Thursday, May 31, 2007

100 years of Rachel Carson

This week, many of us in the environmental movement celebrated the 100th birthday of one of our founding inspirations, Rachel Carson.

Carson is best known as the author of Silent Spring, the book that first exposed the harms caused to our health and the environment by the widespread use of chemical pesticides. Silent Spring is credited with launching the modern environmental movement, and has inspired many generations of scientists, activists and authors since.

This week Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) held up legislation honoring Carson because her work "turned the public against such chemicals as DDT." The resolution was sponsored by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).

Watch this wonderful interview with scientist and author Sandra Steingraber, discussing Rachel Carson's legacy, on Democracy Now.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Happy birthday to a hero

This week one of North Carolina's environmental heroes celebrates her 90th birthday. Jane Sharp MacRae is an inspiring trailblazer for energy, the environment, consumer rights and women in politics. PESTed was lucky to have Jane as a Board member for nearly two decades, and she now honors us as an "emeritus" member of our Board of Directors.

In the photo at right, Jane and her husband Duncan MacRae work with PESTed staff on an air monitoring project at their home in Carolina Meadows. Jane and other members of the Carolina Meadows Recycling Committee used a Drift Catcher to monitor pesticides in the air during spring pesticide spraying by grounds management around their homes and on a nearby golf course.

A lifelong learner, leader and tireless activist for the environment, Jane is an inspiration to us on her 90th birthday. Check out this wonderful article about her in the Chapel Hill News.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Breast cancer triggers

Do chemical contaminants in the environment cause breast cancer? An excellent article in the Los Angeles Times describes the most comprehensive study to date of the evidence linking breast cancer to environmental pollutants (read the whole study here).

The results? More than 200 chemicals, including industrial solvents, pesticides, dyes, cosmetics ingredients and diesel exhaust, cause breast cancer in laboratory studies. Scientists have long known that only a small minority of breast cancer cases are linked to genetic factors, and that environmental triggers must play an important role. Unfortunately, the study of environmental triggers of breast cancer has taken a back-seat to other factors such as diet and exercise. But because breast cancer has become such a common disease, and because our exposure to these carcinogenic contaminants is so widespread, "if even a small percentage is due to preventable environmental factors, modifying these factors would spare thousands of women," according to the study's authors.

Unfortunately, in the US, government regulators typically wait until they have all the evidence of human toxicity to take action, rather than relying on the red flags raised by animal studies. Tufts University cell biologist Anna Soto, interviewed for the LA Times story, disagrees with this approach and urged preventive action.

"When you look at their list of chemicals, we are exposed to all of it," Soto said. "We will never have the whole picture, and it will take many, many years to collect epidemiological evidence, so we should take some preventive measures now."

So what can we do? States and local governments can adopt stricter emissions and drinking water standards to reduce the exposure of the whole population to carcinogenic compounds like diesel exhaust and dry cleaning solvents. As individuals, we can buy safer products and eat cleaner diets of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are grown organically. Check out PESTed's Go Organic page for resources, and be sure to visit the new Women's Health and the Environment toolkit for lots of great information that you can share with the women in your life.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Composting with worms

While on a jaunt in Charlotte week before last, I was lucky enough to receive my very own worm bin for vermicomposting kitchen waste. (Thank you Chris North!) This has sparked several realizations on my part:

1 - Vermicomposting is really easy. I can't believe I didn't start doing it sooner. Basically, you make a ventilated bin (putting a few holes in the side of a plastic storage bin works well), load it up with dirt and bedding material (I started with shredded newspaper), keep everything about the dampness of a wrung-out sponge, add worms, and add kitchen scraps (about 1/2 pound a day, or 3 - 4 pounds a week), and presto! You're vermicomposting! There is little or no smell, the worms are totally contained and need very little extra care, save the periodic addition of your food scraps, and some moisture maintenance. Before long, you'll have a bin full of worm castings (i.e. worm poo, but don't worry, it doesn't smell!) that is an excellent fertilizer for potted plants and gardens.

2 - Your town and county probably have resources to get you started. Many NC municipalities (including Charlotte and Raleigh) have programs in their solid waste departments that promote and support vermicomposting. NC Cooperative Extension also has vermicomposting workshops and information. Check out your town website, or your local cooperative extension office, to see if there are programs in your area that you could be taking advantage of to get a cheap or free worm bin, or a starter supply of redworms.

My dog, Indiana, making friends with her new roommates, the worms.

Above, my dog Indiana makes friends with her new roommates, the redworms.

Have a good time. :)