January 24, 2011

Virginia's wetlands are under attack

The Chesapeake Bay is again imperiled. It doesn't make sense to introduce any legislation to negatively impact non-tidal wetlands at this time, but obviously developer interests rule to some lawmakers.

See what the Chesapeake Bay Foundatio blog has to say about this by clicking here.

January 17, 2011

Environmental Filmfest in Williamsburg

The Williamsburg Climate Action Network (WCAN) folks and the Kimball Theatre are teaming up to show a series of great environmental films monthly from January through June (I first viewed "Inconvenient Truth" at the Kimball). Here is info on the first two. Tickets and reservations are needed. Call 1-800-HISTORY for prices and reservations.

Fuel  January 22, 25, 26, 2011; 111 minutes; 6:30 PM
Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival

Fuel is a comprehensive and entertaining look at energy in America: a history of where we have been, our present predicament, and a solution to our dependence on foreign oil. Rousing and reactionary, Fuel is an amazing, in-depth, personal journey of oil use and abuse as it examines wide-ranging energy solutions other than oil, the faltering U.S. auto and petroleum industries, and the latest stirrings of the American mindset toward alternative energy.

Dirt! The Movie    Feb. 22–27, 2011; screening room; 86 minutes; 6:20 PM

Dirt! The Movie is an insightful and timely film, narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, that tells the story of the glorious and unappreciated material beneath our feet. Inspired by William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, Dirt! The Movie takes a humorous and substantial look into the history and current state of the living organic matter that we come from and will later return to.

January 15, 2011

Spruce Number 1 Coal Mine News is GREAT for the Real Spruces

Another good week for Mother Earth, especially in Appalachia!

Another 110 million cubic yards of coal-mine waste will NOT get dumped directly into West Virginia streams, thanks to the EPA. This week's announcement from that agency nixed the permit for the mountaintop removal coal mine that was proposed in an area better known for scenic vistas than contaminated streams. Somebody knows how to read the Clean Water Act.

In Virginia the EPA is currently reviewing another mountaintop mining permit for Ison Rock Ridge in Wise County, and if the law is applied fairly, this permit should be denied as well.

Shenandoah National Park will celebrate its 75th Anniversary in 2011. I hope that the new Congress will give Virginians a pledge to preserve its nearby waters and vistas. I'd like my grandchildren to enjoy this park as much as I have through the past half century.

The coal companies have already removed a bunch of mountaintops in Appalachian states. They claim that they've "reclaimed" these areas and replanted them with lots of trees that will eventually replace the forests that they took out. But a Natural Resources Defense Council study shows that only a small fraction of these areas have been restored. What's really happening after mountaintop removal is "wrecklamation."

Check out "No More Mountaintop Removal" at http://www.nrdc.org/energy/coal/mtr/ and the "I Love Mountains" folks at http://www.ilovemountains.org/ Those are lots of  happy faces in these two organizations this week.

Click here if you want more info from the EPA's website about these permits and the latest EPA veto.

January 13, 2011

Slow down that "gas boom"

Will Maryland and Virginia learn from Pennsylvania's mistakes?

More than 1700 wells were drilled in the Marcellus shale depositsIn Pennsylvania  in the first half of 2010 to access the natural gas in this rock--by fracking (fracturing the rock) with a pressurized mixture of water and chemicals. 530 environmental violations at some of these sites took place during the same period of time.

Some were spills and leaks, and many were less-than-desired attention to potential erosion and sediment. But look at my earlier posting about the 19 families who had to move out when their drinking water burst into flame.

"Drill here, drill now" is a dangerous call to action if it's done irresponsibly and without failsafe measures. Perhaps the saying,  "All good things come to those who wait" would be a better mantra, and not only those talking about ketchup.

January 11, 2011

Cooking Oil Can Be Recycled

Look for a "FOG" (as in Fat, Oil, Grease) recycling drum in your area. This stuff does NOT belong in your kitchen sink. But, you say, that hot water makes it disappear so well down the drain. It certainly does, but the gunk solidifies farther down the pipes as it cools off. Then your drains can block and you'll get to know a plumber very well. Perhaps help put his children through college too!

In James City County, VA, you can drop off old cooking oil into this collection drums at all three JCC Convenience Centers.

Waste motor oil, antifreeze, and kitchen grease are accepted here too. Waste paper too if your neighborhood does not have curbside collection.

Mixed paper, glass, and aluminum cans too

January 10, 2011

"Garbage, garbage, garbage"

 WTE facility in Portsmouth, VA
". . . What will we do when we have no place left to put all the garbage."

That was the refrain in Pete Seeger's song about garbage in the 1960s. It came to mind when I read an article on the Waste Age website about waste-to-energy (WTE) plants in the U.S. Why don't we have more of them as our country looks for renewable energy? Garbage will always be renewable (although not in the traditional meaning of the word), and there certainly are better places for it than landfills. Why isn't is used more as a fuel in power plants?

In the photo at the right is Southeastern Public Service Authority's WTE facility in Portsmouth, VA., that features a power plant that burns refuse-derived fuel (RDF) that is produced in an adjacent plant.

Of the 89 WTE facilities in the United States, 10 produce refuse-derived fuel. In these facilities, waste that has already been sorted for recyclables is processed again to recover additional non-combustible recyclables such as metals and glass. Using RDF in more electrical plants or industrial boilers is a way to increase the use of alternative fuels and increase recycling.

That's where curbside recycling programs and power plants can complement each other, especially if their states have set 20 percent of their demand from renewable resources by 2020 [Virginia has only set voluntary goals.]

Some folks might argue that burning garbage is an activity we USED TO DO and that's it's a dirty practice. Recycling and "source reduction" (as in reduced packaging ) are higher in the pecking order, and in front of combusion for energy. They need to be done first. But last is landfilling the stuff. Recycling and WTE can coexist.

A substantial number of facilities were built in the 1970s and 1980s, but no new RDF production facilities at WTE plants have been built in the United States since 1996.  Some were converted to burn biomass such as wood chips.

The U.K. and E.U countries have many refuse-derived fuel projects. In Slough, England, a coal-fired power station was converted in 2001 to co-fire coal with biomass and non-recyclable waste. A Canadian plant has a 200,000 tons-per-year MSW facility in Ontario, which began operating in the summer of 2008.

In the meantime, the coal and gas industries in the U.S. must be spending more on lobbyists than Waste Management and BFI.  And Pete Seeger's fears about garbage not being diverted from landfills has come to fruition.

January 9, 2011

"Trans Fat Free?" Maybe Not!

Just when I started feeling better about eliminating trans fat from my diet, I find that I might be a victim of "deceptive advertising."

Did you know that a "zero trans fat" label (an FDA approved label too) might mean .4 grams of this potentially harmful stuff from processed foods? Is that a significant amount of it? It could be when you consider that 1.11 grams of trans fat per day might lead you to some serious health problems.

So how did 0 = .4? A Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Eric Brandt just published some surprising news in the January/February 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. It seems that the FDA's current labeling policy is somewhat wacky.

According to Brandt's article, "Current law requires that fat content of greater than five grams be listed in one gram increments, less than five grams be listed in .5 gram increments, and lower than .5 grams as containing zero grams of fat. Meaning, if a product has .49 grams of trans fat, the label can list the trans fat content as zero, thus masking a significant amount of trans fat that can exceed recommended limits and potentially lead to various adverse health effects."

Therefore, it would be very easy to exceed the recommended limit of 1.11 grams of that nasty stuff if your diet contained a lot of processed foods. Is that a big deal? Yes, when you consider that increasing daily trans fat from two grams to 4.67 grams will increase your risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.

Looks like the FDA has another big job to add to its plate. Otherwise, the FDA will continue to mislead the public, and food manufacturers will get away with "No Trans Fat" when that might not be the case.

January 8, 2011

Triclosan is the latest "chemical of concern"

After prodding from the watchdog group,"Beyond Pesticides,"  both the FDA and EPA are taking a serious look at the antibacterial chemical, triclosan--with EPA now recognizing it as an "emerging contaminant of concern." You'll see it listed as an "active ingredient" in googads of liquid hand soaps, body washes, dish-washing detergents, and even toothpaste. 

You will NOT find it listed as an ingredient of the human body (it's a darn shame we can't see what's in us) but traces of triclosan have been found in 75 percent of the U.S. population, according to one study. That's probably what finally got the attention of government agencies, plus the suspicion that it may result in bacterial-resistent germs and endocrine disruption. It is not known to be hazardous to humans, but who wants to gamble that it's OK to have it inside us?

There's a public comment period until February 7, 2011 on a petition, published in the Federal Register on December 8, 2010, to ban the antibacterial chemical triclosan. Check it out at   http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2010/12/08/2010-30850/petition-for-a-ban-on-triclosan-notice-of-availability. The link has been inoperable for the past few days, and the process to comment is somewhat onerous. Be sure to follow their detailed instructions. The FDA was expected to communicate its findings in the spring of 2011, but don't hold your breath.

Instead, accept the findings that plain old soap will kill those pesky germs if you do more than a cursory hand-washing. Remember the advice to sing "Happy Birthday" twice (preferably quietly) while you wash your hands for an adequate time.

Or check out http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm205999.htm  to see what the FDA is advising us about triclosan.

FYI: Why are two government agencies involved? The FDA gets involved and requires ingredients be listed for a "hand soap," and the EPA oversees it if it's a "dish-washing liquid." Our government in action!

A recent posting on http://www.greenbiz.com/ explains that Colgate-Palmolive has repositioned its antibacterial dish-cleaning liquid, the orange-colored "Ultra-Palmolive Antibacterial," as only for dishes now. When it was marketed as a "hand soap," the FDA required that triclosan be listed as the active ingredient. The label now list a replacement ingredient, L-Lactic Acid. Is that a good ingredient? The Environmental Working Group's "Skin Deep" database http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/  rates L-Lactic Acid with a "low hazard" rating of 1 and triclosan a "high hazard" rating of 7 on a scale from 1 to 10.

Greenbiz.com also states that "Colgate-Palmolive also is moving from triclosan in its hand soaps. It formerly marketed Softsoap brand antibacterial hand soap containing triclosan, with a label claiming elimination of 99 percent of germs. It is now rolling out a new line of Softsoap hand soaps which merely state that they "wash away bacteria." The back label of the new Softsoap "Kitchen Fresh Hands" bottle reminds purchasers that "The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take. It is best to wash hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds."

Colgate-Palmolive's been making the product switches without much fanfare. The market for antibacterial soaps is largely a commodity market, with brands competing on price and those brands containing triclosan falling out of favor with environmentally concerned consumers. Colgate-Palmolive's substitution of L-Lactic Acid in its dish detergent helps differentiate its product in that market from other companies' antibacterial offerings containing triclosan. (Colgate-Palmolive is retaining use of triclosan in its Total brand -- a line of therapeutic toothpastes -- because of health benefits demonstrated in clinical trials.)"

Businesses worry about "toxic lockout"--the term used for products containing out-of-favor chemicals if retailers exclude them from the marketplace. Look at BPA as a good example of how informed consumers can affect the products on our shelves. Mothers began looking for "No BPA" on polycarbonate baby bottles a few years ago. Now it's darn near impossible to find plastics without this label in 2011.

Staples, for example, has not banned certain chemicals in its products but has given its suppliers a list of about two dozen "bad actor" chemicals. Triclosan is on their list!

Dumping old prescriptions?

As I do, you probably discover these out-of-date prescriptions in your medicine cabinet or bathroom drawers every year or, even worse, every decade, and wonder what to do with them. Flushing these old pills down the toilet used to be the "solution." You may now be aware that our drinking water has traces of LOTS of these meds, but then again, that mini-dose of Prozac might make you not care.

The American Pharmacists Association recommends disposal of liquid medications in our household trash can, after pouring it into kitty litter, coffee grounds, or sawdust in a plastic bag. Click on http://www.smarxtdisposal.net/ for a list of OK-to-flush meds. But I can't agree with these folks (even if they are with the FDA) that these drugs are OK in our water supply. True, it may take years to contaminate the aquifers and streams, but I'm not comfortable with that approach. Enough prescriptions get into our aquifers just by leaving our bodiies in the "traditional" method down the toilet.

Check out http://www.disposemymeds.org/ for more info. And check back here in a few months for a new "Dispose My Meds" propgram that may be in your area. Williamsburg Drug is working on one now.