10 Things I Learned (Or Was Reminded Of) at TedXOilSpill

June 29th, 2010

Yesterday I attended an amazing series of lectures by some of the world’s foremost experts on marine biology, alternative fuels, and more….People from California, New York, Boston, and elsewhere converged on the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC for TedxOilSpill. Running from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (and with a cocktail party still going strong when I begged off just before 9 p.m.), TedxOilSpill was a revelation. You can watch the videos as they’re uploaded here, read the #TedXOilSpill tweetstream or just check out my list below of  the top 10 Things I learned (or was reminded of) at TedXOilSpill.

1. Women are brave. It was a female scientist – Dr. Susan Shaw – who said she was told she was crazy to swim in the Gulf. She wanted to know the impact of the oil on marine life. The impact on her? She got sick. Her throat felt like it was “on fire.” After a few days, she was fine. Unfortunately, the fish don’t get a chance to climb out of the Gulf’s waters. They won’t recover so easily. Instead, Dr. Shaw predicts a dire future for marine mammals exposed to so much oil:  “chemical pneumonia,” liver and brain disease, tumors, lesions, and other horrible afflictions. If you want to watch one TedxOilSpill talk, I suggest you watch Dr. Shaw. (She speaks at 56:30).

2. Truly, no one has any idea of the impact of the dispersants used in the Gulf. Dr. Shaw said the toxicologists are going crazy trying to figure it out. Part of the problem is that industry is not required to disclose what is IN the dispersants. She showed the ingredients list the scientists finally obtained: full of “derivatives” and “distellants” – meaningless terms designed to protect trade secrets. Dr. Carl Safina demonstrated what happens when you mix a dispersant with oil and water: everything became a cloudy soup.  The implication was clear:  putting dispersants in the Gulf is only making things worse. No longer floating on top of the water, the oil is mixed throughout, along with chemicals of unknown origin, with unfathomable impact on marine life.

3.  The environmental field is a broad one.  I was surprised that with all the focus on chemicals, not one speaker mentioned that NOW is the time we can do something about the over-use of untested and unregulated chemicals  by supporting overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Learn more here. The non-profits advocates fighting for TSCA reform – Healthy Child, Healthy World; Moms Rising; Environmental Working Group, and the broad-based Safer Chemicals Coalition -have been focusing on outreach to Moms, but the overuse of chemicals impacts us all. It’s time to call your Congressional representative. NOW.

4.  Bad news about the environment and its impact on animals  is usually underestimated. A chart showing the fall-out estimated from the Exxon Valdez was superimposed on a chart showing what actually happened. Suffice to say: not a pretty picture. (Some species, like the killer whales, never recovered.)

5.  Did you know that 30% of all species of wildlife are expected to be extinct in the next 30 years? And that estimate was made BEFORE the oil spill.

6. I was reminded that the oil platform exploded on Earth Day.  Talk about irony.

7. Not all biofuels are created equal. Remember the furor over corn-based biofuels? Algae provides another option for biofuel, and it doesn’t require the use of arable land or potable water.

8. I keep hearing that electric vehicles will only be good for short trips. Not true. The Tesla can go 244 miles on a single charge. Sure, most of us can’t afford it, but Tesla Motors is using Tesla Technology to develop other, less expensive models such as a  sedan, the S Model.

9. We all know it’s not just about the animals. It’s not just about the fish. It’s not just about the fishermen, or their way of life. Or the culture in the Gulf. But did you ever think of the history that lies at the ocean floor? I heard an AU professor tell us, with a catch in his voice, about the shipwrecks that will be decimated by the oil.

10. Christen Lien has composed (or more accurately) is composing an instrumental piece inspired by her visit to the Gulf. Listening to it, you can almost hear the animals crying for help and the oil rushing in. Viola, harmonica, synthesizer….it is  incredible music.  Her performance capped the end to the conference.

And do you know what? I really learned MORE than just these ten things…but that’s a post for a different night!

I’d love to know what you learned…or what you think about all this…please leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

Copyright 2010 OrganicMania

A First Look at What the New Safe Chemicals Act May Mean for Parents: It Won’t Be an Immediate Panacea

April 15th, 2010

This morning, the Safe Chemicals Act,  long awaited legislation to reform the nation’s outdated chemicals law, The Toxic Substances Control Act, was introduced in Congress. This came in response to years of lobbying by environmental health watchdogs like the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Coalition; Healthy Child, Healthy World , The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and The Environmental Working Group; physicians like Dr. Alan Greene; authors like Stacy Malkin of “Not Just a Pretty Face,”  Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse, Jennifer Taggert of The Smart Mama’s Green Guide, and Nena Baker of “The Body Toxic,” and yes, activists like Moms Rising and bloggers like my Green Moms Carnival friends.

It was just a year ago this month that the Green Moms Carnival bloggers were  taken to task by the chemical lobby and others for our “hysterical” reaction to finding out that our favorite baby bath products contained probable human carcinogens.  Some of us, like Sommer of Green and Clean Mom, who hosted the Toxic Tub Carnival, were even attacked by other Mom bloggers for being so rude as to question those companies that market baby products with 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde.

But in the end, all of our probing, phone calling, and blogging contributed to the consumer outrage that led retailers to pull BPA-tainted products and state legislators to restrict the use of harmful chemicals in common everyday items. Now,  with today’s introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act, we are a huge step closer to an even safer marketplace.

But don’t celebrate just yet – this bill’s not a panacea. I still foresee the most diligent among us dutifully consulting databases to figure out which products are safe to buy. Incredible, isn’t it?  That’s because the bill regulates the EPA, not the FDA – which regulates 1,4 dioxane, as J&J explains on their website.   And because the bill doesn’t mandate that the EPA look at multiple exposures, as the esteemed National Academy of Sciences has recommended. It just “allows” it to do so.

But for those of us who are still waiting for our simple questions about chemical reform to be answered? Well, today we got some answers. Here’s what I asked and here is the response from Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Stanford School of Medicine, author, Raising Baby Green (and every green Mom’s favorite twitter buddy):

OrganicMania: “My readers are particularly interested in probable carcinogenic  compounds like 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde which are commonly used in infant and childrens  baths. Given that there are  80,000 chemicals in the market today – and some of them – like asbestos – are very directly linked to deaths, how likely do you think it is that specific action will be taken against the use of 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde in terms of being classified as most dangerous?”

Dr. Greene “1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde  would meet a a number of the criteria for prioritization. A safety determination will be made early in the process relative to 1,4 dioxane.  Formaldehyde might also get expedited action.”

At that point, Dr. Richard Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, noted that the FDA has jurisdication over formaldehyde, not the EPA. (But I knew this, thanks to  The Smart Mama.)     As Dr. Denison put it,  “EPA must have authority and the  mandate to look at all uses of chemicals under another agency’s jurisdiction.”

I then went on to ask about multiple, cumulative exposures. Because how are those little babies being exposed to neurotoxins? Its likely through the chemical-laden creams, lotions and potions that the average American woman slathers over her body every day. And as The Smart Mama has blogged, the industry would like us to believe that “just a little bit of carcinogen is okay.

How to tackle that issue? It’s far trickier.  As Maureen Swanson of the  Learning Disabilities Association of America, said, “We would like to see strengthened language that would direct the EPA to go by the National Academy of Science’s   recommendation on looking more closely at cumulative exposures. It is mentioned in the bill, but they are not directed to adopt those recommendations.  How do we enact real reform to make a real difference in our products and in our health risks?..I totally agree..there are a lot of different chemicals which can interfere with the thyroid, and the thyroid gland impacts brain development. It is essential to work on the science, to get stronger language directing EPA to use those recommendations, and to make clear that both versions of the bill define the safety standard and to require they at least take into account aggregate and cumulative exposures. “

Dr. Greene then jumped in to explain, “It’s left to the EPA to flesh out, and there’s no immediate change on that because there’s not science to deal with it {multiple cumulative exposures}. But by requiring the EPA to take those factors into account, we have a structure that moves us forward far beyond where we are now.”

So what can you do?

First, support this bill. It’s the best we’ve got, and it’s the best we’ll get.  Pay attention to the debate raging in the mainstream media and at action sites like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, the Environmental Working Group’s Kid-Safe Blog, and Healthy Child, Healthy World.

And remember, as you start talking up the Safe Chemicals Act, don’t let anyone accuse you of being a hysterical mom. Or you’ll have to answer to:

Tiffany of Nature Moms Jennifer of The Green Parent, Beth of Fake Plastic Fish Katy from Non-Toxic Kids, Micaela from Mindfull Momma, Alicia from The Soft LandingAnna from Green Talk , Christine Gardner of moregreenmomsAlline of Passion for Green Business , Diane from Big Green Purse and one of Glamour Magazine’s 70 Eco Heros,  Jess from The Green Phone Booth,   MaryAnne   at EcoChild’s Play and Not Quite Crunchy Parent, Karen from Best of Mother Earth, Katherine from the Safe Mama, Sommer of Green and Clean Mom, Jennifer aka The Smart Mama, and of course, me, Lynn from OrganicMania.

Oh, J&J? No need to answer those questions now. I got my answers today.

— Lynn

Copyright 2010 OrganicMania