All posts by The Happy Environmentalist

How to Stop Poisoning Yourself

Part 1: Personal Care Products

Well, hey, sometimes we’ve just got to take a clear-eyed look at some things. And when it comes to our health and that of our children, we need to not only see things the way they are, we need to take matters into our own hands to solve them.

Of course, we can debate whether science proves this or that, or whether we should trust our government to protect us from toxic exposure. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. If the chemical skeptics are even half right, staying away from synthetic chemicals is a net win for you. And if they’re later proven to be totally right (as they have been so many times before … added nicotine, DDT, RoundUp, just to name a few off the top of my head), then you’ll thank yourself for making the wise choice now. And that choice is to stop poisoning yourself.

So, I’m going to start with personal care items. I’m including things like lotions, shampoos, nail polish removers, deodorants, sunscreens, toothpastes, perfumes, and so on. I’m also including cosmetics. Listen: most of this stuff is super-toxic. The problem is that cosmetics and personal care items fall into a no-man’s land of the U.S regulatory space, so there’s really no agency that oversees what manufacturers put into them. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group has stepped in to fill the breach. Don’t take my word for it, just go to their website and look up the products you use in their easy-to-search database. You’ll see what you’re putting on your skin, and in your body, and you won’t like it. Here’s the link.

I did it, and it kind of sucked. I was in denial for a while, as many of my favorite products ranked pretty poorly for toxicity. But I gradually started to assimilate my new reality — one without most commercial personal care products. And I started to look for alternatives.

Even if you aren’t motivated to protect your own health by looking for alternatives, at least look up the products you use on your kids and babies. Some of them are not so bad, but some of them (even brands that claim to be “natural”) are pretty darn bad. I did this, and ended up throwing out several almost-full bottles of supposedly all-natural baby care products that I couldn’t even bear to give to friends because I didn’t want to poison their babies either. Be sure to check out your kids’ shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and sunscreen, for starters. I  can tell you right off the bat that two brands of baby stuff are safe: California Baby and Earth Mama Angel Baby. I have found these at Babies R Us, so they’re fairly easy to find. And good ole coconut oil is always nontoxic and so safe for your kids … you can use a tiny bit to detangle hair or moisturize skin.

And if anyone in your family uses nail polish or gets mani/pedis, read this quick link. You gotta know this stuff to protect your family.

So here are some alternatives I’ve found for my own personal care products.

Deodorant: Easily make your own from inexpensive ingredients. Here’s one I found that works great for me (and I’ve never found a “natural” deodorant that would work for me). This one even works for the guys who have tried it. I used Recipe #2 on this site. So easy, even I couldn’t mess it up. Took like two minutes. I halved the recipe, so the ingredients probably cost no more than $1. And it has lasted a few months so far. Crazy cheap and effective.

Lotion: Coconut oil. Virgin if you like coconut scent, refined if you want no smell. A large tub of coconut oil can be found for about $10 … compare that to a bottle of lotion, plus the coconut oil lasts way longer. It’s not diluted with water like most lotions, so you don’t have to use much. I even use a little on my face. It does not clog pores and may even have slight antibacterial properties. Plus it leaves my cheeks super soft.

Shampoo: There are people out there going “no ‘poo” but I’m just not ready. Maybe I’ll experiment with it later. You can google “no poo experiment” and find lots of bloggers who’ve done it if you want to get crazy with it. My solution is to buy Lush shampoo bars online. They’re super sudsy, make your scalp and hair feel great, and they’re so nontoxic, you could basically eat them. Also they’re way cheaper than bottled shampoo.

Conditioner: I’ve been going back and forth between a couple of things. Both work pretty well. Basically, I use no conditioner in the shower. Then after I’ve dried my hair a little, I either rub a tiny bit of coconut oil in my hands and smooth into my hair, or I use a little bit of Aveda’s argan oil throughout my hair. (I am not sure how great the argan oil is, since it has not been reviewed in the Skin Deep database yet.) Both of these methods leave my hair pretty soft and controlled. Everyone’s hair is so different that you just have to experiment at a time when you are willing to risk a bad hair day. But you might end up with the best hair day ever, who knows?

Soap/body wash: Dr. Bronner’s. Easy.

Manicures/pedicures: gave them up. Nail salons are basically toxic chemical stews, mostly unregulated and never well-ventilated. You can tell just from walking in that it’s not good to breathe that air — kind of smells like the pesticide aisle at the hardware store. There are a couple of less-toxic nail polish brands you can find at natural food stores … I have a crazy little kid so my nails aren’t too much of a priority for me right now, but I may look into these brands more later.

Toothpaste: I’m still on Tom’s of Maine. It’s available everywhere and I like the taste. Most of their toothpastes rank very low for toxicity. There are definitely DIY options to look into. I just haven’t made it there yet, and I’m not sure I will, since Tom’s seems OK.

Lip balm: old standby, coconut oil.

I think that’s about it, so far. I am in no need of sunscreen for a few months, so I’ll check into that a little later. I did look into the sunscreen we bought for the kid, and the Badger Baby sunscreen was super safe. Whole Foods and the like carry it —  or there’s always Amazon.

I don’t wear makeup except for special occasions. When I do, it’s always Aveda … and I don’t know much about Aveda products since they’re not listed on the website. They advertise that they’re nontoxic though, so I’m going with that for now, until I know better. I’ll update this if I find out more.

So, today was Personal Care. Here’s some topics for posts I’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks:

  • Cleaning Supplies
  • Your Food and Water – including why you have GOT TO get rid of that non-stick cookware.
  • Chemicals Around the House – garden stuff, pet stuff, paints, flooring, fabrics, air fresheners, etc.

 

 

 

China’s Richest Man Buys American Wildlife Reserve

On the West Coast anyway, there’s been lots of buzz about Chinese investors buying up U.S. properties as investments. Now, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and China’s most wealthy individual, has spent $23 million to buy a property in the Adirondack Mountains and turn it into a wildlife preserve. It is a beautiful property — 28,000 acres of rolling, forested mountains with good wildlife habitat and pristine streams, ponds, and river stretches — according to the marketing video, below.

This rural New York parcel, surrounded by Adirondack Park, includes some of the best brook trout fishing in the country. A previous owner donated a conservation easement on the property to the Nature Conservancy. This restriction means that Mr. Ma may now carry out only certain activities on the property. In this case, he may do some logging and construct nine more homes on the land, but may do no commercial development. While enviros were hoping that the state of New York might purchase the property for a public park — or that a nonprofit might do so and hold it until it could be sold to the state — it was simply too expensive. In addition, the conservation easement already in place provides pretty strong protection, so this parcel wasn’t a high priority for state or nonprofit acquisition when compared to other properties at higher risk of development.

Now, if our many American billionaires would join Mr. Ma in protecting wildlife habitat by purchasing it, that would be great!

 

2015 Was Actually a Pretty Good Year for the Environment

You will hear that 2015 was the hottest year on record, but it was also a year of important environmental breakthroughs. Here are several signs that things are starting to get better:

  1. Americans finally believe climate change is real. A recent poll shows 76% of Americans now know climate change is happening. Even a majority of Republicans, whose party has been in aggressive denial about this issue, now understand it’s a problem. Our politicians have the population’s mandate to act. They must therefore stop throwing roadblocks in the path of important and necessary policies, like the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which will set the first nationwide limits of power plant emissions (the U.S.’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions).
  2. Other important greenhouse-gas producers, like China, are cutting emissions too. China is a particularly important example — it’s both the world’s largest population center and our largest emitter of Barack Obama, Xi Jinpinggreenhouse gases. The Chinese government is experimenting with carbon trading markets in five cities and two provinces, which altogether contain almost a fifth of China’s population and produce a quarter of its gross domestic product (economic output). This is in preparation for launching a Chinese national carbon trading market in 2017. This is a good sign that China is taking its responsibility to act on climate change seriously.
  3. The U.S. and Cuba are getting along. I posted recently about how Cuba and the U.S. have agreed to work together to monitor marine life in the oceans between the two nations. Because many important marine species cross the international boundary, monitoring them has been challenging. Now the two nations will share data that will make science-based management of fisheries and other ecosystems possible.
  4. Powerful sensors are becoming commercially available. What this means is that realtime data on the presence of toxic chemicals in our day-to-day environment will now be available on a large scale. For example, a large segment of citizens wearing wristband sensors that detect chemical residues could allow for the creation of a large database of chemical abundance. This would allow policymakers to base their decisions regarding the licensing of certain chemicals on real numbers describing how chemicals spread throughout the population. It also means that groups who lobby for tougher chemical safety regulations will have strong data on their side — countering the too-frequent excuse of chemical companies and their lobbyists that “you can’t prove it.”
  5. Scientists finally have a handle on methane emissions. Methane, which is many times over a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is emitted as a byproduct of many processes, particularly those in the oil and gas industries. With new data in hand, states, scientists, and climate activists are now able to push for stronger regulation of methane emissions. Thanks to a series of 16 research projects conducted over the past five years, there is now strong enough data on this pollutant that the federal government has proposed, for the first time, methane-specific regulations for the nation.

Read more details about these issues at the Environmental Defense Fund website. Photo in body of post taken from EDF website.

Header photo from U.S. EPA. View original post here.

Rewilding: The Last Truly Wild Horses Return Home

The Przewalski’s horse has rebounded from near extinction. There were once only 12 of these pony-sized wild horses remaining in the entire world. Even just a few years ago, all the existing Przewalski’s horses lived in captivity, and the species was listed by the IUCN as “extinct in the wild.”

42-22097706.jpg__800x600_q85_cropNow, thanks to a captive breeding program, there are over 2,000 of them worldwide, with about 350 living in the wild in Mongolia. These little horses are the last truly wild horse species in the world. The American mustang and other well-known “wild horses” are actually feral rather than wild — they descended from domesticated horses that got free and chose to live in the wild rather than go back to captivity.

The Przewalski’s horses are not out of the woods. There are concerns about their survival in the age of climate change should Mongolia begin to experience unusually harsh winters. And it is possible that they may interbreed with feral horses, diluting their bloodline so that they would no longer be a distinct species. But the Przewalski’s horse seems to have avoided the biggest threat to species recovering from near-extinction — a lack of genetic diversity leading to inbreeding and health problems.

Read more at Smithsonian here.

Read more at Newsweek here.

All images taken from the sites linked above.

A Good Day for Chimps

It has been a season of good news for wild animals in captivity. I recently posted an article about SeaWorld’s announcement that it will be ending (some of) its killer whale shows. While this big announcement amounted to no more than media spin to deflect the public outcry raised by the film Blackfish, it does look like SeaWorld is eventually going to have to bow to pressure and end its captive orca programs entirely.

Now, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which has long been the government body tasked with approving research projects using chimpanzee test subjects, has announced that it will no longer be keeping a supply of captive chimps for this purpose. It will also continue to phase out all the chimp research funding it has, in the past, provided to outside facilities.

Since 2013, the NIH has been in the process of reducing researcher reliance on chimps. Most of its 360 captive chimps were to be retired, with a group of 50 to be kept in case they were needed for future research. Now, in a document leaked by an NIH employee, the head of the agency has stated that these last 50 chimps would be retired, as well.

Last June, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed captive chimps under the Endangered Species Act, making it that much harder for the NIH to approve them for research uses. In addition, any researcher wanting to use chimps would have had to show that the planned research would in some way benefit wild chimps. These strict conditions were apparently enough to deter new chimp-based research, because no new applications for chimpanzee projects were received after the status change went into effect.

Some who would like to have access to captive chimps for use in studies to benefit wild chimps and other primates may be disappointed by this news. Chimp research has already been outlawed in many places. So, overseas researchers who, for example, wish to test ebola vaccines meant for wild chimps on their captive cousins may have trouble finding test subjects. The NIH’s director, however, believes that other species of primates still available to researchers can serve as suitable test subjects for these types of vaccine trials.

The NIH is in the process of preparing a retirement plan for its captive chimps as well as those in other facilities it has been funding.

View the Science magazine article here.

A Beautiful Photo: Little Pika

These little guys, which have been described as a cross between a bunny and a mouse, are undeniably adorable. They are also very picky about where they live. Their physiology requires them to always stay cool, so they can only live at very high altitudes. They can actually die when exposed to temperatures over about 78 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours. They are primarily found in the high Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains.

Photo credit to Jon LeVasseur (www.sharetheexperience.org).

View the original UDSI post here.