Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Research links Pesticides to Autoimmune Disease

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Amy Freitag.

Yet another reason to question use of pesticides in the home: it has recently been linked to autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In a study presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting earlier this year, researchers concluded that women who sprayed pesticides at least six times a year doubled their risk of autoimmune disease. This risk was the same whether the pesticide was applied professionally or not. Read the rest of the story here, but that’s not the beginning of the journey nor is it likely to be the end. A review published in 1988 summarized the effects of various chemicals, including pesticides on autoimmune response based on understanding at the time. The field has come a long way since then, but the basic link between the two was pretty well elucidated, even 20 years ago. The authors linked seven different types of autoimmune reactions to chemical exposures and suggested that genetic predisposition may lead some people to be more susceptible to environmental exposures than others.

Autoimmune responses in a nutshell describe the process of the body attacking and destroying healthy and important cells. It’s like sending the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes. The signaling pathway within the body that leads to the miscommunication is still not understood, and likely to be different depending on the person and the tissue attacked. Environmental exposures, however, are implicated as triggers.
In the intervening twenty years since that first review, a flurry of articles have been published presenting mixed results on the link between chemical exposure and autoimmune response. Depending on the exposure and the target tissue, immune response could increased to unsafe levels, but could also be decreased or left the same. According to a review in 2002, the pesticides malathion, lindane, and aminocarb, cause an autoimmune reaction in both sheep and mice. The authors do caution the use of animal models, as their immune systems may react differently to exposures than humans, but they are the best model we have as scientists.

The only human study done to date involved a spill of the pesticide hexachlorobenzine (HCB) in Turkey, where residents near the spill showed a drastic increase in autoimmune disease. Compared to previous studies on HCB, humans showed a much more sensitive autoimmune response, suggesting that animal models may provide only a conservative estimate of which exposures will show an effect in humans.

Most people are left with this review of the medical literature with their head in a kind of cloud as to what the data are really showing. Since almost all studies show some effect of pesticides on autoimmune responses, the precautionary principle should be invoked.
It’s another case of the need to limit exposure to chemicals that may cause devastating disease in the future, because you may be one of the lucky few with genetic resistance to autoimmune disease, but your loved ones might not be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Our Favorite Green Gifts

Whether you’re trying to keep your holiday gift shopping green, or trying to please a hardcore greenie on your list, these “best green gift” testimonials from the people of Toxic Free NC are sure to help! Readers, please leave your favorite green gifts in the comments - thank you!

Billie (staff): CSA-friendly cookbook. “My mom got me Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone a few years ago. It’s been super helpful to me as a CSA farm member and farmers’ market shopper because it’s got recipes organized by vegetable. So, when I get something weird from my CSA, like a rutabaga, I can just flip to the section in this cookbook about rutabagas and learn all about them - different varieties, flavor pairings that work well with rutabagas, basic cooking instructions, as well as full-fledged recipes. The cookbook does the same thing with different beans and grains, like quinoa and stuff. Doesn’t actually matter that much if you’re a vegetarian!”

Fawn (staff): Angel tree gifts. “My favorite green gift is the Angel Tree. My mom chose a child’s name from one of those Angel Trees at the mall, bought the child a new coat and then gave me a little box with a note telling me that my gift was the child’s new coat. I couldn’t have asked for anything nicer!”

Ana (staff): Used books. “Some would say that the greenest product is one that has already been used by someone else before. That said, I think the stack of thoughtfully chosen used books I get from my husband every Christmas is a pretty great (and green and thrifty) present!”

RenĂ©e (staff): A bicycle for green vacationing. “A few years ago my husband bought me a bicycle for the holidays. Since then, we always take our bikes on vacations up and down the East coast. It’s such a wonderful way for us to spend quality time together, and to see the beautiful scenery along the Coast, on the Appalachian Trail, or wherever we may wander!”

Kathy (Board member): Donations to charity. “I like and give donations. I’m well past needing “stuff” of any description. It’s catching on in our family, so now our tree has bunches of envelopes under it instead of boxes. Cool! At Christmas we use Church World Service as our vehicle, others use Heifer in the family.” PS from Billie: I’d be remiss if I did not also mention that you can make a contribution to Toxic Free NC in honor of a loved one for the holidays, or anytime. If you get your gift contribution in on or before 12/14/09, we’ll get your honoree a handmade card in the mail before Christmas.

Annie (Board member): Recycled wrapping. “We have a friend whose family not only wraps presents in recycled newspaper and comics, but they put the presents in cereal boxes! You can have real fun with that one.” PS from Billie: Here’s the instructions for a recycled gift bow, as pictured above! I wonder what a “metal brad” is, and where to acquire one?

Allen (Board member): Clyde Jones recycled wood sculpture critter. “My family surprised me (completely) with a Clyde Jones “critter” years ago. They made me sit with my eyes closed while they dragged it out from under a blanket in Dan’s closet. There was quite a racket and much scuffling while I waited. Opening my eyes I was completely surprised and pleased. It is made from firewood nailed together. He still guards our garden years later and I smile every time I see the deer-like ‘Clyde’.”

Christopher (volunteer): Planet Earth DVDs. “A gift from my mom a couple years ago. For one, the footage is beautiful. As for why such a green gift? Easy. Imagine having a super up-close view of the most pristine, magical places on earth; viewing animals in their natural habitats; exploring the bottom of the ocean…without leaving your house. Having the experience of all the sites and sounds without flying thousands of miles and expending all that energy is way green. Also, it opens up that soft and tender spot in your soul. The part that says, ‘wow, this is amazing. I want to protect it.’ “

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December 3, 1984

By guest blogger Allen Spalt

Today is the 25th anniversary of the disaster at Bhopal, India.

When the badly designed and improperly maintained chemical tank failed at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal and sent a cloud of deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas over the city killing thousands in the middle of the night, it was the world's works industrial "accident." It also poisoned thousands of others with health effects that linger today (for those who have survived that long).

For me, it is a strong reminder and impetus for our work. It was also totally unnecessary in at least two ways.

First, the pesticides being manufactured there, carbaryl (Sevin) and Aldicarb, can be made with a 'flow through' process that does not require the use of intermediate holding tanks for the MIC which is used in the manufacture of the final products. In fact, at the time, Bhopal's sister plant in Institute, West Virginia, did not contain such tanks. Better oversight and maintenance might have prevented the leaks, of course, but in fact the tanks were not even necessary. Just cheaper. So to save a few bucks on the process and on maintenance, Union Carbide risked the lives of tens of thousands.

Second, we work to promote alternatives which would make the manufacture of such deadly pesticides unnecessary. You don't need Sevin or Aldicarb or other similar deadly poisons in sustainable or organic agriculture. Every acre that is converted means fewer pounds of poison manufactured, sold, used, or disposed of. Fewer people at risk. Less residues in the water, soil, and food. Safer environments for our children and wildlife.

Someday it will be recognized that what has been called "conventional agriculture" for the last few decades was anything but. It is horribly out of sync with the tradition of agriculture over the centuries. With chemical intensive monocultures, it is depleting the soil and poisoning the water. It is not sustainable. The latest gasp of bioengineered crops, which promised more productivity and fewer chemicals, are proving to provide neither. They are less productive and require more herbicides and other pesticides. You know, if there is one thing the geniuses from Monsanto could select for besides Roundup-resistance, it would be greater productivity. But they haven't found it in any genetically engineered crop. More than a few critics from our side of the barn predicted this.

It is not a question of whether will we replace "conventional" agriculture with sustainable production, it is when. Otherwise we will not be sustained as a civilization.

Most indicators, fortunately, are not as dramatic as Bhopal, but they are pointing in our direction. I am proud to work with all of you on this important work to promote health and safety and to point the way to a sustainable future. Getting rid of pesticides is one important part of the struggle.

Union Carbide did not survive the aftermath of the incident, though it never paid fully for its responsibility. Its assets were sold. Work continues under other owners in RTP. The Bhopal plant was bought by Dow, which contends it has no responsibility to the victims.

On the tenth anniversary I was giving a workshop at a meeting in Atlanta and asked for a moment of silence for Bhopal. I was moved when one participant introduced himself as having grown up in Bhopal. He is one of three or four people I've met from there, the others are survivors of the disaster. Today I will take time out to remember them and others and rededicate to the task.

Join us in commemorating the Bhopal anniversary by taking action for justice in Bhopal.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dow Shall Not Trespass

By guest blogger Gary Cohen, President and Co-founder of Health Care Without Harm -

Twenty-five years ago, a Union Carbide pesticide factory exploded in Bhopal, India, releasing a toxic cloud that killed thousands in its wake. More than 8,000 people died within the first three days of the disaster, while more than 500,000 were exposed to toxic gases that invaded their lungs and spread throughout their bodies. For this reason, Bhopal has been called the Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry.

Twenty-five years later the abandoned factory has still not been cleaned up, but continues to leak poisons into neighborhood groundwater. A recent report by the Bhopal Medical Appeal found dangerous levels of heavy metals and persistent chemicals in the groundwater. Union Carbide executives have never been brought to trial in India, despite attempts by the Indian government to extradite them. And although Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical in 2001, the parent company claims no responsibility for cleaning up the mess left behind and has not submitted itself to the Indian criminal case. Rather than addressing its ongoing liabilities in Bhopal, Dow has spent tens of millions on its Human Element ad campaign, which portrays the chemical company as people-focused and caring.

The world has learned a lot about the chemical industry since the Bhopal disaster. We now know that many of the industry’s products are linked to a broad array of diseases in the general population, including asthma, cancer, birth defects, infertility, Parkinson’s disease, endometriosis, obesity and diabetes. Rather than internalizing the consequences of pollution, the industry has externalized health and social costs onto individuals and the American healthcare system, which is being crushed under the weight of ballooning costs, chronic disease and misaligned priorities.

We have also learned that we all carry the by-products of the chemical industry in our bodies. These toxins pass into us from the food we eat, through plastics in everyday consumer products, through building materials in our houses and offices, and through our water and air. The Centers for Disease Control has documented that the average American carries more than 100 toxic chemicals in his or her body. Plastic additives bisphenol A and phthalates, the pesticide 2,4 D, and shampoo additive 1,4 dioxane are among those Dow Chemical products found widely in many people’s bodies. Even children are being born pre-polluted, already filled up with a plethora of toxic chemicals that can act like ticking time bombs, triggering health impacts later in life. Without our knowledge and our consent, we and our children have become guinea pigs in an uncontrolled chemical experiment in which Dow and the other chemical companies are running.

Over the last twenty-five years, the Bhopal survivors’ plight and our own have become much more intertwined. We have all become united in a global web of chemical poisons. We have all been “branded” by the chemical industry, their signature chemicals coursing through our veins and building up in our fat tissue and other organs, whether we live in Bhopal or Baton Rouge.

Given the new political momentum in the country to address environmental issues, healthcare delivery and even corporate negligence, its time to stand up to the chemical contamination of the American people and reassert our basic human rights and religious values. As a society, we should guarantee every American child the right to be born free of industrial chemicals. And as a society committed to freedom, we should defend the freedom of women to breastfeed their infants without passing their life supply of toxic chemicals onto them. We all have a right to a toxics-free future. The laws in our country and at a global level should guarantee these rights and the environmental conditions for our health and wellbeing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Farming American Dreams

In ‘Is Becoming a Farmer the New American Dream’, Makenna Goodman writes about the recent migration of scores of city dwellers to rural farms (herself included). She notes that among these new farmers are well-educated recent college graduates and even corporate bigwigs. Goodman questions why many with steady salaries are forfeiting them in favor of the unpredictability of the farm. She concludes that it is the desire for a greater connection with nature and a return to traditional values that is driving (via horse and buggy) so many into the agrarian lifestyle.

My father was born and raised on a farm in northeastern North Carolina, where he spent summers picking, sorting, carrying, and cleaning potatoes. As his son, I think about how our lives are so different even though we are only one generation apart. I often wonder how my character would differ if I had spent my childhood in fields of corn and cotton, rather than fields of soccer and baseball. What values I’d have if my Christmas bounty and family’s wealth were tied to Mother Nature’s weather and the crop’s health.

I regret not sharing Dad’s experiences as a kid, and feel disconnected with my ancestors and environment as a result. I question whether (and fear that) it is those things I do not share with my Dad that make him the man I so admire. But it was his wishes that led him to leave the farm, pursue other interests, and raise a family in an urban setting that he thought would best suit them. He followed the path of countless farm children before him, a path many city kids desire to take back.

Goodman includes in her article an excerpt from the Gene Logsdon book ‘Living at Nature’s Pace: Farming and the American Dream’. In the excerpt Logsdon acknowledges the rise of urban farming and community based food solutions. What is driving people back to farms is the recognition that there is a need for sustainable food systems, and that the solutions require great ingenuity. Where farms were once the places parents hoped their children would escape with the help of an education, they have now become the places where the educated are returning to craft inventive solutions that help us to escape from unsustainable consumption patterns.

For some inspiring and innovative farmers check out this New York Times Magazine article profiling Will Allen (who is coming to NC in November - visit for more information!) and the slideshow below highlighting some of North Carolina’s very own up-and-coming farmers courtesy of Mule Magazine.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy National Farm Safety & Health Week

On Monday, President Barack Obama declared this week to be National Farm Safety and Health Week. Here's an excerpt:
Working long hours at physically demanding and often dangerous tasks, farmers and ranchers provide for our Nation and countless others across the world. Even as they have faced risks, they have made our agricultural sector more productive and practiced good stewardship of our country's natural resources. This week, Americans express gratitude for the untold benefits we enjoy from their labor, and we honor their achievements by urging continued commitment to the highest standards of safety and health.
While the proclamation evokes images of rolling wheat fields and overall-clad farmers on tractors, what many Americans don't know is that the bulk of the fresh food we eat is harvested by a mostly migrant workforce.

Nobody disagrees that farm work is dangerous. Agricultural workers have the 2nd highest rate of fatalities in the country. Farm workers also face some of the highest rates of chemical injury and skin disorders, and live in some of the worst housing in the nation.

The glacial pace of improvement, though, is often further hampered by workers' geographic isolation, immigration status, and language and cultural barriers. We at Toxic Free NC want to give a special shout-out in honor of our farm worker friends here in North Carolina for National Farm Safety and Health Week. And we also wanted to remind everyone that, while many farm workers already know the rules of workplace safety, they may not always be in control of what happens down on the farm.

That said, please take a minute to watch our new video below. We made it over the summer with the help of our fantastic Student Action with Farmworkers intern Laura Valencia, and it features farm workers from right here in North Carolina speaking directly to the heart of this issue. Enjoy, ¡y que vivan los campesinos!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Questions about (Toxic) County Mosquito Control in Coastal NC

guest post by Amy Freitag

Glass of cold ice tea, hibiscus and green tea with just the slightest hint of lime. Check.

A good novel, one prepared to take me off to someone else’s world of romance and fantasy. Check.

Hammock, gently rocking in the wind, the taste of the air ever so slightly just flavored by the tomato plants nearby in full summer glory. Check.

I sat down, prepared to have a wonderful, relaxing afternoon to myself when I hear ‘bzzzzzt’. I would know that noise anywhere even if it weren’t directly in my ear. A mosquito.

‘Buzz, buzz, buzzzzzzut’. It tries again to get a good bite and then is joined by a friend. Great. So much for my afternoon.

I hate mosquitoes. I mean, who doesn’t? My afternoon scene isn’t foreign to anyone living in coastal North Carolina, that’s for sure. And apparently, this year’s the worst mosquito year in quite awhile, so the county has stepped up efforts to chemically decrease their numbers, as evidenced by the spray truck that comes by my house about once a week in the early morning under the banner of public health.

Wait, what?

As much as I hate mosquitoes, I’m not sure I’m ready to give in to the sacrifices of this practice that makes me think I’ve been surreptitiously transported back in time to a bygone era. One before Rachel Carson, the EPA, and the general understanding that pesticides are dangerous and should be handled with care.

So what about the cloud of chemical smoke that graced my porch this morning? Did I just become consumed in my little life bubble and miss the announcement that the county was spraying? Or was it really not announced? Did I ever have the chance of voicing concern over the practice?

A little bit of internet searching later, I found the section of the local government responsible for making such decisions: the Carteret County Mosquito Control Division, linked to Animal Control (yep, not linked to the state’s departments in charge of agriculture or pesticides, but entirely under local control). A quick call to their offices asking about the spraying I had observed that morning yielded the following information:
  1. mosquito control is done entirely on a county level, though practices are fairly standard and haven’t changed over the last couple of decades
  2. the control program uses a combination of sprays and pellets distributed in roadside ditches
  3. the following brands are used: Aqua-Reslin, Altosid SBG, Aquabac XT, and Altosid briquettes.
She asked if I had any more questions, but not wanting to get on my activist high-horse quite yet, I politely said no and hung up the phone.

After a bit more time poking around the manufacturers’ websites (,, and, I could identify the active ingredients and start connecting them to other information I knew in terms of impacts to human health and the environment. Like other chemicals, these pesticides are required to have a comprehensive label describing all the potential risks that come along with use and giving specific directions for proper handling in order to minimize those risks. This sheet was a good first stop for information – these sheets are federally required and under strict federal oversight to report all known risks. All of the products said to wash eyes or exposed skin for 15 minutes and to contact poison control if swallowed (do not induce vomiting or give them water). Here’s more specifics from what the labels say, my reactions and comments follow:
  • Aqua-Reslin: Active ingredients are permethrin and piperonyl butoxide. It’s intended to be a space spray for adult mosquitoes. It is not to be applied within 100 feet of lakes and streams and exposed drinking water (such as fountains or cattle troughs). My favorite is the environmental hazards section: “This pesticide is extremely toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water, to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark… This pesticide is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow drift when bees are actively visiting the treatment area.”
  • Altosid SBG/briquettes: Active ingredient is s-methoprene, designed to kill larvae as dosed in their breeding pools. They mention no particular risks other than “do not contaminate water when disposing of rinsate or equipment washwaters”.
  • Aquabac xt: Active ingredient is Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that kills larvae of a wide variety of insects. They include the same statement about contaminating water as Altosid. These directions seem innocuous enough, easy to follow, and targeted at the nuisance. However, upon closer examination of the coastal environment upon which these chemicals are being applied yields a number of questions followed by surprise that these chemicals are standard practice considering the total effects.
First, we assume the good sense of the applicators and people exposed to the spray to give themselves the 15 minute shower flush and maybe even check in with poison control, consequently avoiding direct exposure the next time. There are even classes for applicators to take from EPA to minimize their risk of exposure. However, the labels give no information on the length of time after application the chemicals remain active. What if I had not noticed the truck go by at 7am and then sat down on the porch swing at 7:15am to enjoy my breakfast? What kind of exposure did I just put myself through?

Second, I’d like to tackle the 100 feet of lakes and streams directive. I live pretty close to the center of a fairly small island, surrounded by water on all sides just a few blocks from my house. Presumably, also, the spraying truck also covered the streets closest to the estuaries where some of the densest housing is located. Did they stay 100 feet from bodies of water that contain productive fisheries? Not if they went over a bridge.

Third, related to the question of bees. Most people by now have heard of colony collapse disorder (CCD) occurring across the country in honeybee colonies. These colonies are critical to agriculture, bringing pollen to stamens everywhere and allowing us to enjoy squash, tomatoes, eggplant, apples, peaches, and the list goes on. I’ve personally noticed a lack of honeybees in my personal garden this summer, rendering my beautiful vegetable plants sterile. I’ve even tried to do the job myself, out in the early morning with a q-tip trying to think like a hungry bee, but to no avail. I’ve had one tomato out of a plot of 3 tomato plants, 4 squash, 4 eggplants, and a more wildflowers than I can count. CCD (see for more information) is as of yet unascribed to any particular cause, but I have my guesses.

Finally, the more general point about “do not contaminate water” with the anti-larvals. Although this sounds simple, a couple of considerations may require a second thought. The area is comprised of soil made up almost entirely of sand, which allows water, pesticides, and any other runoff to directly enter the drinking water supply that sits directly below our island. Also, the tablets are applied to roadside ditches and puddles that connect directly to…you guessed it, bodies of water! Work by Costlow and Bookhout, professors at the Duke Marine Lab, in the 1970’s established that methoprene and permethrin directly kill blue crabs, shrimp, and other invertebrates in the estuaries. This not only disrupts the ecology of the estuaries (which, incidentally are federally protected preserves, the Rachel Carson Estuarine Research Reserve and the Lookout National Seashore), but directly costs the area jobs in terms of declining fisheries.

I encourage everyone to look into their local pest control programs and find out what the operating practices are. You might just be surprised.

guest post by Amy Freitag

Monday, August 17, 2009

Furry, Friendly Weed Whackers... No Kidding!

Goats are revered worldwide for their handy milk, cheese, hair, and (eek!) meat. But here in the States, people have very little interest in goats outside their use as the (head)butt of jokes about animals who’ll eat just about anything. Late last month, however, the city of Carrboro put all “kidding” aside and decided to employ the goat’s oft-derided skill in clearing a dog park full of poison ivy. Articles from the Indy and WRAL chronicle the city’s efforts to rid the park of the itch-inducing weeds with the help of The Goat Patrol.

The Goat Patrol is an environmentally friendly shrub removal service run by Ms. Alix Bowman with the help of some awfully talented goats capable of clearing 1,000 sq. ft. of vegetation a day. Ms. Bowman became interested in goats as vegetation-clearing-devices after learning of their use on the west coast to beat back invasive plant species and to mitigate the risk of wildfires (Google even uses goats!). Both Ms. Bowman and Google praise the goats for their ability to clear land without the use of fossil fuels, unlike conventional mowing methods.

Along with the much-touted fuel efficiency comes the added benefit of non-toxic weed removal. Typically, toxic chemicals are used to kill obtrusive and unwanted plants and weeds. The city of Carrboro’s decision to use goats instead of the common practice of spraying, is another heartening example of how a little creative thinking and ingenuity can greatly reduce the amount of toxic chemicals so prevalent in lives today.

Also, a big WHAT UP to our founder and board member Allen Spalt for sharing these pics of the goats' handiwork.

BGP (Before Goat Patrol), and AGP

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Even Colbert is getting nervous about endocrine disruptors

guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Lowell Wood

A few weeks back I was watching The Colbert Report, when the only anchor I trust to give me the news (Stephen Colbert) sat down with New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof addressed how the endocrine disrupting chemicals found in pesticides and other agricultural and consumer products are deforming wildlife living in polluted watersheds.

In the video below, Kristof manages to excite Colbert with mention of male genital deformation. Before the interview completely deteriorates into potty humor and genital jokes (like all Colbert's interview inevitably do), Kristof manages to convey the growing concern many environmental scientists have with the abundance of endocrine disruptors.

(Warning: video contains potty humor and genital jokes as referenced above - sensitive audiences please beware!)

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Nicholas Kristof
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

A week prior to Kristof's appearance on the Colbert Report, he published an op-ed column in the New York Times on the same topic. In the article, he discusses a recent scientific statement from The Endocrine Society which cites mounting evidence that endocrine disrupting chemicals are having negative effects on our health, and urges increased precaution. Kristof goes into detail in the article about the chemicals' disruptive effects on reproduction and growth in animals, and the growing evidence that endocrine disruptors are negatively effecting humans as well.

This reminds me of our old friend Tyrone Hayes and his astounding work on hermaphrodism in frogs caused by the herbicide atrazine and other chemical pollutants.

Articles and videos like these underline the importance of environmentally sustainable practices in all fields; whether they be the products we use and interact with daily, or the less visible ones a few steps removed from us, like the pesticides used on the foods we buy. Information like this inspires me to raise awareness about how our actions are harming not only the world around us, but us human beings as well. It also encourages me to use the power I have as a consumer to change these evil ways by purchasing organic goods.

Join me! Watch the video, read the article, take action, and make change! Check out Toxic Free NC's website for ideas to help you get started, or call our office at 919-833-1123 to get more involved.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

FOOD, INC - A Film Review

Food, Inc - a documentary on the American Food System - will be opening in select cities around the country this summer, including Raleigh's Colony Theater on July 17th. Here's a review of the film from a Toxic Free NC volunteer, who saw the film this week in Texas.

Guest post by Ronald Wade

There are simply not a lot of documentaries that capture and hold my attention. So, when I went to the screening of Food, Inc this week and the “shorts” and “previews” started, I paid attention thinking that at least I could be entertained by the trailers. And, I’d have something interesting to pass on after I did the compulsory words to the readers about how the director could have done a (fill in the blank) job while doing the (fill in the blank).

But, surprise! The absolute only negative thing that I can pass on was that it should have been twice as long. So, you won’t even get to know what the previews were since I’ll use the rest of the space to tell you what you’ll miss if you don’t see this MUST SEE film.

The documentary is not about the roaches in the restaurants and has very little about the unsanitary conditions of processing and packing plants, although it does exist. It doesn’t even dwell on excessively on the safety in the industry for the workers or the misuse of pesticides and chemicals; they are however mentioned as a by-product of the main theme.

Oh yes, the Main Theme: in our quest for fast, economical, and easy to prepare food, industry has stepped up to the challenge and provided us with the answer. Food production is controlled by a few very large organizations that have the ear and seats in government to ensure that farm subsidies can continue to provide profits in their pockets while producing products that are the unhealthiest in generations.

The film takes you thorough industrial mechanization where chickens are engineered to be the same size, weight, and consistency in order to facilitate production. It doesn’t matter that the animal can’t support its own weight and wallows around in the filth until sent to market. The film exposes you to the reality of corn fed beef, which produces bacteria within the animal which in turn produces toxicity for us when processed. Oh but they have developed ammonia baths that can kill the bacteria before it gets to us. Just what I wanted, cooking an ammoniated hunk of meat on the grill on Sunday.

One of the vitally important sub-themes to the film that will be of interest to each of you who regularly read this blog will be the emphasis put on buying organically produced and locally grown food.

Be prepared to hear about how toothless the regulatory agencies are in the face of what big business is doing. Be prepared to hear about the ruthless nature of a seed company that controls 90% of the soybean market because of patents that they hold on the seed, preventing anyone from competing in the market. Be prepared for how companies will help the government fulfill illegal immigrant quotas in return for quid pro quo of no raids on the production plants for the illegals.

Be prepared to hear how food is engineered to make us happy. Interestingly the point is made that salt, fat, and sugar occur in non-engineered and non-industrially produced natural environments in small percentage quantities. However since these are also foods that stimulate our brain's pleasure points, you will learn how those ingredients are leveraged in the foods we buy thus creating an appetite for more.

Be prepared to hear a mother tell the story of Kevin who went from being a healthy young boy on vacation, and 3 hamburgers later is being mourned because he was the victim of e-coli that shut down his vital functions in only 12 days. You'll hear her describe the tribulations of her advocacy work, trying to make the industry safer for all of us.

You’ll walk away understanding his SIMPLE solutions have their origins in our agricultural history. The movie will prepare you for the future battle: “The consumer’s right to know what is in their food.”

Watch a trailer or find out more at these websites:
Food, Inc - the movie website
The Humane Society
Review from The Chicago Tribune
Eating in Raleigh, NC - a North Carolina Perspective

Note: You’ll want to use caution when attending with children. There are graphic scenes that would have been disturbing to my family members had they decided to go to the matinee with me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Time to end Endosulfan

There aren't many pesticides as nasty as endosulfan still on the market. Endosulfan is a highly-toxic insecticide from a family of chemicals called organochlorines. If that term sounds familiar, you might recognize some of the other now-banned cousins from this group of highly-persistent pesticides: DDT, chlordane, aldrin and heptachlor.

Endosulfan has been blamed for severe poisonings and even deaths among farmers and farm workers, not to mention reproductive damage and birth defects. So why are we still using this stuff?

EPA is re-thinking its continued registration of endosulfan, and has recently re-opened a 60-day public comment period on the antiquated chemical. Take a minute to sign the United Farm Workers' petition to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson asking her to ensure that this dangerous pesticide is finally removed from the US market.

In North Carolina, endosulfan is still used on some vegetable crops, though there are myriad alternatives available. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that in 2007 endosulfan was applied to about 22% of tomato fields in our state - putting both farm workers and consumers at unacceptable risk of exposure. Because endosulfan is so persistent in the environment, traveling long distances and bioaccumulating in the food chain, it has been banned in more than 60 countries.

It's long since time the U.S. joined their ranks. To sign the petition, click here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why do so many doctors oppose the Titan cement plant?

The medical community is coming out in force against the proposal to build a massive cement plant in New Hanover county.

In his article (pdf, 144 KB) for Wilmington Parent magazine, pediatrician Dr. David Hill discusses how mercury in the environment affects children's brain growth and development, and the damage to growing lungs caused by particulate pollution in the air - both of which the Titan plant will bring in spades. Dr. Fred Opper, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, reminds us in his statement (pdf, 44 KB) that no level of mercury exposure is safe for children, and that more than 8,000 children live or attend school within 5 miles of the proposed Titan site.

Titan officials love to argue that the toxic pollution that will be emitted by the plant will be completely legal - all within federal and state limits. Small comfort when there are already more than 30 species of fish so polluted with mercury that the state of North Carolina recommends children and women of child-bearing age avoid eating them altogether. Mercury isn't just a passing cloud - once it's in the environment, in our food and water and bodies, it's there for life. Adding another significant mercury source to our state's already-full lineup is just a bad idea, and physicians get that better than anyone. You know what they say about an ounce of prevention.

Want to know more? Check out

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How an herbicide in "organic" compost is destroying organic soils - A cautionary tale.

Guest post by Bruce Olive, hobby gardener, Olive Farms in Orange County, NC.

On February 9, 2009, Dow Chemical registered the website URL They haven’t developed a website yet, just purchased the domain and squatted on it. Kind of strange for the company who actually makes a product called Aminopyralid. For those of you who are not farmers or gardeners, the word Aminopyralid most likely has no meaning. But for UK gardeners last year, and for many US gardeners this year, this hormonal herbicide used to kill weeds in hay and straw fields has become a nightmare.

Early signs of aminopyralid poisoning include leaf cupping, fernlike growth, and twisted vines. Photo by Bruce Olive.

Here’s the deal. In the tightly knit coven of commercial chemical and seed producers (often one and the same), agricultural extension services and growers/producers, “programs” is how the work of the farm gets done. A “program” consists of soil amendments, herbicides, pesticides and seed stock genetically modified to flourish in this chemical bath. You plant the right seed, you spray the right chemicals, and everything comes up roses. But unintended consequences have a strange way of showing up where you least expect them. Take the case of Aminopyralid for example. You get a great yield of hay and straw with the “program”, using Dow herbicide products such as Grazon and Forefront. You sell the beautiful, thistle-free, weed-free straw and hay to local horse and cattle farms, who are totally pleased with the thistle-free product. The horses and cows eat the hay, and bed on the straw. You compost their manure and the straw bedding, let it cook for a year or so, and then sell it to compost packagers and vegetable gardeners as “organic” compost, just the way you always have. But you don’t have any idea the compost contains a toxic herbicide with a 533 day half-life. Then the local extension service begins to get calls about twisted tomato vines with curly leaves, wilting eggplant, and droopy potato plants. Strawberry producers loose a season’s crop. Suburban gardeners report wilting zinnias.

And then you suddenly realize that the herbicide was in the manure, passed on through the animals, and has now contaminated the soil. And may continue to contaminate the soil for years to come. Recently pulled by Dow from the UK market due to its devastating impact on vegetable and flower gardeners, the true impact of Aminopyralid is only just now being felt in the US. While there were some reports of impact last year, it seems to be in the application of aged compost this year that is being felt on a growing basis. We appear to be running a year behind the UK in our cycle, but the spring of 2009 will be remembered by many local farmers and market gardeners as the “Spring of Aminopyralid”, and the cascade of unintended consequences that followed its use. Soil remediation is possible but can take several years. For certified organic farms this contamination will be treated as “an act of God,” so they will not lose their certification but will lose the infected land until it can be remediated.

So when Dow registered back in February of this year, they were undoubtedly expecting someone else to want to register it shortly after. Or perhaps they were simply being good corporate citizens, preempting the public outcry. Where this will go is anybody’s business. Being America, the likelihood of a class action lawsuit is probably greater than the likelihood of a ban on the chemical. In the meantime, beware of putting any manure-based compost on your garden, whether from a big box store in a plastic bag or from a local farmer in the back of a truck. Not to place any blame, but to understand that folks may not even know their compost is toxic. Test all compost and manure with small plantings BEFORE you apply to your garden. Unlike herbicides such as Roundup, the hormonal herbicide lets the plant grow for quite a while before destroying it. What looks like a curly leaf virus or aphid problems may not be what you think it is.

Our own garden is ruined for this year, with hundreds of greenhouse raised seedlings destroyed. We are currently remediating this land following directions from the Rodale Institute. Not to be defeated, we have in the meantime plowed up another patch and put it behind some electric fence.

The first step in remediation is don’t give up – plant a new garden with a deer fence!

By all means, continue to buy local, but buyer beware….the Dow slogan "bringing good things to life" is not necessarily referring to the life of the things in your deer protected patch of Piedmont heaven.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Opposing modest improvements for farmworkers

NC Policy Watch has an excellent article today about the NC Department of Agriculture's efforts to block the legislation to better protect farm workers from pesticides.

This dynamic of inaction at the NC Department of Agriculture has been a problem throughout the Ag-Mart case and ensuing efforts at reform. Too bad we can't legislate compassion.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pesticides in child care - not a pretty picture

We've all done our homework and gotten the pesticides out of our homes, yards and gardens, right? Many of us have even worked with our schools over the years to get them to switch to safer Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. But what about child care centers?

A new report out this week from Toxic Free North Carolina, Avoiding Big Risks for Small Kids, takes a look at how child care centers are managing pests in our state – and reveals a less-than-heartening picture. Compared with public schools, who are rapidly adopting IPM in North Carolina, child care centers are lagging way behind.

_ Most of the child care centers we surveyed use old-fashioned, higher-risk practices like broadcast pesticide spraying inside the facilities. Even when the center contracted with professionals, the survey found both widespread overuse of pesticides, and a troubling lack of safety precautions like warning signs or safety information provided about the chemicals being used.

_ The survey also found very limited adoption of safer practices, such as IPM. The US EPA recommends IPM for schools, child care centers and other sensitive areas because it focuses on preventing pest problems and minimizing pesticide spraying. In contrast with NC public schools, child care centers have hardly begun to adopt this common-sense practice. Fewer than 24% of child care providers reported using practices that qualify as IPM – but those who did also reported fewer serious pest problems.

So what can parents & child care providers do about this? Check out the list of five questions that parents should ask their child care providers to find out what they’re doing. There's also a resource for child care providers on how to contract for safer pest management in their facilities.

We know well that kids and pesticides don't mix, but this report makes clear that North Carolina child care providers still need to hear that message. So let's get it out there!

Download the report, get the fact sheets and learn more at Toxic Free NC's website.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Food Safety Bills in Congress

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Christopher Grohs.

US Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has issued a proposal for revamping the current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that’s causing an uproar among advocates of organic farming, and has generated a lot of chain emails about protecting organic farms. The proposal would split the FDA into two separate groups, establishing a new Food Safety Administration. With all the recent outbreaks of salmonella and food contamination, it’s of little surprise that Americans are pushing for stricter regulations and greater accountability in the food production sector. Though the bill is coming from a place of concern for food safety, some advocates for organic farming contend it contains many provisions that could be detrimental to small-scale organic farmers.

According to Gov Track's article on HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, the bill will “establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes.” To accomplish these goals, the government will increase its power and presence over the food industry by giving a newly created Food Safety Administration control over all farms, which will be reclassified as “Food Production Facilities.”

The proposed regulations appear to be prohibitively hard for small farmers to comply with, and so would favor massive, corporate factory farms. Organic farming advocates argue that the string of food safety scares in the US are the result of mishandling by large, corporate agricultural facilities and not small-scale organic farmers, so why punish them?

Interestingly, Elanor over at The Ethicurean reports that HR875 isn't moving much in Congress, but meanwhile several other food safety proposals might be bigger threats. Read her post here.

Whatever the case may be with these different proposals flying around Capitol Hill, it's clear that most would, in effect, put a small band-aid on a huge problem. The current commercial food system is a failure on food safety, and on many other fronts as well: labor rights, sustainability, humane treatment of animals, public health and more. We won't achieve food safety without a significant overhaul.

With our new, more food-minded administration in the White House and the USDA, we can't let our guard down. Rather, we must redouble our efforts to support our local farmers, talk to our neighbors about supporting organics, and let our state and federal representatives hear that local and sustainable farming is important to us.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ag-Mart receives a slap on the wrist in worker endangerment case

The North Carolina Pesticide Board has completed their deliberation on the case against Ag-Mart, the tomato company accused of the largest pesticide violations case in state history.

More than 200 charges of worker endangerment were at issue in the case. On Thursday, 2/19, The Pesticide Board found Ag-Mart guilty of just six charges of sending workers back into fields before the “re-entry interval” (REI) had expired, for a total fine of just $3,000. The hundreds of charges originally filed against Ag-Mart first came to light in 2005 when three babies with severe birth defects were born to Ag-Mart workers who worked in tomato fields in North Carolina and Florida during their pregnancies.

Get the full details from the Raleigh News & Observer's article.

The $3,000 fine highlights just how low the penalties are for cases of worker endangerment, and how difficult such charges are to prove. The state does not require pesticide applicators to keep records of compliance with the re-entry intervals that are designed to protect workers from hazardous pesticide residues in the field. Without these records, there was no documentation to corroborate the charges brought by state investigators resulting from Ag-Mart’s spray tickets and worker testimony.

The Pesticide Board’s judgment underscores two very serious shortcomings in North Carolina’s pesticide laws and regulations:
  1. At just $500 per violation, fines for companies who violate the state’s pesticide regulations are far too low. In a case where workers were put directly in harm’s way, a $3,000 total fine is a pittance, and a shameful conclusion to a case with such serious consequences.
  2. North Carolina needs a robust record-keeping requirement in order to be able to enforce its worker protection standards. Without clear records, it is next to impossible to know whether or not growers comply with the law.
Unless the NC General Assembly and the NC Pesticide Board correct these critical problems, bad actors have no incentive to comply with North Carolina’s pesticide laws and regulations that are intended to protect workers and the public. Ag-Mart has shown just how flimsy those laws can be.

Toxic Free NC will be fighting hard this year, together with our allies in the Farmworker Advocacy Network, to win this campaign so that another Ag-Mart case will never be repeated in North Carolina. Donate now to support this fight.

More background

In 2008 the NC Pesticide Board found Ag-Mart in violation of 42 counts of improper pesticide use, such as improperly mixing pesticides, and using pesticides that were not labeled for use in North Carolina. The Board fined Ag-Mart $21,000 for those violations, and revoked the farm manager’s pesticide license as a result.

Ag-Mart is also facing close to a million dollars in fines for hundreds of new charges of pesticide misuse and worker endangerment in New Jersey. In addition, the company has already paid out a civil settlement to workers who contend that pesticide misuse led to the severe birth defects in their son, who was born with no arms or legs after both his parents worked in Ag-Mart fields in North Carolina. The amount of the settlement is undisclosed, but it is believed to be in the millions.

by Fawn Pattison

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Government report slams EPA for poor regulation of chemicals

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Christopher Grohs.

The financial meltdown isn’t the only crisis resulting from poor government regulation facing the American public right now.

In its 2009 High Risk priority report released January 22, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) sharply criticized the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) track record of safety testing for hazardous chemicals. This includes, of course, pesticides, which EPA is charged with regulating.

Recent articles from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and AScribe Newswire explain the numerous problems the EPA has had providing accurate and timely information to the American public. From the Journal-Sentinel article:

"The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lacks adequate scientific information on the toxicity of many chemicals that may be found in the environment - as well as on tens of thousands of chemicals used commercially in the United States," the GAO said. "EPA's inadequate progress in assessing toxic chemicals significantly limits the agency's ability to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment."


"The EPA's ability to protect public health and the environment depends on credible and timely assessments of the risks posed by toxic chemicals, the GAO found. Its Integrated Risk Information System, which contains assessments of more than 500 toxic chemicals, "is at serious risk of becoming obsolete because the EPA has been unable to keep its existing assessments current or to complete assessments of important chemicals of concern."

The EPA urgently needs to streamline and increase the transparency of this assessment process, the report says."

Weaknesses in EPA's system of chemical regulation ultimately hurt American families who are exposed to a plethora of toxic chemicals through their use of everyday household products - pesticides, cleaners, plastics, cosmetics, and more. The public is also exposed to a variety of chemicals in our food, water and air because of their use in agriculture and industry.

For tips on how to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxics at home, from eating locally to staving off annoying bugs, check out the many resources available on our website. Toxic Free NC provides useful information for parents, resources for getting involved in the pesticide-free movement and a list of toxins commonly used on our crops (so you can make the healthier decisions!).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Triclosan - the secret pesticide

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Amy Freitag.

Ever wonder what makes "antibacterial soap" antibacterial? Since the 1960’s, triclosan is often the active ingredient, working to keep you healthy and safe.

Or is it?

Triclosan is actually a pesticide that should be handled as the dangerous chemical it is. And yet, it can be found in regular old hand soap, and a whole mess of other consumer products.....pretty much everywhere! Just take a look at this list of places triclosan is commonly found:
- cosmetics
- children’s toys
- toothpaste
- plastic utensils
- deodorant
- shoes
- mops
- kitchen accessories
- bedding
- mattresses
- food storage containers
- sponges
- phones

Triclosan is considered nontoxic to humans because large doses are necessary to show negative effects. However, a few cases have been reported where ordinary daily use of a product containing triclosan caused the skin become photosensitive and break out in a rash. According to the CDC, the chronic effects of triclosan exposure can include interfering with thyroid hormone metabolism, which could cause hypothermic effects and central nervous system depression. Research has also shown that triclosan is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance because of the specific mechanism it uses to kill bacteria, and its widespread use in almost every household and workplace.

How does it work? According to General Chemistry Online, the molecule enters the cell and binds to an important bacterial enzyme called the enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase, which is crucial to the production of fatty acids needed for building cell membranes and molecules for communication. What all that chemistry boils down to is basically that triclosan gums up the keyhole necessary to lock the cell up, leaving the bacteria wide open, like a house in a bad neighborhood with the front door hanging open. However, all it takes for the bacteria to escape this bad fortune is to alter the keyhole a bit so that the triclosan can’t fit. Once one figures out how to do this, it survives to reproduce a population of resistant bacteria.

Although it may be less than totally effective at killing the offending germs that cause illness, triclosan and related antibiotics are highly effective at wiping out entire populations of natural, healthy bacteria that are necessary for the ecosystem and even human health. By removing the normal bacterial flora from our environments, we aren’t exposed to normal parts of the ecosystem, and then when we finally are, the result may be.... achoo! Seriously, one theory of allergy formation is that exposure to bacteria (within reason, of course) is actually a normal and necessary part of developing a healthy immune system.

As for the ecosystem, those bacteria fill niches in food webs, nutrient cycling, and disease resistance that contribute to the resilience of the environment in the face of threats such as global warming and development. The story with algae in streams and rivers is similar – they show drastic negative effects in the presence of triclosan, often downstream of wastewater treatment plants that don’t treat for pharmaceuticals. These algae provide the base of the aquatic food web that supports the entire system. If we remove that protection through our use of hand soap, we exacerbate the other environmental problems humans have come to bear on earth.

As if that all weren't bad enough, triclosan itself is not the only threat associated with triclosan use. How, you might ask? When exposed to sunlight, triclosan converts into carcinogenic dioxins. Research on the effects of triclosan and metabolites such as dioxin is still ongoing, which begs the question why the chemical is allowed to be so widely used without full knowledge of its impacts. That is a policy question that could take a book to analyze the answer to, but the future of these effects is in the hands of the consumer at this point.

So, convinced you want to avoid this ubiquitous chemical? Good luck! Heres's a "cheatsheet" with tips on avoiding products with triclosan from Environmental Working Group. It's a lot of information to digest, but there are two main changes you can make quickly and easily that will help a lot:

1) Wash your hands with good old fashioned soap and water. According to an epidemiology group out of the University of Michigan, it's the best way. The FDA is also beginning to figure this out, finally.

2) Read ingredient labels for soaps and cosmetics. Don't buy stuff that lists triclosan or the closely-related triclocarban.

No matter what type of soap you use, most germs are removed from your hands by the simple act of wiping them off. Soap and water help a lot, but you don’t need to go beyond that. If the germies are already off your hands and down the drain, does it really matter if they're also dead? For regular handwashing and personal hygiene, the relative ineffectiveness of antibacterial products combined with the very real threat of antibiotic resistance from their over use mean that antibacterial soaps could actually be doing more harm than good.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Remembering a good friend

It is with great sorrow that I share the news that my friend Joan Phillips-Trimmer passed away last December. She was a great friend of Toxic Free NC who worked with us to reduce pesticide use in Chatham County Schools in 2007 - 08 while working at the Chatham County Health Department. She was a joyful, funny and thoughtful person who gave 110% to the projects she cared about. I'll miss her very much, and send my condolences and best wishes to her family and friends.

I wish I had a photo of her to share - preferably one with her head thrown back in a hearty laugh, which she did all the time - it made other people feel so happy and welcome. But I don't, so here's a beautiful autumn sunset over an organic farm in Chatham County instead - if warm, hearty laughter were colors, it might look something like this.

There will be a memorial service for Joan at Community Church of Chapel Hill this Saturday at 1 PM. Details here.

Here's a link to the Chatham County Schools IPM policy, which is among Joan's many accomplishments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Environmental Causes of Autism

Rates of autism nationwide have skyrocketed over the past 15 years. Scientific American reported this week on new research coming out of CA finding that chemicals in our environment may be responsible for most of the rise. Which common but easy-to-avoid chemicals are high on those scientists’ list of suspected culprits? Some are things you might guess, and others maybe not.

From the Scientific American article:
"Dozens of chemicals in the environment are neurodevelopmental toxins, which means they alter how the brain grows. Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, brominated flame retardants and pesticides are examples.
While exposure to some--such as PCBs--has declined in recent decades, others--including flame retardants used in furniture and electronics, and pyrethroid insecticides--have increased.
Mothers of autistic children were twice as likely to use pet flea shampoos, which contain organophosphates or pyrethroids, according to one study that has not yet been published. Another new study has found a link between autism and phthalates, which are compounds used in vinyl and cosmetics. Other household products such as antibacterial soaps also could have ingredients that harm the brain by changing immune systems, Hertz-Picciotto [the lead researcher in the study] said."

Yikes! Maybe you're a parent or want to be one, or maybe you aren't - either way take heed that these chemicals are at the top of a list of things that are bad for babies' brains, and it stands to reason that they're not great for your brain either. Many of the same chemicals listed here are also linked with increasingly common health problems in adults, like cancer and Parkinson's disease.

So here's your list of stuff to avoid based on this article, and some tips for avoiding them:
* Flame retardants found in furniture or electronics. Tips from Environmental Working Group on avoiding them.

* Pesticides in general, with special caution about pet shampoos and other products that contain organophosphates and pyrethroids. There are lots of ways to avoid these, but I'll share a couple of the most relevant highlights: 1) Eat organic. (It's a perfect time of year to join a CSA - more on that in an upcoming tip!) 2) Use non-toxic methods to get rid of home and garden pests - check out for more info, and also my past NewRaleigh posts. And, 3) if you have pets, use least-toxic alternatives to flea shampoo.

* Phthalates, found in vinyl, some cosmetics, and some plastics. Also associated with reproductive system disorders in male children. Augh. Tips for avoiding phthalates from the Pollution in People project.

* Antibacterial soaps, which commonly contain triclosan - actually a pesticide. Did you know that studies have found that regular soap gets just as much bacteria off your hands as antibacterial soap does? Tips for avoiding triclosan in soaps and other antibacterial products.

I'm planning to address each of these chemicals in more depth as part of my "Toxic Free NC Tips of the Week" series for If there's any in particular that you're keen to learn more about ASAP, please drop me a line.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Gulf War Syndrome is real, and was caused (at least in part) by exposure to pesticides

A new report linking exposure to two chemicals with Gulf War syndrome was recently presented to the US Secretary of Veterans Affairs. One was a drug given to soldiers to protect against nerve gas, and the other a pesticide applied to protect against sand fleas. According to the authors of an article that appeared in November in the LA Times, titled Report to Congress: Gulf War Syndrome is Real, this latest report to Congress contradicts nearly two decades of government denials that the syndrome is real.

Dr. Beatrice Golomb is an associate professor at the UCSD School of Medicine who headed up the team that worked on the report to Congress. She links the chronic fatigue, severe muscle pain, memory loss and other illnesses that about 250,000 Persian Gulf War veterans are experiencing to the drug pyridostigmine bromide they were given to protect against nerve gas attacks, and exposure to organophosphate pesticides.

It is really frightening to know that many organophosphate insecticides are still registered for use in the United States. These powerful nerve poisons are closely related in chemical structure to sarin and other nerve gases used as chemical weapons. For more information about organophosphate pesticides and what you can do to help get them off the market, check out PANNA's campaign on organophosphates.

- Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Sylvia Durell