On Pandemics, Pork Chops and Chicken Nuggets

April 26, 2020

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
E-The Environmental Magazine, 24-Apr, 2020
Fullerton Observer, 25-Apr, 2020
Escondido Grapevine, 29-Apr, 2020
Irvine Community News and Views, 10-May, 2020
Times of San Diego, 11-May, 2020
Voice of OC, 26-May, 2020

Factory farmed animals are a conduit between viruses which arise in wildlife and humans.

I’ve wasted too much time lately combing the news for an answer to a crucial question about pandemics like Covid-19: Are they inevitable?

Newscasters and the scientists, doctors and politicians they interview rarely venture beyond daily counts of the stricken to explain why we have pandemics. I suspect it’s because the answer is harder to stomach than the horror of the pandemic itself.

Animals humans raise for food are typically the intermediary hosts of viruses between the wildlife in which they arise – e.g. bats and wild birds – and humans. Consequently, pandemics are a price we pay for eating animals and otherwise using them.

Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher came close to getting it right during the pithy New Rules segment of his April 10 show when arguing for naming Covid-19 the Chinese virus because it seemingly jumped to humans in China’s “wet markets” where live fish, poultry and mammals – including exotics like bats, raccoon dogs and civet cats – are slaughtered on site to satisfy the palate of some Chinese for fresh and exotic meats.

Maher was correct that Chinese wet markets might be culpable for a number of lethal human virus outbreaks, including SARS coronavirus in 2003 and H7N9 Avian flu in 2013.

However, Maher’s initial foray into the origin of pandemics overlooked the uncomfortable fact that Americans’ insatiable taste for animal meat was at the root of other killer virus outbreaks. The H1N1 swine flu of 2009 emerged from a pig confinement operation in North Carolina and was a mutated descendant of a swine flu virus that sprang from U.S. factory farms in 1998. And, even though Chinese chicken farms are credited with the deadly H5N1 bird flu outbreak of 1997 (which killed 60 percent of infected humans), just five years ago a similar bird flu broke out in U.S farms, prompting the slaughter of tens of millions of chickens and turkeys.

Recall also that the 1918 Spanish flu that killed over 50 million people worldwide sprang from farms in Kansas, possibly via pigs or sheep, before transmitting around the world via WWI U.S. soldiers.

To his credit, Maher subsequently course-corrected in an April 24 New Rules segment, proffering that “factory farming is just as despicable as a wet market and just as problematic for our health” and “torturing animals is what got us into this mess.”

U.S. factory farms provide 99% of Americans’ meat, dairy and eggs and are ideal breeding grounds for infectious diseases because of the crowded (and unspeakably inhumane) conditions in which animals are kept. Hence, an overwhelming preponderance of medically important antimicrobials sold nationally are used in food-producing animals.

A hard to swallow truth: Factory farms are America’s cultural equivalent of China’s wet markets.

Many virus pandemics have much to do with society’s dietary choices. Plants do indeed get viruses, but genetic studies provide no evidence that plant viruses are causative agents of disease in humans. A pandemic from eating lentils and broccoli seems highly unlikely.

Humans readily accept the suffering animals endure to satisfy our appetite for meat, and pandemics are just one of the painful costs to us. Others include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, antibiotic resistance, global warming, rainforest destruction and aquifer depletion.

For those who believe that only meat can provide adequate protein to fuel our brains and bodies, consider that Socrates was vegetarian and Patrik Baboumian, dubbed “strongest man on earth,” is vegan.

An athletics documentary available on Netflix, The Game Changers, is an eye-opening starter for doubters that a plant-based diet can sustain optimal health.

Historically, epidemics and pandemics have led to important advances in public health, like widespread understanding of the germ theory, improved sanitation, penicillin and vaccinations. What will Americans learn from Covid-19?

Will we rethink the decades-long erosion of the social safety net, including lack of universal healthcare and opposition to guaranteeing all workers a living wage? Will we reconsider the true value to society of so-called “unskilled” workers, like supermarket checkers, who put themselves at risk now every time they show up for work? And what does it say about our priorities that meat factories are being forced to continue to operate despite high rates of Covid-19 infections among the workers?

Both history and science tell us that, unless we do something different, the next pandemic is somewhere just around the corner. This is driven home by study findings just published in April of six new coronaviruses discovered in Myanmar bats.

My hope is that the global heartache and societal disruptions from Covid-19 will spur a conversation that reaches deeper than blaming pandemics on wet markets and factory farming, but rather confronts humanity with the very real connection between pandemics and eating animals.


Microplastics in Food, Water & Air: Can We Avoid Them?

January 28, 2020

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:
E-The Environmental Magazine, 24-Jan, 2020
Fullerton Observer, 24-Jan, 2020
Escondido Grapevine, 01-Feb, 2020
Times of San Diego, 10-Feb, 2020

Seafood, bottled water & indoor air are significant sources of microplastics ingestion

You’re likely taking in tiny particles of plastics every time you eat, drink and breathe, according to a growing body of research into the risks to human health from the buildup of plastic debris in the environment. Although scientists haven’t yet delineated the specific harms, there’s reason enough to worry.

Microplastics (MP) result from the breakdown into ever smaller bits of everyday plastic discards, like packaging, children’s toys, and synthetic clothing and carpeting. Despite their small dimension (sometimes invisible), MP are still made of long-chain polymer molecules that make plastics resistant to bio-degradation.

Consequently, MP (both micro-particulates and microfibers) are ubiquitous now in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems worldwide, and there’s little mystery as to why.

Since the dawn of the Age of Plastics ~1950, humans have enjoyed a love affair with single-use disposables and basically anything that can be formed from cheap polymer feedstocks. In 2018, worldwide plastics production had risen to 359 million tonnes, tripling since just 1990. Despite encouraging signs that people are starting to worry about plastic pollution – over 120 countries have banned plastic bags – global plastic production is still rising.

As of 2015, 60 percent of all plastics ever produced had accumulated in landfills or, courtesy of human negligence, the environment. MP are building up in farmland soils, lakes, oceans, and the air we breathe. Amassing of MP is seen in environs as remote as the Arctic.

It should be no surprise that MP are showing up on our dinner plates and in our poop.

To estimate annual ingestion of MP by typical Americans, Canadian scientists reviewed all studies to date on MP in drinking water (tap and bottled), beer, foods commonly consumed by Americans (sea foods, honey, sugar and table salt) and air (indoor and outdoor). Data on other major food groups were not yet available.

Read the rest of this entry »


Public at Risk: Scandals at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

August 1, 2019

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Versions appeared:
Escondido Grapevine, 08-Aug, 2019
Fullerton Observer, 08-Aug, 2019
Times of San Diego, 12-Aug, 2019
Voice of OC, 01-Oct, 2019

Beachfront in-ground nuclear waste storage silos at San Onofre

Two recent scandals force the question: Is public safety the top priority of either the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or SoCal Edison as they lurch forward in removing spent nuclear waste from cooling pools and loading into dry storage at the now shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)?

In August 2018, a conscience-driven whistle blower exposed how, because of a system design flaw and human error, a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive spent fuel nearly crashed down 18 feet during a procedure to load it into an in-ground dry storage silo. He also detailed a general atmosphere of neglect for public safety by both the NRC and Edison.

A subsequent Special Inspection led the NRC to conclude that the incident was caused by “inadequate training, inadequate procedures, poor utilization of the corrective action program, and insufficient oversight.” Torgen Johnson, project director at the Samuel Lawrence Foundation who was instrumental in getting SONGS shut down, finds this deceptive because it places all the blame on personnel while ignoring the “defective engineering, design defects, and sloppy fabrication” of the storage system at SONGS.

NRC imposed an $116,000 civil penalty on Edison and cited the incident as a Severity Level II violation, the second most serious possible violation. NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that no spent fuel licensee has ever received a Level I violation and that Edison is the first to receive a Level II, making it the single most serious violation in the country.

Read the rest of this entry »


What Do Beer, Oysters, Salt, Air & Tap Water Have in Common?

November 10, 2018

They’re all ways humans are ingesting microplastics

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Shorter versions appeared in:
Los Angeles Daily News, 08-Dec, 2018
Long Beach Press Telegram,
08-Dec, 2018
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin,
08-Dec,, 2018
San Bernardino Sun, 08-Dec, 2018
Whittier Daily News,
08-Dec, 2018
Riverside Press-Enterprise, 08-Dec, 2018
Redlands Daily Facts, 08-Dec, 2018
Pasadena Star-News, 08-Dec, 2018
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 08-Dec, 2018
OC Register, 09-Dec, 2018 (p. H3)
Escondido Grapevine, 13-Dec, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 14-Dec, 2018
Natural Life Magazine, 16-Dec, 2018
Times of San Diego, 17-Dec, 2018
E-Magazine, 03-Jan, 2019

It was just two decades ago that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast circulating accumulation of plastic debris in the North Pacific, was discovered by accident. Since then, plastic pollution has been found to be ubiquitous in natural environments worldwide, including the open waters and sediments of oceans, lakes and rivers and even in soil and air.

It’s no wonder then that the tissues of wildlife as diverse as whales, seabirds, fish and zooplankton, all which ingest plastic debris, are polluted by plastics. Given that, it would be naïve to think that humans, who share the same global environment and eat at the top of the food chain, are somehow spared contamination.

Though no one has yet measured how much plastic pollution humans might be carrying around, there is plenty of evidence we’re taking the stuff in, by eating, drinking and even just breathing. This is frightening to contemplate because plastics carry potential health risks associated with chemicals both manufactured into them and later picked up from the environment.

Plastics for Dinner?

Discovery of seabird and whale carcasses chock full of visible plastic waste sparked concern that sea creatures consumed by humans might be imbibing plastics too. The broad picture emerging from a plethora of research is that plastic debris is being taken up by sea life throughout the ocean food web, including tiny fish that feed on plankton, fish that feed on smaller fish, shellfish, turtles and dolphins.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ticking Time Bomb at San Onofre Nuclear Plant

December 29, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Voice of OC, 01-Jan, 2018
Fullerton Observer, Jan, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 03-Jan, 2018
E-Magazine, 05-Jan, 2018
Times of San Diego, 06-Jan, 2018
Escondido Grapevine, 21-Jan, 2018

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) abuts I-5 Fwy and ocean. Photo: Jelson25, Wikimedia Commons.

The seaside nuclear reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente were permanently shut down in 2013 following steam generator malfunction. What to do with the 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive waste remains an epic problem, however, pitting concerned citizens against Southern California Edison, the California Coastal Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Edison operates San Onofre, the Coastal Commission is charged with protecting the coastline, and the NRC is responsible for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and protecting the public.

The Problem
A reactor’s spent nuclear fuel must be stored safely for 250,000 years to allow the radioactivity to dissipate. San Onofre’s nuclear waste has been stored in containers 20 feet under water in cooling pools for at least five years, the standard procedure for on-site temporary storage. Long-term storage necessitates transfer to fortified dry-storage canisters for eventual transportation to a permanent national storage site which, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government is under obligation to construct.

However, the plan to build an underground repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevadan desert was ditched in 2011 out of concern that deep groundwater could destabilize the canisters, leaving the United States with literally no plan on the horizon for permanent storage of nuclear waste from San Onofre or any other of the country’s nuclear power plants. In fact, under the NRC’s newest plan – the so-called Generic Environmental Impact Statement – nuclear power plant waste might be stored on-site forever.

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Plastic Ocean Pollution a Driver of Climate Change?

October 27, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Versions have appeared:
Escondido Grapevine, 05-Dec, 2017
Fullerton Observer, Mid-Nov, 2017 (p.17)
Algalita Marine Research Foundation Blog, 05-Nov, 2017
Daily Pilot, 03-Nov, 2017
Voice of OC, 02-Nov, 2017
San Diego Free Press, 02-Nov., 2017
Times of San Diego, 31-Oct, 2017
E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Oct, 2017

Tiny lanternfish is vital to carbon sequestration in ocean.

Though burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, fossil fuels could also be driving climate change via a completely different mechanism involving ocean plastic debris and tiny, bioluminescent fish living hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface.

Lanternfish (aka myctophids) are only a few inches long typically but so ubiquitous that they account for over half the ocean’s total fish-mass. They are vital to the ocean’s ability to sequester more carbon than all the world’s forests do on land through a daily mass migration that plays out in all seven seas.

By day, lanternfish avoid predators in deep, dimly lit waters, but they ascend nightly to the surface to gorge on carbon-rich plankton before descending back down where they deposit their carbon-rich poop. They also sequester carbon when eaten by larger fish.

Carbon sequestration by lanternfish is central to the overall role of marine environments in reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere – by an estimated 20-35 percent.

Thus, anything harmful to lanternfish could hinder the ocean’s capacity to act as a carbon sink. Alarming evidence that small bits of floating plastic debris resemble the plankton lanternfish feast on could spell trouble for them and, consequently, the climate. Read the rest of this entry »


Climate Change: No One is Exempt

February 1, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Irvine Community News & Views, Aug, 2017
PopularResistance.org, 10 Apr, 2017
Fullerton Observer, mid Feb, 2017 (p. 20)
San Diego Free Press, 03 Feb, 2017
EarthTalk
, 02 Feb, 2017

1309_consensus-graphic-2015-768px

Luckier Americans are insulated from many everyday worries, like struggling to pay the rent or mortgage on time. Some even enjoy life in gated communities, fine dining and first-class travel. But, just as money is no guarantee of happiness, neither is it assurance of protection against all of the frightening impacts of unchecked global warming.

2016 was the third straight year that the Earth’s temperature was the hottest on record. Contrary to what one might hear in politicized discourse, climate scientists are nearly unanimous in concluding climate change is happening and is the result of burning fossil fuels for energy.

The United Nations and scientific organizations worldwide warn that effects of climate change are already being felt and that the Earth is more than half the way to a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which runaway global warming will produce irreversible, catastrophic effects. Even worse, if global greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, children living today can expect to experience the fallouts of a temperature increase topping 4 degrees Celsius by end of this century.

Despite such dire predictions, Americans, rich and poor, overwhelmingly believe climate change is not a threat to them personally. In a nationwide, county-by-county poll conducted in 2015, in not a single county did the majority of respondents believe climate change will affect them personally, though majorities in 99% of counties felt future generations would be.

The difficulty Americans have in understanding their own vulnerability to climate change stems in part from failing to see beyond the direct effects of climate change – heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods – to appreciate all the indirect effects on health and safety from air pollution, spread of infectious diseases, food and water shortages, population migrations and conflicts.

These indirect effects of climate change place everyone at risk.

Read the rest of this entry »

Demand Sustainably Produced Cut Flowers

July 7, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09 Jul, 2016
PopularResistance.org, 15 Jul, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 21 Jul, 2016
Natural Life Magazine, 27 Jul, 2016
Life.ca, 27 Jul, 2016

Photo: Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons

Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons

Flowers add color and gaiety to any special occasion and are a time-honored way to say thank you or beautify living spaces. However, cut flowers have become a multi-billion dollar global trade industry with a not so pretty underbelly rooted in where and how they are grown.

Historically in the U.S., flowers were first grown in greenhouses in Eastern states and later in Western and Southern states when commercial air transportation made preserving freshness possible. In the 1970’s, the U.S. grew more cut flowers than it imported, only a small fraction originated in Colombia.

However, new market forces were unleashed in 1991 when the U.S. suspended import duties on flowers from Colombia to curb growing of coca for cocaine and to bolster the Colombian economy. By 2003, the U.S. was importing more flowers from Colombia than were produced domestically. The combination of cheap unskilled labor (largely female) and ideal, year-round growing conditions created an explosive market for Colombian floriculture.

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Human Activity Ushers in New Geologic Epoch

February 14, 2016

(and it’s not very pretty)

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Fullerton Observer, Mid Mar, 2016, p. 18
EarthTalk, 26 Feb, 2016
PopularResistance.org, 22 Feb, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 19 Feb, 2016
OB Rag, 19 Feb, 2016

Earth's history recorded in sedimentary stratifications

Earth’s history recorded in sedimentary stratifications

By mid-twentieth century, humans had altered the Earth to such an extent as to mark the start of a new geologic epoch named the Anthropocene, concluded an international consortium of researchers in a January issue of the preeminent journal Science.

Scientists divide Earth’s 4.5 billion year history into so-called epochs or time units based on major shifts in the composition and state of the planet as recorded in distinct stratifications in rocks, sediments and glacier ice. Previous transitions from one geologic epoch to the next were triggered by either cyclical drivers of climate change, like variations in the Earth’s orbit or solar radiation, or irregular events like volcanic eruptions.  The most recent epoch for example, the Holocene, spanned ~12,000 years and was ushered in by a period of interglacial global warming.

Transition to the Anthropocene, in contrast, is driven by an unprecedented rate of change to the global environment caused by a convergence of three human factors: rapid rises in population growth, technological development and resources consumption, starting about 1950. So although Homo sapiens first emerged as a species about 200,000 years ago, it wasn’t until last century that their numbers and impact were sufficient to drive the permanent changes we now see to the Earth’s system.

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A Climate Change Fix Both the Left and Right Can Embrace

March 27, 2015

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
San Diego Free Press, 27 Mar, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 28 Mar, 2015
Fullerton Observer, Early Apr, 2015 (p. 10)
PopularResistance.Org, 02 Apr, 2015

Power Plant

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Studies abound linking the increase in extreme weather-related catastrophes in recent decades, like droughts, floods, hurricanes and blizzards, to global climate change.

Climate experts stress the urgency of addressing the problem now, predicting cascading economic and political, social and environmental upheavals worldwide if action is delayed. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the CO2 content of earth’s atmosphere has shot up from 275 ppm to over 400 ppm, already well above the 350 ppm limit some scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.

Most Americans agree with the climatologists who believe that climate change is happening and likely caused by greenhouse gases produced by the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels. Asked if “the federal government should act to limit the amount of greenhouse gases U.S. businesses put out,” 78% said yes in a national poll which appeared January 20 in The New York Times. This reflects 60% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats polled.

Yet Congress is still home to a cadre of climate change deniers. Even among the majority in Congress that don’t dispute it, previous legislative proposals to price carbon emissions can be counted on two hands and all died in committee, revealing a glaring lack of political will to tackle this perceived global threat. This comes as no surprise given that fossil fuel industry lobbyists are well represented among the paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill which outnumber members of Congress 4-to-1.

Enter the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization populated by volunteer citizens with a single mission: Create the political will in Congress to pass a real solution to climate change, palatable to politicians across the political spectrum.

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Pests: Can’t we just kill them all?

January 26, 2015

By Sarah “Steve’ Mosko

Appeared:
EarthTalk.org, 26 Jan, 2015
San Diego Free Press, 29 Jan, 2015
Fullerton Observer, Mid Mar, 2015 (p. 5)

Credit: Centers for Disease Control

Photo: Centers for Disease Control

I escort spiders out of my house, use humane traps to relocate attic rats, and save honey bees from drowning in pools.  Yet I’ve been known to hunt with a vengeance a mosquito that’s ruining my sleep, repeatedly buzzing in earshot in search of exposed skin.  At such moments, I might push a button, if one existed, to rid the world of mosquitos forever.

However, recent press about disastrous blowback when humans target species deemed a nuisance should give pause to impulses to wipe out even the most bothersome of pests. Two examples. First, the 90% decline in the population of the monarch butterfly in the last two decades from spraying herbicide on genetically modified corn and soy in the Midwest, inadvertently destroying the milkweed on which the monarch caterpillar must feed. And second, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from rampant misuse of antibiotics, both to treat viruses in humans and to fatten up livestock that aren’t sick. Consequently, people are at risk of picking up antibiotic-resistant superbugs when they’re hospitalized or even from eating meat.

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Five Reasons to Pee in Your Garden

October 18, 2014

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Surf City Voice, 26 Oct, 2014
EarthTalk, 01 Nov, 2014
San Diego Free Press, 05 Nov, 2014
Fullerton Observer, Mid Nov, 2014

Photo: Laura Silverstein

Photo: Laura Silverstein

I confess, my husband and I both pee in our backyard garden, waiting until nightfall so as not to surprise neighbors.

We’ve always been comfortable relieving ourselves alongside lonely highways, even in daylight when waiting for the next bathroom seems unreasonable. But peeing in our own garden started as something of a lark, a combo of enjoying feeling a little naughty while also stealing a moment to take in the stillness of the night.

However, after a little research into the contents of urine and the ecological footprint of toilet flushing, I’m approaching my nightly garden visitations with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with sound reasons to continue the habit.

#1 Urine is a good fertilizer, organic and free
C
ontrary to popular belief, urine is usually germ-free unless contaminated with feces. It’s also about 95 percent water. The chief dissolved nutrient is urea, a nitrogen (N)-rich waste metabolite of the liver. Consequently, urine is high in N. Synthesized urea, identical to urea in urine, is also the number one ingredient of manufactured urea fertilizers which now dominate farming industry. Furthermore, urine contains lower amounts of the other two main macronutrients needed for healthy plant growth, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).

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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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Youthful skin comes at cost to ocean food web

May 29, 2014

Time to eliminate plastic micro-bead exfoliants

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Surf City Voice, 29-May, 2014
E-Magazine Blog, 29-May, 2014
Fullerton Observer, Early June, 2014, p. 9
Algalita Marine Research Blog, 04-June, 2014
Southern Sierran, 18-June, 2014
San Diego Free Press,
25-June, 2014
Natural Life Magazine, July/August, 2014

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads (Wikimedia Commons)

The beauty industry hits hard on the importance of frequent exfoliation to keep skin looking younger and healthy. Spherical plastic micro-bead scrubbers, no larger than a half millimeter, have been introduced into hundreds of skin care products in recent decades, but scientists are discovering that the ocean food web, and maybe human health, could be imperiled as a result.

As babies, skin cells are replaced every two weeks, but by age 50 the turnover rate has slowed to six weeks or longer, fostering wrinkles and other unwelcome signs of aging. Products containing plastic micro-beads profess to speed up cell rejuvenation, and their popularity signals that consumers have bought into the promise of exfoliating your way to a more youthful look. Whether or not such products deliver on this promise, scientists have discovered that these innocent-looking plastic micro-beads are insidious little transporters of chemical pollutants into lakes, streams and oceans and maybe onto our dinner plates.

Micro-beads are usually made of polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), and like other plastics, they’re thought to persist in the environment for a hundred years or more. They’re added to facial scrubs, body washes, soap bars, toothpastes and even sunscreens and designed to be washed down the drain. However, micro-beads commonly escape waste treatment plants and pollute bodies of water, because the plants aren’t designed to eliminate them or because wastewater is diverted directly to local waterways in heavier rains.

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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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Chemicals in Plastics Foster Diseases Passed on to Future Generations

February 14, 2013

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared: Algalita Marine Research Blog, 20-Feb, 2013

Endocrine disrupting things

Common objects contain endocrine disruptors

In pregnant women, exposure today to endocrine-disrupting substances common in everyday plastics might not only be adversely affecting the health of their fetuses, but the health and fertility of their future great grandchildren might also be at risk, according to a laboratory study just published in January.  The health risks are not handed down via changes to the genetic DNA code (i.e. gene mutations), but rather through a parallel biological scheme of coding known as “epigenetics.”

Background
Traits are passed from one generation to the next through two distinct but interacting vehicles of inheritance.  The genes that make up our DNA were once thought to contain the entire blueprint for all inherited traits. For some time, however, scientists have understood the critical role of another coding system that literally sits atop the DNA and instructs genes to turn on or off.  Because all cells in a given animal or human have the same DNA sequence as the original fertilized egg and sperm, another mechanism is needed to explain how cell differentiation occurs during development so that a heart cell, for example, ends up so different from, say, a brain or skin cell.

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Plastic Debris Delivers Triple Toxic Whammy, Ocean Study Shows

January 22, 2013

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Published in:

  • E-the Environmental Magazine, 11-Mar & 07-Aug, 2013
  • Fullerton Observer, Early Mar, 2013, p.11
  • Southern Sierran News Blog, 05-Feb, 2013
  • Algalita Marine Research Blog, 02-Feb, 2013
  • Surf City Voice, 30-Jan, 2013
  • Santa Monica Daily Press, 27-Jan, 2013

nurdles 7While plastic refuse on land is a familiar eyesore as litter and a burden on our landfills, in the marine environment it can be lethal to sea creatures by way of ingestion or entanglement. Now, an important new study adds to a growing body of evidence that ocean plastic debris is also a threat to humans because plastics are vehicles for introducing toxic chemicals of three sources into the ocean food web.

Background
Two of the sources are intrinsic to the plastic material itself, introduced during manufacturing, and have been described in previous studies. The first is the very building blocks of plastic polymers, called monomers, which are linked during polymerization. However, polymerization is never complete, always leaving some monomers unattached and free to migrate out into whatever medium the plastic comes in contact, like foods/beverages or the guts of a sea creature that mistook it for food. Some monomers are known to be inherently toxic, like the carcinogen vinyl chloride that makes up polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, or the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) that makes up polycarbonate plastics.

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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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Greener Laundry: Avoid Polyester

November 1, 2011

Greening Laundry Day: Avoid Polyester Fabrics
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • Algalita Marine Research Blog, 20 Aug ’12
  • Natural Life Magazine, Mar/Apr issue 2012
  • Surf City Voice as “Microplastics: Avoid polyester fabrics to help prevent ocean pollution,” 06 Nov 11
  • Culture Change, 05 Nov 11

A single polyester garment can shed >1900 plastic microfibers per wash

If you have already switched to an eco-friendly laundry detergent, as many people do to contribute less to water pollution, you might be surprised to learn that the pollution you generate on wash day has as much to do with the kind of fabrics your clothes, bedding and towels are made of as the detergent you wash them in. Recent studies have revealed that a single garment made of polyester can shed innumerable tiny fibers into the wash water, and those fibers are finding their way to the ocean. The pollution they cause is worsened by the fact that, like plastic materials in general, polyester attracts oily pollutants in seawater so is a vehicle for the transfer of potentially dangerous chemicals into the food web when the fibers are ingested by sea creatures.

Although we don’t usually think of polyester fabrics as plastic per se, polyester is nonetheless a plastic material synthesized from crude oil and natural gas. And, like other plastics, polyester is a long polymer chain, making it non-biodegradable in any practical human scale of time, especially in the ocean because of the cooler temperatures.

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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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Curb Exposure Through Diet

June 17, 2011

Curb Exposure to BPA and Phthalate Through Diet
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • E-Magazine as “You Are What You Eat: Reducing chemical exposures through diet,” Sept/Oct 2011
  • Surf City Voice, 17 June 2011

“Fresh foods” diet avoids endocrine disrupting chemicals

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are synthetic substances known to play havoc with hormone and organ systems in lab animals, and it’s well-documented that the urine of most Americans tests positive for an alarming number of them. EDCs are found in a wide array of everyday consumer products and also find their way into air, dust and even foods.

A new study confirms for the first time that dietary practices – like whether you select fresh versus canned fruits & vegetables, microwave foods in plastics, or drink from plastic bottles – have a rapid and hefty impact on one’s body burden of at least two EDCs known to interfere with normal organ development in animals and maybe humans: bisphenol A (BPA) and di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP).

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The Poop on Biosolids

May 5, 2011

OC Sanitation District’s sewage recycling garners awards and fierce criticism

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

People flush the toilet maybe five to 10 times a day. Ever wonder where it all goes and, once it gets there, what they do with it?

On a per capita basis, Orange County (OC) homes, businesses and industry together generate over 80 gallons each day of raw sewage from toilet flushing, bathing, housekeeping and discharging industrial waste into drains. Most of us care not to think about sewage once it’s out of sight.

However, thinking about sewage, and what best do with it, is exactly what the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) does.

OCSD serves 21 cities with a total population of 2.5 million and in 2010 treated an average daily sewage inflow of 208 million gallons, enough to fill Angel stadium nearly three times. Its Biosolids Management Program (BMP), which converts the solid components of sewage into either soil amendments or fuel, has recently won awards for innovation and environmental stewardship but has also elicited opposition from parties claiming it is unsafe for both people and the environment because of the contaminants still present. Read the rest of this entry »


Soyfood Secret

March 27, 2011

Soyfood Industry’s Not-So-Healthy Secret
Bathing soybeans in hexane, a component of gasoline, is standard industry practice

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

Only non-organic soyfoods are processed with hexane

Soy-based foodstuffs like veggie burgers and nutrition bars are a source of protein and generally considered “health foods” often eaten out of a belief they are good for you.

Soyfoods also have a reputation for being produced in a more environmentally friendly or sustainable fashion than animal sources of protein.

However, whether foods containing highly processed forms of soy protein are really good for people or the environment is brought into question by a Nov. 2010 report from the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based non-profit claiming that non-organic soy protein is commonly extracted from the soybeans by literally bathing the beans in n-hexane, a chemical by-product of petroleum refining.

Even popular brands of nutrition bars, veggie burgers and other meat alternatives marketed as “natural” are often guilty of this practice unless they are specifically “USDA Organic.”

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“BPA-Free” No Guarantee

March 11, 2011

“BPA-Free” Label No Guarantee That Plastics Are Safe
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:

The bad reputation recently earned by BPA or bisphenol A, a chemical constituent of polycarbonate resin plastics, is probably well-deserved because it is an estrogen hormone mimic linked in hundreds of studies to potentially adverse health effects in mammals ranging from cancers and infertility to diabetes and obesity.

Fetal and juvenile mammals are particularly sensitive to exposure to low doses of estrogen mimics, raising particular concerns about BPA-containing plastics that infants and toddlers might encounter. Consequently, some manufacturers of baby bottles, water bottles and other plastic products are now marketing items as “BPA-free.”

Unfortunately, a “BPA-free” label offers no assurance that a product won’t leach chemicals with estrogenic activity (EA), according to a study appearing in the online March 2 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. In fact, the study measured EA leaching from all sorts of food-contact plastic products made with resins other than polycarbonate.

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Cruelty-Free Cheese?

March 4, 2011

Is ‘Cruelty-Free Cheese’ an Oxymoron?
by Sarah S. Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • E-Magazine as “The Cheese Challenge: Ethical Cheese is Hard to Come By,”  Sept/Oct 2011
  • Surf City Voice, 03 Mar 2011

Attitudes about animal rights and welfare often shape dietary choices.

At one end of the spectrum are strict vegans who eschew foods containing any animal products. At the other end are unapologetic meat-eaters who flinch not even at the prospect of eating veal from calves separated from their mothers at birth, confined for months within tiny crates designed to prevent all exercise and foster tender “gourmet” meat, and fed an iron-deficient milk substitute to induce anemia and pale-looking flesh. In the middle perhaps are ovo-lacto vegetarians who allow eggs, cheese and other milk products, but no meat.

Vegetarianism is on the rise in America. According to a 2008 survey published by Vegetarian Times magazine, 3.2 percent of adults follow a vegetarian diet and another 10 percent follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. Even among meat-eaters, five percent said they were “definitely interested” in switching to a vegetarian diet in the future.

Of the reasons vegetarians gave for their choice of diet, animal welfare was mentioned most often, so it’s a safe assumption that vegetarians are often compelled by a belief that no animals suffered or died for the animal products they consume. But is this really possible?

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BPA Lookalike Potentially Risky

January 7, 2011

BPA Chemical Lookalike Potentially More Risky
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

It would have been hard to get through 2010 without bumping into some scary information about the plastic ingredient bisphenol A, aka BPA, like the fact it leaches from polycarbonate baby bottles & sports bottles and metal food can linings into the contents or that it is widespread in the dye on thermal cash register receipts and is absorbed through human skin.

Adding to such anxieties about environmental toxins, Japanese researchers have recently honed in on a chemical very similar to BPA dubbed BPAF, or bisphenol AF, that might be even more dangerous than BPA. The “F” stands for fluorine, and the two substances are identical except for the substitution of six fluorine atoms in BPAF for six hydrogens in BPA (see below).

In part, it was knowledge that certain properties of fluorine might intensify the molecule’s reactivity that drew the researchers’ attention to BPAF, as there are additional chemicals out there that resemble BPA too.

The risks of exposure to BPA stem from the fact that it is an endocrine disruptor that mimics the actions of the hormone estrogen. Over 200 laboratory studies have linked low-dose BPA exposure to a host of health effects including reduced sperm production and infertility, cardiovascular diseae, diabetes and derailed development of the brain and prostate gland.

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Can’t Spare a Dime?

October 9, 2010

Buddy, Can’t Spare a Dime For The Environment?
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

  • Fullerton Observer, Mid Nov 2010, p. 20
  • Santa Monica Daily Press, 4 Nov 2010
  • E-Magazine’s Our Planet Weekly, as ‘The Environmental Spending Gap, 12 Oct 2010
  • Surf City Voice, 8 Oct 2010

How much are you willing to pay for access to clean air and drinking water?

What’s a fair price to keep toxic chemicals out of the food supply, to insure the future of ocean and freshwater fish stocks, to keep public parks open, and to stem the melting of the polar ice caps so our coastal cities remain above sea level and polar bears won’t go extinct?

Questions of this sort prompted me to investigate how much the federal government and my home state of California (and ultimately we taxpayers) actually spend on environmental protection. Turns out neither comes close to one thin dime on the dollar.

Federal outlay for environmental protection is one percent
Federal environmental spending, like defense spending, comes under discretionary spending which in 2009 amounted to $1.2 trillion or about one-third of the total $3.5 trillion federal outlay. Mandatory spending makes up the remaining two-thirds of the federal budget (nearly $2.3 trillion) and goes to hefty programs like Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt.

Discretionary spending is divided into two broad categories, national defense and non-national defense, with defense spending eating up 53 percent of all discretionary dollars in 2009. The government keeps tabs on federal environmental spending in a category called natural resources and environment (NRE) which totaled $35 billion or just 2.8 percent of discretionary spending and a meager one percent of total federal spending.

What this means in dollars and cents spent on behalf of each person in the country is easy to compute using the U.S. Census Bureau estimate that the country’s population in 2009 slightly exceeded 307 million: Per capita federal spending for NRE was just $114.49, dwarfed by the $2,139.24 spent for every man, woman and child on national defense.

That’s just 31 cents per day spent on my (or your) behalf to preserve the environment versus $5.86 spent daily in one’s name for national defense.

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Low-Carbon Footprint Camping

July 23, 2010

 Sun recharges your favorite e-gadgets

by  Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

  • E-Magazine Blog as “Camping with Gadgets,” 13 Aug 2012
  • Vall-E-Vents Sierra Club Newsletter, June 2011
  • Fullerton Observer, Aug 2010, p. 10
  • Surf City Voice, 21 July 2010

Recharge solar lanterns and small electronics with solar rechargers

Does the prospect of spending a weekend away from your favorite e-gadgets (cell phone, laptop, iPod or PDA) stir up separation anxiety?  Around our house we’ve dubbed this e-angst, and it can kill enthusiasm for an otherwise welcome family camping vacation.

For teens or adults similarly infected with e-angst, a diversity of devices are on the market which let you bring your e-gadgets along with you camping and also trim your carbon footprint because they utilize only sunshine for power.

Solar chargers
An assortment of portable solar-powered chargers is available that adapt to virtually any handheld electronic appliance including digital cameras and GPS units.  Most rely on photovoltaic silicon cell technology akin to what is used on rooftop solar panels.  Many are small enough to fit in a back pocket or certainly a glove box so can travel with you virtually anywhere.  The cost is as little as $15 on up to $150 depending on the capacity.  Because rechargeable batteries are incorporated, gadgets can be recharged even after the sun goes down.  Small electronics generally charge in 2-4 hours.

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Is Eating Organic Worth It?

May 27, 2010

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD 

Appeared in:

  • Vall-E Vents Sierra Club Newsletter, Nov 2011
  • E-Magazine’s Planet Weekly, June 23, 2010
  • Fullerton Observer, Mid June 2010
  • Surf City Voice as What is Organic Food and is it Worth it? May 26, 2010

New organic standards insure greater access to pasture for grazing.

Presented with two equal-priced apples or cheeses – one organic and the other produced with conventional methods – which would you choose?  Does upping the price of the organic product by 10-40 percent change your mind?

Will knowing that substituting organic for conventional fruits and vegetables drastically reduces the body’s burden of pesticides alter your choice?

Such decisions have become routine for even mainstream shoppers who’ve never set foot in a specialty health food store, now that Wal-Mart and major supermarket chains are competing with their own organic product lines and corporate giants, such as General Mills and Kraft, have jumped into the organic market under different brand names like Cascadian Farms and Boca. 

What consumers believe about the differences between organic and conventional foods, and the value they place on those differences, will obviously drive their choices.  However, most people probably have only a rough idea of what an organic label signifies and even sketchier knowledge of how conventional foods are produced, leaving them ill-equipped to make an informed choice.

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Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

April 16, 2010

New Online Database Helps You Find Out

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • Santa Monica Daily Press as: Database logs pollutants in local drinking water supplies, Sept 30, 2010.
  • Southern Sierran as: Do Your Homework Before Turning on (and Drinnking From) Your Tap, But Don’t Buy Into Bottled Water as the Answer, Jul-Aug 2010.
  • E-Magazine’s ‘Our Planet Weekly’ as: Drinker Beware, April 20, 2010.
  • Fullerton Observer as: Tapping into Drinking Water Contamination, Mid April 2010, p. 9.
  • The Orange Coast Voice as:  Tapping into Drinking Water Contamination,  April 14, 2010.
  • Surf City Voice as: The Water We Drink: Is It Safe?  April 14, 2010.

Find out what contaminants lurk in your tap water. ©iStockphoto.com/deepblue4you

Americans have grown suspicious of tap water quality, yet it’s doubtful many could name a single contaminant they imagine spewing from their faucets.  Blind faith once placed in the public water supply is being transferred to bottled water, even though the average citizen probably knows equally little about pollutants that might lurk there too.

Thanks to the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) for creating the largest-ever national drinking water-quality database, most everyone now can read about the levels and health risks of specific pollutants found in their tap water.  Unfortunately, the news is not great overall.

EWG’s database covers 48,000 communities in 45 states and catalogues millions of water quality tests performed by water utilities between 2005 and 2009.

Among the nation’s most populous cities, Pensacola, FL, Riverside, CA and Las Vegas, NV were rated the worst for water quality, testing positive for between 33 and 39 different contaminants across five years.  Arlington, TX, Providence, RI and Fort Worth, TX ranked best with just four to seven pollutants each.  The national average was eight pollutants.

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Serving Plastics For Dinner?

March 10, 2010

Unhealthy and avoidable

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, Ph.D.

Appeared in:

  • E-Magazine’s weekly newsletter ‘Our Planet’ as: Consuming Chemicals – Rethinking What We Heat, Serve and Eat, June 2, 2010.
  • Surf City Voice, April 30, 2010.
  • Southern Sierran, April 2010 as:  When You Ask “What’s For Dinner?” You’d Be Surprised How Often the Answer is “Plastic”
  • The Orange Coast Voice, March 23, 2010
©iStockphoto.com/Lloret

What do breast milk, food cans, microwave popcorn, and fast-food French fry boxes have in common with meat, fish and dairy products?  They’re all avenues of human ingestion of potentially harmful chemicals associated with everyday plastics.

Although the jury is still out on what levels of exposure are unsafe, it is indisputable that we are all literally consuming chemicals from plastics daily.

Biomonitoring projects – like the 2005 BodyBurden study of cord blood in neonates and the Mind, Disrupted investigation of blood and urine in adults representing the learning & developmental disabilities community just published in February 2010 – consistently find neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in common plastics among the substances routinely tainting human tissues.  Although diet is not the only route of exposure, it is considered a major one.

Given that developing fetuses and young children are most vulnerable to environmental toxins, understanding how exposure occurs through ordinary diets, and how to avoid it, has become a growing societal concern.

Three constituents of common plastics that find their way into food or drinks are described below, all linked to ill health effects in humans and lab animals.  In the Mind, Disrupted study, the subjects universally tested positive for all three: bisphenol-A, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated compounds.  The variety of avenues into the human diet is surprising.

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Toy Buyer Beware

September 22, 2009
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD.
Appeared in:
  • Orange Coast Voice, Dec. 16, 2009
  • Southern Sierran, Dec. 2009
  • Fullerton Observer as A Few Less Toxins in Toyland, Nov. 2009, page 9
  • San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, Nov. 2009
This is an updated version of Fewer Toxins in Toyland that incorporates recently stalled legislation in California aimed at protecting young children from risky chemicals.

California has moved to restrict phthalate plasticizers in childcare items. Photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Geek_rubber_duck_2.jpg

California has moved to restrict phthalate plasticizers in childcare items. Photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Geek_rubber_duck_2.jpg

This holiday season, parents shopping for children can rest just a tad easier because of a recent California law restricting the use of toxic phthalate plasticizers in toys and childcare products made of plastic. Additional legislative efforts to rein in two other classes of chemicals suspected of posing health risks to youngsters, bisphenol A and halogenated flame retardants, emerged this year in the State Senate, although neither met with success.

But, perhaps the best news is that California has enacted laws establishing a groundbreaking precautionary approach to the oversight of chemicals that should soon make such painstaking chemical-by-chemical regulation a thing of the past.

Read the rest of this entry »


Plants Purify Indoor Air

August 28, 2009

This is an updated version of an earlier article titled Potted Plants Ease Indoor Air Pollution.

Top Ten Potted Plants for Eliminating Indoor Air Pollution
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD.

Appeared in:

  • E-Magazine as Plants for Purification, Jan. 27, 2010
  • Vall-E-Vents, suppl. to Southern Sierran, January, 2010.
  • Orange Coast Voice, Dec. 16, 2009
  • Fullerton Obsrver, December 2009, page 9

Peace Lily ranks in the top 10. Photo courtesy of Noodle snacks.

Eliminating indoor air pollution can be as simple as dotting your house or office with potted plants, according to research stretching back as far as the space program of the 1980s.

It’s a widely held misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants. Indoor air quality, in fact, is usually worse because contaminants that emanate from a vast assortment of consumer products add to the pollution that drifts in from the outside.

Given that urban dwellers pass 90% of their time inside, any strategy to improve indoor air quality is of widespread interest, especially one as appealing and environmentally sustainable as adding potted plants to the décor.

Read the rest of this entry »


Fewer Toxins in Toyland

August 13, 2009
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD
Also see an update to this article, Too Fewer Toxins in Toyland, that incorporates stalled legislation in California aimed at protecting young children from risky chemicals.

California has moved to restrict use of toxic phthalate plasticizers in PVC children's toys.  Photo courtesy of Center for Environmental Health and Justice.

California has moved to restrict use of toxic phthalate plasticizers in PVC children's toys. Photo courtesy of Center for Environmental Health and Justice.

This holiday season, parents shopping for children can rest a tad easier because of a recent California law restricting the use of toxic phthalate plasticizers in toys and childcare products made of plastic. Additional classes of chemicals suspected of posing health risks to children, bisphenol A and halogenated flame retardants, could be reined in before long too, pending the fate of two struggling state senate bills.

But, perhaps the best news of all is that California has enacted laws establishing a groundbreaking precautionary approach to the oversight of all chemicals that should soon make painstaking chemical-by-chemical regulation a thing of the past.

Read the rest of this entry »


Food Labeling Controversies

June 13, 2009

“Hot” Food Controversies That Labels Do Not Disclose
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • Val-E-Vents, Sept. 2010
  • Santa Monica Daily Press, Oct. 26, 2009, as Food Labels Don’t Disclose Everything to Consumers.
  • Fullerton Observer, Mid Oct. 2009, page 10.
  • Southern Sierran, Sept. 2009, as Caveat Shopper: You Can’t Always Trust Those Food Labels.

Full disclosure on food labels is more critical as controversial food processing practices become commonplace.

Full disclosure on food labels is more critical as controversial food processing practices become commonplace. Photo courtesy of illuminating9_11 at flickr.com.

As the food supply is increasingly altered by controversial practices like liberal use of antibiotics, genetic engineering and irradiation, food labels take on greater significance as shoppers’ only link to how products are produced. Depending on what issues matters most to consumers, what labels do not say can be more meaningful than what they do.

To get a handle on contentious food processing techniques that food labels don’t disclose, it’s helpful first to understand what is mandated. Oversight is split between the USDA, which enforces labeling on meat, poultry and some egg products, and the FDA, which covers most other foods.

Most foods sold in grocery stores are required to sport an “information panel” that lists:

  • the ingredients
  • Nutrition Facts detailing the calories, fats, protein and other nutrients
  • the manufacturer, packer or distributor.

Major Food Allergens (e.g. peanuts), relevant inspections (like USDA) and special handling instructions (such as “Keep Refrigerated”) must also be declared.

However, providing Nutrition Facts on raw foods, like fruits and vegetables, seafood, meat and poultry, is only voluntary but is often posted anyway on the display case.

Fish labels must also specify whether it is wild-caught or farm-raised and, for the latter, if colorant was added to the feed to turn their naturally gray flesh pink. In California, a previous requirement that canned tuna carry a warning label about the potential dangers from mercury was struck down in the State Superior Court in 2006.

Antibiotics

Groundbreaking legislation, which would have made California the first state to prohibit feeding antibiotics to healthy livestock meant for human consumption, was voted down on June 3 (SB 416, Florez). This practice is employed routinely at large-scale industrial cattle, hog and poultry operations to hasten growth and prevent the spread of disease.

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Risky Nanotechnology

April 1, 2009

Appeared in:

  • Vall-E-Vents, July 2010.
  • Fullerton Observer, May 2009, page 10
  • Orange County Progressive as Don’t Worry About Swine Flu When You Can Worry About NanotechMay 2009
  • Orange Coast Voice newspaper blog, April 2009

Alarms Sound Over Safety of Nanotechnology
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Multi-walled carbon nanotubes exhibit unique properties. Photo courtesy of PEN.

Multi-walled carbon nanotubes exhibit unique properties. Photo courtesy of PEN.

For the nine in ten Americans who know next to nothing about nanotechnology (NT), there is little time to waste in getting up to speed because, ready or not, the ‘NT revolution’ is well underway with new nano-engineered consumer products entering the market weekly.

Another reason, as voiced by consumer protection, health, and environmental organizations, is that NT products are being sold without adequate safety testing and government oversight.

The actual number of NT products in commerce is unknown because there is no labeling or reporting requirement.  However, over 800 have been tabulated by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), an online inventory of manufacturer-identified NT goods funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.  In 2007, at least $147 billion in global manufactured goods incorporated NT, encompassing such varied products as cosmetics, clothing, food, food packaging, and dietary supplements.  PEN estimates that figure will reach $2.6 trillion by 2014.

Nanotech Basics

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Catch Green Surf Wave

February 18, 2009

Surfing might seem like an earth-friendly sport, but a closer look reveals that the environmental impact may be more than you realize. Photo c1967 at Old Man’s Beach, San Clemente, California.Surfing might seem like an earth-friendly sport, but a closer look reveals that the environmental impact may be more than you realize. Photo c1967 at Old Man’s Beach, San Clemente, California.

Surfing might seem like an earth-friendly sport, but a closer look reveals that the environmental impact may be more than you realize. Photo c1967 at Old Man’s Beach, San Clemente, California.

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, Dec. 18, 2009
  • Santa Monica Daily Press, May 15, 2009
  • Orange Coast Voice blog, April 24, 2009

A Wave of Green Hits Surfing Industry
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

At first glance, surfing might seem like an inherently earth-friendly sport. Surfers paddle out and catch waves by sheer force of will and muscle. No need for fossil fuel-burning speed boats to get around. And, surfers have a reputation for caring about ocean pollution.

But a closer look reveals that, like most human activities, the environmental impact is far from nil and, consequently, there’s a nascent movement within the surfing industry to clean up it its act.

The Essentials
The bare necessities of surfing are surfboard, wetsuit, good waves and wheels to and fro. The waves are courtesy of Mother Nature, but the choices surfers make to otherwise outfit themselves determine the toll on the environment.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ecology of Your Cell Phone

January 8, 2009

Appeared in:

  • OurPlanet (E-Magazine’s weekly newsletter) as Cell Phone EcologyJan. 5, 2010
  • Santa Monica Daily Press as The Ecology of Cell Phones, Aug. 31, 2009
  • Southern Sierran, May 2009
  • Vall-E-Vents, newsletter for Sierra Club San Fernando Valley, May 2009.

The Ecology of Loving and Leaving Your Cell Phone
Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.

cellphone

Given all the environmental costs of cell phones, certainly the most eco-friendly cell is the one you already own.

It’s not much of a stretch to liken America’s relationship with cells phones to a once sizzling romance that ends in good bye.

Fated love affairs typically begin with blind infatuation and fiery passion before reality sets in, cooling the embers enough to allow more guarded, sometimes less attractive aspects of the self to surface. Interest wanes until the love object is abandoned or replaced by an alluring new one.

Americans relate to cell phones in much the same way. An old phone, with once novel features that drew fascination, is discarded with hardly a thought when an updated model makes it seem obsolete. That consumers replace cell phones about every two years – with Californians purchasing in a single year nearly one new cell for every two state residents – makes this analogy seem less silly.

Read the rest of this entry »


Disney’s Eco-Friendly Policies

November 24, 2008

Appeared in:

  • Southern Sierran, January 2009.
  • An edited version of this post appeared in the Orange Coast Voice newspaper, December 2008, page 11.

Disneyland Boasts Eco-Friendly Policies
But could it be doing more?

by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Walt Disney designed Disneyland Resort for enchantment, an oasis free of cares where everything wondrous seems possible. Worries over the park’s environmental impact were probably not at the forefront of his mind, although he is often quoted for voicing appreciation that natural resources are not inexhaustible and that nature must be preserved for future generations.

But the environment is in a lot more trouble today than it was when Disneyland opened in 1955, so it’s fair to ask, “How green is the Happiest Place on Earth today?”

Disneyland is really akin to a small city, employing 20,000 employees and passing double that many guests through the turnstiles daily. Entertaining, feeding and managing the waste of a mob that size in an environmentally responsible fashion is no easy task.

Evironmentality is the Disney trademark program that aims to keep Walt Disney’s conservation legacy alive through diverse environmental policies, some visible to parkgoers. For example, the lagoon scenes in the recently opened Nemo Submarine Voyage were colored using crushed glass from discarded bottles, and the subs are propelled by an innovative zero-emission magnetic coil system, eliminating the need for hundreds of thousand of gallons of diesel fuel each year.

Read the rest of this entry »


Better Food Choices

August 1, 2008

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice blog, August 16, 2008
  • Orange Coast Voice newspaper, August 2008

Better Food Choices Get Better Results in Global Warming Battle than Food Miles Reduction
By Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

California Certified Farmers' Markets are "the real thing," places where genuine California farmers sell their fresh-picked crops directly to the public in over 500 communities throughout the state.

California Certified Farmers' Markets let genuine California farmers sell their fresh-picked crops directly to the public in over 500 communities throughout the state.

“Buying local” has become a mantra of many committed to shrinking their personal climate footprint by limiting the miles their food travels from producer to plate. The increasing globalization of food supplies has served to fan this trend.

However, a new study finds that what you eat has a far greater impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than where that food was produced. What’s more, saying no to red meat and dairy products even one day a week matters more than buying local all week long.

Number crunchers Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews at Carnegie Mellon University drew on U.S. government statistics from 1997 to expose the entire life-cycle GHG emissions associated with the diet of the average American household.

Emissions fell into one of four categories, starting with upstream supply chain transportation wherein equipment and supplies are supplied to food producers. Then comes the food production phase, followed by final delivery transportation from point of production to retailer. The latter is synonymous with so-called food-miles that are the focus of advocates of buying local. The fourth source of emissions occurs during wholesaling and retailing and includes store heating and air-conditioning and food refrigeration.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dirty Detergents

July 1, 2008

Appeared in:

  • San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter as The Dirt on Laundry Detergents, Nov 2008 & July 2009.
  •  Orange Coast Voice as Dirty Detergent: Your laundry may not be so cleanJuly 2008, page 11.

The Dirt on Laundry Detergents
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Not so clean: Human health issues arise because exposure to laundry products is continuous in most households.

Not so clean: Human health issues arise because exposure to laundry products is continuous in most households.

As your fluffy, sweet-smelling, spotless laundry comes tumbling out of the dryer, images of oil rigs and synthetic chemical fabric residues probably never cross your mind. But today’s mainstream laundry detergents are heavily laden with man-made petro-chemicals, some representing risks to aquatic life and human health.

Historically, soaps were made by simply heating plant or animal oils with wood ashes, a strong alkali. The result is a two-ended compound called a surfactant that can rout out greasy soils because the oil-loving (lipophylic) end is attracted to oily dirt, budging it out of the fabric, while the water-loving (hydrophilic) end is attracted to the water, keeping the lifted dirt in the wash water.

A scarcity of such oils in WWII fostered the birth of synthetic laundry detergents (LDs) based instead on cheaper, petroleum-based surfactants that now dominate the market. The most common ones today are LAS (linear alkylbenzene sulphonate) and AS (alkyl sulphates).

Read the rest of this entry »


Praise Potted Plants

May 1, 2008

This article updated August 2009
Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper May 2008, page 11.

Potted Plants Ease Indoor Air Pollution
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Australian researchers heeded by Margaret Burchett at the University of Technology have revealed fascinating twists on the potted plant story.

Australian researchers heeded by Margaret Burchett at the University of Technology have revealed fascinating twists on the potted plant story. Photo courtesy Orange County Voice.

It is a widespread misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants.

Indoor air quality, in fact, is generally worse because contaminants that arise from a vast assortment of consumer products add to the pollution that drifts in from the outside. Given that urban dwellers pass 90% of their time inside, strategies to improve indoor air quality are of interest to nearly everyone.

Indoor Air Chemistry
The chief forms of pollutants generated indoors are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that off-gas primarily from common petroleum-based products. They are impossible to avoid since the sources are nearly endless: furniture, carpeting, paints, varnishes, paint strippers, synthetic building materials, air fresheners, cleaning solutions, toilet bowl deodorizers, personal care products, tobacco smoke, pesticides, and solvents in inks and adhesives.

The number of VOCs is also long – the U.S. EPA indicated that more than 900 had been identified in indoor air in a 1989 Report of Congress. While some pose no known danger to health, others are Read the rest of this entry »


Toxic Flame Retardants

April 1, 2008

Appeared in

  • Southern Sierran as Firefighters Back Ban on Flame RetardantsJuly 2008, page 2
  • Orange Coast Voice as Toxic Flame Retardants: Ubiquitious but toxic BFRs are everywhere, even the Artic, April 2008, page 11


Firefighters Back Banning Controversial Flame Retardant

Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

BFRs are so ubiquitous that they are found in remote areas of the Artic and throughout the food chain, from zooplankton to dolphins and polar bears.

BFRs are so ubiquitous that they are found in remote areas of the Artic and throughout the food chain, from zooplankton to dolphins and polar bears.

Your TV, mattress, couch and computer could be sources of man-made toxic chemicals building up in human tissues, including breast milk. Sounds crazy, but it’s not.

Many consumer products are imbued with a class of flame retardants considered by many to be bad news since they accumulate in fatty tissues, resist breakdown in the environment, and disrupt normal development in lab animals. They are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or just brominated flame retardants (BFRs).

Introduced in the 1970’s, BFRs have become commonplace in upholstery foam, textiles and electronics because synthetic materials, like petroleum-based plastics, are generally more flammable. BFRs impede the spread of fire bycreating a layer of bromine gas around a heated product, keeping oxygen at bay. They comprise up to 30% of an item’s weight and migrate out over time into air, dust, and soil. Read the rest of this entry »


Sleepless Nights

March 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper March 2008, page 11

Shorter Sleep Adds on Pounds: Sleep More to Trim Down
by Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.

sleep

Research suggests there is a connection between sleep habits and obesity in children and adults.

Surely shaving minutes or hours off the time you habitually sleep should help you drop a few pounds since metabolism is slower in sleep than waking. Right?

Wrong. Recent science suggests that foregoing sleep is contributing to America’s obesity epidemic and that two hormones you have probably never heard of might play center stage.

Read the rest of this entry »


Polystyrene Ban Wagon

February 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper February 2008, page 11

The Polystyrene Ban Wagon
Laguna Beach will require biodegradable eating utensils
by Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.

polystyrene

Foam cups and other food containers made from polystyrene are outlawed in Laguna, a first in Orange County.

“To-go” orders in Laguna Beach soon will have a new look because of a city ordinance passed last month prohibiting restaurants from using any polystyrene (PS) for food service cups and containers . . . an Orange County first.

Polystyrene (PS) is most recognizable in its foamed form (expanded polystyrene or EPS) as hot cups, food clamshells or packaging materials, although non-expanded PS is also made into clear plastic food containers. Restaurants have until July to come up with replacements, e.g. paperboard or a plastic that is biodegradable or easier to recycle.

The Laguna Beach regulation follows on the heels of similar bans enacted recently in Santa Monica, Calabasas, and Malibu and applies to private food vendors as well as city-sponsored events and Read the rest of this entry »


Is Your Coffee Green?

January 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper January 2008, page 11.

Is Your Coffee Green?
How to find your eco-responsible coffee shop

by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Not the winner: Starbucks does not report percentage of coffee grown without synthetic chemicals.

Not the winner: Starbucks does not report percentage of coffee grown without synthetic chemicals.

It takes 12 coffee trees to support a 2-cup-a-day coffee habit, according to the Sightline Institute, a non-profit research center in Seattle. And not all coffee is created equal from an environmental standpoint.

People who frequent specialty coffee stores seek a perfect brew served up in a connoisseur’s ambiance. If you are one of them, but also care how eco-friendly your cup of java is, you might want to know how different establishments stack up environmentally. A little background on how coffee is grown and labeled is essential.

Coffee Talk: The dizzying selection that entices the gourmet coffee drinker is every bit linked to the varying conditions under which coffee is cultivated. Read the rest of this entry »


Toxins in Toyland

October 1, 2007

Click here for updated posting.

Appeared in:

Toxins in Toyland
A Scientist’s Timely Caveat Emptor
By Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Scientists are concerned about toxins in toys.

Scientists are concerned about toxins in toys.

It’s easy to blame China for the recent brouhaha over popular imported toys containing lead, a toxic heavy metal known to cause a myriad of developmental abnormalities including inattention/hyperactivity, learning deficiencies and delayed growth.

After all, the month of August 2007 alone saw a spate of five separate recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for Chinese-made toys and another by Toys Я Us for imported vinyl baby bibs, all illegally containing lead in paints or inks (lead brightens the colors). Well-known toy importers Mattel, Fisher-Price and Schylling all made the recall lists.

Yet, a number of respected scientists are voicing strident concerns about toys and other products for children that contain other perfectly legal chemicals that might also be unsafe for young children. The discovery of lead in toys could be just the tip of an iceberg. What follows is an overview of what, beyond lead, has some scientists worried. Read the rest of this entry »


Driving on Sunshine

April 1, 2007

Appeared in:

Driving on Sunshine
Ethanol: Starve While You Drive
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

From President Bush on down, it seems everyone is talking up “biofuels”, especially corn-grain ethanol and soy-diesel, as the panacea to the country’s energy woes . . . global warming, air pollution, increasing prices at the pump and dependence on foreign oil.

Automakers are promoting flex-fuel cars that run on either E85, a gasoline mixture that is 85% ethanol, or straight gasoline. Agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are trumpeting their ethanol, Read the rest of this entry »


Trust in Chemicals Unhealthy

March 1, 2007

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, August 2007, page 10.
  • Southern Sierran, March 2007.

Trust in Chemicals Unhealthy: U.S. Can Learn from European Union
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

chemicals

About 80,000 chemicals have been introduced since World War II, produced at facilities like this one.

WWII marked the introduction of man-made chemicals into modern society, revolutionizing many of the consumer products we use every day.

Consider the following. Plastic cotainers, non-stick cookware, and cleaning products stock our kitchen pantries. Our foods are grown with liberal use of synthetic fertilizers. Hardly a wall anywhere goes unpainted. We sit, walk, and sleep on materials that do not derive from nature. Few of us can image getting through a hectic day at work or school without the aid of computers, telephones or other chemical-laden electronic devices. Even popular high-tech clothing fabrics are 100% synthetic.

We do not give much thought to what chemicals went into the manufacture of these everyday commodities. We trust whole-heartedly that any chemicals used are safe and well regulated by the government. But, are they?

Read the rest of this entry »


Distress Calls From Ocean

January 1, 2007

Appeared in:

  • Vall-E-Vents, suppl. to Southern Sierran, March 2010.
  • Sierra Club – San Fernando Valley chapter newsletter January 2008.
  • Orange Coast Voice newspaper as The Ocean Cries Out: Under attack on all fronts, March 2007, page 8.
  • Southern Sierran newspaper January 2007.

oceanturtle

Illustration by Willis Simms.

Distress Calls from the Ocean
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it is attached to the rest of the world.
— John Muir

Whether you are a career fisherman, weekend angler, surfer, snorkeler, skinny dipper, fish dinner connoisseur, or simply a never-gets-wet admirer of the ocean’s majesty, there’s nothing but bad news coming from recent assessments of the ocean’s health.

The scope and severity of the ills that experts report have made commonplace the phrase “collapse” in reference to the global loss of sea life and ecosystems. The assaults that appear responsible all stem from human activities, including over-fishing,  deforestation, overdevelopment of coastlines, overuse of pesticides  and fertilizers, oil spills, and general use of the ocean as a dumping ground for sewage, industrial chemicals and other human wastes. What follows is a brief look at some of the tragic changes scientists are reporting.1-3 Read the rest of this entry »


Plastics Damaging to Health

February 1, 2006

Appeared in Southern Sierran, February 2006

Plastics Damaging to Health: fetuses and children particularly at risk
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

The Environmental Working Group reports that toxic fire retardants (PBDEs) are found in mother's milk.

The Environmental Working Group reports that toxic fire retardants (PBDEs) are found in mother's milk.

Plastics can pose threats to human health at all stages in our life cycles, with specific risks varying with the type of plastic.

In the process of converting petroleum or natural gas into plastic, toxic chemicals can be released into the air and water supply. For example, vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. A chemical called perfluorooctanaote (PFOA) used in the production of plastic-coated non-stick cookware is also carcinogenic.

An assortment of “additives” is often needed to lend particular characteristics to a product. Many items, like computer casings and hair dryers, require flame retardants because plastics are highly flammable. Read the rest of this entry »


Thirsty Californians

November 1, 2005

Appeared in

  • Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Nov-Dec., 2005.

Thirsty Californians Trash the State
(#5 Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

We all need to kick the bottled water habit and see it for the environmental hazard that it really is. Illustration by Willis Simms.

We all need to kick the bottled water habit and see it for the environmental hazard that it really is. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Is bottled water earth-friendly?

Single-serve bottled water comes in #1 PETE (or PET) plastic bottles, whereas the 1-gallon containers are #2 HDPE plastic. The five-gallon jugs at the office are yet a different plastic, #7 polycarbonate. All three are made from petroleum or natural gas, do not biodegrade, and are thought to last at least a hundred years in the environment. Plastic bottles harm the environment throughout their life cycle.

We all know that petroleum/ natural gas extraction is environmentally costly. Also, toxic chemicals are used or produced in the manufacture of plastic bottles. For example, Bisphenol-A (BPA), a building block of polycarbonate plastics, is known to mimic estrogen and cause reproductive abnormalities when lab animals are exposed as fetuses. Migration of BPA from bottles into water has been documented, and BPA has built up in the environment to the extent that elevated levels are measured in seafood as well as human tissues.

Californians’ thirst for bottled water has contributed heavily to an overall decline in beverage container recycling, down from 70% in 1990 to 55% in 2003. A paltry 16% of #1 PET water bottles Read the rest of this entry »


Bottled Water Safer?

November 1, 2005

Appeared in

  • Orange Coast Voice as Is Your Bottled Water Safer?, May 2007, page 5.
  • Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Nov-Dec., 2005.

Is Bottled Water Really Safer? Billions of Plastic Bottles Harm the Environment
(#4 of the Plastic Plague Series)

by Sarah S. Mosko and Stuart Moody (Green Sangha)

The FDA regulates bottled water as a food product, whereas tap water is EPA-regulated. Surprisingly perhaps, FDA rules are not necessarily stricter.

The FDA regulates bottled water as a food product, whereas tap water is EPA-regulated. Surprisingly perhaps, FDA rules are not necessarily stricter.

Bottled water has become a symbol of our culture, whether it is the 5-gallon jug at the office or the single-serve bottles we lug around every time we leave the house. We have been led to believe that bottled water is better for us than tap water, but is it? And, what impact are all those plastic bottles having on the planet?

Is bottled water really safer?

The FDA regulates bottled water as a food product, whereas tap water is EPA-regulated. Surprisingly perhaps, FDA rules are not necessarily stricter. For example, the FDA does not prohibit low levels of fecal bacteria in water while the EPA does. Read the rest of this entry »


Plastic Plague

May 1, 2005

Versions of this article appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, December 2006, page 9.
  • San Mateo County Renews, Spring 2006.
  • Southern Sierran, August 2005.
  • Sierra Club – San Fernando Valley chapter newsletter, May 2005.

The Plastic Plague: From a “fix it” to a “throw away” society
(#1 of the Plastic Plague series)
by Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.

It’s getting harder and harder to find things that aren’t made of plastic. You can even get potato chips now in a plastic bottle to go with that plastic bottle of water. We have been made to think that plastics are indispensable, even good for us. Since WWII we have made a complete about-face from a “fix it and make it do” to a “use it once and toss it” society, with plastics playing a starring role.

The percentage of plastic that is recycled is low compared to the amount that is generated.

The percentage of plastic that is recycled is low compared to the amount that is generated.

Read the rest of this entry »