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 »


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 »


Irvine: The Little Engine That Could

June 2, 2017

Irvine led on restoring the ozone layer and should lead now on climate change. 

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, 02-Jun, 2017

Ozone Depletion: The First Global Environmental Crisis

The depletion of the protective ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere by man-made chemicals was the global community’s first environmental crisis.  Today, climate change, largely attributable to greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, is the second and far more frightening crisis.

The people of Irvine can be proud that actions taken by the City Council in 1989 were instrumental in creating a blueprint at the local level for carrying out the aspirations set forth in the 1987 Montreal protocol, the international agreement to restore the ozone layer.  It is widely hailed as the most successful global environmental treaty ever.  As the global community today faces the reality that unchecked global warming could unleash catastrophic effects impacting all future generations, Irvine can and should resurrect the same purpose and determination that inspired the City to make a difference back then.

In 1974, scientists at UC Irvine, led by Nobel laureates (1995) F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, predicted that the Earth’s protective ozone layer would be seriously diminished by the rampant use of halogens — chemicals, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and other ozone-depleting compounds then used as refrigerants, spray can propellants, and solvents.  The ozone layer acts as a shield, preventing the most harmful ultraviolet radiation in sunlight (UVB) from reaching the Earth’s surface.  Excessive exposure to UVB is known to cause not only sunburn, skin cancers and cataracts but also damage to crops and reduction of plankton populations vital to the ocean food web.

It wasn’t until 1985 that the infamous hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica was discovered, as Rowland and Molina predicted. That triggered the international alarm that led to the Montreal Protocol.  Because action at the federal level was painfully slow in coming, the Irvine City Council, then led by Mayor Larry Agran and City Councilmember Cameron Cosgrove, boldly passed the most far-reaching, legally enforceable measure anywhere to eliminate CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances.  This remarkable ordinance prohibited using CFCs and other targeted halogens in most industrial processes in the City of Irvine.

The City Council, in taking responsible action at the local level, believed that other jurisdictions would be empowered to use Irvine’s ordinance as a model.  That is exactly what happened in many cities and counties across America and throughout the world, and today we know that the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and we have overcome that global environmental crisis. 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 »

Greening Your Wardrobe

September 29, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Natural Life Magazine, Oct issue, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 04 Oct, 2016
EarthTalk, 05 Oct, 2016

apparel-clothingWhat typically comes to mind when contemplating our personal environmental footprint is the energy efficiency of the car we drive, how religiously we recycle, and maybe whether or not we have a water thirsty lawn. However, everything we do and own has impacts on the environment, and that includes the choices we make in dressing ourselves.

This point was driven home in a smart little book published in 1997 titled, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things,” which describes the planetary impacts of everyday material goods. One chapter details what goes into producing a wardrobe basic, the cotton/polyester blend T-shirt.

A few highlights include the overseas extraction of the crude oil from which polyester is synthesized, the energy and pesticide intensive process of growing and harvesting cotton, and transporting milled fabrics abroad and back again so they can be sewn into T-shirts by cheap foreign labor.

From this T-shirt saga emerges a simple truth: The T-shirts with the least environmental impact are the ones you already own, or maybe ones purchased at a secondhand shop.

Nonetheless, clothes do wear out and wardrobe adjustments become necessary when we take on new jobs or sports, change weight or treat ourselves to the latest fashion. So the question remains how to make apparel selections which better protect both the environment and the people involved in the production process. The good news is that there are already more sustainable clothing options on the market, plus there is game-changing movement within the apparel industry to provide consumers with a point of purchase “index” conveying the environmental footprint of items being offered. 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.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Twofer: Carbon Tax Solves Both Climate Change and Plastic Ocean Pollution

May 3, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Published:
Algalita Marine Research Institute Blog, 03 May, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 09 May, 2016
EarthTalk, 09 May, 2016
Fullerton Observer, mid-May, 2016, p.8

Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.

Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.

For more than half a century, cheaply-priced fossil fuels have come to define the American dream. We travel freely in gasoline powered vehicles and rely on coal, oil and natural gas for heating, cooling and operating electrical devices.

In addition, everything possible is now fashioned from plastic polymers derived from petroleum or natural gas. We’ve abandoned the “reuse and repair it” mindset of the pre-WWII era and embraced instead a “throw away” plastic consumer culture.

The most urgent environmental crises today are undeniably global climate change and the buildup of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Both are harmful externalities of the fossil fuel industry: impacts, like pollution, not reflected in the cost of the products but paid for instead by some third party.

In this case, the third party is the global public that suffers the health and monetary consequences of both climate change and ocean plastic pollution.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Climate Change Fixers’ Bag of Tricks

September 24, 2015

Will Congress Act in Time?

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
San Diego Free Press, 25-Sep, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 25-Sep, 2015
Val-E-Vents (Sierra Club, San Fernando Valley), Nov, 2015

Bag of tricksHalting global warming is the chief environmental challenge of our time.

While heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only greenhouse gas (GHG), it’s the most abundant and longest-lived in the atmosphere and contributes the most to global warming.  In March, atmospheric CO2 content reached a new high of 400 parts per million, already past the 350 limit many scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.

Second only to China as the largest CO2 emitter, it’s incumbent on the United States to lead the world in addressing global warming.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the window of time to avoid the worst effects is just a few decades.  Yet the United States has not adopted even a nationwide strategy.

Neither producers nor consumers of energy from fossil fuels pay for the environmental and social damages wrought.  These so-called externalized costs are shouldered by the public through illness, droughts, violent storms, coastal community destruction, international conflicts, etc.  Externalizing the costs of fossil fuels keeps their market price low, de-incentivizing society to move to renewable energy sources.

Current strategies to wean off fossil fuels fall into four categories.*  Each attempts to internalize the actual costs of burning fossil fuels through incentives to convert to cleaner energy.
Read the rest of this entry »


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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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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Mid-Ocean Plastics Cleanup Schemes: Too Little Too Late?

May 27, 2013

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plastic debris from N. Pacific Gyre.
(Algalita Marine Research Institute)

Imagine using a thimble to empty a bathtub, with the faucet still running. That’s how experts on ocean plastics pollution generally see schemes focused on extracting the debris from the open ocean instead of strategies to prevent plastic waste from getting there in the first place.

Interest in methods to rid the oceans of plastic debris is motivated by very real threats to the entire ocean food web. The “North Pacific Garbage Patch” is the most studied of the five subtropical gyres, gigantic whirlpools where waste is picked up and concentrated by slow-swirling currents. There, plastic debris already outweighs zooplankton, tiny creatures at the base of the food web, by a factor of 36:1, according to the latest trawls by the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, CA.

Subtropical gures

The 5 subtropical gyres.

Conventional plastics do not biodegrade on land or in water, but become brittle in sunlight and break apart into ever smaller bits of plastic, still containing toxic substances introduced during manufacture – like phthalates, bisphenol-A and flame retardants. Plastics also attract and concentrate persistent oily pollutants present in seawater. So plastic debris not only threatens sea creatures through entanglement or by clogging their digestive tracts, but also introduces dangerous chemicals into the food chain.

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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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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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Bioplastics: Are They the Solution?

October 8, 2012

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Published in:

Throwaway living debuts after WWII
(Photo: Peter Stackpole, 1955)

Bioplastics are simply plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, like plants and microorganisms, whereas conventional plastics are synthesized from non-renewable fossil fuels, either petroleum or natural gas. It’s a common misconception, however, that a bioplastic necessarily breaks down better in the environment than conventional plastics.

Bioplastics are nevertheless marketed as being better for the environment, but how do they really compare?

The Problems with Petroleum-Based Plastics
The push to develop bioplastics emerges from alarming realities starting with the staggering quantity of plastics being produced, over 20 pounds a month for every U.S. resident, according to the latest numbers from the American Chemistry Council.

Conventional plastics do not biodegrade (defined below) within any meaningful human timescale – they just break apart into smaller plastic fragments. Also, the overall recycling rates for plastics remain fairly low, eight percent in the United States and 24 percent in the European Union in 2010 for example, in large part because plastic products contain unique proprietary blends of additives which prevent recycling of mixed batches of products back into the original products. So, unlike glass and aluminum which can be recycled in a closed loop, most plastics recycling is considered “down-cycling” into lower quality, hybrid-plastic end-products, like lumber or clothing, which aren’t recycled again. This means that, except for the fraction of plastic that is combusted for energy production, all plastics eventually end up as trash, either in landfills or as litter.

Petroleum and natural gas are actually organic substances, but why plastics synthesized from them do not biodegrade is straightforward. The exceptionally strong carbon-carbon bonds created to form the backbone of plastic polymers do not occur naturally in nature so are foreign to microorganisms which readily eat up other organic materials.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Debranding Movement

June 29, 2012

Debranding Movement Takes on Consumerism
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:

  • PopularResistance.org, 3 Aug 2013
  • Fullerton Observer, Aug 2012, p 11
  • Culture Change29 June, 2012

The smiling inverted “Mr. Cart” logo is free to anyone and takes a swipe at consumerism

Thinking of tossing out a brand name shirt, handbag or backpack purchased with zeal last year but now seems so yesterday? Well, don’t. Debrand it instead to give it renewed life and do the environment a favor too.

What better symbols of the culture of consumerism than branding and logos. Marketers use these visuals in relentless campaigns to convince us that their brand of this or that is more desirable than the rest and that we can’t, and shouldn’t, live without it.

Marketers are not much interested, however, in what happens to all the frivolous extras and redundancies we amass once our attention shifts to the next brand or model that catches our fancy.

Older purchases which have lost their allure may collect dust for a while in a closet, or might even be given a second life if donated to charity, but either way likely end up as fodder for landfills.

People’s everyday refuse is classified as municipal solid waste (MSW). Because waste generation parallels consumption, MSW is a fair yardstick of a society’s consumerism. In the United States, per capita MSW generation rose from 2.68 pounds per day in 1960 to 4.43 pounds in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About one-third of this waste stream is currently siphoned off through recycling and composting, and another 12 percent is combusted for energy production. Landfills have to absorb the remaining 2.4 pounds per person of daily rubbish.

Although many of us may feel put off by the material excess we see in others, and even in ourselves, we mostly feel powerless to change it. However, a few rebellious heroes have found ingenious ways to fight back at materialism through various forms of “debranding,” playful assaults on the very symbols of consumerism.

Read the rest of this entry »


Advertising: Are You Buying It?

April 16, 2012

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • San Diego Free Press, July 12, 2014
  • PopularResistance.org, June 16, 2013
  • Southern Sierran as Advertising’s Not-So-Subtle Effect on the Planet, June 6, 2012
  • Surf City Voice, May 27, 2012

Advertising wooes the typical American to spend an extra $8,659 a year

Here’s an inescapable reality: There are only two ways to be rich – make more or want less. This is known as “Rimo’s Rule,” though that’s beside the point.

Rather, the point here is to recognize, in our consumer-based, advertising-saturated society, how very hard it is to want less materially yet why we must to do so anyway. While it’s intuitive that most people – both the “99 percent” and the “1 percent” – could achieve greater contentment in life by better appreciating the non-material and material riches they already have, there are far-reaching, global consequences of which path to richness a society as a whole chooses.

Consider an often repeated fact, that Americans make up less than five percent of the world’s population but consume 20 to 25 percent of the world’s resources (like food, fresh water, wood, minerals and energy). This means that, on average, Americans consume five to seven times the resources per capita as the rest of humanity combined.

Renowned ecologist and agronomist David Pimentel of Cornell University has calculated that the Earth’s resources could sustain a population of only two billion if everyone had the current average standard of living in the United States. His detailed analysis was published in the journal Human Ecology in 2010.

The world population is already at seven billion, and the latest United Nations projection is that the head count will reach 10 billion well before 2100. For all 10 billion to enjoy the American standard of living, Pimentel’s data imply that it would take four additional Earth planets to supply the necessary natural resources.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Huntington Next to Ban Bags?

August 14, 2011

Huntington Beach Next City to Ban Plastic Bags?
By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in: Surf City Voice, 14 Aug 2011

On August 1st, Long Beach became the thirteenth jurisdiction within California to ban single-use plastic carryout bags at supermarkets and large retailers. Huntington Beach (HB) could soon join that list if HB City Council members Connie Boardman, Devin Dwyer and Joe Shaw can convince other council members.

A proposal to develop an ordinance to ban flimsy, disposable plastic carryout bags is on the Monday, August 15 HB City Council meeting agenda.

If a HB ordinance were to be modeled after the Long Beach one, it would also include a 10 cent customer fee for each paper bag dispensed, as the goal is not to convert to disposable paper bags but rather to encourage use of reusable bags which can be used over 100 times.

The Long Beach ban took effect after a pivotal unanimous California Supreme Court decision on July 14 which eases the way for local plastic bag bans by ruling that the City of Manhattan Beach did not have to complete a lengthy study of the environmental impact of disposable paper bags before baring retailers from dispensing plastic ones.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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).

Read the rest of this entry »


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.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Water Down the Drain

January 22, 2011
 SoCal squanders badly needed rainwater, but there are solutions

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

Southern Sierran, Jul-Aug 2011, p. 6
Fullerton Observer,
Early Mar 2011, p. 20
Surf City Voice, 21 Jan 2011

Linked rain barrels reap even more rainfall

What’s wrong with this picture? Southern California (SoCal) imports about half of its water from northern California and the Colorado River while flagrantly neglecting to put precious local rainfall to use.

This misguided water policy contributes to the now threatened ecosystems of both those distant water sources as well as global climate change via the enormous energy expended in transporting water over such distances.

What’s more, SoCal manages its rainfall through a storm drain system that directly contributes to ocean pollution.

No wonder northern Californians are reputed to be less than enamored with their neighbors to the south.

The heavy downpours which made December 2010 one of the wettest in SoCal history serve as a reminder that, despite being semi-arid, the region’s rainfall is by no means inconsequential and might be put to better use than overwhelming sewer systems and polluting coastal waters.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


100 Energy Servants

June 16, 2010

Americans, with 100 ‘energy servants’ each, share blame in Gulf oil spill

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

  • Santa Monica Daily Press as “America’s Addition to Oil Caused Gulf of Mexico Spill,” 11 Nov 2010
  • E-Magazine’s Our Planet Weekly as “Decoding Just How  Power is Needed to Support the Typical American Lifestyle,” Nov 5  2010
  • Southern Sierran, Jul-Aug 2010
  • Fullerton Observer, p. 2, July 2010
  • Surf City Voice, June 16, 2010

Gulf-oil-soaked pelicans await clean up. Photo credit IBRRC

There’s no shortage of finger-pointing as the now worst oil spill in U.S. history continues its assault on the Gulf Coast’s ecology and economy.

A USA TODAY/Gallop Poll taken in late May, for example, found that 73 percent of Americans feel that BP (British Petroleum) is doing a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ job of handling the crisis, and 60 percent evaluated the federal government’s response in the same unfavorable terms.

Confronted with images of birds swathed in crude oil and prognostications that the Gulf region’s fishing and tourism industries might never recover, the urge to form a posse, so to speak, to rout out those responsible and hold them accountable is all too human.

But are we Americans shocked enough yet by the enormity of this calamity to own up to our personal role in it?  After all, it’s ultimately our nation’s energy-intense lifestyle and attachment to fossil fuels that gives companies like BP and our government the implicit go-ahead to pursue oil at the risk of the very kind of disaster now ensuing.

Unless you’re a physicist or energy wonk of some sort, hearing that the average yearly per capita energy consumption in the United States in 2008 was 337 million Btu probably tells you little about your energy footprint. Knowing that a Btu is an energy standard equivalent to 252 calories – about what’s contained in a Snickers candy bar – is probably of little help either.

That’s why Professor of Physics Richard Wolfson of Middlebury College has been giving demonstrations for the last decade which impart a real gut-level, hands-on feel for the energy it takes to support the typical American lifestyle.

His demonstration is simple but ingenious. A volunteer is asked to turn a hand crank which, through a geared system, drives an electric generator connected to two 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


No Such Thing as a Green Lawn

December 10, 2009

ciStockphoto.com/dbuffon

©iStockphoto.com/dbuffoon

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD.
Appeared in:
  • El Cuervo de Orange, Feb 14, 2012
  • Vall-E-Vents, May 2010.
  • E-Magazine’s ‘Our Planet Weekly,’  April 8, 2010.
  • Fullerton Observer, early March, 2010, p. 17.
  • Orange Coast Voice, Dec. 7, 2009.

Which consumes more fossil fuels, lawn maintenance with gas-powered tools or lawn watering? For residents of Southern California, the correct answer is watering because of the energy it takes to transport water to the region.

Southern California (SoCal) is a semi-arid desert. Rainfall averages only 15 inches per year, for example, in the Los Angeles area.  Local water sources have fallen far short of meeting the region’s water needs for more than a century.

With 2/3 of the state’s rainfall in Northern California and 2/3 of the water demand in SoCal, the State deals with this imbalance by pumping in half of SoCal’s water supply from sources hundreds of miles away, the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The Water-Electricity Relationship

Piping water long distances is costly in terms of electricity, especially water imported from the Delta which has to be pumped uphill 2,000 ft to get over the Tehachapi Mountains.

In a first ever analysis of the energy embedded in bringing potable water to residential faucets and hoses in SoCal, a 2005 Calif Energy Commission analysis calculated 11,111 kWh/MG  (kilowatt hours per million gallons), three times costlier than in Northern California. Most of the electricity is for water transportation, much less for water treatment and maintaining water pressure. Every 100 gallons of imported water eats up enough electricity to keep a 100 W bulb lit for 11 hours.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


My Solar Roof

June 1, 2009
  • Fullerton Observer, June 2009, page 9
  • Orange Coast Voice, July 2007, page 9
  • San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, May 2007
  • What My Solor Roof Taught Me: Knowledge Really Does = Power
    by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

    My solar roof cost $15,000 to install after rebates and tax breaks, but the value of the house increased by $20,000 and the power bills decreased to $0.

    My solar roof cost $15,000 to install after rebates and tax breaks, but the value of the house increased by $20,000 and the power bills decreased to $0.

    I was pretty clueless when I recently installed photovoltaic (solar) panels on the roof of my house. All I knew was that all forms of energy consumption contribute to global warming (not just driving) and that I wanted to be part of the solution. I was nothing short of giddy when the “consumption wheel” on my electricity meter started turning backwards for the first time, veritable proof that I was generating more electricity than I was using. Energy was flowing from my rooftop right onto the grid.

    Elation soon gave way to curiosity, however, just like after I had purchased a hybrid Prius and could not help but experiment with ways to maximize my gas mileage. My new passion centered on how to insure an energy surplus on my next electric bill. Switching out the incandescent light bulbs in my house for energy saving compact fluorescent ones was a no brainer. But I also had to get acquainted with my household appliances along a totally new dimension:  I needed to know how much energy a given appliance consumes when in use so I could make more informed decisions when contemplating turning it on. Here is what I found out. Read the rest of this entry »


    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

    Read the rest of this entry »


    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 »


    Schwarzenegger’s Scorecard on the Environment

    December 17, 2008

    Appeared in:

    • Orange Coast Voice newspaper as Gov. Schwarzenegger earns mixed reviews,  Jan. 2009, p. 3.
    • Vall-E-Vents, newsletter for Sierra Club San Fernando Valley, as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Latest Scorecard on the Environment?, March 2009.

    Schwarzenegger’s Latest Scorecard on the Environment?
    Mixed as usual

    by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

    Governor Schwarzenegger

    Gov. Schwarzenegger hosted a summit on global climate in November, 2008 in Los Angeles.

    Throughout his tenure as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has earned mixed reviews from the environmental community for his positions on environmental issues. Last September, during the final throes of the 2007-2008 legislative session, reactions again ranged from standing ovations for his signature on groundbreaking new protections against hazardous chemicals to cries of foul play for the veto of legislation to clean up polluted air in the state’s port cities.

    The following highlights the fate of several bills impacting California’s environment as they passed through the governor’s desk in the eleventh hour.

    Toxic Chemicals
    Roughly 100,000 chemicals are in use today, most without any environmental or human safety testing under antiquated federal regulation dating back three decades.

    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 »


    Zero Waste

    June 1, 2008

    Appeared in:

    • Orange Coast Voice, June 2008, page 15
    • Southern Sierran, June 2009 as ‘Thinking Outside the Dump: Zero Waste’
    • Fullerton Observer, Oct. 2009, page 11, as ‘Zero Waste: Thinking Outside the Dump’

    Zero Waste!
    Let’s Get Out of This Dump

    by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D .

    We are a throw-away society

    Our throw-away habits are making a dump out of our world.

    A fond memory from my childhood is of visiting the neighborhood “dump” with my dad to drop off whatever refuse, like old tires, we could not burn in our backyard incinerator.

    Nowadays, the local dump has been supplanted by centralized landfills, and major restrictions have been placed on backyard incineration. Our waste stream has been transformed also since the introduction of petroleum-based plastics, single-use disposables, and packaging excess. Too, products once designed for durability and repair have been replaced with flimsier versions intended to be tossed and replaced.

    In short, we have become a throw away society. 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 »


    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 »


    Green Reaper

    November 1, 2007

    Appeared in Orange County Voice as The Green Reaper: How to Die Ecologically, November 2007, page 11.

    Green Endings – A Better Way to Go
    by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

    The Green Burial Council has contacts in many states who are willing to accommodate green burial

    The Green Burial Council has contacts in many states who are willing to accommodate green burial.

    There’s one topic that people like to think about even less than what they owe in taxes or the most humiliating thing they have ever done — funerals and burials, especially their own.

    We avoid it not just because it brings up the really big questions (Why are we here? Is there life after death?), but also because we feel no connection to the whole mortuary scene — the cold sterile slab, the smelly embalming fluids, the dreary funeral parlor. These facets of modern burials say nothing about us, or the values we hold.

    But there’s a movement afoot to offer an alternative that is less impersonal and, for many people, more meaningfully connected to the life that was lived. It is called green burials.

    Read the rest of this entry »


    Grabbing Some Rays

    September 1, 2007
    • Appeared in Orange Coast Voice as Solar Energy Made Simple: How technology uses the sun’s power, September 2007, page 10.

    Grabbing Some Rays or Solar Made Simple
    by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

    Installing solar panels on a little less than 30 million homes and businesses could power the entire nation.

    Installing solar panels on a little less than 30 million homes and businesses could power the entire nation.

    There is a wellspring of hope that 2007 is the tipping point in the fight against global warming.

    This is the year that the hundreds of experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, with near certainty, that global warming is for real. It is the year Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth turned “greenhouse gases” into an everyday household expression.

    With the finger of blame pointing squarely at the reckless burning of fossil fuels, renewable energy has become the hottest of topics. Whereas renewables of every ilk will most likely fill important energy niches, solar energy dwarfs all others in ultimate potential because of the sheer abundance of sunlight.

    Global energy consumption in the year 2004 averaged about 15 trillion watts (terawatts, TW), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface (120,000 TW) literally exceeds this global demand thousands of times over. In fact, Read the rest of this entry »


    What Smells About Ethanol Fuel

    July 1, 2007

    Appeared in San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter in July 2007.

    What Smells About Ethanol Fuel

    Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

    Pick your poison -- ethanol pollutes the air and MBTE pollutes underground water. Illustration by Willis Simms.

    Pick your poison — ethanol pollutes the air and MBTE pollutes underground water. Illustration by Willis Simms.

    From President Bush on down, it seems everyone is talking up “biofuels”, especially corn-grain ethanol, 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, fermented and distilled from corn, as they boost production to meet rising domestic demand. However, just because a fuel can be made from plants does not make it inherently “green” or ever plentiful enough to replace gasoline.

    A reputable analysis concluded that conversion of all U.S. cropland to produce corn strictly for ethanol would not suffice to fuel the current fleet of American autos.1

    Read the rest of this entry »


    A Beef About Beef

    June 1, 2007

    Appeared in:

    • San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter in two parts in July and September 2008.
    • Southern Sierran in August 2007.
    • Orange Coast Voice newspaper as It’s No Bull, Beef production creates global warming in June 2007, page 2.

    A Beef About Beef
    by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

    The connection between our meal choices and global warming might be another "inconvenient truth" that is particularly hard to swallow. Illustration by Willis Simms.

    The connection between our meal choices and global warming might be another “inconvenient truth” that is particularly hard to swallow. Illustration by Willis Simms.

    Global warming is on the tip of many tongues these days, but so are hamburgers, pork chops, and fried chicken. As hybrid car sales are up and SUV sales on the decline, it seems Americans might be waking up to the reality that each of us bears some responsibility for climate change through our everyday consumer choices. John Robbins, the once heir-apparent of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company, has authored bestsellers, such as The Food Revolution, detailing the detrimental environmental impacts of a meat-based diet. He and other experts make a strong case that food choices rank right up there with what car you drive in determining your personal contribution to global warming. A quick look inside the hamburger bun easily makes the point.

    Massive Fossil Fuels Consumed to Produce Beef
    Most U.S. beef comes from cows raised on factory farms where hordes of animals are crowded onto concrete lots and fed grains, mostly corn. The grains are also grown using industrial farming methods that rely heavily on application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides manufactured from 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 »


    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 »


    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 »