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Health Impacts from Toxic Chemicals and Pollutants

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 11:14

Ever since Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published in 1962 (sparking people’s awareness of health threats from chemicals, and leading to the ban on DDT 10 years later), an array of scientific studies have shown that various toxic chemicals and pollutants—in our air, water, soil, food, yards, indoor environments (homes, schools, and workplaces), and household and personal products—are causing or contributing to a myriad of public health problems. Such problems Basic RGBrange from asthma, allergies, headaches, and skin and respiratory conditions to serious reproductive/endocrine (hormone) problems, neurological problems (including learning problems and lower IQ), birth defects, and many types of cancers. Children and babies are particularly vulnerable, including through pre-natal exposures. And people in certain occupations (such as janitors, farm workers, and nail salon staff)—who have jobs in which they are regularly exposed to a stew of toxic chemicals—suffer from higher rates of certain health conditions than the general population.

Unfortunately, many toxic chemicals remain virtually unregulated, and existing regulations are not adequately enforced. Most products and chemicals that are used in products are considered “innocent until proven guilty;” they are assumed to be safe until it’s proven that they’re dangerous. But even when there is strong scientific evidence of the toxicity and harmfulness of certain substances, they are not always banned—or it can take many years of battles to get them banned. Known and suspected carcinogens and other harmful chemicals are in products that we all use every day. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the country’s main chemical safety law, but it is weak and outdated; it desperately needs to be updated and strengthened, but some members of Congress are currently trying to weaken it further, putting the profit interests of the chemical industry over public health.

A few of the most toxic chemicals/elements, many of which are still commonly found in products, CradletoCradleCertified-NoLevelinclude: mercury, lead, arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, PVC (polyvinyl chloride—dioxin is a by-product), phthalates (plasticizers), flame retardants (PBDEs, TDCP, TCEP), cadmium, chromium, hexane, PFCs, and trichlorethylene (TCE). And there are many other toxic chemicals and ingredients. See the Cradle to Cradle product certification’s Banned Lists of Chemicals.

Bear in mind that chemicals and pollutants that have negative effects on human health usually have (even more) negative effects on other species (pets, wildlife, fish, etc.) and on environmental health overall. Our air and water and soil are shared resources, and all living things depend on them for their survival and health. Some of the worst chemicals are classified as PBTs: Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic; these are toxic chemicals that are known to persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in people and/or wildlife (increasing in concentration as they go up the food chain).

The following organizations focus on health issues related to environmental exposures to toxins. Visit their websites to learn more about their efforts and ways that you can get involved:logo-ewc2

Center for Environmental Health 

EWG (Environmental Working Group)

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

Silent Spring Institute

Coming Cleanschf_logo_site

Physicians for Social Responsibility

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX)

Union of Concerned Scientists

Several other broad-based sustainability organizations—including Earthjustice, EDF, Greenpeace, and NRDC—also address health and toxics issues, among other issues.

Among the many types of toxins that people are exposed to on a regular basis, some of the worst sources include: power plant emissions, and other oil, coal, and gas industry inputs, by-products, and emissions (including fracking chemicals); nuclear radiation; pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides (including atrazine and Roundup/glyphosate); building materials, finishes, and furnishings; electronics (manufacturing and disposal hazards); and personal care products (e.g., shampoo, sunscreen, toothpaste, etc.).

These groups are working to reduce harmful exposures to chemicals from the following, specific sources:

Pesticides / food:

Nuclear radiation:

Building materials:

Interior products:

  • Greenguard/UL: low chemical emissions certification

Electronics / tech:

Healthcare:

Cosmetics:

 

Books and Films

Living Downstream (book and film; book written by Sandra Steingraber)

No Family History (book and film; book written by Sabrina McCormick)

Other recent films on topics related to health, toxins, and the environment include: The Human Experiment, Unacceptable Levels, Toxic Hot Seat, The Atomic States of America, Hot Water, Blue Vinyl, and A Will for the Woods. You can find links to these and other films via the following posts:

 

Other health-related posts:

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Categories: Building Green

Fossil-Fuel Divestment and Future-Friendly Investments

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 11:40

The rapid rise of the global fossil-fuel divestment movement is a very promising and heartening sign of real progress.

A growing number of people are trying to “put their money where their mouth is” (i.e., where their values are). They want to stop giving their unintentional financial support to destructive, polluting companies and industries, such as the fossil fuel industry, and to shift their support over to clean, forward-thinking companies and industries that aim to have a positive impact on our world.

Putting your money where your mouth is might involve more than just being selective about which stores you go to and which products you buy. You could be unwittingly giving some of your money to companies you don’t want to support through your accounts and investments: e.g., mutual funds, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401Ks), or any other stock-based accounts or investments. If you look at the list of company holdings that are part of your accounts’ portfolios, you might discover that Exxon and other oil/gas companies are in there, or Walmart, or Monsanto, or Koch Brothers-owned companies (also see the Buycott campaign/app), or McDonald’s or Coca-Cola or cigarette companies… Or there’s a good chance that your city, your college’s endowment fund, your church, or your government pension provider invests in companies that don’t align with your values. Institutions like these are increasingly being confronted by local and national divestment groups.

_DshqZRQ_400x400Fossil Free maintains this list of the hundreds of institutions (including colleges and universities, cities and counties, religious institutions, and foundations) that have committed to divesting from fossil fuels. They include: Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the City and County of San Francisco; Dane County, WI; Seattle, WA; Ann Arbor, MI, and many, many more. Countries committed to divest billions of dollars at the UN’s 2014 Climate Summit, and many world leaders have spoken out in support of the divestment movement; they include Desmond Tutu, Ban Ki-Moon, Christina Figueres, Mary Robinson, and even the President of the World Bank. People and institutions are divesting from fossil fuels for a variety of reasons. In addition to the values motivation, or to limit the influence of oil and gas companies, some are simply divesting because they feel that we’re approaching (or have already hit) “peak oil” and/or that fossil fuel reserves will become “stranded assets” and fossil fuel stocks will soon (and rapidly/drastically) drop in value.

942A5VXM_400x400At the Divest-Invest site, you can pledge to divest from fossil fuels or to invest in clean stocks, and learn more about the issues and options.

Whether or not you have any accounts that can be divested from fossil fuel or other harmful companies, you should think about investing some money in clean energy or other socially beneficial companies. If you want to either switch your mutual fund or retirement accounts over to—or start new accounts with—“socially responsible investment” (SRI) funds, there are many to choose from. Going this route does not necessarily mean that you have to settle for a lower return on investment. SRI funds often perform as well as (and sometimes even better) than the market average. (See some stats here.) And socially responsible investing has recently become much more popular: U.S-based SRI assets jumped 76% between 2012 and 2014 and reached $6.57 trillion, according to US SIF. You can learn more about fossil-free funds and other SRI funds at the following sites:

A few funds that are fossil-fuel free (to date) include: Green Century Fund (both of their funds: Equity and Balanced), Calvert Investments’ Green Bond Fund, FFIUS Fossil Free Indexes, FTSE ex Fossil Fuel Index, Portfolio 21 Global Equity Fund, Pax World Global Environmental Markets Fund, Parnassus Endeavor Fund, and Green Alpha Funds.

Note: In addition to the relatively new fossil-fuel-free criterion, there are a number of other environmental and social issues and criteria that SRI funds can screen for, in areas such as: pollution/toxics, nuclear power, animal welfare, defense/weapons, human rights, tobacco, alcohol, executive pay, labor relations, diversity, and many others. (When you click on the link above, select the Screening and Advocacy tab to find out how/whether various funds address each issue.)

If you would like to have an investment advisor assist you in selecting a fossil-free or other SRI fund, these are a couple of advisory firms that I am aware of:

(You can also do a web search to find firms or advisors who specialize in SRI or clean energy investment or fossil-fuel divestment and who are also based in your area.)

logoAnother way to invest your money is to make a direct investment in a social impact venture, AKA a social enterprise. One place to find some social enterprises that anyone can invest in is CuttingEdgeX. For a list of some other funds that are available to everyone (with a focus on food and farming-related enterprises), also see the top section of this page.

Some people are also able to invest their money in local, distributed solar projects in their area or elsewhere (on housing, schools, etc.). These are two platforms that allow people to do that—though unfortunately, for now, most of these platform’s offerings are only open to California residents, due to current securities regulations (which could change in the future):

(Note: Having solar panels or small-scale wind turbines installed on your own property is another good way to invest your money and get a solid return on investment.)

Most direct investments are only open to “accredited investors” (who, basically, are people wealthy enough to endure the risk of losing a considerable amount of money on investments; an accredited investor is currently defined as someone with an individual income of more than $200,000/year or a joint income of $300,000, for the past two years; or a net worth exceeding $1 million, individually or jointly with one’s spouse). If you are an accredited investor, there are all sorts of social enterprises you can invest in, through groups like these:

And there’s yet another way that everyone can make a difference with their dollars: move your regular (checking/savings) accounts out of the huge, greedy, bail-out banks (e.g., Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, Wells Fargo, etc.) and into a local credit union (credit unions are non-profit cooperative banks that share profits with their members) or a small community bank that won’t charge you ridiculous fees for basic transaction with your own money; won’t gamble with your money, your mortgage, and the economy for short-term gains; and that will give back to its members and your community. There are also a few banks that have a positive social and environmental mission (and are certified B Corporations), such as:

Efforts are also underway to create Clean Energy Victory Bonds, which would be treasury bonds where all the funds raised to support clean energy in the United States.

 

Other general resources for further information:

 

Related post: Green Business, Corporate Social Responsibility, Ethical Finance, and Sustainable Economies

 

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Categories: Building Green

Professional Affiliations: Clients and colleagues in sustainability

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 11:04

Some readers might wonder what I do when I’m not preparing posts for The Green Spotlight, as I almost never mention my (other) professional work in my blog posts. I am a sustainability writer, editor, and advisor, and I work on projects for a wide variety of clients.

This is a partial list of organizations and companies that I’ve worked with in recent years. For most of these clients, I have done writing, editing, and/or research (for printed materials or online content) related to some aspect of sustainability. Click on the links below to learn about the important and interesting work that these groups are doing.

CLIENTS  (past and present)Global Green

Non-profit organizations:

Companies:

Before I formed my own communications and consulting business, I worked for a public radio program (as a producer and reporter), a green building consulting firm (as senior associate), an architecture firm, and several environmental non-profits:

FORMER EMPLOYERS

I also used to regularly do freelance writing, and my pieces were published by the San Francisco Chronicle, Natural Home magazine (now Mother Earth Living), KQED.org, GreenHomeGuide.com, GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, and other media outlets. In addition, I authored a chapter of a book: Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing, edited by Global Green USA (Island Press, 2007).

For the past few years, my blog posts have been published on MotherEarthNews.com, as well as here on my own blog (The Green Spotlight). If you’d like more information about my writing, editing, and publications, please see Green Writing and Published Work or my Publications page.

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Categories: Building Green


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by Dr. Radut