Guest Article: Identifying Environmental Toxins In Your Home

If you’ve followed this blog at all you know I’ve posted a few articles about the green home my wife and I built and recently moved into. I’ve promised to post more about it, and will in time, but for now I’d like to share a guest piece about how green living in general is beneficial. This article is by recent college graduate and aspiring writer Krista Peterson, whose interests lie in health and environmental issues.

Identifying Environmental Toxins In Your Home
by Krista Peterson

Protecting our children from products that can potentially harm them is becoming more and more difficult in this day and age. With environmental toxins more present at every turn, keeping our eyes open for asbestos, BPA, and lead may secure the long term health of our children.

Mothers know better than most how to take care of their children. Unfortunately, even giving your baby a bottle can be dangerous. Bisphenol A, or BPA, has been used for over 40 years in the production of plastic products.  Its negative effects are most commonly spread to us and to our children by plastic coming into contact with our food and drink.  Plastic bottles, even baby bottles and cups, often contain BPA. New studies are showing that BPA may indeed harm adults and children. To avoid BPA and to prevent infants from ingesting too much of it, mothers are encourage to breastfeed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding provides myriad health benefits for both the mother and the child. Not only are children who are breastfed less likely to become obese, breast milk provides all the nutrients an infant needs for development, antibodies which protect infants from common illnesses and allergies, and better long-term health. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancers and obesity for mothers. Mothers and fathers should also check for and throw away scratched or damaged baby cups and bottles.

In addition to guarding against BPA, parents should keep a careful eye out for asbestos. Asbestos is found in drywall and other building materials in homes, offices, and schools. Once disturbed, asbestos releases fibers into the air and children and adults that frequently breathe these invisible fibers in are at risk for a serious cancer called mesothelioma.   Symptoms generally don’t show themselves for 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos fibers.  Because of this lapse in time, diagnosis and treatment are often postponed until the cancer has spread. Mesothelioma life expectancy is extremely low, and preventing exposure to asbestos is the best way to keep your children healthy.

Finally, lead poisoning can have devastating effects on the health of your children. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning because they are more likely to put dust, dirt, paint, and old toys into their mouths. They are also less likely to wash their hands properly after playing in soil that contains lead. Lead poisoning symptoms include irritability, vomiting, loss of appetite, nausea, and behavioral inconsistencies.  Lead can also be found in drinking water and other household products. To protect your family form lead poisoning, have your home tested. If high lead levels are found, see a doctor about a lead blood test.

Environmental toxins like lead, asbestos, and BPA may threaten the long term health of you and your children, but prevention, information, and caution can reduce the risk of environmentally related illness.  If you observe mesothelioma or lead poisoning symptoms, even if they are noticed among neighbors or friends, see a doctor about screening and testing. Spread the news about how to protect our families.

Guest Article: Junk Your Car and Give Something Back

Below is a guest article from Daniel Frank of Giveacar, a British charity that takes donations of cars and either scraps them in an environmentally sound way or auctions off usable cars to raise money for other charities. Groups like this exist in the U.S. as well and should always be on your radar when contemplating getting rid of a vehicle.

Junk your car and give something back: how scrapping your clunker can help lead the way to a more sustainable future

These days, nearly all the choices we make in our consumer purchases – whether they are about our home (or the things we put in it), the clothing we wear, or the food we eat – have a potential impact on our future and our environment.

So too with cars. Given the environmental concerns surrounding increasing car sales, when your current car is at the end of its working life, what’s the best decision to make? Do you sell it for scrap and buy a new, more environmentally friendly model? Do you sell it for scrap, take the ultimate test, and try to live without a car at all?

Over in the UK, where – especially in urban areas – more and more people are choosing to give up their cars, one man, after being inspired by US-based initiatives, has come up with an option for getting rid of your old motor in the most environmentally friendly way possible and giving to a good cause at the same time.  With membership of car clubs nearly doubling from 64,679 in 2009 to 112,928 in 2010, who knows, perhaps people really are beginning to come around to the idea of a more sustainable future when it comes to car-reliance.

Giveacar’s founder Tom Chance started up his car donation fundraising organization – a first in the UK – after realizing two things: firstly, that there was an urgent need to address the environmental consequences of unregulated car disposal in Britain, and secondly, that the car scrap market was an untapped, potentially invaluable source of revenue for charities.

Giveacar offers a free service to its customers. They arrange for the collection and environmentally responsible scrapping and recycling of end-of-life motors. After a small deduction of administrative costs, the proceeds then go to a charity of the owner’s choice.

Over 2 million vehicles come off British roads every year, but half of these are left unaccounted for. They are not scrapped to environmental requirements, which stipulate that all cars must be disposed of at an Authorized Treatment Facility, where hazardous waste and pollutants are safely recovered or removed before the shell is sent off for recycling.

Many of the de-commissioned motors that are unaccounted for end up posing a significant environmental problem, as they are often left abandoned in driveways or by the road, leaching toxins and heavy metals into the ground, while oils and fluids are poured down sewers and drains. What’s more, some are illegally re-introduced onto the roads (after being supposedly junked by a dealer), leading to notable air pollution, not to mention safety, concerns.

Some 90% of the vehicles Giveacar receives are scrapped, and all to the highest possible environmental standards in authorized scrap yards, meaning that many heavy polluting cars are taken off the roads forever. In cases where a car has not reached the end of its life, and in recognition of the environmental costs of producing a new car, it is auctioned, thus generating more funds for charity.

Since it began last year, the Giveacar scheme has raised over $300,000 for over 250 charities, and has taken thousands of heavy polluters off Britain’s roads.

Our Home on NPR’s Marketplace

A few weeks ago our home consultant, Jay Swoboda at ecoUrban, asked if we’d like to be featured in an National Public Radio piece on the housing industry. We bit at the chance to get some exposure for our project and had a reporter come by our place. We toured the home and talked about its green features for some time, discussing costs versus benefits, etc . . .

The theme of the piece was to be the lack of downsizing by Americans and how green building fit into the picture. While I wasn’t entirely sure what angle the story would take, it ended up having a slighlty more negative tone than I’d hoped. The story still highlighted the features of the home but on spoke about costs on the most cursory level. The point I’d hoped would come across was that people could make their homes very green for only a marginal increase in costs, while still getting the size  The home my wife and I built cost more per square foot than many green homes do because of other upgrades for which we opted. I’ll discuss the economics of our build in later posts, but in the mean time, I think this seed should be planted.

The story can be found here: Square footage still trumps eco-friendliness

The title isn’t compelling for the immediate future of more sustainable development for hopefully as our project gets more exposure, and companies like ecoUrban gain more tractions, this story will have a different ending soon enough.

It’s Been A Long Time

I last posted almost 10 months ago. Since then our new green home was completed, we moved in and oh yeah . . . we had a super duper adorable son. So, it’s not like I’ve been slacking off. But, 2011 will hopefully be a year of renewed blogging about sustainability.

The title of the blog has taken on new meaning given the completion of our home and the arrival of our son. And while Green Rising has always been a metaphor, it’s now more applicable to the realities of my life.

I hope the blog will take on a new focus, with the primary objectives being the discussion of living sustainably and raising a sustainable family. The former will focus on the physical aspects of a life more sustainable, including entries about our green home. The latter will focus on decision making as it relates to the growth and evolution of our family.

I know these objectives are still relatively vauge, but I find them to be more concrete than any others I’ve commited to in the past.

Finally, as part of our move from a loft to a home, my commute has increased from five blocks to five miles. While the distance is still relatively short compared to the average American commute, it is expotentially greater than it used to be. To transport myself to and from work as efficiently as possible, I plan on taking the bus as often as possible. In fact, my February 2010 Metro pass was all ready to be swiped this morning on my first official bus commute but Snowmaggedon 2011 has me working from home. If I live through it, I’ll let you know how it goes!

Here’s to a more sustainable 2011!

The Hartford House

In April of 2010 my wife and I started construction on our new home. Construction should be completed by September of 2010, and when it’s all said and done, our new home will hopefully be St. Louis City’s newest LEED-certified home.

Smoke-Free St. Charles County

One of the biggest fights in making the St. Louis region smoke-free is concensus from the three most populous counties on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. Anyone who’s following the movement to make our communities healthier knows that the state of Illinois has already made its communities smoke-free, and done so in commendable fashion. Missouri . . . not so much.

A smoke-free ordinance will go into effect in St. Louis City (its own county) come January 1, 2010 but the ordinance leaves much to the imagination as it makes exceptions for the worst offenders. While this change will be better than nothing, real change will not occur until St. Louis County enacts its own smoke-free ordinance. Certain municipalities within St. Louis County have already pass smoke-free legislation – hooray – but we’re talking low single-digits in a County that has 91 (ish) independent cities. St. Louis County’s argument has been that since it lies in between St. Louis City and St. Charles County, it’s needs both of the counties that sandwich it to be on board before it can pass anything meaninful. Well people, the time is nigh.

I received the email below this morning, and as you can see, it’s the beginning of the end for public smoking in St. Charles County. Obviously nothing has happened yet, but the fact that this topic is even being discussed at the County Council is real progress. I remember when these meetings first started in St. Louis City. Enough people got behind the movement to keep the momentum growing. Change happened. The City has shown it can happen, and so people in St. Charles County who care about good public health need to step and make themselve heard. If you live in this community, please go to these meetings and speak up.


Dear Smoke-Free Supporter,
As you may know, the St. Charles County Council is currently considering placing a smoke-free ordinance on the ballot. Supporters of smoke-free air must have a continual presence of different coalition members/supporters at the twice monthly County Council meetings.
We need YOU!
Please come to this coming Monday’s County Council meeting – Monday, April 26 – 7:00 PM.
at the Historic Courthouse
100 North Third Street
St. Charles, MO 63301
Phone 636-949-7530
Fax 636-949-7532
Smoke-Free St. Charles County coalition member Louise Cheli has offered to coordinate our efforts for the April 26 meeting. Her email is:
Our goals for these meetings are 1) to fill the room with supporters wearing BLUE and our blue smoke-free buttons, and 2) to consistently have the maximum number of speakers during the public comment section of the meeting. 
Any speaker suggestions from anyone? Smokefree restaurant owners? Be sure to let Louise know! Thanks!!!
Kay Young
Be there!

City Sound Tracks – March 27, 2010

On Saturday, March 27th, a first of its kind music / transportation festival called City Sound Tracks will be held in St. Louis. The event’s main purpose is to highlight the importance of transit in the metro area less than two weeks before a very critical vote in St. Louis County on a sales tax increase intended for maintenance and expansion of Metro St. Louis.

The Greater St. Louis Transit Alliance has created a website for the measure, called Prop A, that can be found here. All the information you’d ever need to know about the measure can be found on this site. And remember, the election is on April 6, 2010. If you’re registered in St. Louis County, please vote Yes for Prop A.

As for City Tracks, the festival will highlight the convenience of Metro by holding concerts on dueling stages in two urban neighborhoods of the City of St. Louis. 27 local bands will rock out for 12 hours starting at 10am either Downtown near Union Station or in the Central West End near Tom’s Pub & Grill. A list of the bands can be found on the City Sound Tracks website, where users can also make donations to the cause and buy t-shirts. I recommend you do both.

Whats Up Magazine, a local independent street publication sold by the homeless and disadvantaged, has joined together with Tracking Progress, KDHX, and STL Style to organize this innovative music festival.

Get out to the festival, if even for just a few hours and help support the region’s transit system. It’s the framework upon which this region will grow. Let’s make it big and strong. That’s what she said.

Planting Our Seed

I love reading about ideas. I come across new ones every almost day, but every now and then one sticks out as either quite remarkable or quite original. Such is this idea from Michael Mautner, Research Professor of Chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University, who claims seeding the universe with life is not just an option but is our moral obligation.

Lisa Zyga, the article’s author, beings with an interesting proposition:

Eventually, the day will come when life on Earth ends. Whether that’s tomorrow or five billion years from now, whether by nuclear war, climate change, or the Sun burning up its fuel, the last living cell on Earth will one day wither and die. But that doesn’t mean that all is lost. What if we had the chance to sow the seeds of terrestrial life throughout the universe, to settle young planets within developing solar systems many light-years away, and thus give our long evolutionary line the chance to continue indefinitely?

Well, what if? Mautner suggests that seeding the universe with our life is possible with current technology through a process called “directed panspermia”. The process involves depositing “an array of primitive organisms on potentially fertile planets and protoplanets throughout the universe.” Further, he says, “We have a moral obligation to plan for the propagation of life, and even the transfer of human life to other solar systems which can be transformed via microbial activity, thereby preparing these worlds to develop and sustain complex life.”

I wouldn’t go so far to say that humanity has a moral obligation to do as Mautner suggests. But, the Earth will eventually die out, and while the odds are that intelligent life exists somewhere else in the universe, there’s a chance it doesn’t. If we’re to keep life as we know it going in the universe, spreading primitive organisms across space seems like as good a strategy as any. The human race may never have the technology to leave the earth permanently and establish a civilization on another planet, but shouldn’t we plan for the possibility?

Hope Summit 2010

For most of the day tomorrow I’ll be attending Hope Summit 2010, “a gathering of advocates, experts, patients and others who will discuss recent stem cell advances and what they could mean to each of us and our families and friends”. The conference is sponsored by the Missouri Coalition for Life Saving Cures and will be taking place in downtown St. Louis. There’s still time to register if you’re interested. Topics that will be discussed include:

  • Stem Cell Elements – Review the basics about what stem cells are, how they’re derived and the hope they hold for us all.  
  • Scientific Advances – Learn about major scientific advancements in stem cell research taking place across the county, around the world and right here in Missouri.  
  • Religious Support – Faith leaders explain their perspectives on stem cell research and God’s call to alleviate human suffering.  
  • Economic Impact – Discuss the broad economic impact and benefits of a pro-science, pro-research Missouri.  
  • Stem Cells in Politics & Policy – Analyze the major political debates surrounding stem cells research at the national and state levels.  
  • Protecting Our Rights– For active members who want to strategize and educate Missourians about the hope and promise of stem cell research for ourselves and our loved ones.

Speakers include:

  • Chris Mooney – Best-selling author of “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future”
  • Bernard Siegel – Executive director, Genetics Policy Institute, host of the annual World Stem Cell Summit
  • Dr. Steven Teitelbaum – Physician and professor of pathology and immunology, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Marie Davis – Executive director of the Metro Saint Louis / Greater Missouri Chapter of JDRF
  • Kelly Gillespie – Executive director of the Missouri Biotechnology Association
  • Victoria Kohout – Executive director of the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures

More detailed information on the agenda, location, cost and speakers is available on the conference website, which I linked to above. I’ll do my best to provide updates via twitter (@viharsheth) during the conference but I can’t promise I’ll be able to. I hope to see you there.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

With a little motivation from my brother, he and his wife and my wife and I decided to do a little community service on an oddly foggy Monday morning in St. Louis. We headed north from our respective homes to the College Hill neighborhood on the  north side of St. Louis City to clean up some well-littered streets. The neighborhood is comprised almost entirely of lower income African Americans and has not seen any significant investment in the past few decades. The effort, along with many others around town, was organized by the United Way in a partnership with a local community organization.

We gathered with like-minded folks from all backgrounds and areas of town to help clean up the streets in one of the poorer areas of town. The meeting place was an old church that seemed to be used with regularity but was in much disrepair, just like most of the homes we could see. While the effort made us all feel better, and the streets surely looked better than they had when we started, I feel much of our work was for naught. 

Theresa, our block leader, is a resident of the area and actually lives on the block we cleaned. She said she would move if her income was higher. She also said that the police don’t do anything to help deter crime and often just drive by groups of men involved in dealing drugs. Her outlook for the area was far from optimistic though she seemed to be a generally positive person.

I’m glad we took time to get out of the house and do something worthwhile instead of just lounging on our day off. At lunch afterward we discussed whether what we did was worth it. I suppose the answer to that question depends on who’s asking it. Metaphorically, we put bandages on cancer. As the ones applying the bandages we felt good because we were doing something, anything. But, just as bandages are temporary, so are clean streets. We witnessed some of the residents of the block coming and going. A few said hello and a few just ignored us. This was their street we were cleaning. Not one person I met said thank you. I wonder if the people with the cancer noticed, or even cared. A healthy neighborhood starts with active residents. I applaud Theresa’s commitment but she seemed to be alone in her fight.

You have to wonder if the people you’re helping don’t appreciate your help, why help at all? Cynicism aside, there were many other activities scheduled that day that surely had a greater and more lasting impact on the community. I don’t regret our decision to volunteer and will most definitely do it again; next time I’ll just have to be more selective in the activity I pick.