Nichlos Kristof gets it!

24 04 2018

Nicholas Kristof had an editorial in the New York Times on February 25, 2018. This is a reproduction of his editorial:

 Our bodies are full of poisons from products we use every day. I know – I’ve had my urine tested for them. Surprised? So was I when I had my urine tested for these chemicals. (A urine or blood test is needed to confirm whether you have been exposed.)

Let me stress that mine should have been clean.

Almost a decade ago, I was shaken by my reporting! on a class of toxic chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are linked to cancer and obesity and also seemed to feminize males, so that male alligators developed stunted genitalia and male smallmouth bass produced eggs.

In humans, endocrine disruptors were linked to two-headed sperm and declining sperm counts. They also were blamed for an increase in undescended testicles and in a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis rather than the tip. Believe me, the scariest horror stories are found in urology journals. If you’re a man, you don’t wring your hands as you read; you clutch your crotch.

So I’ve tried for years now to limit my exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Following the advice of the President’s Cancer Panel, I eat organic to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors in pesticides. I try to store leftover meals in glass containers, not plastic. I avoid handling A.T.M. and gas station receipts. I try to avoid flame-retardant furniture.

Those are all common sources of toxic endocrine disruptors, so I figured that my urine would test pristine. Pure as a mountain creek.

                        Here are 12 chemicals found in everyday products:

Chemical Details Found in products like:
Antimicrobials Can interfere with thyroid and other hormones Colgate Total toothpaste, soap, deodorant
Benzophenones Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Sunscreen, lotions, lip balm
Bisphenols Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Protective lining for canned goods, hard plastic water bottles, thermal paper register receipts.
1,4-Dichlorobenzene Can affect thyroid hormones and my increase risk of cancer Mothballs, toilet deodorizers
Parabens Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Cosmetics, personal care products like shampoos, hair gels, lotions
Phthalates Can disrupt male reproductive development and fertility

 

Vinyl shower curtains, fast food, nail polish, perfume/cologne
Fragrance Chemicals Can exacerbate asthma symptoms and disrupt natural hormones. Perfume/cologne, cleaning products, dryer sheets, air fresheners
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Can affect hormones, immune response in children, and may increase risk of cancer. Scotchgard and other stain-resistant treatments, fast-food wrappers.
Flame Retardants Can affect neurodevelopment and hormone levels, and may increase risk of cancer Nail polish, foam cushioning in furniture, rigid foam insulation.

The Silent Spring Institute near Boston, which studies chemical safety, offers a “Detox Me Action Kit” to help consumers determine what harmful substances are in their bodies. Following instructions, I froze two urine samples (warning my wife and kids that day to be careful what food they grabbed from the freezer) and Fed-Exed them off for analysis.

By the way, the testing is for women, too. Men may wince as they read about miniaturized alligator penises, but endocrine disruptors have also been linked to breast cancer and gynecological cancers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns women that endocrine disruptors can also cause miscarriages, fetal defects and much more.[1]

As I waited for the lab results, I continued to follow the latest research. One researcher sent a bizarre video of a mouse exposed to a common endocrine disruptor doing back flips nonstop, as a kind of nervous tic.

Finally, I heard back from Silent Spring Institute. I figured this was a report card I had aced. I avoid all that harmful stuff. In my columns, I had advised readers how to avoid it.

Sure enough, I had a low level of BPA, best known because plastic bottles now often boast “BPA Free.” But even a diligent student like me failed the test. Badly. I had high levels of a BPA substitute called BPF. Ruthann Rudel, a toxicologist who is the head of research at Silent Spring, explained that companies were switching to BPF even though it may actually be yet more harmful (it takes longer for the body to break it down). BPF is similar to that substance that made those mice do back flips.

“These types of regrettable substitutions — when companies remove a chemical that has a widely known bad reputation and substitute a little-known bad actor in its place — are all too common,” Rudel told me. “Sometimes we environmental scientists think we are playing a big game of whack-a-mole with the chemical companies.”

Sigh. I thought I was being virtuous by avoiding plastics with BPA, but I may have been causing my body even more damage.

My urine had an average level of an endocrine disruptor called triclosan, possibly from soap or toothpaste. Like most people, I also had chlorinated phenols (perhaps from mothballs in my closet).

I had a high level of a flame retardant called triphenyl phosphate, possibly from a floor finish, which may be “neurotoxic.” Hmm. Whenever you see flaws in my columns, that’s just my neurotoxins at work.

                            My lab results: high levels of FOUR chemicals were found

CHEMICAL DETAILS
1,4- DICHLOROBENZENE Can affect thyroid hormones and may increase risk of cancer
ANTIMICROBIALS Can interfere with thyroid and other hormones
BISPHENOLS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen
FLAME RETARDANTS Can affect neurodevelopment and hormone levels, and may increase risk of cancer
BENZOPHENONES Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen
PARABENS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen

Notes: Benzophenones and parabens were also found, but in lower levels than in most Americans. Tests for phthalates and fragrance chemicals were not included.

Will these endocrine disruptors give me cancer? Make me obese? Make my genitals fall off? Nobody really knows. At least I haven’t started doing random back flips yet.

The steps I took did help, and I recommend that others consult consumer guides such as at ewg.org to reduce their exposures to toxic chemicals. Likewise, if I had downloaded the Detox Me smartphone app, I would have known to get rid of those mothballs, along with air fresheners and scented candles. (Science lesson: A less fragrant house means cleaner pee.)

Yet my takeaway is also that chemical industry lobbyists have rigged the system so that we consumers just can’t protect ourselves adequately.

“You should not have to be a Ph.D toxicologist to be safe from so many of the chemicals in use,” Dr. Richard Jackson of U.C.L.A. told me. “So much of what we are exposed to is poorly tested and even less regulated.”

The Trump administration has magnified the problem by relaxing regulation of substances like chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical’s nerve gas pesticide. The swamp has won.

So the saddest lesson is that even if you understand the peril and try to protect yourself and your family — as I strongly suggest you do — your body may still be tainted. The chemical companies spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying and have gotten the lightest regulation that money can buy.

They are running the show, and we consumers are their lab mice.

[1] “Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents”, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, University of California San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment.

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Why does the Cape Town water crisis impact the textile industry?

7 03 2018

This blog post was taken largely from Leon Kaye’s article in The Guardian newspaper.

Day zero for the Cape Town water crisis is predicted to fall on May 11, 2018, according to an analysis of current usage patterns and dam levels. The drought-stricken city will have to cut off taps to all homes and most businesses, leaving nearly all of the city’s 4 million residents without access to running water.

Residents will then have to go to roughly 200 collection points scattered across the city to collect strictly rationed water. People will be allowed just 25 liters — about 6.5 gallons — of water a day. That’s all the water they’ll have for drinking, bathing, flushing toilets, and washing their hands. Some services, like hospitals, clinics, and schools will be exempt from the cutoff and will continue to have access to running water. But the overwhelming majority of the megacity’s residents will have to work with their tiny daily allotment.

Experts say the possibility of civil unrest is high.

Water doesn’t get the respect it deserves.  Did you know that more than one-quarter of all bottled comes from a municipal water supply – the same place that tap water comes from.  And since the average faucet releases 2 gallons of water per minute, you can save up to 4 gallons of water every morning by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.  There is about the same amount of water on Earth now as there was a million years ago.

And – it takes 2,641 gallons to produce one pair of jeans!  Textiles have one of the largest water footprints on the planet; some say it is the #1 industrial polluter of water on the planet (after agriculture).

Dyeing poses an especially big problem. Dye houses in India and China are notorious for not only exhausting local water supplies, but for dumping untreated wastewater into local streams and rivers.  Up until now the effluent from dye houses that can often be seen in rivers flowing through the textile manufacturing areas of India, China and elsewhere is a result of unabsorbed dyes, chemicals and heavy salts that are used during the dyeing process.

The industry’s challenge is to adopt more water-friendly technologies to dye cotton and polyester, the two most mass marketed textiles. So what can companies do to mitigate the effects of this timeless, yet toxic, dyeing process?

“There is no silver bullet,” said Kathy Hattori, who runs a natural dye manufacturing company Botanical Colors. “There are so many ways to reduce the impact of textile dyeing,” she continued, “because, for example, it’s not realistic to eliminate a product such as polyester.” Hattori explained many factories could start by tackling the wasteful dye-to-water ratio. A 1-to-30 ratio is common.

Reaching a 1-to-10 dye-to-water ratio is an accomplishment, Hattori explained, and when asked whether the manufacturer would then simply need more dye, she replied with an emphatic “you don’t”. Diluting a dye, she countered, simply means wasting more water: much of the answer in solving the waste involved in dyeing textiles lies in a factory’s mechanisation. Various fabrics require different manufacturing processes, so one best technology does not exist for low-water or waterless dyeing.

Waterless dyeing should be the textile industry’s holy grail, but widespread adoption is years away. In Hattori’s view, polyester is the prime candidate because dyeing performs best in an airless environment with pressurized high heat, allowing dyes to disperse throughout the fabric. Coloring fabric using this waterless method could be feasible for polyester; natural fibers such as cotton and wool, however, can become damaged undergoing a similar process. Cotton comprises 45% of all fibers used within the global textile industry, so a sharp reduction in water consumption would be a huge process improvement for this sector.

Other than nebulous talk about partnering with NGOs to reduce water consumption, few large companies currently consider new waterless or near waterless technologies. Kevin Brigden, a scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboraties, says while waterless dye technologies do help to solve many problems, “dyes and possibly some other chemicals are still used, and it is important that hazardous chemicals are avoided.” “If there is a waste stream – even at a much smaller volume – that needs to be dealt with appropriately.”

“Right now there is very low uptake of use of these technologies,” says Andrew Filarowski, technical director at the Society of Dyers and Colorists. The textile industry is viewed as low-cost entry into industrialization of countries, meaning that lower-cost technologies are used even when superior technology is available.  The most significant problem, says Filarowski, is consumer expectations for inexpensive clothing. The textile industry is consumer-driven and unless customers are willing to pay more for products made with waterless dye technology, the industry isn’t going to adopt it.  “The only way to produce clothing cheaply is to do it abroad without any real control and certainly not by using the most modernised and sustainable technology.”

One that does is Adidas. During a telephone conversation earlier this summer, Alexis Olans, a senior director of the company’s sustainability programs, explained the challenges and successes of what Adidas brands its “DryDye” technology.

Instead of water, Adidas’ supplier uses compressed and pressurized carbon dioxide as the agent to disperse dye within polyester fabric. The CO2, which takes on liquid-like properties, is contained in stainless steel chambers. After the dyeing cycle the CO2 becomes gasified, and dye within the cotton fibers condenses as it separates from the gas. The CO2 is then recycled and pumped back into the dyeing vessel. Adidas claims using CO2 is a safe and environmentally friendly option because the gas is contained and can be used repeatedly without the risk of any emissions.

Although dyeing using compressed CO2 has existed for over 25 years, Adidas claims a supplier in Thailand operates the only factory with the ability to scale this technology. So can this process transform the textile industry? Not quite yet according to Christian Schumacher, an expert in textile dyes and chemicals, who points out that investment in such equipment is still costly.

Nevertheless, assumptions that water is integral to dyeing are crumbling. As Olans says: “Do we really need water to dye? We discovered an answer that not only solved the intended goal, eliminating water, but also had multiple positive side effects, including a reduction in energy and chemicals.”

Adidas’ work is a step, but the recent announcement it would manufacture one million yards of waterless dyed fabric is still a relative drop in the ocean. And among large global brands and retailers, few have aggressively ventured into waterless dyeing technology.

Why are the world’s largest apparel companies not doing more?

The answer in part lies in Tirapur, India, home to scores of factories and workshops where workers dye materials for t-shirts and other garments marketed around the world. Local dye houses have long dumped wastewater into the local river, rendering groundwater undrinkable and local farmland ruined. Despite tougher regulations, a watchful local press, and the closure of companies in non-compliance, water pollution has festered. The city’s 350,000 residents, not multinational textile companies, pay the price.

The global demand for cheap clothing will push dye houses to simply react to local regulations by moving operations to another city. Moral outrage will not convince many leading clothing manufacturers to change their ways; as long as companies do not pay a price for the land and water their suppliers poison, watch for the excessive use and abuse of water to dye clothing to continue.

What can be done in the meantime?  This article by the National Resources Defense Council shows many ways for textile mills to save water.





Plastics recycling: you’re doing it wrong. And so is everybody else.

6 02 2018

In August 2014, Russell Klein wrote an article which was published in TriplePundit; much of the information in this post was taken from that article. 

For the past 25 years, our modest national efforts to do-the-right-thing by recycling plastic products have suffered from widespread misunderstanding and even marketing disinformation.

Don’t want to be part of the problem?  Consider this an intervention.

To start off, this:    type 7 recyle logo    is not an indication of recyclability.

Nor are any of these:

Other types of plastic

In fact, just to be clear, these emblems are not indicative of:

  • Recyclability
  • Recycled content
  • Compatibility with other products of the same Sustainable Greeny Goodness

In the 1980s, the American plastics industry was feeling a squeeze. Environmentalists were concerned over the abandonment of refillable glass and metal vessels by an increased use of disposable, litter-ready plastic bottles. Scrap businesses were finding it hard to sort look-alike plastics, and state legislatures were pushing for a national, codified system to help recyclers identify all of these plastic bottles.

As a result of these pressures, in 1988 the Society of the Plastics Industry (an American trade association) introduced the Resin Identification Codes (RICs), pictured above.  This was a once-in-a-generation, sector-wide initiative, intended to address the concerns of environmentalists, industrialists and state governments seeking a way to tame and organize the matter of plastics recovery.  Placed on the bottom of plastic bottles,  markings depicting numbers inside a triangle of chasing arrows identified the six most commonly used plastics (also known as resins), with a seventh class as a catchall for everything else.

Borrowing the “chasing arrows” from the internationally-recognized recycling Möbius Strip quickly proved controversial, and to this day this system conveys far less than self-appointed recycling gurus assume.

At the time of their launch, these marks were solely intended to help waste sorters identify the plastics used in bottles. The markings were placed on the bottom of the bottles so they would not affect consumer purchasing decisions. Indeed, they were never meant to be used by the general public at all!  Bottles were the original target of the Resin Identification Codes as they were the most readily collected, sorted and remarketed plastic scrap available.  Nonetheless, it was only a year after the RICs’ introduction that manufacturers of other forms, so-called “rigid plastics” (e.g. buckets, baskets, wide-mouthed jars), were invited to participate in this marking system as well.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the system to outgrow its cradle.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, states all over the country rushed to adopt language to drive public recycling in the wake of a famous national garbage scandal which occurred in 1987: That year a barge named the Mobro 4000 wandered thousands of miles trying to unload its cargo of Long Islanders’ trash, and its journey had a strange effect on America. The citizens of the richest society in the history of the planet suddenly became obsessed with personally handling their own waste. As a result, community messaging and commercial product marketing aimed at the general public began to reference the RICs to define plastic recycling opportunities and to guide consumer behaviors. Unfortunately, this simultaneously created two major, national misperceptions:  Forever after the public would a) look for the chasing arrows for reassurance of end-of-life product options, and b) rely upon RIC numbers as the end-all be-all arbiter of which plastic container should go where.  Thus, even communities who in the early days may have known enough to ask exclusively for bottles marked with 1s or 2s nonetheless eventually found their recycling containers filled with all kinds of dissimilar — and ultimately useless – packaging forms.

Why is it useless?  What is it that thwarts recyclability when plastics of a single number are lumped together?  There are two things; the first is chemistry.  Think of it this way: Every major product shape represents a different manufacturing process.  A bottle, a laundry basket and a trash bin may all contain the same ingredient – high-density polyethylene (HDPE, or No. 2), nonetheless, their chemical recipes are as different as their forms because each was manufactured for a different purpose, in a different manner, by a different machine.  The recipe that works for a machine that air-inflates bottles all day is not the same as that which is required for a machine injecting plastics into molded cups.  Nonetheless, because each manufacturer began with high-density polyethylene, both objects are marked on the bottom with the No. 2 triangle.  However, melt these products together for recycling purposes and you get … a smelly, chunky mess that’s useless to either manufacturer.

So when does recycling actually work?

Consumer product recycling is only possible when you have three things going for you: consistent, post-consumer collections; economical remanufacturing; and consistent consumer demand.  If you cannot efficiently collect similar products to send to a manufacturer, you lose economy of scale.  If the used materials are too contaminated, too expensive to process (clean or sort) or too costly to ship across country, you may lose customers to your competitor in the next region or to companies selling only virgin materials. Bear in mind, clean post-consumer goods are hard to guarantee.  Sometimes what seems like a little bit of contamination in your plastic, paper or glass may produce discolored newsprint, bottles with cracks or jars with bubbles.  Nonetheless, consumers expect recycled products to be just as good as the original material … but less expensive. In reality, this is very hard to do in the absence of a well-trained, committed community that properly sorts its recyclables.

So, now the resin codes (RICs) are applied across products of all shapes and chemical variations, occasionally for the misguided, commercial advantage of ‘green credentials.’  So how does one know when a number in a recycling triangle is a legitimate indication of something?  The answer is: By and large, you don’t. Assuming a single recycling program would attempt to recover only all No. 1s, or only all No. 2s, thereby including bottles, cups, buckets, wall trim, action figures, etc., as we said before, manufacturers downstream would quickly find that melting such products together produces only a colorful, chunky, contaminated mess. To reiterate: Within the RICs, there are too many chemical variants distributed among too few categories.

At this point, as a concerned consumer, you’re beginning to recognize two major problems: a meaningless number and a misleading recycling sign.  If you’re still determined to use these marks to understand what is recyclable in your home or office collection, ask yourself a question: How could a bottling company 400 miles away possibly know what’s acceptable in this particular neighborhood or office building?  Alternatively, was the product imported from manufacturers abroad?  In that case, a meaningful indication of recyclability is even less likely.

Mandatory recycling programs aren’t good for posterity. They offer mainly short-term benefits to a few groups — politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organizations, waste-handling corporations — while diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems. Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.

The obvious temptation is to blame journalists, who did a remarkable job of creating the garbage crisis, often at considerable expense to their own employers. Newspaper and magazine publishers, whose products are a major component of municipal landfills, nobly led the crusade against trash, and they’re paying for it now through regulations that force them to buy recycled paper — a costly handicap in their struggle against electronic rivals.  It’s the first time that an industry has conducted a mass-media campaign informing customers that its own product is a menace to society. But the press isn’t solely responsible for recycling fervor; the public’s obsession wouldn’t have lasted this long unless recycling met some emotional need. Just as  third graders believe that their litter run was helping the planet, Americans have embraced recycling as a transcendental experience, an act of moral redemption. We’re not just reusing ourgarbage; we’re performing a rite of atonement for the sin of excess.

The bottom line is: this numbered system so beloved – or hated – by consumers everywhere wasn’t meant for you, the consumer, and fell apart early on.  It’s time to let it go in favor of something better.  And to those of you who continually argue with your spouse – or your local recycling office – over the recyclability of a strawberry container “because it has a number one!” … Cut it out.  Let it go.  It’s over.

Epilogue. Where does this leave a conscientious recycler?

Ask your local government recycling office what products are mandated for recycling in your community. If you receive collection from a private company (at your office, school or apartment building), ask the property manager for a clear description of acceptable materials. Although most recyclers sort based upon shape (e.g. bottles, trays, tubs, etc.), it is possible your collection representative will offer you literature that remains mired in Resin Identification Code numbers. While you might offer to assist their future efforts to clarify this information (via the recycling center relevant to your community), until then you should follow the rules as given. Your local recycling opportunities always depend upon what materials are mandated for recycling by your local government. What else is consistently accepted by your school, home or office recycling collection service?

In 1996, John Tierney wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful.  And not much has happened since then.  Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it’s still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill.  Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas.  The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies.

While politicians set higher and higher goals, the national rate of recycling has stagnated in recent years.  Yes, it’s popular in affluent neighborhoods like Park Slope in Brooklyn and in cities like San Francisco, but residents of the Bronx or Houston don’t have the save fervor for sorting garbage in their spare time.  Recycling has been relentlessly promoted as a goal in and of itself: an unalloyed public good and private virtue that is indoctrinated in students from kindergarten through college. As a result, otherwise well-informed and educated people have no idea of the relative costs and benefits.

“If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront,” says David P. Steiner, the chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States. “Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?”

In New York City, the net cost of recycling a ton of trash is now $300 more than it would cost to bury the trash instead. That adds up to millions of extra dollars per year — about half the budget of the parks department — that New Yorkers are spending for the privilege of recycling. That money could buy far more valuable benefits, including more significant reductions in greenhouse emissions.

So what is a socially conscious, sensible person to do?

It would be much simpler and more effective to impose the equivalent of a carbon tax on garbage, as Thomas C. Kinnaman has proposed after conducting what is probably the most thorough comparison of the social costs of recycling, landfilling and incineration. Dr. Kinnaman, an economist at Bucknell University, considered everything from environmental damage to the pleasure that some people take in recycling (the “warm glow” that makes them willing to pay extra to do it). He concludes that the social good would be optimized by subsidizing the recycling of some metals, and by imposing a $15 tax on each ton of trash that goes to the landfill. That tax would offset the environmental costs, chiefly the greenhouse impact, and allow each municipality to make a guilt-free choice based on local economics and its citizens’ wishes. The result, Dr. Kinnaman predicts, would be a lot less recycling than there is today.

Then why do so many public officials keep vowing to do more of it?

Special-interest politics is one reason — pressure from green groups — but it’s also because recycling intuitively appeals to many voters: It makes people feel virtuous, especially affluent people who feel guilty about their enormous environmental footprint. It is less an ethical activity than a religious ritual, like the ones performed by Catholics to obtain indulgences for their sins. Religious rituals don’t need any practical justification for the believers who perform them voluntarily. But many recyclers want more than just the freedom to practice their religion. They want to make these rituals mandatory for everyone else, too, with stiff fines for sinners who don’t sort properly.  Seattle has become so aggressive that the city is being sued by residents who maintain that the inspectors rooting through their trash are violating their constitutional right to privacy.

But cities have been burying garbage for thousands of years, and it’s still the easiest and cheapest solution for trash. The recycling movement is floundering, and its survival depends on continual subsidies, sermons and policing. How can you build a sustainable city with a strategy that can’t even sustain itself?





Microplastics found in tap water

21 09 2017

The Guardian, in early September 2017, released a report that microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world. What this means for the seven billion people on earth, no one yet knows. All the experts can agree on is that, given the warning signs being given by life in the oceans, the need to find out is urgent.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media .[1] Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres. Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the as it was also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the United States for Orb.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

Why should you care? Microplastics have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals. If fibers are in your water, experts say they’re surely in your food as well – baby formula, pasta, soups and sauces whether from the kitchen or the grocery. It gets worse. Plastic is all but indestructible, meaning plastic waste doesn’t biodegrade; rather it only breaks down into smaller pieces of itself, even down to particles in nanometer scale. Studies show that particles of that size can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of  microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood. But the wholesale pollution of the land was hidden. Tap water is gathered from hills, rivers, lakes and wells, sampling the environment as it goes. It turns out that tiny fibres of plastic are everywhere.

Orb Media

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. “If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

Plastics often contain a wide range of chemicals to change their properties or color and many are toxic or are hormone disruptors. Plastics can attract other pollutants too, including dioxins, metals and some pesticides. Microplastics have also been shown to attract microbial pathogens. Research on wild animals shows conditions in animal guts are also known to enhance the release of pollutants from plastics. “Further,” as the review puts is, “there is evidence that particles may even cross the gut wall and be translocated to other body tissues, with unknown consequences”. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: “It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release.” His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Does any of this affect people? The only land animals in which the consumption of microplastic has been closely studied are two species of earthworm and a nematode.[2]

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibers in all of 24 beer brands tested[3] , as well as in honey and sugar .[4] A study revealed a rain of microplastics falling on Paris from the air, dumping between 3 and 10 tons a year on the city.[5] The same team found microplastics in an apartment and hotel room. “We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs,” said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Créteil, who did the Paris studies. “What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.”

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: “If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation.” Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.[6]

Another huge unanswered question is how microplastics get into our water and food. A report from the UK’s Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management[7] says the biggest proportion are fibers shed by synthetic textiles and tire dust from roads, with more from the breakdown of waste plastics. It suggests the plastic being dumped on land in Europe alone each year is between four and 23 times the amount dumped into all the world’s oceans.

A lot of the microplastic debris is washed into wastewater treatment plants, where the filtering process does capture many of the plastic fragments. But about half the resulting sludge is ploughed back on to farmland across Europe and the US, according to recent research published in the Journal Environmental Science & Technology[8]. That study estimates that up to 430,000 tons of microplastics could be being added to European fields each year, and 300,000 tons in North America. “It is striking that transfers of microplastics – and the hazardous substances bound to them – from urban wastewater to farmland has not previously been considered by scientists and regulators,” the scientists concluded. “This calls for urgent investigation if we are to safeguard food production,” they say in a related publication.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibers into the environment. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. “This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one,” said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf,  which collected samples for Orb.

Like so many environmental problems – climate change, pesticides, air pollution – the impacts only become clear years after damage has been done. If we are lucky, the plastic planet we have created will not turn out to be too toxic to life. If not, cleaning it up will be a mighty task. Dealing properly with all waste plastic will be tricky: stopping the unintentional loss of microplastics from clothes and roads even more so.

But above all we need to know if we are all drinking, eating and breathing microplastic every day and what that is doing to us, and we need to know urgently.

[1] https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics

[2] Carrington, Damian, “We are living on a plastic planet. What does it mean for our health?”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/we-are-living-on-a-plastic-planet-what-does-it-mean-for-our-health

[3] Liebezeit, Gerd; “Synthetic particles as contaminants in German beers”, Journal of Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, Vol 31, 2014, Issue 9

[4] Liebezeit, Gerd; “Non-pollen particulates in honey and sugar”, Journal of Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, Vol. 30, 2013, Issue 12

[5] Dris, Rachid, et al., “Microplastic contamination in an urban area: case of greater Paris”, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 2015, https://hal-enpc.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01150549v1

[6] Carrington, Damian, “People may be breathing in microplastics, health expert warns”, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/09/people-may-be-breathing-in-microplastics-health-expert-warns

[7] http://www.ciwem.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Addicted-to-plastic-microplastic-pollution-and-prevention.pdf

[8] Nizzetto, Luca; Futter, Martyn and Langaas, Sindre; “Are agricultural soils dumps for microplastics of urban origin?”; Journal of Envornmental Science & Technology, Sept. 29, 2016, 50 (20), pp 10777-10779





Why Cotton Inc. is supporting GMO cotton

19 08 2017

Shortly after GMO cotton was introduced, GMO cotton producers, citing advances based on new GMO cotton  and supported by a series of Cotton Incorporated conferences on sustainable cotton,  portrayed conventional cotton as the new “sustainable” choice and organic cotton as an old and inadequate solution that is as out-dated as last year’s fashions.  (Editor’s note:  They also redefined the term “sustainable” to include “growing profitability.”  I was contacted by Cotton Inc., and asked to insert this alternative view about the cotton industry, “Cotton Today” .)

GMO cotton was quickly adopted by cotton farmers, and millions of hectares of GMO modified cotton has been planted worldwide since its introduction in 1996.

Why did so many farmers pay for GMO seed – which cost more – and plant this new crop?  Bottom line: they were told that there was more money to be made from GMO cotton.    GMO cotton was supposed to have higher yields at the same time it was helping to reduce costs.  Cost savings in chemicals and manual labor was estimated at between 15 – 30%.   How did it reduce dependence on chemicals:

  • Farmers were told that GMO cotton was engineered to reduce insect pests so farmers could reduce their chemical dependence on pesticides, and buy less of them.  The gene coding for Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) was inserted into the cotton.  Bt is a protein that acts as a natural toxin to the larvae of certain moths, butterflies, beetles and flies (including the dred bollworm) and is harmless to other forms of life.  When the larvae feed on the cotton they are killed by the Bt protein – thereby eliminating the need for a broad spectrum insecticide.
  • GMO cotton was designed to be resistant to herbicides so that weed killers could be liberally sprayed on crops without worrying about killing the cotton plants.  It was genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate (marketed as Roundup in the USA and manufactured by Monsanto – remember this fact) which is a broad-spectrum herbicide, and toxic to humans at concentrations far below the recommended agricultural use levels.[1]

Not only could they make more money, but  GMO cotton crops were also promoted as helping tackle world hunger and poverty, and helping small farmers. If you were a cotton farmer, how could you resist?  They didn’t:  Today 86% of all United States cotton, 68% of all Chinese cotton, and 76% of all Indian cotton (three of the major cotton growing countries) is now GMO cotton.[2]

Initial results seemed that all they promised was true – early studies in 2002/2003 reported that pesticide and herbicide use was down and yields were up (by as much as 80%) for GMO cotton[3].  But these results were short lived.   Recent reports are full of data on GMO crops requiring ever more doses of chemical pesticides and herbicides to control pests which are mutating faster than even their worse case scenarios had envisioned, and becoming resistant to the genetic modifications found in GMO cotton.

study published by the Institute for Science in Society [4] reports that Bt cotton fields rarely have studies done on what the crops do to the soil itself; they found that soil growing Bt cotton had significantly fewer beneficial soil enzymes in the soil (which makes nutrients available to plants) and total biomass was reduced 8.9%.  This, they conclude, could even lead to dead soils, unable to produce food. One of the scientists working on this comparison is Michel Cavigelli of the USDA. He runs the USDA’s farm in Beltsville, MD to test organic vs. conventional agriculture. The organic systems in the USDA test revealed that organic:

  • Has more-fertile soil.
  • Uses less fertilizer and much less herbicide.
  • Uses less energy.
  • Locks away more carbon in the soil.
  • Are more profitable for farmers.

In addition, organic farms preserve natural resources and biodiversity

The conventional systems:

  • Have higher yields.
  • Are best at reducing erosion (when a no-till system is used).

What about the promise of reduced chemical dependence on pesticides and herbicides?

It was always thought that pests would eventually evolve and develop a resistance to Bt. It wasn’t a question of whether resistance would happen, but how quickly it would evolve.  The Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) in India published the (then currently held) opinion that, “with the current rate of increase in the area under Bt cotton, it is likely to take about 11 – 12 years for the pest to develop resistance to Bt cotton.  However, with implementation of proper strageties as suggested by CICR, it is possible to delay resistance by at least 30 – 40 years if not more.”  Worse case scenario was thought to be three years.

Yet in 2008 the University of Arizona published some of the first documented cases of bollworm resistance to Bt. Professor Bruce Tabashnik, a renowed insect researcher and the primary researcher of this study, said “our results contradict the worse-case scenarios of some experts under which resistance to Bt plants was expected in three years.  It is no surprise that, after a while, pests can develop biological strategies against insecticidal agents and become thereby insensitive:  as a rule, even advantages that have been established in a plant by conventional breeding methods only have a limited time span of effectiveness.”

According to a 2008 study by Friends of the Earth, independent studies have demonstrated not only that pesticide reduction claims are unfounded, but that GM crops have substantially increased pesticide use, particularly since 1999.  Dr. Charles Benbrook, a leading U.S. agricultural scientist, conducted an “exhaustive analysis of USDA data on pesticide use in agriculture from 1996 to 2004.  His conclusion is that over this 9 year period, adoption of GM soy, corn and cotton crops has led to use of 122 million more pounds of pesticides than would have been used had GM crops not been introduced.”[5]

With regard to herbicides, GM cotton crops were engineered to have a resistance to glyphosate – the primary component in Monsanto’s patented week killer called Roundup.  Roundup is Montsanto’s biggest product, accounting for about 40% of their estimated 2002 revenue of $4.6 billion.  Monsanto sold its GMO seeds under the brand name, “Roundup Ready” because farmers could spray the herbicide directly onto their fields and not have to worry about killing their crop.  The popularity of Roundup Ready crops skyrocketed, and the use of Roundup also skyrocketed.  In the U.S. alone, glyphosate use jumped by a factor of 15 between 1994 and 2005, according to the Center for Food Safety.  That led to a host of  “superweeds” developing a resistance to Roundup.   Farmers were told that in order to combat glyphosate-resistant weeds they’d have to apply other chemicals, often in combination with higher rates of glyphosate.   In 2005, Monsanto recommended farmers use several additional herbicides with Roundup, including Prowl (pendimethalin), metolachlor, diuron and others.    In fact, recent data shows resistance to herbicides in general, and herbicides used in GMO crops in particular, has escalated at exponential rates, according to the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds.

According to the Friends of the Earth study, cited above: ” When forced to admit that herbicide-tolerant crops increase overall pesticide use, biotech industry apologists quickly fall back on a second claim: the increasing use of glyphosate has reduced use of more toxic herbicides, and so is a benefit to the environment. While this was true in the first few years of Roundup Ready crops, a look at recent trends in herbicide use undermines this claim.”  For instance, 2,4-D is the second most heavily used herbicide on soybeans; it is a herbicide that formed part of the defoliant Agent Orange, and has been associated with health risks such as increased risk of both cancer and birth defects – and use of 2,4-D more than doubled from 2002 to 2006.  Likewise, use of atrazine (which is linked to endocrine disruption, neuropathy, breast and prostate cancer and low sperm counts) rose by nearly 7 million lbs (a 12% increase).

And according to the Friends of the Earth study,  “It is important to understand two key facts about weed resistance. First, resistance is defined as a weed’s ability to survive more than the normal dose of a given herbicide rather than absolute immunity. Higher doses of the herbicide will often still kill the resistant weed, at least in the short term. The second fact follows from the first. Weed resistance is not only the result of using an herbicide excessively, it often leads to still
greater use of that herbicide.”

And the promised yield increases?  Often, the answer depends on weather and growing conditions rather than types of seed planted.  Average cotton yields in the United States were stagnant from 1996 (when GM cotton was introduced) to 2002 (when it made up 76% of cotton acreage); there was a record yield in 2004 and 2005 but these increases were chiefly attributable to excellent weather conditions.[6] (5)  In fact the question is really whether the yield for U.S. cotton is lower than it would have been had it not been Roundup Ready seed! (6) Other parts of the world had similar or worse results.

Another facet of this discussion should include the fact that GMO seeds are expensive:  in India, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready cotton seed was selling for twice the price of non-GMO seeds.    GMO seeds cannot be saved and used for next season’s crop.   The high price for the seed led to farmers in India often having to take out loans from moneylenders who charged exorbitant interest rates.  In a poignant article in the New York Times, Somini Sengupta published a discussion about the rash of suicides by Indian farmers – 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003 – and lays the blame on a combination of rural despair and American multinational companies peddling costly, genetically modified seeds.

According to the Friends of the Earth, GM crops do not fulfill their promise.

  1. GM crops do not tackle hunger or poverty.
  2. GM crops increase pesticide use and foster the spread of resistant “superweeds”.
  3. GM crops do not yield more and often yield less than other crops.[7]
  4. GM crops benefit the biotech industry and some large growers, but not small farmers.

But why is the Organic Trade Association and GOTS so adamantly opposed to GMO crops?  Why are European countries like Germany banning the sale and planting of GMO crop?  And why did the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) release a position paper calling for a moratorium on genetically modified foods?  Food for thought.

The quality of organically grown cotton is equal to or better than conventionally grown cotton. Because it is less processed and not treated with harsh chemicals (like chlorine bleach and formaldehyde) that can wear down fibers, organic cotton is often more durable than conventional cotton.

Organic cotton is free of allergens and nasty chemicals contained in chemically grown and processed products. It does not cause any allergy or irritation when it comes into contact with sensitive skin (like baby’s skin).

Conventional and organic cotton fabrics shrink the same amount. No miracles here.

[1]Studies link glyphosate to spontaneous abortions, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Benachour N and Séralini G-E.. Glyphosate formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells Chem. Res. Toxicol. , 2009, 22 (1), pp 97–105

[2]GMO Compass; http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/agri_biotechnology/gmo_planting/343.genetically_modified_cotton_global_area_under_cultivation.html

[3] Qaim, Matin and Zilberman, David, “Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Croops in Dveloping Countries”, Science, 2.7.03

[4] “Monsanto’s Bt Cotton Kills the Soil as Well as Farmers”, Science in Society, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BtCottonKillsSoilandFarmers.php

[5] “Who Benefits From GM Crops?”, Friends of the Earth,  issue 112 Agriculture and Food; January 2008, page 7.

 

[6] Meyer, L., S., MacDonald & L. Foreman, March 2007.  Cotton Backgrounder.  USDA Economic Research Service Outlook Report.

[7] “Corn, Soy Yields Gain Little From Genetic Engineering”, Agence France Presse, April 14, 2009





What is CertiPUR?

23 05 2017

Why is it necessary to find a good mattress for your baby?  For one thing, babies spend a lot of time sleeping.  And there is evidence that your immune system works hardest at night, so it seems reasonable to make your sleep environment as clean as possible.  A study done in 2014 by the University of Texas at Austin found that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions while they sleep.  I

But mostly it’s because a common household fungus known as scopularioupsis brevicaulis gets established in the mattress from the baby’s sweating, spitting up, urinating, etc.  The fungus feeds on phosphorus (used in the mattress and found in detergents in the baby’s clothing) and arsenic and antimony, both used as preservatives, in polyurethane production and in fire retardants.  The result is a production of three nerve gasses: phosphine, arsine and stibine, all of which can be very deadly, especially to infants. Enter SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). A large study in New Zealand has had a 100% success rate in SIDS prevention for the past 20 years. Parents were strongly advised to wrap their mattresses with a specially formulated polyethylene cover. During this time, there was not a single SIDS death among at least 245,000 babies who have slept on mattresses wrapped in low density, food-grade polyethylene plastic.  BabeSafe mattress covers were used in the New Zealand campaign, and they sell the food-grade, 5 mil polyethylene covers on their website. ( https://store.babymattresscovers.com/BabeSafe-Products-c23061005 )

Polyurethane foam is a by-product of the same process used to make petroleum from crude oil. It involves two main ingredients: polyols and diisocyanates.  A polyol is a substance created through a chemical reaction using  methyloxirane(also called propylene oxide). Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is the most common isocyanate employed in polyurethane manufacturing, and is considered the ‘workhorse’ of flexible foam production.

  • Both methyloxirane and TDI have been formally identified as carcinogens by the State of California
  • Both are on the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
  • Propylene oxide and TDI are also among 216 chemicals that have been proven to cause mammary tumors.  However, none of these chemicals have ever been regulated for their potential to induce breast cancer.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to establish exposure limits on carcinogenicity for polyurethane foam. This does not mean that consumers are not exposed to hazardous air pollutants when using materials that contain polyurethane. Once upon a time, household dust was just a nuisance. Today, however, house dust represents a time capsule of all the chemicals that enter people’s homes. This includes particles created from the break down of polyurethane foam. From sofas and chairs, to shoes and carpet underlay, sources of polyurethane dust are plentiful.  Organotin compounds are one of the chemical groups found in household dust that have been linked to polyurethane foam. Highly poisonous, even in small amounts, these compounds can disrupt hormonal and reproductive systems, and are toxic to the immune system. Early life exposure has been shown to disrupt brain development.

From the Sovn blog:  “the average queen-sized polyurethane foam mattress loses HALF its weight over ten years of use. Where does the weight go? Polyurethane oxidizes, and it creates “fluff” (dust) which is released into the air and eventually settles in and around your home and yes, you breathe in this dust. Some of the chemicals in use in these types of mattresses include formaldehyde, styrene, toluene di-isocyanate (TDI), antimony…the list goes on and on.”

CertiPUR is made from polyurethane foam.  It was conceived by the Polyurethane Foam Association (PFA) whose members are chemical companies and foam fabricators.  Much of the funding for CertiPUR is provided by the same chemical companies who want to convince the public that their chemicals are safe enough to be considered healthy.  CertiPUR is a registered certification mark of the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam (AFPF) (no website); in a promotional piece put out by the Alliance, it says: “the alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam is a joint program of  AFPF and the Polyurethane Foam Association – so this is not an independent third party certification program, but rather the industry is certifying itself.

The CertiPUR criteria are:

  • Made without ozone depleters.  The CertiPUR label prohibits the use of any CFCs or other ozone depleters in the foam manufacturing process.  US manufacturers do not use CFCs or ozone depleters, so this is a red herring.
  • Made without PBDE flame retardants.  This has just recently been increased (as of October 25, 2016) to include other flame retardants such as pentaBDE, octaBDE , decaBDE, TRIS, TDCPP and TEPA.  But because I was told by a fire marshall that polyurethane is basically “solid accelerant” I would think they would have to have a fire retardant of some kind.
  • Made without mercury, lead or other heavy metals.    Heavy metals are not commonly used to make polyurethane foam, so another red herring.
  • Made without formaldehyde.  Like heavy metals, formaldehyde has never been used as a raw material in foam – another red herring.
  • Made without phthalates.  Of 29 possible phthalates, CertiPUR prohibits seven.
  • Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality.  In this comparison between CertiPUR and GreenGuard Gold, CertiPUR lags way behind:
Chemical: CertiPUR GreenGuard Gold
Total VOC 500 200
Benzene 500 16
Toluene 500 150

 





For our children

4 05 2017

“Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if it will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.” Michael Pollan

Our children today live in an environment that is fundamentally different from that of 50 years ago. In many ways, their world is better. In many ways, they’re healthier than ever before.  Thanks to safe drinking water, wholesome food, decent housing, vaccines, and antibiotics, our children lead longer, healthier lives than the children of any previous generation.  Traditional infectious diseases have largely been eradicated. Infant mortality is greatly reduced. The expected life span of a baby born in the United States is more than two decades longer than that of an infant born in 1900.

Yet, curiously, certain childhood problems are on the increase:

  • asthma is now the leading cause of school absenteeism for children 5 to 17[1];
  • birth defects are the leading cause of death in early infancy[2];
  • developmental disorders (ADD, ADHD, autism, dyslexia and mental retardation) are reaching epidemic proportions – 1 in 88 children is now diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.[3] Currently one of every six American children has a developmental disorder of some kind. [4]
  • Childhood cancers had once been a medical rarity but have grown 67% since 1950.[5] Childhood leukemia and brain cancer has increased sharply, while type 2 diabetes, previously unknown among children, is on the increase.[6]
  • Most likely, one in three of the children you know suffers from a chronic illness – perhaps cancer, birth defects, asthma, learning disorders, ADHD or autism.[7]

And the cost of these illnesses is staggering – a few childhood conditions (lead poisoning, cancer, developmental disabilities –including autism and ADD – and asthma) accounted for 3% of total U.S. health care spending in the U.S.  “The environment has become a major part of childhood disease” trumpeted Time magazine in 2011.[8]

The generation born from 1970 on is the first to be raised in a truly toxified world.

Since World War II, more than 80,000 new chemicals have been invented.  Scientific evidence is strong, and continues to build, that exposures to synthetic chemicals in the modern environment are important causes of these diseases.[9]  Indoor and outdoor air pollution are now established as causes of asthma. Childhood cancer is linked to solvents, pesticides, and radiation. The National Academy of Sciences has determined that environmental factors contribute to 25% of developmental disorders in children[10] –  disorders that affect approximately 17% of U.S. children under the age of 18. Even before conception and on into adulthood, the assault is everywhere: heavy metals and carcinogenic particles in air pollution; industrial solvents, household detergents, prozac and radioactive wastes in drinking water; pesticides in flea collars; artificial growth hormones in beef, arsenic in chicken; synthetic hormones in bottles, teething rings and medical devices; formaldehyde in cribs and nail polish, and even rocket fuel in lettuce. Pacifiers are now manufactured with nanoparticles from silver, to be sold as ‘antibacterial.’

What is different now?

  • The chief argument used by manufacturers to defend their chemical use is that the amounts used in products are so low that they don’t cause harm.  Yet we now know that the old belief that “the dose makes the poison” (i.e., the higher the dose, the greater the effect – because water can kill you just as surely as arsenic given sufficient quantity) is simply wrong.  Studies are finding that even infinitesimally low levels of exposure – indeed any level of exposure at all – may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window.[11]Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than higher doses. 
Endocrine disrupting chemicals may affect not only the exposed individual but also their children and subsequent generations.[12] Add to that the fact that what the industry bases its “safe” exposure limits on is calibrated on an adult’s body size, not children’s body sizes.
  • We also now know that time of exposure is critical – because during gestation and through early childhood the body is rapidly growing under a carefully orchestrated process that is dependent on a series of events.  When one of those events is interrupted, the next event is disrupted – and so on – until permanent and irreversible changes result. These results could be very subtle — like an alteration in how the brain develops which subsequently impacts, for example, learning ability.  Or it could result in other impacts like modifying the development of an organ predisposing it to cancer later in life. There is even a new terminology to explain the consequences of exposure to EDCs: “the fetal basis of adult disease”, which means that the maternal and external environment, coupled with an individual’s genes, determine the propensity of that individual to develop disease or dysfunction later in life.  This theory, known as the “developmental origins of health and disease,” or DOHad, has blossomed into an emerging new field. DOHad paints a picture of almost unimaginably impressionable bodies, responsive to biologically active chemicals until the third generation.
  • Order of exposure is important – exposures can happen all at once, or one after the other, and that can make a world of difference.
  • There is yet another consideration:  The health effects from chemical pollution may appear immediately following exposure – or not for 30 years. The developmental basis of adult disease has implicit in its name the concept that there is a lag between the time of exposure and the manifestation of a disorder. Each of us starts life with a particular set of genes, 20,000 to 25,000 of them. Now scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence that pollutants and chemicals might be altering those genes—not by mutating or killing them, but by sending subtle signals that silence them or switch them on at the wrong times.  This can set the stage for diseases that can be passed down for generations.  This study of heritable changes in gene expression – the chemical reactions that switch parts of the genome off and on at strategic times and locations – is called “epigenetics”. Exposure to chemicals is capable of altering genetic expression, not only in your children, but in your children’s children – and their children too.  Researchers at Washington State University found that when pregnant rats were exposed to permethrin, DEET or any of a number of industrial chemicals, the mother rats’ great granddaughters had higher risk of early puberty and malfunctioning ovaries — even though those subsequent generations had not been exposed to the chemical.[13]  Another recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg—many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes. Other studies are being published which corroborate these findings.[14]
  • Age at time of exposure is critical. Fetuses are most at risk, because their rapidly developing bodies can be altered and reprogrammed before birth.
  • Finally, exposures don’t happen alone – other pollutants are often involved, which may have additive or synergistic effects.[15] Synergy means the interaction of two (or more) things that produce an overall effect that’s greater than – or different from – the sum of the individual effects. In other words, we cannot predict the whole simply by looking at the parts.   Even so, we are challenged to understand and predict the impacts that contaminants have on communities – when understanding the effect of a single contaminant on a single organism is daunting. There are almost unlimited variables that impact any situation. For example: a dose of mercury that would kill 1 out of 100 rats, when combined with a dose of lead that would kill 1 out of 1000 rats – kills every rat exposed.

It is well documented that chemicals can make each other more toxic, and because we can’t know what exposures we’re being subjected to (given the cocktail of smog, auto exhaust, cosmetics, cleaning products and countless other chemicals we’re exposed to every day) coupled with an individuals unique chemistry, we can’t know when exposure to a chemical will trigger a tipping point.

Thanks to a computer-assisted technique called microarray profiling, scientists can examine the effects of toxins on thousands of genes at once (before they could study 100 at a time at most). They can also search for signs of chemical subversion at the molecular level, in genes and proteins. This capability means that we are throwing out our old notions of toxicology (i.e., “the dose makes the poison”). In a recent talk at the National Academy of Sciences, Linda Birnbaum, the head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program, called toxicogenomics—the study of how genes respond to toxins—the “breakthrough” that pushed the study of poisons beyond the “obvious things” that is, that huge doses led to “death or low birth weight.”

Are these rates of disease and the corresponding rise in the use of industrial chemicals a coincidence? Are our increased rates of disease due to better diagnosis? Some argue that we’re confronting fewer natural pathogens. All plausible.  But it’s also true that we’re encountering an endless barrage of artificial pathogens that are taxing our systems to the max. And our children are the pawns in this great experiment. And if you think artificial pathogens are not the main culprits, your opinion is not shared by a goodly number of scientists, who believe that this endless barrage of artificial pathogens that is taxing our systems to the max has replaced bacteria and viruses as the major cause of human illness.[16] We don’t have to debate which source is primary, especially because, with the rise of super bugs, it’s a silly debate. The point remains that industrial pollution is a cause of human illness – and it is a cause we can take concrete actions to stem.

Consider this: Children of moms who had the highest levels of phthalates in their blood during pregnancy had children who had markedly lower IQs at age 7.[17] Why talk about this? Because phthalates are in the fabrics we use. Generally, phthalates are used to make plastic soft, but they’re also found in perfume, hair spray, deodorant, nail polish, insect repellent, carpeting, vinyl flooring, shower curtains…..I could go on. They’re in our food and water too. And also in fabrics. People don’t think about the soft fabrics they’re surrounded most of every day as containing chemicals that can harm us – while we continue to identify fabric as the elephant in the room. Greenpeace did a study of fabrics produced by the Walt Disney Company in 2004 and found phthalates in all samples tested, at up to 20% of the weight of the fabric.[18]  Phthalates are one of the main components of plastisol screen printing inks used on fabrics. They’re also used in the production of synthetic fibers, as a finish for synthetic fibers to prevent static cling and as an intermediary in the production of dyes.

Consider this: The Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center published a list of the top 10 chemicals they believe are linked to autism – and of the 10, 6 are used in textile processing and 2 are pesticides used on fiber crops.[19] What other chemicals are used in textile production, and what do those chemicals do to human health?

  1. Disruptions during development (including autism, which now occurs in 1 of every 68 births in the US[20]); attention deficit disorders (ADD) and hyperactivity (ADHD): Chemicals commonly used in textiles which contribute to these conditions:
  1. Breathing difficulties, including asthma (in children under 5 asthma has increased 160% between 1980-1994[21]) and allergies. Chemicals used in textiles which contribute:
  • Formaldehyde, other aldehydes
  • Benzene, toluene
  1. Damage to the nervous and immune system, reproductive disorders, endometriosis:

Dioxins

Toluene/benzene

  1. Hormone disruptions, infertility and lowered sperm counts:

Chlorine

Sodium cyanide/ sodium sulfate

Alkylphenolethoxylates

Phthalates

  1. Cancer:

Formaldehyde,

Lead,

Cadmium,

Pesticides,

Benzene,

Vinyl chloride

 

Specifically:

  • Formaldehyde is used often in finishing textiles to give the fabrics easy care properties (like wrinkle resistance, anti cling, stain resistance, etc.).  Formaldehyde resins are used on almost all cotton/poly sheet sets sold in the USA.
    • Formaldehyde is a listed human carcinogen.  Besides being associated with watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, difficulty in breathing, coughing, some pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), asthma attacks, chest tightness, headaches, and general fatigue, as well as well documented skin rashes, formaldehyde is associated with more severe health issues:  For example, it could cause nervous system damage by its known ability to react with and form cross-links with proteins, DNA and unsaturated fatty acids. These same mechanisms could cause damage to virtually any cell in the body, since all cells contain these substances. Formaldehyde can react with the nerve protein (neuroamines) and nerve transmitters (e.g., catecholamines), which could impair normal nervous system function and cause endocrine disruption.[22]
      • In January 2009, new blue uniforms issued to Transportation Security Administration officers gave them skin rashes, bloody noses, lightheadedness, red eyes, and swollen and cracked lips, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing the officers[23]; in 2012 Alaska Airlines flight attendants reported the same “dermal symptoms” as the TSA officers – and in 2016 American Airlines flight attendants had the same symptoms.[24]
      • In 2008, more than 600 people joined a class action suit against Victoria’s Secret, claiming horrific skin reactions (and permanent scarring for some) as a result of wearing Victoria Secret’s bras.   Lawsuits were filed in Florida and New York – after the lawyers found formaldehyde in the bras.
      • A study by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found a link in textile workers between length of exposure to formaldehyde and leukemia deaths.[25]

Studies have been done which link formaldehyde in indoor air as a risk factor for childhood asthma.[26] Formaldehyde in clothing is not regulated in the United States, but 13 other countries do have laws that regulate the amount of formaldehyde allowed in clothing.   Greenpeace tested a series of Disney clothing articles and found from 23ppm – 1,100 ppm of formaldehyde in 8 of the 16 products tested.   By the way, OSHA has established a Federal standard that restricts the amount of formaldehyde that a worker can be exposed to over an 8 hour workday – currently that’s 0.75 ppm. That means if you have 0.2 ppm of formaldehyde in your indoor air, and your baby is wearing the Disney “Finding Nemo” t-shirt, which registered at 1,100 ppm formaldehyde – what do you think the formaldehyde is doing to your baby?

  • Perfluorocarbons (PFC’s, which break down in the body to perfluorooctanoic acid – PFOA – and perfluorooctanyl sulfate – PFOS) are used on fabrics as soil and stain repellents.
    • These are among the most persistent synthetic chemicals known to man. Scientists noticed that PFOS was showing up everywhere: in polar bears, dolphins, baby eagles, tap water and human blood. So did its cousin PFOA.    These two man-made perfluorochemicals (PFOS and PFOA) don’t decompose in nature and are toxic to humans, with health effects ranging from birth or developmental effects, to the brain and nervous system, immune system (including sensitization and allergies) and some forms of cancer.  Once they are in the body, it takes decades to get them out – assuming you are exposed to no more. Every American who has been tested for these chemicals have these hyper-persistent, toxic chemicals in their blood. The Cradle to Cradle program no longer certifies any products which contain PFCs. A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the more exposure children have to PFCs, the less likely they are to have a good immune response to vaccinations.[27] This is not a frivolous concern because the levels of PFCs globally are not going down, and in some places may be increasing.
  • Benzene, used in the production of nylon and other synthetics, in textile dyestuffs and in the pigment printing process – is highly carcinogenic and linked to leukemia, breast cancer, lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers. It is easily absorbed by the skin.
  • Endocrine disruptors (EDC): Used in detergents, as dye stripping agents, fastness improvers and in finishes (water repellents, flame retardants, anti-fungal and odor-preventive agents).

The endocrine system is the exquisitely balanced system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth (including the development of the brain and nervous system), response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and behavior, and the ability to reproduce. Hormones are chemicals such as insulin, thyroxin, estrogen, and testosterone that interact with specific target cells.  The endocrine system uses these chemicals to send messages to the cells – similar to the nervous system sending electrical messages to control and coordinate the body. Pregnancy, childhood and adolescence are periods of brain development that are considered critically sensitive to toxic chemicals, with even small exposures at the wrong time altering the brain’s developmental programming signals in an irreversible way.    Impaired brain development may result in a broad range of human health effects:  from altered reproduction, metabolism and stress response, to mental retardation and subtle, subclinical intellectual deficiencies.  In addition, fetal and early childhood life stages are particularly sensitive to heavy metals and EDCs and there are likely to be no safe levels which can be set with sufficient certainty. (To see which chemicals impact the fetus, go to:         http://endocrinedisruption.org/prenatal-origins-of-endocrine-disruption/critical-windows-of-development/timeline-test/

Over the past 60 years, a growing number of endocrine disrupting chemicals have been used in the production of almost everything we purchase. What this constant everyday low-dose exposure means in terms of public health is just beginning to be explored by the academic community. Only relatively recently have we learned that a large number of chemicals can penetrate the womb and alter the construction and programming of a child before it is born. Through trans-generational exposure, endocrine disruptors cause adverse developmental and reproductive disorders at extremely low amounts in the womb, and often within the range of human exposure. In 2007, the global prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was 5.3%.  In the United States, by 2012, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD was 10% of children while 8% of children have a learning disability.

As the TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc.) website states:   “The human health consequences of endocrine disruption are dire. Yet, no chemical has been regulated in the U.S. to date because of its endocrine disrupting effects – and no chemical in use has been thoroughly tested for its endocrine disrupting effects. The U.S. government has failed to respond to the evolving science of endocrine disruption. While much remains to be learned in regard to the nature and extent of the impact of endocrine disruptors on human health, enough is known now to assume a precautionary approach should be taken.”

  • Lead: used in textile dyestuffs and as a catalyst in the dye process. Lead has been known to cause intellectual disabilities for many years, with no known safe blood level. Studies have shown that if children are exposed to lead, either in the womb or in early childhood, their brains are likely to be smaller.[28]
  • Mercury: also used in textile dyestuffs, and as a catalyst in the dyeing process. Exposure to mercury during development prevents neurons from finding their appropriate place in the brain, causing lower language, attention and memory scores, reduced cognitive performance and psychomotor deficiencies in children.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs):  used in textile dyestuffs. PCBs have been banned from most uses since the 1970s in many countries. Known to interfere with the normal function of the thyroid hormone, and there is growing evidence that PCBs adversely affect neurodevelopment.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)used in flame retardants in the textile industry

PBDEs are widespread contaminants of the environment and the human body.  PBDEs persist in the environment and some bioaccumuate in human tissues.  A recent Dutch study reported that PBDEs were associated with lower mental and psychomotor development and IQ in pre-school children, and poorer attention for those in school. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that Latino children born in California had levels of PBDE in their blood seven times higher than Latino children who were born in raised in Mexico.[29] In general, people in the United States have higher levels of PBDE than anyone else in the world. A paper published in Environmental Science & Technology[30] also finds high fire retardant levels in pet dogs. Cats, because they lick their fur, have the highest levels of all. See the Chicago Tribune series “Playing with Fire”, in which they concluded fire retardants were a public health debacle. (http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/flames/index.html )

  • Dioxins: Main uses of dioxin in relation to textiles is as a preservative for cotton and other fibers during sea transit,  and in cotton bleaching. It is also found in some dyestuffs.   It is one of the strongest poisons which man is able to produce. It causes cancer of the liver and lung, and interferes with the immune system, resulting in a predisposition to infectious diseases and impacts the developing fetus
    • Studies have found dioxin leached from clothing  onto  the skin of participants.[31] It was shown that these contaminants are transferred from textiles to human skin during wearing. They were also present in shower water and were washed out of textiles during washing. Extensive evidence was found indicating that contaminated textiles are a major source of chlorinated dioxins and furans in non-industrial sewage sludge, dry cleaning residues and house dust.

Today there are more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals in use by industry, most of which have never been tested.   These synthetic chemicals, many believe, can be blamed for many of the modern maladies affecting humans. In fact, many scientists are saying that the increasing levels of human disease are caused by the chemical burden imposed on our bodies. Dr. Dick Irwin, a toxicologist at Texas A&M University, says, “Chemicals have replaced bacteria and viruses as the main threat to health. The diseases we are beginning to see in the 21st Century as the major causes of death are diseases of chemical origin.” These chemicals are becoming part of our environment, being taken into our bodies and changing them in unknown and unforeseen ways.

We need to do whatever we can to stem the tide of chemical incursions into our world; we can see the damage being done, from dead zones in the oceans to desertification of entire countries. We all suffer the “common wound”. We know very little about what these exposures are doing to our genetic makeup. We need to act now to protect our kids. We can’t wait for the government to put legislated controls in place – the government historically has not been proactive in this area.

What is an “organic fabric”?   When you see a fabric that says “made with organic cotton” the manufacturer is not telling you anything about how the organic cotton was made into cloth. The fiber, organic cotton, used to make the fabric may have been raised with regard to health and safety of the planet and people; but the production of the fabric made from that cotton may not have been. Think of applesauce: if you start with organic apples, then add Red Dye #2, stabilizers, emulsifiers, and antibacterials to inhibit mold – you don’t end up with organic applesauce. The same analogy can be used for textile production.

An organic fabric is a fabric that is produced using no known or suspected toxic chemicals (toxic to the earth, humans or animals) at any stage of the production process: from fiber to finished fabric. The major textile production steps include spinning; weaving; dyeing; printing; and finishing. Sub steps can include bleaching, brightening, sizing, de-sizing, de-foaming, brightening and countless others. The GOTS, or Global Organic Textile Standard, which forbids the use of many known or suspected toxic substances in each step of the textile production process, also requires water treatment (because even benign chemicals released into the eco-system will degrade the local eco-system and threaten the life of all that depend on it). It also covers fundamental social justice issues (no child labor, no slave labor, certain minimal working conditions); and addresses in a preliminary way carbon footprint concerns.

The trend to eco consciousness in textiles is major progress in reclaiming our stewardship of the earth, and in preventing preventable human misery. The new textile standards are not, by any means, yet environmentally benign. But, if people demand or support the efforts, more progress can be made – and rapidly. Many new techniques are possible, such as using ultrasound for dyeing, thereby eliminating the use of water entirely; and drying fabrics using radio frequencies rather than ovens, saving energy.

You have the power to stem the toxic stream caused by the production of fabric. If you search for and buy an eco textile, you are encouraging a shift to production methods that have the currently achievable minimum detrimental effects for either the planet or for your health. You, as a consumer, are very powerful. You have the power to change harmful production practices. Eco textiles exist and they give you a greener, healthier, fair-trade alternative. What will an eco textile do for you? You and the frogs and the world’s flora and fauna could live longer, and be healthier – and in a more just, sufficiently diversified, more beautiful world.

[1] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=8&sub=42

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsInfantDeaths/

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/Features/CountingAutism/

[4] Boyle, Coleen A., et al, “Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in U.S. children, 1997-2008”, Pediatrics,  February, 2011.

[5] Shabecoff, Philip and Alice; Poisoned Profits: the Toxic Assault on Our Children, Random House, August 2008.

[6] Grady, Denise, “Obesity-Linked Diabetes in children Resists Treatment”, New York Times, April 29, 2012

[7] Shabecoff, op cit.

[8] Walsh, Bryan, “Environmental Toxins Cost Billions in childhood Disease”, Time, May 4, 2011.

[9] Koger, Susan M, et al, “Environmental Toxicants and Developmental Disabilities”,  American Psychologist, April 2005, Vol 60, No. 3, 243-255

[10] Polluting Our Future, September 2000, http://www.aaidd.org/ehi/media/polluting_report.pdf

[11] Sheehan DM, Willingham EJ, Bergeron JM, Osborn CT, Crews D; “No threshold dose for estradiol-induced sex reversal of turtle embryos: how little is too much?” Environ Health Perspect 107:155–159, 1999

[12] Anway MD, Skinner MK “Epigenetic transgenerational actions of endocrine disruptors.” Endocrinology 147: S43–S49, 2006

[13] Sorensen, Eric, “Toxicants cause ovarian disease across generations”, Washington State University, http://news.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=31607

[14] http://www.sciguru.com/newsitem/13025/Epigenetic-changes-are-heritable-although-they-do-not-affect-DNA-structure  ALSO SEE: http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/agrawal/documents/HoleskiJanderAgrawal2012TREE.pdfALSO SEE: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/32637/title/Lamarck-and-the-Missing-Lnc/

[15] Crews D, Putz O, Thomas P, Hayes T, Howdeshell K “Animal models for the study of the effects of mixtures, low doses, and the embryonic environment on the action of endocrine disrupting chemicals”, Pure and Applied Chemistry, SCOPE/IUPAC Project Implications of Endocrine Active Substances for Humans and Wildlife 75:2305–2320, 2003

[16] Irwin, Richard, “Chemicals replace infection as top threat to health”, January 31 2016.

[17] Factor-Litvak, Pam, et al., “Persistent Associations Between Maternal Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates on Child IQ at Age 7 Years”, PLOS One, December 10, 2014; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114003

[18] Pedersen, H and Hartmann, J; “Toxic Textiles by Disney”, Greenpeace, Brussels, April 2004

[19] http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/children/areas-of-care/childrens-environmental-health-center/cehc-in-the-news/news/mount-sinai-childrens-environmental-health-center-publishes-a-list-of-the-top-ten-toxic-chemicals-suspected-to-cause-autism-and-learning-disabilities

[20] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

[21] http://www.aaaai.org/about-the-aaaai/newsroom/asthma-statistics.aspx

[22] Horstmann, M and McLachlan, M; “Textiles as a source of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurrans (PCDD/F) in human skin and sewage sludge”, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Vol 1, Number 1, 15-20, DOI: 10.1007/BF02986918    SEE ALSO:  Klasmeier, K, et al; “PCDD/F’s in textiles – part II: transfer from clothing to human skin”, Ecological Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Bayreuth,  CHEMOSPHERE, 1.1999 38(1):97-108 See Also:  Hansen,E and Hansen, C; “Substance Flow Analysis for Dioxin 2002”, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Project No.811 2003

[23] http://www.examiner.com/article/new-tsa-uniforms-making-workers-sick-afge-demands-replacement

[24] Tuten, Craig, “Employee Uniforms a Major Source of Irritation for American Airlines Flight Attendants”, Dec. 4, 2016; http://www.alaskacommons.com

[25] Pinkerton, LE, Hein, MJ and Stayner, LT, “Mortality among a cohort of garment
workers exposed to formaldehyde: an update”, Occupational Environmental
Medicine, 2004 March, 61(3): 193-200.

[26] Rumchev, K.B., et al, “Domestic exposure to formaldehyde significantly increases the risk of asthma in young children”, Microsoft Academic Search 2002

[27] Grandjean, Philippe et al, “Serum Vaccine Antibody Concentrations in Children Exposed to Perfluorinated Compounds”, January 25, 2012; JAMA.2012; 307(4):391-397.doi:10.1001/jama.2011.2034

[28] Dietrich, KN et al, “Decreased Brain Volume in Adults with Childhood Lead

Exposure”, PLoS Med 2008 5(5): e112.

[29] Eskenazi, B., et al., “A Comparison of PBDE Serum Concentrations in Mexican and Mexican-American
Children Living in California”, http://ehp03.nieh.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.100284

[30] Vernier, Marta and Hites, Ronald; “Flame Retardants in the Serum of Pet Dogs and in their Food”, Environmental Science and Technology, 2011, 45 (10), pp4602-4608. http://pubs.acs.org/action/doSearch?action=search&searchText=PBDE+levels+in+pets&qsSearchArea=searchText&type=within

[31] Horstmann, M and McLachlan, M; “Textiles as a source of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurrans (PCDD/F) in human skin and sewage sludge”, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Vol 1, Number 1, 15-20, DOI: 10.1007/BF02986918  SEE ALSO:  Klasmeier, K, et al; “PCDD/F’s in textiles – part II: transfer from clothing to human skin”, Ecological Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Bayreuth,  CHEMOSPHERE, 1.1999 38(1):97-108 See Also:  Hansen,E and Hansen, C; “Substance Flow Analysis for Dioxin 2002”, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Project No.811 2003