A Beef About Beef

June 1, 2007

Appeared in:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Driving on Sunshine

April 1, 2007

Appeared in:

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

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

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


All That Shines Is Not Gold

March 1, 2007

Appeared in San Fernando Valley Sierra Club Chapter newsletter, Mar-Apr 2007

Related article: Paper Cups Go Green.

All That Shines Is Not Gold
(#11 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.

If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.

Did you ever notice the shiny lining on the inside of those paper cups designed for hot beverages . . the ones you get at your favorite specialty coffee store? Although the lining’s purpose is noble (prevents the liquid from seeping through the paper), its presence is the very reason those paper cups all end up in landfills.

Manufacturers tell me the lining is typically a polyethylene resin or some other petroleum-based emulsion. As such, it is a contaminant that prevents recycling as a paper item, and like petroleum-based plastics, it doesn’t biodegrade so is not appropriate for composting.

Such resins also coat milk cartons and many paper picnic products, thus preventing you from putting them in your curbside recycling bin or your backyard compost.

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 »


SFO Nixes Toxins

November 1, 2006

Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, Nov-Dec, 2006

San Francisco Nixes Plastic Toxins
(#9 of the Plastic Plagues Series)
by Sarah Mosko, Ph.D.

The City of San Francisco was first to nix some toxic plastics. Photo courtesy of my.sfgov.org

The City of San Francisco was first to nix some toxic plastics. Photo courtesy of my.sfgov.org

As of Dec. 2006, plastic toys and childcare products containing either of two chemicals known to disrupt sex hormones will no longer be manufactured, distributed or sold in San Francisco.

One targeted substance is bisphenol-A, the building block of polycarbonate plastics (#7) used to make some baby bottles, teethers and toys. It is an estrogen mimic that has been linked to miscarriage, birth defects, diabetes and prostate cancer. Leaching of bisphenol-A from polycarbonate bottles or containers into the contents has been documented.

Also banned are several plasticizers called phthalates added to PVC (#3, polyvinyl chloride) plastic products to make them soft and squishy. Many children’s toys and teethers contain phthalates that can migrate out since they’re not chemically bonded to the plastic polymer. Phthalates interfere with testosterone during fetal life, and exposure has been linked to abnormal reproductive organ development, infertility, premature breast development, shortened pregnancy, and asthma. Read the rest of this entry »


Plastics Addiction

July 1, 2006

Appeared in:

  • Southern Sierran, July 2006
  • SFV Sierra Club Chapter newsletter, July 2006

Breaking Our Addiction to Plastic
(#8 of the Plastic Plague series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

There goes the neighborhood!  Illustration by Willis Simms

There goes the neighborhood! Illustration by Willis Simms

In the Jan. 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush finally admitted that “America is addicted to oil.” He pointed out the need to improve energy and fuel efficiency and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but said nothing about how our mindless consumption of petroleum-based plastics is symptomatic of this national malady.

However, just a few facts suffice to illuminate the seriousness of our unhealthy relationship to plastics.

Since the mid 20th century start of the plastics explosion, consumption of plastics has skyrocketed to the point that the weight of plastics produced in a year in our country is twice the weight of the entire US population.1 And as is true for any addiction, we live in denial about our problem…denial that plastics are non-biodegradable and denial of the threats they pose to the environment and human health (see previous articles in this series for details).

Our denial is so complete that we’ve allowed plastic debris to accumulate to frightening levels in our oceans – some parts of the Pacific have 6 times more plastic than zooplankton.2 We’ve created a society where just about everything is made out of plastic without taking responsibility for the impact on our own health and the health of the planet. Read the rest of this entry »


Can Bioplastics Save Us?

March 1, 2006

 

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, February 2007, page 5.
  • Sierra Club – Mt. Baldy Group, Angeles Chapter newsletter, Jan-Feb 2007, page 4
  • Sierra Club – San Fernando Valley chapter newsletter March 2006.

Can Bioplastics Save Us?
(#7 of the Plastic Plague series)
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Most bioplastics on the market require industry composting, so the products just end up in the landfill.

Most bioplastics on the market require industry composting, so the products just end up in the landfill.

Bioplastics. They gotta be better than petroleum plastics, right? A short list of problems linked to petroleum plastics includes oil spills, release of toxins during synthesis, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals during routine use, threats to wildlife from ingestion or entanglement, environmental pollution during disposal, and maybe even a basis for wars as global petroleum supplies dwindle. Furthermore, petroleum plastics do not biodegrade, creating a ballooning litter problem on land and sea as global plastics production has risen to about 250 billion pounds annually.

But will conversion to a plant-based substitute really solve everything? Considering a few key questions should help us ferret out some of the critical issues that would need to be addressed before we can give bioplastics a thumbs up or down.

Is bioplastic technology ready?
Even though you won’t find them on major supermarket shelves, some forward-looking companies have figured out how to make disposable plastic items (such as cups, bowls, plates, clamshells, Read the rest of this entry »


Plastics Damaging to Health

February 1, 2006

Appeared in Southern Sierran, February 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unhealthy Plastic Habit?

January 1, 2006

Appeared in:

  • Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Jan-Feb., 2006.

Plastics – an Unhealthy Habit?
(#6 of the Plastic Plague Series)
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

The endocrine disruptor bisphenol A is used in the synthesis of some wildly popular polycarbonate water bottles. Photo from ourstolenfuture.org

The endocrine disruptor bisphenol A is used in the synthesis of some wildly popular polycarbonate water bottles. Photo from ourstolenfuture.org

Plastics are lightweight, flexible, durable and can be molded into just about anything. They fill our toy chests, refrigerators, medicine cabinets and desk tops. Since the explosion of consumer plastics in the 1950s, we have come to rely on them to get us through our busy lives. But, there is a dark side to plastics as well, and it has to do with our health.

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

During synthesis from petroleum or natural gas, toxic chemicals are used which can be released into the air and water supply.  For example, vinyl chloride (a known carcinogen) is used to make polyvinyl chloride or PVC plastics, and a chemical called perfluorooctanaote (PFOA) used in the production of plastic-coated non-stick cookware is also carcinogenic. Furthermore, an assortment of “additives” are often needed to lend particular characteristics to a product.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thirsty Californians

November 1, 2005

Appeared in

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

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

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

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

Is bottled water earth-friendly?

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

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

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


Bottled Water Safer?

November 1, 2005

Appeared in

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is bottled water really safer?

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


Plastics in the Food Chain

September 1, 2005

Appeared in Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernando Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Sept., 2005.

Plastics in the Food Chain
(#3 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Japanese researchers suggest that plastic debris is a transporter of toxic chemicals into the marine food chain. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Japanese researchers suggest that plastic debris is a transporter of toxic chemicals into the marine food chain. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Plastics are petroleum products that never biodegrade…they just break up into smaller and smaller fragments of plastic.

Worldwide plastics production has grown to over 150 million tons/year, and lots of it finds its way into our oceans. Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif. has trawled the surface waters of the N. Pacific central gyre, a Texas-sized whirlpool of ocean debris sometimes referred to as the Pacific Garbage Patch. He compared the weight of plastic fragments to that of zooplanktons. Zooplanktons are tiny animal planktons at the bottom of the aquatic food chain and a prime food source for a myriad of sea creatures.

Quite alarmingly, Captain Moore found that plastics outweighed zooplanktons by a factor of 6-to-1.1 Even off the Southern California coastline, plastics were found to outweigh zooplanktons 2.5 to 1.2 Since fish, turtles, jellies, seabirds and other sea creatures are not equipped to distinguish plastics from real food, plastics have become a routine part of the marine food chain. Microscopic bits of plastic are even being incorporated into plankton,3 showing that plastics have entered the very bottom of our food chain.

Adding to the alarm are the findings of Japanese researchers suggesting that plastic debris is a transporter of toxic chemicals into the marine food chain. Because plastics are petroleum-based, they are oily and so attract oily toxins like PCBs and DDE (PCBs are a family of toxic, persistent chemicals previously used in electrical equipment, and DDE is a breakdown product of the now banned pesticide DDT). The study focused on plastic resin pellets, the pearl-sized materials that are melted down to form plastic products. The pellets were found to accumulate PCBs and DDE at levels up to one million times their concentrations in the surrounding seawater.

Oily toxins are stored generally in fatty tissues and consequently get concentrated as they are passed up the food chain (plankton are eaten by jellyfish, salmon eat the jellyfish, you serve salmon for dinner). The potential threat to humans eating at the top of the food chain is obvious. We don’t know yet how big a role plastic ocean debris plays in the elevated levels of PCBs, DDE and other toxins now commonly measured in human tissues. The studies needed to assess this simply have not been done. However, two things are abundantly clear – our oceans are turning into cesspools of plastic trash because of human negligence, and we will eventually eat everything we throw into the sea. We don’t need new studies to tell us this!

1Moore et al.Marine Poll. Bull., 42, 2001.
2Moore et al. Marine Poll. Bull., 44, 2002.
3Thompson et al. Science 304, 2004.
4Mato et al. Environ. Sci. Bull. 35, 2001.

To participate in a California-based statewide plastics reduction campaign, contact Earth Resource Foundation or call (949) 645-5163.


Plastics For Dinner

July 1, 2005

Appeared in Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, July 2005.

Plastics for Dinner
(#2 of the Plastics Plague series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Most litter eventually finds it way to the ocean. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Most litter eventually finds it way to the ocean. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Most litter eventually finds it way to the ocean. Plastics bags are swept in by winds, while heavier trash washes in via rainstorm run-off. Dumping at sea and cargo spills account for only 20% of trash in our oceans, with 80% from land-based sources.

Just about everything today is made from plastic it seems. Since plastics do not biodegrade, but rather break into smaller plastic fragments, our oceans are awash with plastic debris. Nearly 90% of ocean debris is in fact plastic. There are even areas of ocean where plastic fragments outweigh zooplankton by a factor of six to one. Unfortunately, sea creatures are not equipped to discriminate plastics from their normal diet. The consequences are devastating.

A plastic bag floating in water probably looks a lot like a jellyfish to a hungry sea turtle. Hard plastic fragments resemble krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans favored by many sea animals. Read the rest of this entry »


Plastic Plague

May 1, 2005

Versions of this article appeared in:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »