On Pandemics, Pork Chops and Chicken Nuggets

April 26, 2020

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

January 28, 2020

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Public at Risk: Scandals at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

August 1, 2019

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

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

Beachfront in-ground nuclear waste storage silos at San Onofre

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Finally, a Bill in Congress to Fix Climate Crisis

March 20, 2019

And it needs your support

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Versions Appeared:
EThe Environmental Magazine, 19-Mar, 2019
Escondido Grapevine, 27-Mar, 2019
Times of San Diego, 30-Mar, 2019
Voice of OC, 08-Apr, 2019
Irvine Community News & Views, 08-Apr, 2019

Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act addresses the climate crisis head on.

A bipartisan bill introduced January in the House of Representatives inspires hope that our children and grandchildren can be saved from what scientists tell us is an ongoing and growing climate disaster.

The evidence is incontrovertible that the climate is in crisis and that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause. A recognized global authority on climate change has warned that there is precious little time left, just 12 years, to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. By putting a price on carbon emissions, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R.763) shines a spotlight directly on the hidden costs of burning fossil fuels and very swiftly reins in GHG emissions. Here’s how it would work and how it’s a win-win for the public and industry.

A steadily rising price is placed on the carbon content of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – when they enter the economy. It starts low ($15/ton of CO2-equivalent emissions) and increases yearly by $10/ton until GHG emissions are reduced by 90 percent. The predictable increases in fossil energy prices stimulate the market-driven innovation needed to transition to renewable energy sources, all without government intervention: no subsidies and no new rules and regulations.

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 »


No More Kicking Climate Change Down the Road

October 16, 2018

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:
E-The Environmental Magazine, 17-Oct, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 24-Oct, 2018
Natural Life Magazine, 24-Oct, 2018
The Sunbury News, 26-Oct, 2018
Fullerton Observer, Early Nov, 2018 (p.17)
Times of San Diego, 04-Nov, 2018
The Escondido Grapevine, 13-Nov, 2018
Voice of OC, 16-Nov, 2018
Irvine Community News & Views, 14-Dec, 2018

Photo: travelinglight

Mankind has only 12 years left to make unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we want to stave off unimaginably catastrophic effects of runaway global warming. This is the warning detailed in October’s report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the recognized global climate authority which represents the investigations of hundreds of climate scientists and 195 participating nations.

A 2.0 degree Celsius average global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels was previously viewed by the IPCC as the tipping point beyond which global warming would spiral out of control with incomprehensibly negative consequences for humanity and the planet. We are fully half way to this cut-off, but more to the point is the revised projection by the IPCC that the worst effects will emerge with a smaller temperature rise of just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Preventing the 1.5 degree rise necessitates, by 2030, a 45 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to 2010 levels, with “net zero emissions by 2050” which means all emissions need be balanced by removal of an equivalent amount from the air.

If GHG emissions continue instead at the current rate, the 1.5 degree mark will be reached in 2040, producing environmental havoc that effectively ensures the end of civilization as we know it. Picture a future defined by poverty, food shortages, coastal flooding, mass migrations, ferocious storms, bigger and more intense wildfires, plus unrelenting heat that makes parts of the world unlivable.

Hearing this, Americans should be screaming from the rooftops, demanding to know how our government will prevent this very real existential threat to our own and our children’s future.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Taboo on Talking Climate Change

July 9, 2018

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared in various versions:
Times of San Diego, 12-Jul, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 16-Jul, 2018
Natural Life Magazine, 16-Jul, 2018
OB Rag, 
18-Jul, 2018
E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Jul, 2018
Voice of OC, 02-Aug, 2018
Fullerton Observer, Aug, 2018 (p.2)

Photo credit: Sander van der Wel

How often do we talk about climate change to family, friends or coworkers? Probably next to never if we’re like most people.

Yale’s national polling reveals that the majority of Americans accept that global warming is happening (73 percent) and are worried about it (63 percent). Even more want carbon dioxide, or CO2, regulated as a pollutant (81 percent).

Given these stats and the warning of scientists that the time window to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is closing fast, what keeps us from openly discussing it?

The answer is complex. For starters, many of us were raised in a bygone era where talking politics (and religion) was considered simply impolite. That climate change has become such a politically divisive issue adds weight to the interpersonal risk people naturally experience in bringing up any sensitive topic, even with intimates.

There is also the fact that humanity is ill equipped to respond to the kind of threat posed by a warming planet. Addressing climate change demands an approach to problem solving outside our past experience as a species. Humans are quite adept at addressing “here and now” challenges like putting out a forest fire. However, human history has not prepared us to respond to, or even easily comprehend, a long-term global problem like climate change because it unfolds so gradually over time and in the form of exacerbation of happenings not completely new to us.

Read the rest of this entry »


Is Mimi Walters Changing Her Stance on Climate Change?

March 27, 2018

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Mimi Walters serves the 45th Congressional District which includes Irvine, Tustin, North Tustin, Villa Park, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, the Canyons and parts of Anaheim Hills, Coto de Caza and Orange.

Appeared:
Voice of OC, 27-Mar, 2018
Irvine Community News & Views, Apr, 2018 (p.9)

In November, residents within California’s 45th Congressional District will be deciding whether to entrust Mimi Walters with a 3rd term in the House of Representatives. She is facing a tough reelection battle, so in a race where every vote counts, it’s incumbent upon voters to take a serious look at her performance record before entering the polls.

Because the projected impacts of unchecked global warming are so dire, climate change has become the number one challenge facing humanity. Worsening storms, droughts and wildfires, catastrophic sea level rise, mass species extinction, disrupted food supplies and political and social unrest are all in the offing if we fail to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewable energy sources.

Though poorer communities and nations will be impacted most, material wealth cannot guarantee that our children and grandchildren will be spared serious consequences.

The years 2016 and 2017 were the first and third hottest on record, respectively. Many residents of Orange County have personal stories of how climate change is already touching their lives.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication tracks public opinions on climate change, down to the individual district level. It turns out that California’s 45th is very much in step with the nation as a whole: 71 percent in the district believe climate change is happening, 74 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant, and 72 percent believe future generations will be harmed.

As a public servant, Mimi Walters is obligated to represent the views of her constituents, especially on an issue as vital to public security and prosperity as climate change. But, does she?

Read the rest of this entry »


Ticking Time Bomb at San Onofre Nuclear Plant

December 29, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Only Collective Action Will Solve The Climate Crisis

August 21, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Escondido Grapevine, 05-Sep, 2017
Fullerton Observer,
Early Sept, 2017, p.3
Center for Global Development, 31-Aug, 2017
Daily Pilot, 31-Aug, 2017
San Diego Free Press, 31-Aug, 2017
Coronado Times, 30-Aug, 2017
Times of San Diego, 30-Aug, 2017
EarthTalk, 29-Aug, 2017

Average annual global temperatures since 1880 compared to the average across the last century. Blue years are below the average and red years are above. (Source NOAA)

I fancy myself an environmentalist. I recycle, backyard compost, have rooftop solar, rarely use AC or heat, drive a hybrid, don’t have a lawn and eat vegetarian.

Yet the truth is I am as responsible for climate change as the next guy. Here’s why.

Doing those things definitely makes me feel good about myself, but none of my personal actions move the world measurably closer to solving the climate crisis. My journey to this conclusion started by first looking into my personal carbon footprint using readily available online tools.

The U.S. EPA’s carbon footprint calculator, for example, looks at three sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: home utilities for heating, cooling and cooking; vehicle fuel efficiency and miles driven; and waste generation. In these areas, my carbon footprint was roughly half that of other people living in my zip code, suggesting my eco-conscious efforts are paying off.

However, it’s eye-opening that roughly two-thirds of Americans’ GHG emissions are embedded in so-called “indirect” emissions released during the production or manufacture of other things we consume, such as food, household supplies, apparel, air travel, and services of all types, according to an in-depth analysis by the Center for Global Development, a non-profit policy research organization. Another way to understand indirect emissions is to think of the money spent on everything not included in the EPA’s more limited carbon footprint calculator.

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 »


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 »


Why Suburbanites Contribute More to Climate Change

July 9, 2015

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Photo: Ursula Alter

Appeared in:
Southern Sierran, 21-July, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09-July, 2015
San Diego Free Press, 14-July, 2015
OB Rag, 15-July, 2015

More and more Americans are taking responsibility for their personal contribution to global climate change by driving fuel efficient cars, insulating their homes and switching to energy efficient lighting and household appliances.

However, even someone that’s gone to the extremes of traveling only on foot or bicycle and forsaking home heating, cooling, lighting, food refrigeration and cooking will likely shrink their carbon footprint by only about a third.  That’s because roughly two-thirds of Americans’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are embedded instead in consumption of other goods and services, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD), a non-profit policy research organization.

Most of us attribute our GHG footprint to the easily discerned energy we consume for personal transportation and home utilities.  Yet these so-called “direct” emissions account for just 36% of the average American’s annual GHG emissions which are equivalent to 21.8 tons of CO2.

The remaining 64% of GHG emissions are “indirect” and produced during the manufacture and production of literally everything else we consume, such as food, shelter, clothing, furniture, cars, bicycles, appliances, electronics, pets, toys, tools, cleaning supplies, medications, toiletries, entertainment and air travel.  The fact that indirect emissions typically take place somewhere distant and out of our sight, like in a factory overseas and during transport of products to the point of sale, underlies our lack of connection to them.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Pests: Can’t we just kill them all?

January 26, 2015

By Sarah “Steve’ Mosko

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

Credit: Centers for Disease Control

Photo: Centers for Disease Control

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


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).

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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 »


Occupy This Book

January 29, 2012

Book Review: ECONOMICS UNMASKED
From power and greed to compassion and the common good

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

If you are looking for a passionless primer on modern economics spouting platitudes about how western style capitalism, unregulated markets and globalization are fail proof and good for all, this book is not for you.

If, instead, your guts tell you something is seriously amiss when the gulf between the rich and the poor is ever widening and the health of the planet is on a steady decline, then you will find this book vital and loaded with truths.

The authors are a physicist and an economist who joined forces in this exposé on how the predominant economic paradigm driving the world’s economies today is based on less-than-lofty values: greed, competition and accumulation. These values are so universally sanctioned that no apology is deemed necessary even though it can be shown that wealth accumulated through such a system leads to immeasurable human injustices and environmental ills.

The book discusses how this paradigm fosters rapid economic expansion “at any cost” to people or the planet. It is fed by the uncontrolled consumption of fossil fuels and a belief that consumerism is the path to happiness. Furthermore, the paradigm functions to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a small minority.

Read the rest of this entry »


Fooled by Fake Food Dyes

December 3, 2011

Should you worry?

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

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

Not all synthetically dyed foods are this obvious

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

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

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

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 »


“BPA-Free” No Guarantee

March 11, 2011

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

Appeared:

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Cruelty-Free Cheese?

March 4, 2011

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

Appeared in:

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

Attitudes about animal rights and welfare often shape dietary choices.

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

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

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

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 »


Human Population: The Elephant in the Room

September 13, 2010

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • Santa Monica Daily Press, as Overpopulation the elephant in the room, 21 Sept 2010
  • E-Magazine’s Our Planet Weekly, as Pretending It’s Not People, 17 Sept 2010
  • Surf City Voice, 12 Sept 2010

Human population is the unspoken elephant in the room driving environmental crises

It is hard to come up with a looming environmental problem not ultimately rooted in human population expansion, be it a local issue like traffic congestion, litter and air & drinking water pollution or more global concerns like ocean fish depletion, deforestation, species extinction and global climate change.

We humans currently number 6.9 billion and continue to swell the planet by nearly 80 million more each year.  Almost half of us are under the age of 25, and, if present trends continue, we will double in number before 2060.

The United States does not earn a pass when it comes to population pressures on the environment, in part because our per capita resource consumption and waste production dwarf that of much of the rest of the world.  Furthermore, the Central Intelligence Agency tracks birth rates, and although the current U. S. birth rate (13.8 births per 1000 people per year) is roughly one-third that of several African countries, 69 other countries have lower birth rates.

The U.S. population has continued to rise by roughly three million each year over the last two decades with the latest total estimate topping 307 million.  By the end of this century, there could well be 570 million of us, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Given these harrowing projections and the monumental environmental dilemmas we face already, you would think that candidly stated strategies to stabilize the population, at home and abroad, would be a priority at every level of government.  Not so.

Read the rest of this entry »


Surf City Earns Energy ‘Smarter City’ Status

August 9, 2010

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

  • Appeared 9 Aug 2010 in Surf City Voice.

Huntington Beach is recognized by National Resources Defense Council for energy efficiency

Residents of Huntington Beach (HB) can take pride in being the only Orange County city that landed a spot this year on a list of 22 ‘Smarter Cities’ nationwide being recognized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for setting good examples for the rest of nation in the areas of green power, energy efficiency and conservation.

The announcement came at the end of July, and Long Beach is the only other city in southern California earning this distinction. The NRDC extended initial consideration to all 655 U.S. municipalities with populations of at least 50,000.

HB and other Orange County cities made an initial cut because the county’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, as measured for 2002 by a North American monitoring program called Project Vulcan, averaged 1.8 tons per capita which met the qualifying per capita cut off of less than 2.5 tons. That HB alone made the final list reflects both the city’s record in improving the energy efficiency of its city facilities and its community outreach efforts to empower residents to save energy and money.

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 Eating Organic Worth It?

May 27, 2010

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD 

Appeared in:

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

New organic standards insure greater access to pasture for grazing.

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

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

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

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

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 »


Food Labeling Controversies

June 13, 2009

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

Appeared in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antibiotics

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

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 »


Stay Married to be Green

October 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice, October 2008, page 11

Stay married to save the planet

According to a recent investigation, divorce creates pretty hefty costs to the environment. Courtesy Orange Coast Voice

Stay Married to Stay Green
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

If you are looking for reasons to patch up a rocky marriage, here is one you have probably overlooked – do it for the planet! While it is common knowledge that divorce can be costly to the pocketbook, a recent investigation exposes pretty hefty costs to the environment too.

Divorce is on the rise in the United States as evidenced by an increase in divorced households (households with divorced heads) from 5% to 15% of total households between 1970 and 2000. The proportion of married households (with married heads) sank from 69% to 53% over this same interval.

One spouse typically moves out during a divorce. Michigan State University researchers Eunice Yu and Jianaguo Liu hypothesized that this splitting of families should translate into more but smaller households with loss of resource use efficiency on a per person basis. Their predictions were in fact borne out by tapping into the largest publicly available census based on individual U.S. households – the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series-USA.

Read the rest of this entry »


Better Food Choices

August 1, 2008

Appeared in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Dirty Detergents

July 1, 2008

Appeared in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Praise Potted Plants

May 1, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sleepless Nights

March 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper March 2008, page 11

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

sleep

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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 »


Trust in Chemicals Unhealthy

March 1, 2007

Appeared in:

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

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

chemicals

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


Distress Calls From Ocean

January 1, 2007

Appeared in:

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

oceanturtle

Illustration by Willis Simms.

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

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

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

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


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 »