Thursday, February 25, 2010

Books, Not Catching on Fire, and the Blues

Good Morning!

I'm reading the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things written by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie. It was released last year and gives a really good history of the past 50 years of how communities and health advocates have been trying to eliminate toxic chemicals, but if you aren't a chemical reform history buff (yes, i just wrote that) then you might find the scientific experiments that these authors and other advocates perform on themselves more interesting. 

I read this last night while curled up in my bed (aka smallest bed on the planet). Seriously Dutch people are the tallest in the world (or so they say) and the fucking beds are made for little people and really really skinny people. My bed isn't even bigger than my college dorm room bunk bed I had my freshman year.

I read this piece about how flame retardants were discovered. It's interesting! It is!

We humans have been trying to master the chemistry of fire prevention for quite a while now. In ancient Egypt and China, vinegar and alum were painted on wood to increase their fire resistance During the siege of Piraeus by Sulla in 86 B.C.E., alum-soaked wood survived the fires of battle. In 17th century Paris, flame-retardant treatments were pioneered for canvas, and in 1820 French King Louis XVIII commissioned the chemist Gay-Lussac to find better ways of protecting fabrics used in the theatre. Gay-Lussac is generally credited with being the first person to figure out the scientific basis of fire retardancy with his concoction of ammonium salts of sulphuric, hydrochloric and phosphoric acid. At about the same time, bromine was discovered in a French saltwater marsh, and our species' fire fighting was transformed forever.
Bromine -- along with its pros and cons - is what we're really talking about. An element related to chlorine, fluorine and iodine (together called the "halogen" elements), it's a smelly, brownish liquid obtained from saltwater brine deposits. . . The largest bromine reserve in the United States is located in Columbia and Union counties in Arkansas. China's bromine reserves are located in Shandong Province, and Israel's bromine reserves are contained in the waters of the Dead Sea. That's pretty much it for the world's current sources of bromine.
I had no idea!

Here's another interesting bit of info about how brominated flame retardants came to be:
When leaded gasoline began to be phased out in the U.S. in the 1960's, bromine companies needed to dream up new applications for their product, and fast. Great Lakes Chemical Corporation - then the largest supplier of bromine products - decided to us EDB (ethylene dibromide) domestically as a pesticide. This plan ran aground, however, when in 1983 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an "emergency suspension" of all gricultural uses of EDB - the most restrictive measure the EPA can take under the law - because of evidence that EDB was a carcinogen and  a mutagen and was contaminating groundwater supplies in a number of states. . . .
But another  use for bromine grew in the twilight of leaded gasoline: It began to be produced and marketed as a flame retardant. Great Lakes Chemical Corporation built several new flame-retardant plants in the early 1970's and production of BFRs has been increasing ever since. At present more bromine goes into BFR's than any other application - about 40 per cent of global production. . .
It then goes on to talk about the story of getting Tris-BP, a type of highly toxic brominated flame retardant, out of children's pajamas in the mid-1970s. But what I find most interesting is how the chemical industry has continued to defend toxic chemicals in products for children by telling everyone that they are overreacting. Essentially saying that they are the industry and we should just trust them and stop asking so many questions. As I get older this final piece is what makes me the most angry.

I'm a good southern girl. Even as rebellious and independent as I have always been in my life, I for the most part trust people in authority, at least my first reaction is not to disregard what they have to say. They are in that position for a reason, right? They have experience, they are educated, they make a lot of money, they speak like they know what they are talking about. All things that are easy to not question. But as you read through the history of toxic pollution, you start to see the same patterns over and over again. And it's extremely maddening! Because they know that people trust people in authority especially companies we have connections to and the governmental agencies that are set up to protect us.

They say nothing is the matter. They start to blame the people who are asking questions, calling them hysterical, especially if you are a woman. They say it's just a little bit of pollution and there is nothing to worry about. They get angry at you and spread untruths. They admit there is something to be concerned about and they are working on finding a solution. They pull the product off the market. Process starts over with the next chemical. We are in an abusive relationship with polluting companies.

But in Good Things in the World, have you ever heard of Music Maker Relief Foundation? It's an organization dedicated to recording and publishing blues in the deep south. They are amazing! The basis is that the blues are slipping away and we should all pitch in to help preserve this important piece of our country. So they drive around the deep south recording blues musicians, give them 10 cd's of their songs to sell, sell the cd's on their website, and help generate income for these musicians. I try to buy cds or new books for gifts when they come out.

They just released a new documentary following four older blues musicians. You can download it from their website.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Photos, Art, & Activism

I just stumbled upon this great initiative from Healthy Schools Campaign, 21st Century School Fund, and Critical Exposure called Through Your Lens: School Facilities Across America. It's amazing!!! They have students take photos of their falling apart school buildings. As you may our nation's schools are reaching 50 years of age on average and with looming  school staff cutbacks, suffering state budgets and a tradition of not investing in our nation's educational system, it isn't looking so good for healthy and safe places of learning.

Healthy Schools Campaign is a great organization based out of Chicago, IL that has helped mobilize parents and students around healthy food for a better education and coordinating an effort to pass green cleaning policies at a state level. IL was the second state to pass a green cleaning in schools policy. Speaking of green cleaning, I just wrote a blog over at Momsrising about it.

You can download a book of a collection of the photos from these students. When my sister and I traveled India we gave the kids we met during the week at this school disposable cameras and let them run around and take all the photos they wanted. It was so wonderful to watch! They took the best photos, nothing either one of us could have found or hoped to witness if we had taken the photos.

On page 43 of the Through Your Lens, it starts to talk about solutions. I really like this:
We must take collective action for eliminating substandard school buildings that are barriers to educational achievement, environmental sustainability, and vibrant communities. No single governmental agency can achieve this alone. Rather, we must create a new federal, state, and local partnership to ensure that all communities have sufficient resources to provide higher quality school buildings.
 I agree that we can not depend on the same system to get us out of this situation that got us into it. We need to mobilize, educate, and empower in order to develop a new paradigm. And we must start by asking; if not this, then what.  I don't think we can achieve all that we need through governmental policy after governmental policy, but by making a collective movement forward to making a healthier and safer community a priority.  We need to move away from corporate control and thinking that the government is going to solve everything. I'm not sure what that looks like, but we're pretty smart. I bet we can solve some of the problems we are all facing by working together and taking action.

If you know me, you know that I am one of those painter, photo taking, studied years and years in fine arts artist types. And that my ultimate goal in this little life I've got going is to make change through art, specifically by empowering children. I'm one of those that has kept every sketch book I've filled in my life and often (embarassingly so) look through them for further inspiration. So type of initiatives like Through Your Lens is particularly inspiring for me. I'm looking forward to volunteering at a local youth/arts community center in my next town (which should be shortly).

Another great program was just started by my friend Josef. He's amazing! He recently quit his job and started CHARTS (Columbia Heights Arts Foundation) He started something called a Salon Series where he hosts potlucks at his house on a regular basis and bring in guests from local non-profits to discuss important issues in his community. How brilliant is that? As you can tell I'm quite the fan of this charming boy. And sad that I'm no longer in the district to help out. If you don't have Facebook, that's where the link above goes, you can keep up with Josef via twitter. 

Here is what CHARTS is all about:
The Columbia Heights Arts Foundation is dedicated to promoting and preserving the rich and diverse arts/culture of Columbia Heights, while making it accessible to the community at-large.

To achieve this objective, CHARTS serves to unite the different communities that live in Columbia Heights through the medium of art -- by extending outreach to all corners of the neighborhood for constructing dialogue on the arts, cultivating talent through community-based art projects, and allowing outlets of expression that are universal in their audience.

Hope you're having a day full of sunshine!!!
Renee Claire

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gumbo Friday: Meat & Maternal Health & Maine

Meat: I decided that I will give up all meat for lent, but none of that vegan bullshit. I live in The Netherlands, honey. I survive off cheese sandwiches. I eat cheese sandwiches for one or two or three meals a day. . . not including my many snacks.

Maternal Health: Half the Sky is getting more and more depressing, but at least the rape stories have ended. I'm on maternal health, though rape is still huge piece of the story. Last night as I was cozied up in bed (aka smallest bed on the planet) I read this:

Humans are the only mammals that need assistance in birth, and some evolutionary psychologists and evolutionary biologists have argued that as a result perhaps the first 'profession' to emerge in prehistoric days was that of midwife. The risk to the mother varies with anatomy, and human pelvises are categorized by shapes that reflect alternate evoluationary compromises: gynecoid, andriod, anthropid, and platyelloid. There is some disagreement among specialist about how significant the pelvic distinctions are and the The Journal of Reproductive Medicine has suggested that they reflect childhood environmental factors as much as genetics.

In any case, the most common pelvis for women is gynecoid, which is most accomodating of the birth process (but is not found on great women runners) and is particularly common among Caucasian women. In contrast, the anthropoid pelvis is elongated, permits fast running and is more likely to result in obstructed labor. Data on pelvis shapes is poor, but African women seem disproportionately likely to have anthropoid pelvises, and some experts on maternal health offer that as one reason maternal mortality rates are so high in Africa.

This excerpt comes in a section about the four major factors of why so many women die during or right after childbirth. Those four factors are: biology (see above), lack of school, lack of rural health systems, and disregard for women. None of us are surprised by any of these factors, including the last one. Are you shocked to know that insurance covers Viagra but hardly covers birth control or that "During World War I, more American women died in childbirth than American men died in war". They also state that good laws don't necessary help solve some of these problems, but instead we must work to change the culture of how we treat women.

Maine: Yesterday was another good day for the good fight to put the health and safety of our communities above the profits of the chemical industry. The Maine Board of Environmental Protection unanimously adopted proposed regulations to implement Maine's landmark 2008 comprehensive chemical policy law. Interesting the definition of children was the last agreement made. Industry: 3,6, or 12 years old. People who have brains: 18 years old. It was agreed that children would be defined as 18 years old and younger.

The full regulations can be read here. It's really easy to read, take a look.

There are basically 5 parts to this.

(1) Chemicals of high concern - The State agrees to adopt a hazard-based list of Chemicals of High Concern that have been previously identified by other authoritative entities as being known to be a carcinogen, reproductive toxicant, endocrine disruptor or persistent bioaccumulative and toxic chemical (PBT). This list of about 1,700 Chemicals of High Concern was published in June 2009.

(2) Priority Chemicals -
The state will develop a short list of priority chemicals by the end of 2010 that fit certain criteria. This list then is revised every three years.

(3) Chemical Use Reporting -
Manufactures must now TELL the state what priority chemicals are in their products, in what amounts, and for what purpose.

(4) Alternative Assessment - "The burden is further on the manufacturer to assess the availability of safer alternatives upon the request of the State according to specific criteria and through the use of modern alternatives assessment tools, such as the Green Screen, which are aimed at arriving at solutions. If the product manufacturer fails to produce an alternatives assessment to the satisfaction of the State, the State can contract out for an independent alternatives assessment that must be paid for by the product maker." (taken from a colleagues email)

(5)Substitution - "The State agency is authorized to prohibit the sale of a product containing a Priority Chemical providing that they demonstrate that children or other vulnerable populations are directly or indirectly exposed to the chemical in the product, and that a safer alternative is available at a comparable cost to the consumer. The phase-out of Priority Chemicals in products will be accomplished through rule-making." (taken from a colleagues email)

Well . . . Happy Friday.
Renee Claire

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wisconsin Continues on the Toxic Free Path

The Wisconsin assembly voted 95-2 to put labels on products that are bisphenol-A (BPA) free. Not quite a ban, but a good way to stigmatize products and companies that are refusing to eliminate this harmful chemical. This is the 3rd state to take action on this particular chemical. State initiatives like this are on the rise as corporations continue to put profits over people by not designing out toxins.

Just last week, a group of advocates released a body burden report (a study of what kind of harmful chemicals exist in a person's body) showing that DDT (banned in 1972), mercury, BPA, and others were absorbed and held in these 6 Vermont residents. What they were trying to prove with this study is that (1) we know that toxic chemicals leech out of products and into our bodies and into the water and soil nearby us (2) if we know it, then the companies who are making these products and chemicals know it (3) if companies know it, why aren't they doing something about it and (4) if companies aren't doing something about it, then the people we elect into public office sure as hell better start doing something about it.

I understand the argument of too much regulation and the stymieing of creative innovation, but when companies refuse to do what is necessary to keep the people who keep them in business healthy and safe, we need someone more powerful to step in. And that's what the people who are pushing for these state initiatives are doing. Corporations have more money to beat back these things, then people have to support and highlight them, but it seems that in Wisconsin, it might not matter anyway.

One more thing, before I head off into the cold, the chemical industry is terrified of this state by state approach to banning toxic chemicals. As they should be. It creates a patchwork of regulation that they have to follow and change they marketing and purchasing procedures for, it creates financial burdens and operational nightmares.

So . . . they might as well eliminate toxic and harmful chemicals from the products and adopt comprehensive precautionary policies now. Because it isn't stopping and as our country is just starting to tackle chemical reform at a national level, it's going to be a while before it slows down. But the good and bad news is, we don't really need a state by state, chemical by chemical approach to protect our communities, we need an overhaul to the entire system. Though, I bet you already knew that.

Take care,
Renee Claire

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Mardi Gras!

Today is Mardi Gras. It use to be my favorite holiday not just because I got out of going to school but . . . wait . . . no, it was because I got out of school. Anyways, it also means lent is arriving tomorrow. I'm thinking I might actually give something up for lent this year.

coffee . . . no fucking way

drinking . . . come on

meat . . . possibility, the meat industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change

smoking . . . hmmmmm

That option isn't looking too good. Or I could make a commitment TO something . . . like bringing back my daily yoga practice that has been collecting dust since August. I have a couple more hours to think about this.

I posted a new blog on Momsrising today, you can read it here.

Here's a quick paragraph: "As we see a greater movement towards gender equality, we are also understanding that toxic chemicals are impacting our health, specifically our reproductive system, making this nurturing needlessly more difficult. Reproductive and developmental systems are extremely delicate and without a real commitment to the designing out of toxins, corporate interests are putting our daughter’s right to a healthy and safe future at risk."

I've been reading Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. It's good but pretty intense. After finishing my I don't even know what number Hunter S Thompson book this weekend, I felt like I needed something a little more inspiring than listening to some drunk journalist recount his misadventures in Puerto Rico. Which reminded me of his misadadventures in the desert and Colorodo and following presidential candidates, regardless it was still good good stuff.

The book discusses how intimately linked the health and safety of women are to the health and safety of an entire community (Half the Sky not the Thompson one). It recounts stories from trafficked women and that's about as far as I've gotten already. See what I mean?

During my many travels to the Thai-Burma border, I met with a number of organizations that helped Burmese women get medical attention and operated safe houses. I also met with American cops who had started an organization in Thailand to work with Thai police to raid and shut down brothels. It was a really interesting meeting. I'm not sure how I hooked up with them. There was a time when I was hosting a tour with a US history professor that had been active in the Burmese democracy movement (uni not to be named) to meet with them and when the professor went to the bathroom, both of the cops expressed grave concern about why he was there and their feelings about him. They thought he was trolling more than helping. That's was uncomfortable. But most of the time it was just really intense and empowering meetings that made me understand how privileged a life I have.

Here is an excerpt from "Half the Sky" about what they hope to accomplish:

"We will try to lay out an agenda for the world's women focusing on three particular abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute. We will lay out solutions such as girls education and microfinance, which are working now.

Its true that there are many injustices in the world, many worthy causes competing for attention and support, and we all have divided allegiances. We focus on this topic because, to us, this kind of oppression feels transcendent - and so does the opportunity. We have seen that outside can truly make a significant difference."

Alright the snow has finally stopped blowing and I'm need some veggies and tea. My new favorite beverage is a giant handful of fresh mint in steaming hot water. Its the best!

Stay warm or send me pictures if you live in a place that is over 30 degrees today.

Renee Claire

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anti-Mountaintop Removal Activists Get Additional Publicity From Federal Judge

Judge Blocks Further Protests Against Massey Energy Mountaintop Mining

by Ken Ward Jr.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge has temporarily ordered a halt to mountaintop-removal protests that involve trespassing on Massey Energy property or interfering with any of Massey's operations.

U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger granted Massey subsidiary Marfork Coal Co.'s request for a temporary restraining order against non-violent civil disobedience actions aimed at stopping its mountaintop-removal mining operations.

The order prohibits "trespassing or otherwise congregating" on mining property as well as "interfering, obstructing, blocking, impeding or tampering with" any mining properties in Southern West Virginia.

It applies specifically to five protesters who took part in a more-than-eight-day tree-sitting action and also to "their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and those other persons who are in active concert or participation" with the named protesters.

Read the rest of the article . . .