Thursday, July 16, 2009

Opportunities to Recycle!

It may surprise you of how easy and environmentally conscious recycling can be.

Spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning when you clear out all those old electronics. Where do you put it? Do you throw it away needlessly or store it in a pile to take to a recycling center? We all have that guilt; throwing something in the trash bin when we very well know that we can take it elsewhere. But why don't we? Perhaps it matters in waste management. In other countries and cities like in Tokyo, Japan, there are several waste collection days and different waste categories. Not only do they have recyclables but they also have burnables, small plastics, bulk refuse, and more. This is a great way to think of recycling and being environmentally conscious.

With our world growing smaller and the human footprint bigger, it is part of our responsibility to take care of our homes. Chemicals and toxic waste has a detrimental effect on all living things, from green grass to the animals that graze on it, and to humans who rely on the milk and harvest of their labor. There are plenty more opportunities to recycle than you may previously believe! Consider these ideas:

1. Educate yourself, understand where you can recycle and what you can recycle. Earth 911 is a great resource.

2. Start with the smallest rooms first. Offices are perhaps the most time-consuming areas of your home, but a huge plethora of recyclables exist there. You can train your recycling knowledge here.

3. Bedrooms and living room. Do you know where your local donation store is? Many Goodwill and Salvation Army centers accept used furniture and clothing with a smile. Help someone pick out their next 80's outfit by giving away your plastic bangles and Doc Martens.

4. Bathrooms, kitchen. You might not be aware of the dangers of household cleaners or where to recycle or properly dispose of cooking oil.

5. Garage. You probably don't see many of these items or have put them there believing that you could take care of it later. Consider if you really need these items. If not, take the opportunity to recycle it!

So there you have it. Some ideas to help you recycle more and efficiently with the glamorous help of the internet!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Human Impact on the Environment

How much impact have humans brought upon our own planet? Animal species have once gone into a very slow extinction where balancing mechanisms can develop to compensate the loss. Animals have lived in a complicated weave of relationships, so complex and magnificent that we humans have only scraped the surface of understanding.

Yet, with our rise, animals have fallen. We’ve created huge agricultural problems with our own invention. With pesticides and insecticides we’ve tipped the balance of ecosystems and cause massive imbalances in our own world. Never have we faced such a crisis; in the last 65 million years we have never had such a rapid rate of extinction as we’ve had in the 20th century.

Who’s next, and what do we do to prevent it? Human beings are not excluded from the food chain. Honey bees, for example, pollinate hundreds of plant species and what are weeds to us may be food to someone else. We should not exterminate living things so rashly without understanding the consequences.

I believe that knowledge was the most simplest answer. We should educate, educate, educate. When I remember how I learned about extinction, I remember my grade school teacher simply saying, “Don’t do like the dodo.”

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Paying Attention to Daily UV Index Ratings Can Decrease the Risk of Cancer

Although studies have repeatedly shown that UV sterilization is an extremely effective method of killing airborne biological contaminants such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, did you know that extremely high levels of outdoor UV rays from the sun can be harmful to your health?

According to AirNow, a cross-agency of the U.S. Government, the public should take into consideration UV Index ratings before going outside or engaging in any sort of strenuous outdoor activity. This is especially crucial for those who experience UV sensitivity or patients on medication that causes sun sensitivity, such as Accutane, Flexeril, Pamelor, or even Motrin.

The ozone layer shields the Earth from harmful UV radiation, but ozone depletion, as well as seasonal and weather variations, can cause different amounts of UV radiation to reach the Earth at any given time. Therefore, the UV Index was developed by the EPA and the National Weather Service to predict the day’s UV radiation levels on a 1-11+ scale, and this index has helped the public determine appropriate sun-protective behaviors. Whenever the level of solar UV radiation is predicted to be unusually high and when the risk of overexposure is greater, the EPA will thus issue what is called a “UV Alert”

In terms of how the UV Index works, it entails measuring the next day forecast of the amount of skin damaging UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface at the time when the sun is highest in the sky. This amount of UV radiation reaching the surface is also primarily related to the elevation of the sun in the sky, the amount of clouds present, and the amount of ozone in the stratosphere. As such, the higher the UV Index, the greater the dose rate of skin and eye damaging UV radiation; therefore, the higher the UV index, the smaller amount of time it takes before skin damage occurs.

Overexposure to UV radiation can primarily cause two serious side effects: severe sun burn following intense, short-term exposure, and serious skin cancers such as Melanoma that develop after long-term, high UV exposure. Melanoma is one of the most deadly types of skin cancer, and this usually occurs after a patient is subjected to several intense overexposures. Non-melanoma skin cancers, on the other hand, are almost 100 percent curable, and usually occur in those who are overexposed for long periods of time, such as farmers or fisherman. In addition, studies have shown that long-term UV overexposure can also cause cataracts in the eyes as well.

If your city’s UV Index is especially high and you must venture outside, follow some of these important steps:

1. Limit the amount of sun exposure and avoid going out during the late morning to early mid-day, as these are the hours with the highest UV radiation levels.

2. Wear protective clothing such as long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and shirts with sleeves that completely cover the arms.

3. If going to the beach, remember that sand reflects the sun’s rays and will increase the chance of burning.

4. Be aware that even on cloudy days, sunburns can still occur, as clouds do not have the ability to stop UV rays.

5. Wear protective sunscreen to minimize UV ray exposure, and find a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Light-skinned people will need to use an even higher SPF, and all sunscreens should be applied right before going out into the sun and reapplied often.


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Friday, February 15, 2008

Air Quality and Aging: What's the Relationship?

As we age, our bodies become less able to compensate for the effects of environmental hazards, and studies have shown that air pollution can actually aggravate stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). All of these health problems eventually lead to increased medication use, admissions to emergency rooms and hospitals, and sometimes even death.

Particulate matter and ozone have the greatest potential to affect the health of the elderly, and fine particles have been repeatedly linked to cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, bronchitis, and premature death. In addition, ozone has also been shown to exacerbate respiratory diseases.

In an attempt to address the issue of older adults and air quality, the EPA has developed and published fact sheets that are intended to inform older adults about environmental health risks and how to reduce those risks.

One such fact sheet deals with the problem of COPD, and the EPA notes that the disease includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema – lung diseases which frequently coexist and are characterized by obstruction to air flow, making it difficult to breathe. In terms of environmental triggers for COPD, the EPA also notes that exposure to outdoor air pollution can pose a significant risk, especially to those suffering from lung disease. As well, ozone has also been shown to aggravate respiratory diseases and may result in increased emergency room and hospital admissions.

Regarding indoor air, because older people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, common indoor airborne pollutants such as tobacco smoke, dust, animal dander, mold, and pollen can trigger COPD and asthma attacks. In addition, combustion products such as oil, gas, coal, and buildings and furnishings made of pressed wood can also exacerbate the above diseases.

If you or a loved one experiences symptoms of COPD or asthma, the EPA recommends consulting a doctor and taking the following precautions:

- Check the Air Quality Index if planning to spend extended time outdoors
- Avoid smoke from wood-burning stoves
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Reduce mold and dust from your home
- Regularly check furnaces and heating units annually
- Keep pets out of sleeping areas

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Yamaha to Pay California $2 Million for High Emissions Motorcycles

Last week, a ruling found that Yamaha Corporation, USA and South Seas Cycle Exchange of Honolulu will have to pay over 2 million dollars to the state of California in order to settle a 2005 lawsuit over the importation of motorcycles that failed to meet California emissions standards.

The California Air Resources Board is the "clean air agency" in California, and given California's track record for high levels of air pollution, the organization was established to maintain healthy air quality; to protect the public from exposure to toxic air contaminants; and to provide innovative approaches for complying with air pollution rules and regulations. As well, the CARB is also the agency responsible for banning ozone air purifiers by the year 2009 in the state of California.

With that said, the CARB began an investigation into Yamaha’s case back in 2002, and they concluded that Yamaha had imported over 400 illegal motorcycles, registered them to Yamaha in California, obtained state license plates, and eventually sold the vehicles to California residents.

Air Resources Board Mary Nichols stated that the reason why Yamaha was targeted was because of California’s already poor air quality and she stated that "too many parts of California still fail to meet federal health levels for air quality." She also noted that due to the high levels of emissions, the Yamaha motorcycles in question "could well have contributed to Southern California’s already fouled air."

Other California motorcycle dealers had already settled this case with the Air Resources Board, but Yamaha and South Seas Cycle apparently held out until the end. In addition to paying 1.2 million dollars to the Board, the company will also be forced to pay $500,000 to fund a project to test the impact of ethanol fuel blends on emissions from off-road gasoline engines, and $300,000 to the Office of the Attorney General for attorneys' fees.

Yamaha and South Seas Cycle will also have to begin a vehicle purchasing program to buy back, remove, or destroy any motorcycles not certified for use in California. California motorcyclists can find out if their bike is illegal by looking at the emissions label, and if it does not state "California," the bike has only met federal, but not California, emissions standards.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Are Your Children Being Exposed to Pollutants at School?

Although many of us may think that air pollution only exists outdoors, numerous government-sponsored studies published by organizations such as the EPA have found that poor indoor air quality is also a threat as well. Indoor levels of air pollutants are frequently many times higher than outdoor levels, and thousands of harmful chemicals are currently used in commercial and industrial areas, with schools not being exempt from this epidemic.

Indoor air pollution in schools is a serious and overlooked problem. Children are much more vulnerable to airborne pollutants than adults because of their anatomy. Their breathing passages are smaller in diameter when compared to those of adults, and even minor irritations have the potential to narrow airways to dangerous degrees. In addition, children have higher metabolisms and require more oxygen relative to their weight and height than adults. This ultimately results in more rapid breathing and greater chance of inhaling pollutants when compared to the average adult.

In fact, studies have also shown that in the past decade or so, the number of children suffering from asthma has doubled, with almost 5 million children currently suffering from this disease. Asthma is also the number one cause of school absenteeism and is a leading reason for hospital admissions in children. Although school air pollution may not be the primary cause of the significant increase in asthma cases, it cannot be argued that indoor air quality is certainly part of the problem, as seemingly benign airborne pollutants such as pollen and dust are known to be asthma and allergy triggers. The EPA also notes that in addition to increased asthma and allergy symptoms, indoor air pollution can lead to headaches, nausea, and dizziness.

With this mind, while we can regulate the air quality in our homes, addressing the pollution levels present in our children’s schools may be more difficult. Unfortunately, children spend the majority of their day in school and they are exposed to harmful pollutants on a repeated basis. If you are concerned about your child’s school air quality, alert your school’s faculty and urge them to implement a clean air program. Airborne pollutants can be minimized by reducing the use of harsh or toxic chemicals and pesticides, and also by increasing ventilation. Also be aware that dust and particles from mold, crumbling building structures, and even lead-based paint are all contamination sources that are often found in schools and they should also be brought to your school’s attention.

For additional information on school indoor air quality, contact that EPA and request their Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools (IAQ TfS) Action Kit. This kit shows schools how to carry out a practical plan to cost effectively improve indoor air problems using straightforward activities and in-house staff, and it also includes helpful components such as checklists and backgrounders designed for school personnel to use to ensure a complete assessment of your school’s IAQ.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bidets - Just an International Phenomenon?

If you’ve ever been to a European or Asian country, or maybe even an upscale hotel in the United States, you may have encountered a low-mounting, sink-like plumbing fixture called a bidet.

Invented in France in the late 17th century, it is speculated that the bidet was created by Christophe Des Rosiers, a furniture maker for the French Royal Family. Although appearing similar in design to the toilet, the bidet is actually more comparable to a washbasin or bathtub.

While most Americans may find the idea of using a bidet a bit grotesque, there are several health benefits to using a bidet. These appliances are actually ideal for those with limited mobility, such as the elderly, pregnant, and disabled to maintain cleanliness in instances when using a bathtub or shower may be uncomfortable, inconvenient, or even dangerous. In fact, according to healthcare professionals at Columbia University, bidets are much more hygienic than toilet paper use alone, and many bidet manufacturers believe that bidets can significantly conserve paper and reduce septic tank cleanout.

Unfortunately, the widespread use of bidets in this country hasn't caught on yet partly because many Americans are often squeamish about their certain personal hygiene habits and also because of price. Resistance to bidet usage in the United States may be due to the perception of the uncleanliness of the device (although residents of countries like Greece or France where bidet usage is universal will wholeheartedly disagree). In terms of bidet prices in the United States, some bidet-like toilet attachments can be relatively inexpensive, but it is also not uncommon to see top-of-the-line, digitally controlled bidets costing up to $1,000.

Thankfully, because bidet attachments are becoming increasingly popular with the aging community, many hospitals and nursing homes are seeing its merits in helping to maintain hygiene. This increased popularity is also helping to lower the prices of these units, and many high-tech models offer features such as built-in filters, heated seats, and even dryers. Perhaps this increased awareness of the hygienic benefits that a bidet provides over standard toilet paper use will result in even more Americans adapting the use of these appliances into their everyday hygiene routine.


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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Secondhand Smoke Exposure is Twice as Likely to Cause Allergies in Infants

According to recent research conducted by the campaigning charity ASH, babies exposed to secondhand smoke are nearly twice as likely to develop allergies to inhaled allergens such as dust and animal dander when compared to infants who are not exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke. In addition, the study found that children of smoking parents were almost 50% more likely to develop food allergies.

These findings were based on survey responses from more than 4000 families about their children’s’ allergies and the environmental factors they were exposed to both before and after birth. These surveys revealed that 1 in 12 mothers smoked throughout pregnancy and 1 in 8 smoked during only a part of their pregnancy. Researchers of the study concluded that there was a dose-response effect for secondhand smoke exposure during the first few weeks of life, and these were considered markers for allergen sensitization. In addition, the effects of secondhand smoke were stronger among children of non-allergic parents than among those with parents who suffered from allergies.

This recent study corroborates the findings of past studies which have shown the harmful impact of secondhand on children in the early years of development, and medical experts are encouraging smoking parents to make an effort to keep their homes as smoke-free as possible, as simply restricting smoking to certain rooms of homes offers little protection to infants and young children from the effects of secondhand smoke.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Product Recall: Carrier Air Conditioners

The Carrier Corporation is one of the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and also a global leader in commercial refrigeration and food service equipment. Willis Carrier, the found of the company, invented the modern air conditioner in 1902, and he succeeded in marketing his home cooling products to consumers in the 1950s. This created a revolution in home cooling systems, as former sparsely populated areas such as the American Southwest now became actual suburbs. Today, Carrier is currently the largest producer of air conditioners in the world.

However, on November 7, 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a voluntary recall on Carrier packaged terminal air conditioner and heat pumps manufactured between 2002 and 2005. These 185,000 air conditioners and heat pumps, manufactured in Mexico by Carrier Corp., were recalled because the electric heater in these units posed a fire hazard. At this time, although no injuries have been reported, Carrier has received five reports of electric heater failures which have resulted in fires contained to the unit.

The model numbers included in this recall involves the 53C and 52P models sold in HVAC dealers and factory direct sales, and the unbranded model 84 unit sold through the Bryant and FAST channels.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends consumers stop using the heating mode of the recalled units until they are inspected in accordance with Carrier’s inspection instructions, which can be found at the Carrier website. Consumers are also encouraged to contact Carrier directly to receive a free repair.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

California to Ban Ozone Air Purifiers

Last week, the California Air Resources Board, the "clean air agency" of the state of California, agreed to ban the sale of all ozone air purifiers by 2009. By citing studies that show prolonged exposure to ozone can cause asthma attacks, permanent lung damage, and other respiratory illness, the CARB recommend that ozone air cleaners not be used in the home.

Although ozone is a natural air cleaner in the upper atmosphere, safe levels of ground-level ozone have never been identified. In addition, according to research conducted by the Board, roughly 2% of all California households have an ozone-producing air purifier, and over 500,000 people have complained of ozone exposure higher than federally allowed standards. These ozone cleaners can come in the form of air purifiers that emit ozone-rich gaseous plasma or personal breathing devices that are worn around the neck.

While proponents of ozone air purifiers claim ozone can improve the health of asthmatics, the elderly, and even depressed pets, the CARB claim dozens of peer review studies have shown the detrimental side effects of ozone exposure. A toxicologist at the University of California, Irvine, Michael Kleinman states, "Ozone is a toxic contaminant, and does cause significant adverse health effects."

Set to be in effect in 2009, the ban will include any air cleaners which emit even a miniscule amount of ozone. However, commercial use of ozone air purifiers will be exempt from this ban. For those who are concerned with indoor air quality, HEPA air purifiers like those used in hospitals (which can oftentimes be cheaper and more effective than ozone) will have to suffice.

In response to the new ban, Debra Perkins, an EcoQuest (a manufacturer of ozone air purifiers) salesperson and consumer, said in between tears, "God gave humans these air purifiers, and you should not take away that gift."

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Toxic Mold Found in College Dorm

Last week, students attending Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland were forced to evacuate their living spaces after toxic mold was found growing in a dormitory bathroom.

Promptly after returning to campus for the fall semester, several students living in the Charles B. House (a housing unit on campus) started to complain of cold and flu-like symptoms such as sore throats and stuffy noses. Other occupants of adjacent dorms then began developing similar symptoms within the following weeks, and several students were admitted to the Chester River Hospital due to worsening symptoms.

After closer inspection of the students’ living quarters, a foot long patch of mold was found growing behind a toilet due to a leaky pipe that was supposed to be repaired six months prior. The students’ suites also had mold coming out of the vent in the bathroom and was seeping into the bedrooms. Increased humidity and dirty air conditioning units were also considered possible culprits of the students’ health problems.

Shortly after the mold growth was discovered, Washington College promptly hired an environmental company to perform both indoor and outdoor air tests. The results from these tests are still unknown, but the students have since been evacuated and relocated to different housing. In the interim, the school plans to replace the affected walls in the bathrooms, and to sanitize all of the surfaces in the dormitory suites, including the ceilings.

Upon moving out of his old dormitory, Austin Murphy, a junior at Washington College, remarked, “Now that I’m out of that environment I’m starting to feel better.”

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Friday, May 12, 2006

New Technology Can Deactivate Airborne Viruses, May Work Against Corona

An air purifier that can kill airborne viruses and bacteria? Read on, looks like Sharp Corporation is thinking they have a solution.

More than just viruses this technology can deactivate a range of microbes - "The technology has been shown to deactivate airborne viruses such as influenza, mite allergens — which are responsible for most cases of asthma — and MRSA, a strain of bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics".

The technology works very similar to current ionizers with a twist: "Plasmacluster Ion Technology is unique as it generates large numbers of both positive and negative ions, unlike other devices which only use negative ions. These ions form clusters around micro-particles and react chemically with them, rendering airborne fungi and viruses inactive."

Hospitals may be the first revenue stream for sharp as "the technology has been shown to deactivate airborne viruses such as influenza, mite allergens — which are responsible for most cases of asthma — and MRSA, a strain of bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics."

This seems to be the most legitimate step in what has long been a promise of air purifiers - to free the air of pathogens and increase the quality of air purifiers. Most HEPA air purifiers promise to clean the air of bacteria and viruses but only in the air they actually filter. Since HEPA filters have to draw air through the filter to purify it, it has really become a fallacy to believe that they can sterilize a room. But a technology like this one has more promise since the air being purified does not have to travel through the purifier allowing for the purification of larger areas.

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