Sunday, September 26, 2010

"The 11th Hour" is a persuasive documentary on climate change

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary on the global environmental crisis. It's unfortunate but the people who need to see The 11th Hour are not the people who will most likely be watching it. Nonetheless I recommend it.

The 11th Hour can be downloaded from Netflix.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are carbon compounds that can vaporize (become a gas) at normal room temperatures and therefore tend to evaporate from a building products into the air over time. VOC-type chemicals are used to manufacture some plastics and used in binders and resins for products such  as composite wood or insulation, paints, coatings and adhesives, and treatments to provide water resistance or to enhance stain repellence. Some typical problematic VOC compounds released from building materials include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, toluene, isocyanates, xylene, and benzene. VOCs are often emitted at high levels when a product is first installed if wet and taper off to lower levels over time. Solid materials,  such as flooring, fabric, furniture and furnishings emit more slowly initially and  maintain a low level of emissions over a longer period of time. Building materials wrapped in plastic at point of manufacture and unwrapped at the project site can emit concentrated VOCs when uncovered.

VOCs are part of atmospheric photochemical reactions making smog. Many of them have direct health effects as well. Some VOCs have been associated with short-term acute sick building syndrome symptoms, as well as other longer-term chronic health effects, such as damage to the liver, kidney and nervous systems, and increased cancer risk. One of the VOCs of greatest concern is formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. The potential environmental and health effects of formaldehyde have raised such high levels of concern that international and national bodies have begun to set strict limitations on formaldehyde emissions from some product classes where formaldehyde can typically be found. Several countries have taken steps to regulate formaldehyde emissions in fabrics including Japan, The Netherlands, Germany, Finland and Norway. In addition to formaldehyde, other VOCs such as benzene, acetylaldehyde, toluene, and xylene raise health and environmental concerns. The solvent benzene, for example, is associated with the increased risk of leukemia, toluene (another solvent) is associated with lung cancer, and benzene, toluene and xylene are all associated with an increased risk of nonhodgkin’s lymphoma.

Formaldehyde is almost always found in particle board, used to make less expensive cabinets. In fact you will be hard pressed to find kitchen or bathroom cabinets that are not made with Formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is also used in permanent press clothing. It is recommended that you wash permanent press clothing more than once before first wearing it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as "PVC" or "vinyl," is one of the most common synthetic materials. PVC is a versatile resin and appears in thousands of different formulations and configurations. Among plastics, PVC is second in quantity used only to polyethylene. Approximately 75% of all PVC manufactured is used in construction materials.

PVC is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective, posing great environmental and health hazards in its manufacture, product life and disposal. Toxic manufacturing byproducts include:
Dioxin (the most potent carcinogen known to science), hydrochloric acid and vinyl chloride are unavoidably created in production of PVC and can cause severe health problems:
• Cancer
• Endometriosis
• Neurological damage
• Immune system damage
• Respiratory problems
• Liver and kidney failure
• Birth defects
In the U.S., PVC is predominately manufactured near low-income communities in Texas and Louisiana. The toxic impact of pollution from these factories on these communities has made them front line struggles in the environmental justice movement.

Global Impact: Dioxinís impact doesn't stop there. As a persistent bioaccumulative toxin (PBT), it does not breakdown rapidly and travels around the globe, accumulating in fatty tissue and concentrating as it goes up the food chain. Dioxins from Louisiana manufacturing plants migrate on the winds and concentrate in Great Lakes fish. Dioxins are even found in hazardous concentrations in the tissues of whales and arctic polar bears. The dioxin exposure of the average American already poses a calculated risk of somewhere between 1 in 100 to 1 in 1,000 - thousands of times greater than the usual standard for acceptable risk. Most poignantly, Dioxins concentrate in breast milk to the point that human infants now receive high doses, orders of magnitude greater than those of the average adult.

Lethal Additives: PVC is useless without the addition of a plethora of toxic chemical stabilizers - such as lead and cadmium - and phthalate plasticizers. These leach, flake or outgas from the PVC over time raising risks from asthma to lead poisoning as well as cancer.

Deadly Fire Hazard: PVC poses a great risk in waste incineration and building fires, as it releases deadly gases such as hydrogen chloride long before it ignites. As it burns, it leaves behind toxic dioxin waste.

Can't Be Readily Recycled: The multitudes of additives required to make PVC useful make recycling on any significant scale nearly impossible and interfere with the recycling of other plastics. This led the Association of Post Consumer Plastics Recyclers to declare it a contaminant in 1998.

anti-PVC organization
PVC articles

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain- and stick-resistant. Some PFCs are incredibly resistant to breakdown and are turning up in unexpected places around the world.
Manufacturers have developed a host of chemicals in this family to repel oil and water from clothing, carpeting, furniture, and food packaging such as pizza boxes and fast-food containers. Fire-fighting foams have used them, as have cleaners, paints, roof treatments, and hardwood floor protectant.
There are many forms of PFCs, but the two most commonly found contaminants are:
  • PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, used to make Teflon™ products.
  • PFOS or perfluorooctane sulfonate, a breakdown product of chemicals formerly used to make Scotchgard® products.
How people are exposed:

PFCs have been released in large quantities from manufacturing facilities for decades, and thus contaminate our food and some water supplies. PFOS and PFOA are breakdown products of a number of PFCs.
Exposure also occurs from consumer products, house dust, and food packaging.
  • Grease-resistant food packaging and paper products, such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, contain PFCs.
  • PFOS was used until 2002 in the manufacture of 3M's Scotchgard® treatment, used on carpet, furniture, and clothing.
  • PFOA is used to make DuPont's Teflon™ product, famous for its use in non-stick cookware. 
  • PFCs are in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and denture cleaners.

Why we should be concerned:

PFCs are extremely persistent. Researchers are finding serious health concerns about PFCs, including increased risk of cancer.
  • PFOA is a likely human carcinogen; it causes liver, pancreatic, testicular, and mammary gland tumors in laboratory animals. PFOS causes liver and thryoid cancer in rats.
  • PFCs cause a range of other problems in laboratory animals, including liver and kidney damage, as well as reproductive problems.
  •  PFOA’s half-life in our bodies, or the time it would take to expel half of a dose, is estimated at more than 4 years. PFOS’s half-life is estimated at more than 8 years.
  • Exposure to PFOA or PFOS before birth has been linked with lower birth weight in both animal and human studies.