Diasappearing ocean plastics is nothing to celebrate

August 1, 2014

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Plastics in the food chain

Plastics in the food chain

Appeared:
San Diego Free Press, 02 Aug, 2014
Surf City Voice, 04 Aug, 2014
Algalita Marine Research Blog, 21 Aug, 2014
EarthTalk, 4 Dec, 2014

You’d think that finding far less plastic pollution on the ocean’s surface than scientists expected would be something to cheer about. The reality, however, is that this is likely bad news, for both the ocean food web and humans eating at the top. Ingestion of tiny plastic debris by sea creatures likely explains the plastics’ disappearance and exposes a worrisome entry point for risky chemicals into the food web.

Except for a transient slowdown during the recent economic recession, global plastics consumption has risen steadily since plastic materials were introduced in the 1950s and subsequently incorporated into nearly every facet of modern life. Annual global consumption is already about 300 million tons with no foreseeable leveling off as markets expand in the Asia-Pacific region and new applications are conceived every day.

Land-based sources are responsible for the lion’s share of plastic waste entering the oceans: littering, wind-blown trash escaping from trash cans and landfills, and storm drain runoff when the capacity of water treatment plants is exceeded. Furthermore, recent studies reveal an alarming worldwide marine buildup of microplastics (defined as a millimeter or less) from two other previously unrecognized sources. Spherical plastic microbeads, no more than a half millimeter, are manufactured into skin care products and designed to be washed down the drain but escape water treatment plants not equipped to capture them. Plastic microfibers from laundering polyester fabrics find their way to the ocean via the same route.

Given that plastics do not biodegrade within any meaningful human time-scale, it’s been assumed that the quantity of plastic pollution measured over time on the surface waters of the ocean will mirror global plastics production and hence should be rising. However, regional sampling over time indicates that plastic debris in surface waters has been rather static since the 1980s.

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What are We Feeding Fido, and Why?

February 26, 2014

Food for Thought

Dog Food Bowl 2By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:

  • San Diego Free Press, 20 Sept, 2014
  • Natural Life Magazine, May/June, 2014

My journey into the world of dog food ingredients began when my two-year-old mutts, Olive and Dexi, embarked on a hunger strike of sorts. They’d circle around their food bowls a foot away, sniffing all the while, only to walk away in protest before getting close enough to really get a good look. It felt as though they thought I might be trying to poison them, or at least pull a fast one of some sort.

I served what I thought were top-tier kibble and wet foods, never skimping on price and offering plenty of variety to avert boredom. I changed commercial foods numerous times, trying every ilk of so-called natural lines marketed as organic, grain-free and the like, yet still my offerings were snubbed. I’ll never know if they actually conspired to get my attention, but get my attention they did when they’d go two days without eating a bite, ostensibly giving in only when hunger forced them to.

I became convinced Olive and Dexi were rejecting the meals based on odor, inspiring my 3-part investigation into dog foods: first, to understand the canine sense of smell; second, to master commercial dog food labeling; and third, to discern what canine diet might really be best. I’ve concluded that the answer to the latter might not be as simple as one would wish.

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Plastics-Free Living: Beyond the Low Hanging Fruit

March 29, 2013

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

Low hanging fruit tree

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps you already bring your own reusable grocery bags, have kicked the bottled water habit and know better than to microwave in plastics, but still find daily life swimming in plastics and want to use less of it.  After recycling, the average American still generates a half pound of plastic refuse daily, a concrete indicator of how deeply entrenched are plastic materials in our 21st century lifestyle (USEPA, 2010).

Rational reasons to cut back on plastics fall into one of two spheres: limiting exposure to hazardous chemicals associated with plastics – like bisphenol-A, phthalates and flame retardants – or reducing the harm to the environment incurred at all stages in plastics’ lifecycle, from extraction of the petroleum needed for manufacturing to disposal of the non-biodegradable finished products.

Short of adopting a Tarzan-like jungle existence, it’s probably impossible to completely eliminate plastics from modern day life, but with a little digging and shopping savvy, you can enlarge that dent in your plastics consumption.  Some ideas follow.

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Plastics Make America Fatter?

July 15, 2012

Are Plastics Making America Fatter?

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

Still disappointingly chubby after cutting back on junk foods and exercising regularly?

Two-thirds of U.S. adults are now either overweight or down right obese. And while an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle can contribute to an expanding waistline, evidence is accumulating that exposure to substances in everyday plastics and other industrial chemicals can fatten you up too.

Doctors gauge fatness by the Body Mass Index (BMI), based on a person’s height and weight. For adults, the cutoffs are 25 for overweight and 30 for obesity.

The average U.S. man or woman now has a BMI of 28.7, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One-third of adults are overweight, and another third are obese. Even those at the lower end of normal are showing an upward trend.

And not just adults are tipping the scales. A national survey of children and teens found that 32 percent are overweight or obese. Even animals seem to be gaining weight, including domestic pets and feral rodents. The ubiquity of the problem has led scientists to suspect environmental influences.

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Fooled by Fake Food Dyes

December 3, 2011

Should you worry?

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • Vall-E-Vents, Sierra Club Newsletter San Fernando Valley, Mar/Jun 2012
  • E-Magazine as Fooled by Food Dyes, Mar/Apr 2012
  • Fullerton Observer, Mid Dec 2011, p 9

Not all synthetically dyed foods are this obvious

Perhaps you round out your child’s lunch with popular, healthy-sounding extras like cereal bars, fruit roll-ups, mixed fruit cups, cheesy snacks and fruit drinks. However, unless you’re in the habit of carefully screening product labels for artificial ingredients, you’re probably unaware that synthetic food dyes are likely packed into that lunchbox too. A single item might contain as many as four or five.

While people have used dyes derived from spices and minerals to enhance the appeal of foods for centuries, most of us don’t know that modern synthetic food dyes (aka artificial food colors) are manmade concoctions from petroleum and that a controversy swirls around their usage because of several studies suggesting they worsen symptoms in at least some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The connection to ADHD prompted Britain to pressure food companies and restaurants to phase out synthetic dyes by the end of 2009, and the European Union now requires that products containing certain dyes sport a warning label saying the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Not so in the U.S. where an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just concluded in April 2011 an inquiry into the safety of synthetic food dyes and decided there was insufficient evidence to warrant tightening of regulations. The inquiry was prompted by a petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to ban all synthetic dyes in foods based on research suggesting they pose risks of cancer and allergic reactions, as well as hyperactivity in children.

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Epigenetics: Nature vs Nurture

October 7, 2011

Epigenetics: Revolutionary New Spin on Nature Versus Nurture
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in: Surf City Voice, 05 Jan 2012

What if chemicals your great-great grandmother was exposed to, or even her diet, could affect your risk of falling victim to cancers, mental illness or Alzheimer’s disease? Sounds far-fetched perhaps, but what we are learning about the new science of epigenetics says it’s very possible and happens without a change to the DNA you inherited from her.

Epigenetics also explains how it is that your brain and toe are made of cells with identical DNA, but look and function so differently, and why identical twins are never exact replicas, though their DNA is.

The basis for all these phenomena lies not in the genome – the DNA sequences  which make up our genes – but rather in intricate cell machinery sitting atop the DNA that dictates which genes are turned on or off at any point in the life of both a single cell or an entire organism, like a human being. A good analogy would be the orchestra conductor signaling when each instrument should play and how loudly. The Greek prefix “epi” means “on top of” or “in addition to,” hence the epigenome denotes the apparatus attached to the genome within a cell’s nucleus which enables tissues and even whole organisms with identical DNA to look and function very differently.

It’s long been appreciated that the epigenome is what coordinates the development of a fetus, telling an undifferentiated stem cell, for example, to morph into a heart cell at the right time. Because the epigenome is replicated along with the DNA during cell division, it also provides the “cell memory” needed so the instructions for making heart cells get passed on.

However, what’s new and creating shockwaves in our understanding of human illnesses is that the epigenome is influenced throughout our lifetime by not only normal internal factors, such as hormones, but by external ones too, like diet, drugs, stress and environmental pollutants. An epigenome that can adjust to changes in environmental conditions, like a scarcity of food, is advantageous if the adjustments enable you to adapt better to the environment. However, a non-fixed epigenome also means that conditions you were exposed to early in development which modified the epigenome in unfortunate ways might trigger diseases cropping up even decades later in adulthood.

Moreover, where we used to assume that any acquired epigenetic changes were erased during the type of cell division that produces eggs and sperm, we know now that eggs and sperm can also retain acquired epigenetic markings which, good or bad, can be passed on to your children and your children’s children.

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Meat Lovers Guide

July 26, 2011

Meat Lovers Guide to a Friendlier Climate-Change Diet
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

A plant-based diet beats a traditional meat-based one hands down when it comes to trimming one’s contribution to greenhouse gases, but not everyone is willing to plunge head-long into a life of tofu dogs and bean burgers.

No doubt there are even plenty self-proclaimed vegetarians out there who guiltily sneak in some fried chicken, pork chops or a tuna melt from time to time and face self-recriminations afterward for satisfying such cravings at the expense of a warming planet.

The good news for either lapsed vegetarians or meat eaters with an environmental conscience is that meats and dairy products are not all created equal when it comes to the quantity of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced. In fact, a study just released by the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) and titled “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” reveals that by avoiding just the three worst GHG offenders – lamb, beef and cheese – even hardcore meat eaters can make a sizable dent in their diet’s climate change footprint.

EWG, in partnership with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis firm, examined the “cradle to grave” lifecycle, from farm to retail to plate to disposal, of 20 popular foods in four categories – meats, fish, dairy and vegetable protein – and compared the GHG produced by each.

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