Monday, November 25, 2013

Salmon Farming... A Very Fishy Business

I know it makes me a bad Italian, but I hate seafood. It looks gross, it smells gross... if I ever had to eat sushi it would be like my version of Fear Factor. But despite this, I do like salmon. And with salmon, it is especially important to know where it comes from. I've stressed the importance of knowing where your food comes from before, but with salmon, if you don't know the right kind to eat, you may be supporting an industry that's seriously impacting aquatic environments, not to mention the wrong kind of salmon isn't even that healthy.

The kind of salmon you want to be eating is wild salmon. This salmon comes from the Pacific Ocean and other water bodies in the Pacific Northwest. It is fished in a sustainable manner and is really healthy for you. It's got omega-3 fatty acid, amino acids and high quality protein, and vitamins and minerals like zinc and vitamin E. What I really want to talk about is the salmon you want to avoid... farmed salmon. You will often see it on menus as "Atlantic" salmon, because it sounds wild; like it came from the Atlantic Ocean. However, wild Atlantic salmon are an endangered species, and not allowed to be fished in the United States. When you see "Atlantic," it means it was farmed. Which doesn't sound terrible, right? Actually salmon farming is not a sustainable practice. It is damaging to the environment and to the quality of the fish. (By the way, salmon can be farmed in the Pacific as well... you have to make sure it is wild salmon, not just called "Pacific" salmon). These salmon live in cages with thousands of other fish. They can escape and compete with wild populations of fish for resources. According to the Fisheries Reserve Services of Scotland, since the introduction of salmon farming in the Highlands, populations of wild sea-trout have declined. This could also be due in part to the transfer of sea lice from farmed fish to wild fish. Sea lice are small copepods (very small crustaceans) that parasitize fish. Normally they are not a problem because they are killed once a fish enters fresh water. But farmed salmon never enter fresh water. They are confined to a cage where the sea lice population can grow and grow. When wild fish pass these farms, they can be hit with huge numbers of sea lice, which can kill them before they make it to fresh water. This can be especially dangerous to young salmon. And sea lice can transfer disease from salmon farms to wild Atlantic salmon and other fish like brown trout and rainbow trout as well. One such disease transmitted by the sea louse is infectious salmon anemia, a viral disease that attacks fish red blood cells. Research in the past has shown uncertainty as to the impact of sea lice on wild fish, but an increasing number of studies are finding they are in fact harming wild fish populations.
sea lice on a young salmon

So how do fish farms try to combat sea lice? Pesticides, of course! In Canadian salmon farms, a chemical called emamectin benzoate, marketed as SLICE, is used. There is a lack of research on it, so the effects are largely unknown, but it has been shown to persist in the salmon's tissues and the environment. Usually that is not a good sign. Chemicals that persist in body tissues typically cause health problems, like DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and methylmercury. Emamectin benzoate has also been shown to disrupt the growth of other crustaceans like crabs and shrimp. The label on a pesticide marketed as Proclaim, which is also emamectin benzoate, states, “This pesticide is toxic to fish, birds, mammals, and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present, or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark. Do not contaminate water when cleaning equipment or disposing of equipment wash water.” But this is being used to treat salmon?! Although the FDA has not approved its use on fish destined for human consumption, it is not banned in other countries, and that fish is sold in the US market. So when you eat Atlantic salmon, you may be ingesting emamectin benzoate... In Canada there used to be a 68 day waiting period between the last application of the pesticide and harvest of the fish, but it was waved when the pesticide became approved for commercial use (it used to only be available for emergency use by veterinary approval). So now salmon can go to market right away with higher pesticide levels.

Pesticides aren't the only chemical added to salmon farms. The flesh of wild salmon is red-pink due to their natural diet which includes krill and shrimp (the krill and shrimp eat algae that produce red carotenoids. It's the same reason flamingos are pink!). Because farmed salmon are fed a diet lacking these things, their flesh is actually grey in color. So why does it still appear pink? They are fed an artificial dye to make them more attractive to consumers. One of these dyes has been linked to crystal formation on the human retina, although the amount you get from consuming farmed salmon is considered safe. Still weird! Farmed salmon are also given antibiotics to prevent disease. This leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can harm other marine life and even humans. In a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (who I do not completely trust... they apparently get a lot of funding from big oil) a group of scientists concluded that “antibiotic-resistant organisms in the marine environment will, in turn, pass their antibiotic resistance genes to other bacteria, including human and animal pathogens.” Farmed salmon also contain higher amounts of PCBs, dioxins, and other pollutants due to bioaccumulation. This means these pollutants accumulate up the food chain into the salmon. Smaller fish (like sandeels, Norwegian pout, and capelin) are ground up and incorporated into their diet, each of which contain some amount of contamination. Because the salmon are being fed these same fish over and over, the concentration of pollutants is higher than in wild salmon. Based on cancer risk from the chemicals that may be in farmed salmon, the US EPA advises that in North America, people should not consume more than one serving every two and a half months.

a dead sea lion caught in a salmon net cage
The salmon feed used at these farms raises more problems than just bioaccumulation. Taking these small fish from the ocean leaves less food for large wild fish and marine animals like cod, mackerel, herring, sea birds, wild salmon, and sea-trout.  It takes about 3 pounds of these little fish to produce one pound of salmon, making it an unsustainable practice.Cod in particular have been hit hard because they were over-fished, and the depletion of their small prey fish added to the problem. Another environmental problem that arises from salmon farms is algal blooms. When large amounts of salmon are kept in close quarters, their waste accumulates in a confined area. This overloads the area with nutrients, which allows algae to grow out of control. As the algae is growing, it is also dying, and microorganisms feed off the dead algae. This uses up much of the oxygen in the water, which fish need to breathe. This process is called eutrophication, and it can kill the salmon and surrounding wildlife quickly. In September of 2007, Marine Harvest Canada had 227 tons of salmon die to algal blooms at a farm in British Columbia. A process that intrinsically has this much waste is not a good one! There is another really sad effect of salmon farming... marine mammal deaths. Animals like seals and dolphins are attracted to these farms. They can become entangled in the net cages and drown, or they are intentionally shot! Salmon farms can get a license to shoot them if they feel they are a threat to their salmon stock. The Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans posted a count of mammals killed or drowned during a period of 2011. 141 California sea lions were deliberately shot, 37 harbour seals were shot or drowned, and 2 Steller sea lions were shot (which is great because they are listed as a "special concern" under Canada's federal Species at Risk Act). And keep in mind that is just a period of 2011; a matter of months. Make sure to watch the video below. It really drives home the effects of salmon farming on marine mammals. Spoiler alert/warning... it's pretty sad.

Well I think I've covered a good amount of the environmental concerns associated with salmon farming. Let's talk about why farmed salmon is a less healthy choice than wild salmon as well. I've already addressed why farmed salmon contain higher pesticide and chemical levels. But they also contain less nutrients. Their fish feed includes soy and wheat byproducts, which they can not digest as they are carnivores. This leads to a fish with less beneficial nutrients for you (See the chart below). The feed also includes feather meal; ground up feathers from poultry farms that still have blood and meat attached. I just thought that was gross. The more vegetable products in a farmed fish's diet, the less omega-3's they have. There is really no way to tell what your farmed salmon was fed when you go to the seafood market or order it at a restaurant. They also have more fat because they do not have to search for food, swim more than the length of their cage, or evade predators. This makes the meat flabby and less appetizing than wild salmon. You can tell the difference by looking at the meat. More fat means more places for chemicals to accumulate too. Persistent, organic chemicals often are "lipophilic" (fat-loving) and accumulate in the fat. If there is less fat to store the chemicals, they will be excreted from the salmon's body faster.

Salmon Nutritional Content
     Wild Salmon   Farmed Salmon
   Vitamin A154 I.U.40 I.U.
Vitamin D533 I.U.60 I.U.
Fat Content2.5%13%
PCBs5 parts/billion27 parts/billion
Sample size: 100 grams. Source: CTV British Columbia/SGS Labs

Wild salmon, on the left, is richer in color and the white fat lines
are thinner. The farmed salmon on the right has thicker fat lines and
is lighter pink because its color is artificial.
salmon tank system
So what can you do to make sure you're not supporting the salmon farming industry? Make sure you do not buy it or order it at a restaurant! This applies to sushi bars as well. If you see salmon on a menu and it does not specify where it is from, ASK! Remember, Atlantic means farmed too. Wild salmon may be more expensive, but it's really worth it. It tastes better, is healthier, and does not cause the deaths of other marine animals. When you go to the seafood market, look at the salmon. Even if it says wild or Pacific salmon, it may not be. Sometimes markets will try to trick customers because they can make more money from wild salmon. Look at the fat lines. If they are thick like in the picture above, it might be farmed. Also, fresh wild salmon is only available from May to August due to fishing laws and the salmon's life cycle. If you see it being sold fresh off season, there's a good chance it's actually farmed. You can buy it frozen anytime though. I found a website that gives you the locations of where you can buy a particular type of wild salmon; Copper River salmon. It's particularly good fresh. This other website will give you a list of some restaurants that are wild salmon supporters. Look for the Marine Stewardship Council symbol on salmon at fish markets. It means it came from a sustainable source. Shop at health food stores, which are more likely to be environmentally friendly in the first place, like Whole Foods. You can also follow the chart below from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help you find the right kind of salmon. When you go to purchase salmon, use it to talk to the fish monger. They should be able to tell you where it came from. You may notice in the chart where it talks about salmon farmed in tank systems. This actually is a more sustainable way to farm salmon. They are raised in tanks where they are not exposed to the environment and causing disease and pollution or attracting seals and other marine mammals. Because they are not exposed to the environment they do not acquire sea lice and don't need heavy amounts of antibiotics. This type of aquaculture (fish farming) is already being used with trout, tilapia, and a small percentage of salmon and is effective in reducing the impact on the environment. Unfortunately the salmon industry is reluctant to change. But making the change could save them money... their fish will not escape, they don't have to buy lots of chemicals and pesticides, their fish will not be killed by algal blooms and disease, and they can grow to full size six months faster. Although the quality of the fish may not be as good as wild, it could be a sustainable alternative that is cheaper for consumers.

Atlantic SalmonAvoid: Avoid these products for now. These fish come from sources that are overfished or fished or farmed in ways that harm the environment.Farmed Salmon, SakeWorldwideFarmed
Atlantic SalmonGood Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts.Verlasso (R)ChileFarmed
Coho SalmonGood Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts.Sake, SilverBritish ColumbiaWild-caught
Coho SalmonBest Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.Sake, SilverU.S.Farmed in Tank Systems
SalmonBest Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.Chinook, Coho, Chum, Keta, King, Pink, Red, Silver, Sockeye, SakeAlaskaDrift Gillnet, Purse Seine, Troll
SalmonGood Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts.Chinook, Coho, Chum, Keta, King, Pink, Red, Silver, Sockeye, SakeCalifornia, Oregon, WashingtonDrift Gillnet, Purse Seine, Troll
SalmonGood Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts.Pink, SockeyeFraser River, Washington,Reefnet
SalmonBest Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.SockeyeFraser River (early Summer-run), WashingtonReefnet
Salmon RoeBest Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.IkuraAlaskaDrift Gillnet, Purse Seine, Troll

And educate yourself and others! This part is really important. When consumers put pressure on an industry, it can change things. Share this article with your friends, family, and coworkers. I did days of research to make sure I got the facts straight. One website that was very helpful was that of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. It is a good place to get more information on the subject of salmon farming. You can even sign up to get the latest information on salmon farming. Keep yourself informed. Tell restaurants that serve net caged, farmed salmon that you would prefer if it were wild, and why. Or write them letters. If enough of their customers express this, they will make the switch. If  salmon farming industries realize that people do not want salmon that causes environmental pollution, competes with native fish, causes the death of marine animals, and is full of chemicals, they will make the switch to sustainable practices like tank farming. A positive change could be coming, but it requires your support!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's Science!

Just a quick picture about global warming. Thought this was funny.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Update on Jack Johnson's Tour

Since my last post was about Jack Johnson supporting America Recycles Day and his environmental efforts, I thought I'd post a little more about what he has accomplished on his tour for anyone who is a fan. This was part of his email newsletter I recently got:

Jack recently wrapped up his From Here To Now To You Tour of intimate historical theaters through Europe, Canada and the US. Jack, his fans, band and touring crew along with venue operators were successful in minimizing the environmental impact of the From Here To Now To You Fall 2013 Europe and North American tour.

As a result of the collective efforts made during the tour we were able to:
  • Eliminate the equivalent of over 2,200 single-use 16 oz. plastic bottles from going into the waste stream as a result of free water stations onsite at the shows.
  • Many of the venues supported the efforts to go plastic free by not selling single-use plastic bottled water.
  • The tour worked with over 50 farms to purchase local and organic food, sourced wherever possible, for band and crew catering.
  • 36 cubic yards of waste were diverted from the landfill, through recycling and composting efforts at the shows.
  • Over 3,900 gallons of sustainable biodiesel was used to fuel tour trucks, buses and on site generators
    • Over 1,800 gallons of Local Used Cooking Oil Biodiesel
    • Over 2,100 gallons of USA-grown renewable Soy based biodiesel
  • After all energy conservation measures were taken, remaining CO2 emissions for each show and the entire tour will be offset to support a variety of carbon management projects around the globe.
  • As a result, an estimated 1,228,965 pounds of CO2 will be offset through green touring efforts and fan participation.
  • Through direct engagement at the concerts, the All At Once community brought over 2000 interested volunteers and 1100 new members to local non-profit partners.The Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation will donate over $150,000 directly to All At Once non-profit partners. An additional $220,000 was leveraged by these organizations through the matching donation program.

Just thought I'd share. Each of us can make a difference if we try!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jack Johnson helps America recycle!

So apparently today was America Recycles Day... which made it a good day for me to start writing again. I just recently took the exam to get my environmental health specialist license so my days won't be spent doing nothing but studying. Reading about the different types of septic systems was pretty boring. I was much more interested in this article on the EPA's blog (Yes, the EPA has a blog. I was surprised). It's about musician Jack Johnson, who is promoting recycling and sustainability on his tour, and helping with beach and park clean-ups along the way. He also promotes sustainable practices in schools through his Kokua Hawaii Foundation. Today he is promoting America Recycles Day, because it is important that every person recycles. In 2011, Americans produced about 250 million tons of trash and only recycled 35% of it. That's 162.5 million tons of trash going into landfills in America every year. And that number will increase as the population rises unless we reduce, reuse, and recycle more of our trash. Here are some things you can do:

  • Bring reusable bags when shopping.
  • Buy products in bulk and choose products with the least amount of packaging (a good way to do this is to buy less processed, packaged foods and buy more whole foods).
  • Buy LED or CFL light bulbs. They last longer than incandescent bulbs, so you will throw less away.
  • Print double-sided to use less paper, and buy refillable ink cartridges.
  • Bring a reusable thermos to cafes and coffee shops.
  • Use reusable water bottles instead of buying cases of plastic ones.

Click here to find out even more ways you can reduce, reuse, and recycle. And if you aren't familiar with Jack Johnson's music, check it out! He's my favorite not only because I love his music, but because he is an environmentalist. Besides his foundation and his volunteer work, he donates all of the proceeds from his tours to charity. I went to his show in NYC for his "From Here To Now To You" tour and it was AMAZING! I bought a tee shirt, and this is what was written on the inside...Your Jack Johnson tour garment was designed in Hawaii & made in California using 100% organic cotton & water based inks. Jack Johnson's From Here To Now To You Tour continues to pave the way in green practices and community engagement. 100% of the profits from this garment and the entire tour will be donated to charity."

Enjoy this video of Jack's new song "Ones and Zeros," which deals with environmental topics!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Update on Swan

Just writing this as an update to my last post about the baby swan. Luckily it was rescued. A large group of people got together, and with the professional help of the Avian Wildlife Center from Sussex County, they were able to capture the swan and remove the fishing line and hook. The swan is now doing great. Glad to see people coming together to help wildlife. I posted some pictures below that my friend took of the rescue and the swan in the days after the rescue.

The baby is reunited with its mom after the rescue.

The baby is back with its family!

All photos are (C) Sue Miller

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tangled in an Environmental Problem

I believe that healthy ecosystems are essential to environmental sustainability. And obviously animals are a major component of healthy ecosystems. I'm sure you've heard people say that when one species goes extinct, it has a domino effect. So, quick example; in the 1920's, wolves were hunted so much in Yellowstone that elk populations (one of their prey) grew so much that they overgrazed vegetation, which left little food for other animals. Over the past few days, I have been following a local story which is not nearly as drastic, but is still an illustration of man's impact on wildlife.
A baby swan that lives on a local lake is in trouble due to someone's carelessness. It has a fishing hook stuck in its beak, with line tangled around its face and the bobber still stuck to it. My friend Sue who lives on the lake took some pictures. It's really sad to see. Sue and other people are trying to help, but it is hard to capture the swan to take it in for treatment. Hopefully it will get some help, as this is supposed to be a news story on local channels 9 and 12 sometime in the coming days.
Some people may argue that this is an environmental blog, and technically swans are an invasive species that can have negative environmental impacts (aggressive towards native species, uprooting aquatic vegetation, etc.). Ok, yes, I know, but my point here is man impacts wildlife. Besides, how can you look at the pictures and not feel bad? Plus, this is a small family of swans on a large lake. I doubt they are causing major negative impacts. Even if you have issues and don't like swans for being a non-native species, throwing away fishing hooks and lines into the environment also affects other local water animals like ducks, geese, cormorants, fish, and otters. Hooks can cause infection, and if line gets tangled around their mouths, they can starve. Or if line is tangled on another body part, the animal can grow until it cuts off their circulation or cuts into their skin.
The other part of this problem is the littering. Plastic lines and bobbers do not break down well. So when they are left in the water, they can be around for years with the potential to cause harm. I've done environmental clean-ups at lakes, and fishing lines were everywhere. So if you fish, make sure to take home all your garbage. On a positive note, while hiking the other day at Mahlon Dickerson, a reservation by my house, I saw a few fishing line recycling posts. I thought that was a great idea and something communities should look into. A quick Google search on "fishing line recycling" is a good starting point. I'm not sure who manages the ones I saw, but according to the sign, they were an eagle scout project, so good job kid who built them. (And good job boy scouts, that's called progress. Anything else you need to be progressive about?)
So my point today is think about your actions. Littering may not affect you in the short term, but it does affect wildlife. And as animals are an important part of the environment, we should be protecting them.

fishing line recycling post

Saturday, August 31, 2013

What to do with used K-Cups?

So I have to admit, I got a new computer a while ago. Like a month ago. And I have not done any posts because I hate it. I haven't even wanted to turn it on because Windows 8 is horrible. I don't understand how it is supposed to be an improvement on the previous Windows. The NASA control station is probably easier to use. So that's my excuse for not posting much all summer. But I can't avoid my computer forever, so I decided to finally post something. Sigh.

Someone had asked me a question about what to do with used K-Cups. I looked at some of hers and found there was no marking on the box or cup itself to tell what number plastic it was (1,2,4, and 5 are accepted in most municipal recycling streams, while 3,6, and 7 are harder to deal with.) So while K-Cups are quick and convenient, almost all of them are ending up in landfills. I was curious what they are actually made of, but all I could find on Keurig's website was this quote:

"The challenge of protecting the freshness of roasted coffee while using environmentally friendly packaging is one that both Keurig and the coffee industry are committed to overcoming. We are very sensitive about the waste created by the K-Cup® packs and are investigating alternative materials. Finding a solution for this is a priority for us, and one we hope to have before long."

So that was no help. Other sites said that the cup is made of a special plastic that is not rated for recycling, and that seems to be the case. But there are still options! The best thing to do is get a reusable K-Cup and fill it with your own coffee or loose leaf tea. They're cheap and you will save a lot of cups from going to the landfill. You can find them online and most home goods stores.

Coffee companies are looking for solutions too. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. has started a program called Grounds to Grow On. It is available to workplaces that use Keurig machines. The basic idea is that they get special receptacles for their used K-cups. The used cups are sent to GMCR's disposal partner, who separates the cup components. The coffee grounds are composted and the plastic is used in energy-from-waste processes. They have also invented the Vue cup which is made out of #5 plastic and can be recycled. Look for these Vue cups instead of regular ones.

And if you do use regular K-cups, you can still cut down on some of the waste by separating the components. You can peel off the foil lid and throw it in with your aluminum recyclables. The used grounds can also be composted, or reused in one of these ways from one of my posts. Hope this post was informative for K-Cup users. Remember, I had to use my stupid computer to bring you this information, so reduce K-Cup waste!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Where have I been?

I know you have missed my posts just oh so much... not. But just writing a quick one to let you know why I've barely posted anything all summer. I have been working to get a registered environmental health specialist license, which involved a 7 week course down at Rutgers. Between commuting and then sitting in class 7 hours every day, I haven't had time to do a blog post. On top of that, my laptop is broken and my home computer is too functionally incompetent to have the blogging site work correctly. And in the theme of my technology not working, my phone broke. But that did allow me to finally join the rest of America in getting a smartphone. So now I can finally do a blog update. Until I get my laptop fixed I won't be writing any actual posts though because writing this on my phone is terrible. So anyway, I'll be back with new posts as soon as I get my computer fixed!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bamboo's Got You Covered

Have an iPhone 4, 4S, or 5? Check out these phone covers from Mantrastyle. They are made from bamboo, which is sustainable because of how fast it grows... much better for the environment than the synthetic plastic that phone covers are usually made from. And 10% of each sale goes to provide safe housing for victims of human trafficking. Plus, the designs are really cool. You can even upload your own design. Now is a great time to buy one, because the iPhone 4 and 4S covers are on sale for almost half off. And you can get their iPhone 5 covers for a discount on the Roozt website. So if you're looking to give your phone some new style, try ditching the plastic and choose bamboo. You can cover up and go au naturel at the same time. I love double entendres.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Barbie... Doctor, Flight Attendant, Polluter

I am lucky to have my friend Alex, who sends me all kinds of environmental news for my blog. When she sent me one about Barbies, I thought it would be fun to do a post about it since we grew up playing with them together, although I was the weird child who preferred bugs, cars, and dinosaur toys over dolls. So just how eco-friendly is that iconic plastic doll? Really, she's anything but. Mattel says they are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a type of plastic that is very bad for the environment and your health. The production of PVC requires vinyl chloride, which is a carcinogen. A by-product of its production is dioxin, which is also a carcinogen. Dioxins are also produced when PVC is burned, and it is not easily recyclable. The recycling process can be dangerous because of all the toxic chemicals that can be released if it is not done properly. And it takes a very, very long time to break down naturally. Phthalates are also added to make the plastic flexible. They have been linked to cancer as well, along with endocrine disruption.
The doll itself is not the only problem. The box she comes in is also an environmental disaster. So much unnecessary plastic is used in the packaging. And Greenpeace says it has evidence that the cardboard is sourced from Indonesian rain forests.
In an attempt to jump on the bandwagon, Mattel turned to greenwashing to try and make Barbie seem environmentally friendly. They launched the Barbie BCause line; accessories for girls made from extra fabric from other Barbie products. While it's good they are not throwing this in the landfill, the fabric and materials are not eco-friendly in the first place. They are made from synthetic fibers and plastics. Mattel simply saw a way to turn their waste into money.
So while Barbie may be a veterinarian/princess/ballerina, she is also ruining the environment. No wonder Ken dumped her.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lip-sick... How Your Lipstick May Be Affecting Your Health

Fox News makes me laugh. The other day I watched them show a beautiful picture of the woods in upstate New York and then call it "a wasteland of economic development." In other words, destroy nature if it may make you money. But then they aired a story alerting the public about toxic metals in lipstick, so I have to "commend" them for that. Kind of. At least they talked about environmental health. I decided to look into it, and found the original study the report was based off of. Researches at UC Berkeley measured levels of lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, manganese, cobalt, copper, nickel, and titanium in 32 lipsticks and lip glosses used by young women. Twelve girls ages 14-19 were asked to record the brand and product name of lip products they and their family members use. The products were then purchased by the researchers. Although the product names were not released, 26 were from the drugstore, 4 were from a major department store, and 2 were from a specialty chain store.
It's not just the amount of metal in each product that is important... it's how much is actually ingested by the wearer. When you wear lipstick or gloss, you end up eating most of it. It gets on your food, and on your tongue and inside your mouth during the day. It was found that women ingest about 24 milligrams of lipstick per day, and up to 87 milligrams for women who use it a lot. Concentrations of metals in the lip products were converted to daily intake values (how much women ingest daily). Lead was detected in 24 of the 32 products, but was under the level that is considered safe. However, it is still a concern for children who may play with makeup because no level of lead exposure is considered safe for them. Estimated intakes for nickel and copper were also well below the safe intake levels even for high use. However, the study found that average use of some of the products tested could result in excessive exposure to chromium, aluminum, cadmium, and manganese. Chromium is linked to stomach cancer and high levels of manganese can be toxic to the nervous system. Cadmium can cause kidney and respiratory problems. Aluminum is relatively nontoxic, but can cause neurotoxicicity, kidney problems, and other health issues at high concentrations.
This study should make the FDA pay attention. Currently, there are no standards for metals in cosmetics. The FDA really needs to regulate. The European Union considers cadmium, chromium and lead to be unacceptable ingredients, at any level, in cosmetic products. Over the years, the US has banned 22 chemicals in cosmetics, but the EU has banned over 1,300 chemicals. Until Congress does something, (that's a joke) like passing the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act, consider trying safer cosmetics from companies that are committed to consumer and environmental safety. Generally, I would recommend Burt's Bees, but some disturbing findings show that one of their products contains lead. A 2007 study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found lead in their tinted chapstick (Is it a coincidence that Burt's Bees sold to Clorox in 2007?). Two follow-up studies were conducted in 2009 and 2012. Below are the results from the 2012 study. They show the top 20 lip products with the most lead out of 400 tested. Sadly, a Burt's Bees product was one of them. The values below are in parts per million (for example, 3 ppm means 3 out of every million atoms or molecules would be lead atoms). For reference, the "action level" for lead in drinking water according to the Safe Drinking Water Act is 0.015 ppm. The FDA even has a standard of 0.1 ppm for lead in candy. The levels below are well above that. So what can you do? I have recommended the Environmental Working Group's cosmetics database before, and I'll recommend it here. You just type in the brand or product you're interested in and it will give you information about it. This website by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics also lists brands that are considered safe, along with links to their websites. It's impossible to cut out contact with all toxic metals, but by making an effort you can at least get rid of the ones in your makeup.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mount Everest Melt

Photos of Mount Everest taken 88 years apart. It's hard to tell
 from the black and white photo, but less ice is
present in the 2009 photo.
The news media were talking about global warming today after research presented at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun suggested that it is responsible for glacial melting on Mount Everest. As the world's tallest mountain, the disappearance of its snow caps will draw much attention to the problem of rising global temperatures. Scientists have found that the glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk by 13% in the last 50 years and the snowline has risen by 590 feet. In the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park, the glaciers have retreated an average of 1,300 feet since 1962. And not only is the ice melting, but the rate at which it is melting is increasing; more is melting faster. The glacial melting is not only caused by the rising temperatures, but also by the fact that precipitation has decreased since the early 1990's (about 3.9 inches). Glaciers are melting and not being replenished.

The melting glaciers are not only an aesthetic problem, but an environmental problem that is causing water shortages for the 1.5 billion people who depend on the water from the summer thaw for drinking and power. "The Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are considered a water tower for Asia since they store and supply water downstream during the dry season. Downstream populations are dependent on the melting water for agriculture, drinking, and power production," said Sudeep Thakuri, the doctoral student who is leading this research.
Mount Kilimanjaro in 1993 and 2000
Mount Kilimanjaro in 1970 and 2000

The researchers said they suspect the melting is due to global warming, but need a firm connection. I think it is pretty obvious that there is a correlation between the two. It is not only occurring near Mount Everest, but at mountain ranges and glaciers all over the world. It was reported in 2009 that Bolivia’s Chacaltaya glacier had lost 80% of its surface area since 1982, and Peruvian glaciers had lost more than one-fifth of their mass in the past 35 years, which reduced the water flow to the country’s coastal region (home to 60% of Peru’s population) by 12%. Some reports argue that in certain areas, glaciers are staying the same or actually growing, with the Karakoram Mountains in Asia being an example. While this is true, areas like this are "anomalous compared with the global average," according to Graham Cogley, a researcher from Trent University. Growing glaciers are likely due to increased precipitation and/or lower temperatures in a local area. The overall trend is that glaciers are shrinking. If global warming is not slowed, it could have major impacts on the water supply, not to mention it will change the faces of iconic mountains we have come to know.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Update on Watershed Clean-up

If you remember, I posted about an environmental clean-up about a month ago. Just wanted to share the article about that clean-up that was written in the Lake Hopatcong News. It took place on April 13th. A lot of trash was collected. Between my boyfriend (or as the article calls him, my friend that I dragged along) and myself, we filled 4 huge garbage bags, thanks mainly in part to a lovely group of people who decided to "hide" about 40 beer and soda bottles, lots of paper plates, plastic utensils, and their pants (don't want to know what that was about) behind a tree. We also found some pregnancy tests, because the woods is clearly the logical place to find out if you're pregnant. Thank God we had gloves. Anyway, you can read the article here and see some pictures from the day, or just read below.

The Musconetcong Watershed Association held their annual cleanup day Saturday all along the watershed, from Lake Hopatcong to the Delaware River.
Throughout the state an estimated 400-500 people participate in the cleanup efforts. At Hopatcong State Park in Landing, project director Adrienne Kaczyaski welcomed about a dozen local volunteers to share in the cleanup efforts near Lake Hopatcong and along the Musconetcong River which flows south through Hopatcong.
This is the twenty-first year the MWA has spearheaded a spring cleanup. According to Kaczyaski, the majority of volunteers show up near MWA headquarters in Asbury, NJ, where, after a morning of picking up trash, volunteers are treated to a hamburger and hot dog barbeque. Through a “watershed ambassador,” Kaczyaski hopes to grow the project in the northern part of the state and enticing more people to become involved in the cleanup effort.
Of the dozen or so people who did take part, 8 were members of the Kiwanis Club of Lenape Valley which includes people from Hopatcong, Byram, Netcong and Stanhope. According to Alice Harrison, a Kiwanis board member from Byram, the club has a national project known as “One Day” in which clubs are required to participate in a local service project. Coincidently, the MWA cleanup day and “One Day” fell on the same day. The club thought helping with the MWA cleanup would be a “perfect project for us,” said Harrison. The group mostly walked along the bank of the river just west of the state park, filling garbage bag after garbage bag full of bottles and cans and plastic bags. Some larger items were pulled from the brush and left along the side of the road for pickup.
For Katie Della Terza and her friend, Jonathan Bullock, both from Jefferson, preserving the beauty and health of the local watershed is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. A recent college graduate with a degree in environmental science, Della Terza said she showed up a few years ago to help but no one else showed up. Undeterred, when she found out about Saturday’s event, she didn’t hesitate to help, dragging Bullock along to help with the heavy lifting. Della Terza and Bullock worked near the dam of Lake Hopatcong pulling garbage from thick underbrush.
“He comes with me to all my projects,” she said of Bullock who works as a grounds keeper at a local golf course.
Representing the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, Donna Macalle-Holly came prepared with rubber gloves and enthusiasm. Working alone along the bank and in the water of the river just down from the dam, Macalle-Holly spent about 2 hours of her Saturday to help with the project.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

H&M Goes Green

H&M has already taken steps to become one of the more environmentally friendly clothing companies by introducing it's "Conscious Collection" in 2011. The clothing in this collection is made from organic cotton and linen, Tencel, recycled polyester, and other eco-friendly fibers. Now, H&M has taken another step by partnering with recycling company I:CO to introduce garment collection boxes in their stores, where you can bring your old and unwanted clothing, even if it is torn and damaged. Your clothing will then be reused or recycled in one of four ways:

Re-wear - Clothing that can be worn again is marketed worldwide as second-hand goods.

Reuse -Textiles that are no longer suitable to wear are converted into other products, such as cleaning cloths.

Recycle -Textiles that can’t be reused get a new chance as textile fibers, or are used to manufacture products such as damping and insulating materials for the auto industry.

Energy -When re-wear, reuse and recycle are not options, textiles are used to produce energy.

And there's a bonus for you too... every time you bring in a bag of clothing, you get a 15% off coupon for H&M stores. You can bring up to two bags of clothing per day. So don't throw your old clothes in the trash! Instead, bring them to H&M and help the environment (and yourself with that discount)!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Clear the Air

Although the temperature around New Jersey may suggest otherwise, spring weather will soon be here. And that means spring cleaning. In addition to organizing and de-cluttering, why not detoxify your home? The EPA estimates that the average American spends 90% of their time indoors, and that levels of pollutants are usually 2-5 times higher inside than outside. But there are things you can do to lessen the amount of dangerous chemicals in your home while doing your spring cleaning this year. By replacing traditional cleaning agents with safe, eco-friendly ones and making a few changes in your home, you will be saving yourself from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Below, I've listed some spots around the home where exposures are likely to occur, and what you can do to change that.

  • If you don't have a self-cleaning oven, it needs to be scrubbed once in a while. The danger of an oven cleaner of course depends on its composition, but most contain potential hazards. Typical oven cleaners contain lye (which can burn your skin), ethers, ethylene glycol, methylene chloride, and petroleum distillates. The propellant, butane, is neurotoxic. NIH (National Institutes of Health) says some of the side effects of oven cleaner exposure are swollen airways, burns in the esophagus, low blood pressure, and change in the blood's acidity, which can cause organ damage in the long run.
  • Replacement: Next time you need to clean your oven, try scrubbing messes with a simple paste of water and baking soda.
Laundry Room
  • We all want our clothes to smell good (I hope), so many people use dryer sheets to keep their clothes smelling fresh. But those scents come from synthetic chemicals that are not as nice as they smell. They include benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohols, and terpines, which are toxic and even carcinogenic. (The FDA does not regulate dryer sheets by the way). The chemicals stay in your clothes and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • ReplacementTry using a mixture of water and an essential oil in a spray bottle to mist your spring wardrobe, bed sheets, and anything else you want to smell nice, after it comes out of the dryer. Or try a product from an environmentally responsible company, like Seventh Generation's natural fabric softener sheets, in blue eucalyptus and lavender scent.
  • There is always work to do on the computer, so while doing your spring cleaning, why not take some time to detoxify your computer area? Printers are the polluter in question here. Printer ink contains solvents and chemicals that are released into the air upon printing. They are inhaled and can cause respiratory irritation.
  • Solution: One way to reduce the chemicals in your indoor air is to keep houseplants. They absorb the pollutants in the air and deliver them to their roots, where the microbes are able to break them down. Some plants that are especially good at taking in chemicals and cleaning the air are Dracaena, English Ivy, Bamboo Palm, Boston Fern, and Peace Lily. Keeping plants by your printer and all over the house can help improve air quality.
Counters and Other Surfaces, Windows, and Floors
  • Many cleaning products contain dangerous ingredients like bleach, ammonia, and synthetic fragrances. I have already discussed the dangers of bleach in another post. When you clean with these products, you can breathe in harmful compounds or get them on your skin. Instead of buying manufactured cleaning products, why not make your own? In addition to protecting your health, it will save you money! Below are some ideas to try...
  • Surfaces: Here are two ideas for general surface cleaners. You can mix them and put them in a spray bottle.
    • 2 cups water, 2 cups white vinegar, 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 tsp. borax, ¼ tsp. liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s), hot water
  • Windows: Many window cleaners contain ammonia, which can irritate your respiratory system. Instead, try mixing equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and using that. For tough spots, you can use undiluted white vinegar, and then follow with the mixture.
  • Floors: Here are some ideas for floor cleaners. Remember not to put these directly on the floor, but use a mop or rag to wipe them down (and that wood floors should not get overly wet).
    • Wood Floor Cleaner: ¼ c. vinegar, 1 gal. warm water
      • Mop or rag should be slightly damp for cleaning.
    • Linoleum Floor Cleaner: 1 c. vinegar, 2 gal. warm water
      • Mop or rag can be fully wet for cleaning.
    • Carpet Stain Remover: 1 part borax, 10 parts warm water
      • Combine in spray bottle. Spray on stain, wait 5 minutes, blot with clean rag.
    • Carpet Stain Remover: vinegar, baking soda
      • Mix vinegar and baking soda into a paste. Gently work into stain with a toothbrush. Let dry then vacuum completely.
  • You can also buy cleaning products from companies like Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. But make sure it is a trusted, environmentally-friendly company, and it is not just participating in "green-washing" (falsely advertising their products as eco-friendly). For example, an independent study found that products from a company called Simple Green, contained toluene (pregnancy complications), 1,4-dioxane (cancer), and bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (reproductive harm, hormone disruption, neurodevelopmental problems). These were not listed on the label, as it is not required by law to list everything in the product.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Environmental Clean-Up!!!

Letting everyone know about the Musconetcong Watershed Association's 21st annual spring clean-up. It will take place on Saturday, April 13th from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Groups will meet at the following locations:
  • Lake Hopatcong State Park 
  • Waterloo Village 
  • Stephen State Park 
  • Hackettstown Alumni Park 
  • DEP Fishing Access, Rte 57, Near Stephensburg Bridge Rd. 
  • Rte 57, Penwell Road Fishing Area 
  • Point Mountain Park 
  • Butler Park Road 
  • Hampton Boro Park 
  • MWA River Resource Center 
  • Bloomsbury/Asbury Road 
  • Warren Glen Park 
  • Riegelsville area
Send me an email ( or contact me on Facebook if you would like to volunteer at the Lake Hopatcong State Park area. I am working to organize a group. You can contact Adrienne Kaczynski, the Musconetcong Watershed Administrative Assistant, to find out what area is closest to you, for more information, and to register. Her email address is 
Volunteers are given tee shirts, gloves, bags, snacks, and water. Please consider actually volunteering for this, especially if you read my last post and are upset about the effects of litter on wildlife and the environment. You can take this chance and actually do something to help. It's only 3 hours out of your day, it's over at noon, and you can use it for community service hours if you need. There is even a free lunch after at the MWA River Resource Center at 10 Maple Ave., Asbury, NJ (Warren County). If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Till My Ghastly Tale is Told

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 

What's up with the trip back to high school English class? These quotes from one of my favorite poems are fitting for a video I believe everyone should see. It is the trailer for an upcoming film about Midway Island, a small piece of land in the Northern Pacific Ocean, not far from Hawaii. The albatrosses that inhabit the island seem to be living a  normal life, but in fact many of them are sick and dying. Just as the mariner killed the albatross in Coleridge's poem, humans are responsible for the deaths of thousands of these birds. These birds are apparently not picky eaters, and thanks to us, they have made plastic one of their food groups. They are eating small pieces of plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch, a place where plastic debris has collected due to the ocean currents. The plastic sits in their stomachs because they can not digest it, and it builds up until they die a slow, painful death. Before you watch the video, be warned... it's kind of graphic and pretty sad. You might not want to show it to kids. But I believe it is important to see. Hopefully it will make people think twice about littering. Remember, most waterways lead to the ocean, so trash on land can easily be washed into it. Even when trash breaks down, harmful chemical residues can still be left behind, especially in the case of plastic. In fact, smaller pieces of plastic are easier for wildlife to eat.
To find out more about this film project, visit the film's website, The film is scheduled to premiere later in 2013. Keep an eye out for it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Atlantic Wind Connection

I have really been slacking when it comes to writing these posts lately, but I'm finally making a new one today, and it comes with some exciting news for environmentalists. According to a January 15th article from The Star-Ledger, a private company called Atlantic Grid Development is going to start building a wind-power station along the east coast. Construction is set to begin off of the Jersey Shore in 2016. The first phase of construction will be to build the underwater transmission line that will run along the coast, from New Jersey to Virginia, and connect the wind turbines and carry the electricity to land for use. This cable project, called The Atlantic Wind Connection, will connect about 7,000 megawatts of wind turbine electricity. In New Jersey alone, it is estimated that it will power about 1 million homes. Although it will take about 10 years to complete, the New Jersey portion of the cable will be partially operational by 2019.

The biggest challenge will be finding funding, but so far, investors include Google, Bregal Energy, Marubeni Corp., and Elia. When the project begins, it will create about 1,980 construction and operations jobs in New Jersey alone, and is estimated to "pump $9 billion into the economy and bolster local tax revenues by $2.2 billion." So here, "going green" and helping the economy go hand-in-hand.