicken farm droppings!

What about the rest of the big-time developers who also deserve some watchdogging? Is a million dollar fine enough of a deterrent for a company like Hovnanian that took in $1.6 billion in 2009 revenues?

Do fines on the biggie companies even convert into improvements? Ask the families of the 29 victims of the recent coal mine explosion in West Virginia if Massey Energy Company CEO, Don Blankenship, was influenced by the $382,000 fines his company received this year for ventilation and equipment violations. Guess not, since in 2009 the disaster mine site was cited for at least 500 violations. He supposedly wouldn’t even give his workers the time off to attend funeral services.

And what about the relatives of the 11 offshore workers killed in last week’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf? Did BP put corporate profits ahead of worker safety as well? Guess they didn't learn from their 2005 Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers and injured hundreds more. At that time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined BP $87 million for neglecting to correct safety violations. Another $20 million fine followed an oil leak in Alaska in 2006. Not slaps on the wrist, for sure, but obviously not enough to get BP's full attention.

The worst environmental damage of the month is occurring to the Louisiana coastline where the oil slick is heading (as I write this). Controlled burns and booms obviously couldn't contain the hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil. The first number I saw was 42,000 gallons per day, then 210,000 gallons. So in anyone's math, that more than a million gallons that was totally wasted, an ecological disaster, and with a loss of 11 lives. It's getting darn close to the Exxon Valdez numbers, so that should get everyone's attention.

Is is a "coinkydink" that this happened only weeks after President Obama lifted the ban on offshore drilling? [see earlier posting on this] But I see that he just reversed that decision today--or at least halted any new offshore drilling. The industry had promoted its recent good record before the drilling rig accident. Sure got that wrong, didn't they?

Definitely a month of ups and downs for Earth Month 2010.

April 13, 2010

Hanes recycling?

I had to smile when I read the headline!

Now, come on, admit it. You too thought of tighty whiteys! Recycling them into rags for polishing silver is great, but recycling them into anything else?  "Ewww."

But please read on. Hanes is recycling the excess cotton from their manufacturing process into "EcoSmart Clothes" such as new socks, and plastic bottles into fleece jackets. Now that's something I really can smile about.

Their EcoSmart men's black athletic socks contain at least 55 percent recycled cotton. Oh no, black socks gotcha smiling too?

Hanes aims to produce more than 38 million pounds of EcoSmart polyester this year, recycling about 608 million plastic bottles in the process. The other good news is that these items will cost the same as their  items that do not contain the EcoSmart materials. Look for them and their EcoSmart logo at Walmart and Target.

Hanes Company is also doing a lot of package redesign work to reduce the amount of plastic used. Check out tips for their consumers at their new Hanes Green website.

Check out their Earth Day offer (partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation folks) at http://www.hanesgreen.com/promo_entries/add

April 9, 2010

Mercury remains in the local Virginia news

And I’m not referring to Johnny Depp’s version of the Mad Hatter in the new Alice in Wonderland movie. The Hatter's erratic behavior refers to a real industrial hazard in Lewis Carroll's England when hat-makers commonly exhibited slurred speech, tremors, irritability, and other neurological symptoms after exposure to the mercury used in shaping the hats.

Society has made great progress in recognizing and controlling industrial hazards since Lewis Carroll's day, but coal plants remain a major source of mercury in our water. Dominion’s York River Power Plant released 98 pounds of mercury in 2009, according to a recent state report. Nearby, Western Oil Refinery released 28 pounds, for a total of 126 pounds of mercury on that side of our peninsula.

So why are more local residents not “mad as a hatter” about the 118 pounds of mercury that Old Dominion Electric Coop estimates their proposed coal-burning power plant will emit each year a short distance from us across the James River? Perhaps if more local residents knew that merely 1/70 teaspoon of mercury in a 25 acre lake makes the fish unsafe to eat, they’d learn more about this project making its way through the permitting process.

Mercury is a cumulative poison that causes kidney and brain damage. Perhaps everyone's just been eating too much sushi. A study released in August 2009 by the U.S. Geological Survey found mercury contamination in every fish it tested from nearly 300 streams across the country, with levels in 27 percent  of the fish high enough to exceed EPA safety limits. Airborne mercuryis nothing to sneeze at either, and it's most harmful within a 60 mile radius of a coal-fired power plant.

April 6, 2010

Catch "The Last Boat Out" on PBS

At 9 p.m.on April 21 on Maryland Public Television; on April 22 on PBS/WHRO in Hampton Roads, VA

The Last Boat Out is a documentary that weaves two tales: The story of watermen trying to preserve their way of life on the Chesapeake Bay, and the story of a bay battered by development and pollution. I hope there's a lot of hope in this documentary. I lose more and more of that as the bay keeps getting pummeled by lax enforcement of the standards that already exist.

A Congressional Screening in the US Capitol will take place on April 14th.

The documentary will travel to maritime museums throughout the country. The Mariners' Museum in Newport News will feature the film in their exhibition, “An Endangered Species: Watermen of the Chesapeake,” from September through December 2010.

Watch the trailer at http://www.seltzerfilmvideo.com/watermen.htm

Bamboo Lumber sounds promising

Cali Bamboo Company recently added "Lumboo" (love that name!) to its line of green building materials. It's made entirely from bamboo and "the world’s first bamboo dimensional lumber."  According to their website, it promises "greater strength, density, sustainability, and termite resistance while also being a cost effective option."

It took the company five years to develop what they call a virtually indestructible and green building material.
It's 100 percent compressed bamboo and very dense. Large bamboo poles get shredded into strips and formed into some kind of matrix. Then they add a low VOC resin and compress the material.

Holes need to be pre-drilled for screws. No nails can make a dent in this heavy stuff, I suppose. The high content of silica in bamboo (there's a bit of trivia for you) means that those blasted termites can't digest it.

I make it a practice to not endorse any products on this blog unless I've used them. But this Lumboo got my attention. Check it out for yourself  at http://www.calibamboo.com/bamboo-lumber-lumboo.html