Tag Archives: health

Cosmetics: More than You Bargained For?


When it comes to taking care of ourselves, we can often neglect to realize what actually goes into products we use for and on our bodies. We might go to the store and look for cosmetic brands that say things like  “all natural”, “pure”, “no animal testing”, and so on but are we actually getting what we want?

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) defines cosmetics  as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” Some examples are shaving cream, shampoo, face wash, lotion, lipstick, aftershave, deodorant, and toothpaste.

What do they actually consist of?

  • Coloring Agents such as coal tar, chromium oxide, aluminum powder, manganese, iron oxide, and mica flakes
  • Bulking Agents such as talc, nylon and silk fibers, silk powder
  • Additives such as fragrance, preservatives, and parabens

Read your labels and see what you come up with. Triethsnolamine, tocopheral acetate, tetrasodium EDTA, dimethicone, methylparaben, phthalates, and ethylene  oxide may be some of the terms you see along with many others.

So why should you care?

The cosmetics industry uses numerable synthetic chemicals in its products to give them their color, smell, shelf-life, and texture. Many of these have been linked as carcinogens or causing severe allergies.  Often these chemicals are untested for side-efects. Depending on the number of products we use each day, we could be exposing ourselves to numerous different chemicals and their reaction when used simultaneously is also unknown. The Breast Cancer Fund is a strong proponent for making cosmetics safe.

What can you do?

Check your labels. Know what ingredients are not desirable. A great way to do this is using one of these resources:

  •  – a database that scores products based on  hazard
  • The Think Dirty App – an iPhone app that allows you to use your phone to scan products barcodes and receive a toxicity ratings. You can do this at home to check your current products and when you are shopping

Also, you can take action –  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics  “is a coalition effort launched in 2004 to protect the health of consumers and workers by securing the corporate, regulatory and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products.”

Get informed. Get involved. Do some research.

Not all chemicals are harmful, but it’s good to know which ones are and to avoid them.

Coal Pollution Effects on Human Health

Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of pollution in any country. http://saferenvironment.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/coal-fired-power-plants-and-pollution/

Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of pollution in any country.

Coal-fired power plant emissions contribute to global warming, ozone smog, acid rain, regional haze, and – perhaps most consequential of all from a public health standpoint- fine particle pollution. Emissions from the U.S. power sector cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, and hundreds of thousands of heart attacks, asthma attacks, hospital admissions, and lost workdays. So why are these power plants still up and running, and more importantly, why are there still planned developments of new plants?

To simplify things, public health concerns have focused, for at least the last decade, on the role of very small airborne particles in causing or contributing to various forms of respiratory and cardiopulmonary ailments and increasing the risk of premature death. These fine particles are particularly dangerous because they can bypass your body’s defensive mechanisms and become lodged deep inside your lungs. In fact, research also indicates that short-term exposures to fine particle pollution is linked to cardiac effects, including increased risk of heart attack. Meanwhile, long-term exposure to fine particle pollution has been shown to increase the risk of death from cardiac and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, resulting in shorter life-expectancy for people living in the most polluted cities. So who are the people that are most likely to be exposed to these health risks? In general, the poor, minority groups, and people who live in the areas downwind of multiple power plants. And unfortunately, persistent elevated levels of fine particle pollution are common across wide areas of the U.S., mainly in the east.

The adverse effects, including abnormally high levels of mortality, occur even at low ambient concentrations of fine particles—suggesting there is no “safe” threshold for this type of pollution. Since most fine particle-related deaths are thought to occur within a year or two of exposure, reducing power plant pollution will have almost immediate benefits. Below is a very nice table that I found from Physicians for Social Responsibility, outlining various diseases/conditions connected to coal pollutants.

Coal Pollution vs human Health

As it stands, we are at a turning point for determining the U.S.’s future energy policies. The health consequences tied to coal production are vast and have major impacts. We need to address the issue of coal-fired energy production, and we need to address it now. There should be NO new construction of coal fired power plants, and we must initiate plans to retire as many coal plants as possible that are currently in production.

Finally, as a nation, we must develop our capacity to produce energy from clean, safe, renewable sources in order to phase out the existing coal plants without compromising the ability to meet the nations energy needs. Instead of investing any more of our money into coal, the U.S. should fund conservation measures, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources such as wind energy and solar power, which don’t have such a negative effect on public health.

Written by: Courtney Dunphy

Proposed EPA Regulation could force Cleaner Energy and Protect Health

In a world and nation where water and energy are two things our growing population is starving for, an issue that combines both is of the utmost importance. This is why I’d love to inform you about a recent regulation proposed by the EPA that would place limits on the amount and type of toxic metals and other pollutants that can be discharged by steam electric power plants (coal, oil, and natural gas) into our waterways. These regulations, dubbed Effluent Limitation Guidelines, will have the greatest effect on coal plants so I will address it as pertaining to coal henceforward.

Toxic waste discharged from power plant

Toxic waste discharged from a coal plant

This bill is extremely important in guiding the future state of human and environmental health as well as the phasing into cleaner sources of energy. It is going to be implemented but what has yet to be decided is which option out of four will be chosen to be implemented. “The four options are based on varying levels of treatment for seven different waste streams generated by the plants and differ in the stringency of the treatment controls to be imposed” said the congressional research service. There are allegations being made that the White House Office of Management and Budget is attempting to weaken the proposed standards in response to coal industry demands. The coal industry will obviously be fighting for the least strict regulations, which brings in the underdog, “we the people”, to stand up for more regulated water pollution.

I will now make a claim as to why it is so important that the strongest regulation (option 4 out of 4), which will reduce annual pollutant discharge by 2.62 billion pounds and reduce annual water usage by 103 billion pounds, needs to be implemented.

These regulations need to be in the strongest form possible because, as a study conducted  in North Carolina by Duke University revealed, coal plants have implemented scrubbers and other technologies to reduce the amount of toxic air pollution (coinciding with the Clean Air Act) but those pollutants are just ending up in the waste water that the coal plants produce, defeating the purpose of the “CLEAN” Air Act. The study also uncovered other disturbing information: the highest concentration of contaminants were found in a waste water pond that was being directly released into a primary drinking water source for Charlotte, North Carolina. After testing the water, the scientists found a couple of areas that exceeded the EPA guidelines for safe drinking water and aquatic life. These unhealthy levels were also found in two popular recreational lakes in the northern part of the state. This is just 1 example.

Why doesn’t the Clean Water Act regulate this water pollution problem?

For one, existing guidelines that limit the pollutants emitted into the water by coal plants have not been updated in over 30 years. Also, many regulators have said the Clean Water Act is inadequate because is does not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power plant waste and it is also claimed to have loopholes that the energy industry takes advantage of. In addition to that, 90% of 313 coal plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or penalized by federal or state regulators, according to a New York Times Analysis of EPA records.

There is countless information that supports the need for this nation-wide water pollution regulation in its strongest form, so I proceed… Here is a link to fish consumption advisories in Texas due to water pollution. All the water bodies surrounding my hometown, including some I have previously caught fish in (and eaten), are polluted with the following advisory given for a couple: “Persons should not consume any species of fish from these waters”.  Although coal plants cannot be solely blamed for this (as it is hard to trace back pollution), they are definitely a large contributing factor. Some other unfortunate statistics found in a report produced by a coalition of environmental and clean water groups: “Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber waste water into waterways, nearly 70% (188), have no limits on the amount of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, boron, cadmium, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.” When you consider this pollution which produces horrible health effects such as reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and death, one begins to hope that policy decisions regarding this pollution are really going to be made on our behalf.

I digress from the smorgasbord of depressing health and environmental data on this pollution and focus on what this bill will do. It will:

1.  Set national standards that limit the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into our waterways by coal plants and is based upon technological improvements in the industry over the last 30 years.

2. Require coal plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution dumped into our waterways. (We deserve to know this!)

The strongest proposal is common-sense, affordable, and is already being used by some coal plants. This regulation will force coal companies to internalize the cost of pollution, justly relieving that burden from the health of our communities and precious water sources. If you feel strongly about this issue, make your voice heard! It will take a strong force to overcome the corporate interests that are going to fight their hardest for the lowest regulation for what they can dump into our waters.

Things you can do:

1. Make a meeting with your Senator or Representative to let them know you support the strongest regulations

2. Write a Letter to the Editor and submit it to your local newspaper

3. Educate your friends!

More information on the bill can be found here

Austin Disc Golf: Outdoor Enjoyment on Hiatus

A disc golfer at Pease Park, Photo courtesy of Austin360.com

Austin, Texas has always maintained a reputation as a different sort of Texas city, proud of it’s originality and unabashedly weird.  This sort of friendly, incubating atmosphere has fostered countless subcultures over the years and one particularly expansive and successful offshoot is Austin’s disc golf community.  Disc golf is a sport with modern roots going back to California in the 1960s; it involves throwing modified Frisbees around various obstacles into designated baskets according to rules very similar to traditional golf.  Disc golf arrived in the Austin area shortly after it’s California debut and has developed a strong following.  The Austin area has around 20 disc golf courses within a 30-minute drive, multiple enthusiast clubs and one of the world’s largest disc golf stores.

Historically, Austin’s Pease Park and disc golf have gone hand in hand.  The park opened its disc golf course in 1989 and the course’s central location and proximity to campus attracted large amounts of disc golfers.  Too many actually, according to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.  The heavy amount of foot traffic around Shoal Creek led to erosion issues, which threaten trees along the shoreline and expose wastewater pipelines.  The bank loss and compacted soil were also taking their toll on the park’s natural ecosystem.  The Austin PARD opted in 2010 to close the course to prevent further damage and allow groups such as the Shoal Creek Restoration Project uninhibited access to recuperate the area.  However, acknowledging the high demand for disc golf in Austin, the PARD initially promised to open a new course as a consolation.

The new course was planned to adjoin a southeast Austin park, Roy G Guerrero Park on the south side of Lady Bird Lake.  The proposal involved using 7 acres of existing parkland and 28 acres the city bought in 2007 and had yet to develop.  The momentum of the project ground to a halt when it met resistance on two local fronts.  The first opposition was support of developing the land into neighborhoods, which while not coinciding with the PARD’s intentions did make sense under the original zoning of the land.  The second argument against disc golf came from nature advocates, who believed that the stress on the ecosystem seen at Pease Park would also occur at this new course.  Specific worries about the health of the historic Pecan and Heritage trees in the area spearheaded this argument.  These claims are representative of more general trend in the Austin area to set aside nature preserves, a trend that has seen remarkable success in the greenbelt system.

Now the new course is in limbo, the PARD has chosen to study the issue before moving forward and an advisory committee is weighing the practicality of other sites for a course.  If environmental concerns are truly a priority, then perhaps time should be a more pressing issue in this case; the disc golf community in Austin has not shrunk, and by removing a popular course you are just channeling more traffic through the courses that remain.  Personally speaking the current course at Bartholomew District Park off of east 51st looks worse in terms of erosion than Pease Park ever did.  Furthermore, the damage to trees argument needs either better proof or to be debunked.  The PARD’s reasons to close Pease Park did not include tree damage from discs, so how can this fear justify putting a new course on hiatus? If the danger is to the root system, careful course layout and the use of “out of bounds” areas can circumvent this problem.

I believe the solution moving forward requires the PARD to better promote their own mission, which is to serve the Austin community at large with quality “recreational, cultural and outdoor experiences”.  Right now the disc golf community in Austin feels marginalized at the expense of smaller local interests.  While local groups must be considered and protected, they cannot have an undue share of influence in how the city operates.  Other disc golf courses are currently experiencing the high activity level seen at Pease and will experience similar fates unless the city acts to meet the growing demand for this recreational sport.  The city of Austin is expanding and changing at an incredible pace and will continue to do well into the foreseeable future.  Taking this into account, it is the duty of the city and its citizens to continue to protect and encourage Austin’s cultural identity.

It would be a shame for us to lose touch with the original ethos: “Keep Austin Weird”.

Chris Jaynes, Intern


Waterloo Disc Golf President’s Letter to the Editor

KXAN: No final plans for disc golf course

KXAN: final tosses for disc golf in Pease Park

Park Profile:  Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park

Shoal Creek Restoration Project

Austin Parks and Recreation

City Council Hearing January 27, 2011

Austin360: Are disc golfers ruining Pease?

Gasping for Air: White Stallion’s Threat to Houston’s Health

Study Predicts More Unhealthy Air for Houstonians if Proposed Coal Plant Built

 New air quality modeling analysis of the potential White Stallion coal plant predicts dangerous levels of smog for Houston residents

Yesterday, Houston’s Vice Mayor Pro Tem, City Council Member Ed Gonzalez gathered with health and environmental advocates in front of an eighteen-foot inhaler at the reflection pool outside Houston City Hall to release Sierra Club’s new study showing the potential risks to Houston residents of increased ozone smog from the proposed White Stallion coal plant.

We must do everything in our power to ensure clean air for our families, neighbors and friends,” said Houston Vice Mayor Pro Tem, City Council Member Ed Gonzalez.  “The proposed White Stallion Energy Center, if built, would be located just 20 miles outside the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria non-attainment region.  I’m concerned that it would put the City of Houston at greater risk for additional bad air days and affect the quality of life for our citizens.”

Sierra Club’s new report, White Stallion’s Potential Impact on Houston Air Quality, prepared by Dr. Tammy M. Thompson with MIT’s Joint Program for the Science and Policy of Global Change finds:

  • Ground level ozone concentrations, or smog, measured at air quality monitors in the Houston area and averaged over eight hours, are often above the 84 parts per billion (ppb) limit, a National Ambient Air Quality Standard set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997.  The Houston area therefore has been designated a “non-attainment” area for ozone and the City will struggle to meet attainment of the 84 ppb ozone standard by the year 2018.  The US EPA will announce in mid-2011, a new, health-based standard that will be a value between 60 and 70 ppb.
  • White Stallion proposes to release emissions of 4,048 tons/year of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), 288 tons/year of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and 5780 tons/ year of Carbon Monoxide (CO) from two stacks that would be located near Bay City in Matagorda County about 75 miles to the Southwest of Houston.
  • For the Houston area monitors, the maximum increases in daily peak ozone concentrations averaged over 8 hours and averaged across all days of the episode when ozone values were greater than 70 ppb, 65 ppb, and 60 ppb was 0.03 ppb, 0.04 ppb, and 0.04 ppb respectively.

The potential threat of additional pollution in the Houston area from the proposed White Stallion plant is cause for concern from Houston parents of children and Dr. Stuart L. Abramson. 

Dr. Abramson, a member of the Leadership Council for the American Lung Association of the Plains-Gulf Region and a Houston area, board-certified allergist/immunologist and asthma specialist warned of threats to public health from the proposed White Stallion coal plant saying —“There are already substantial health effects seen in sensitive individuals at current levels of ozone air pollution in the Greater Houston area.  When our Houston air quality intermittently exceeds the health-based standards, the pollution levels trigger yellow, orange, and red alert status.  The additional pollution from projected emissions from the White Stallion power plant, though proposed for 75 miles southwest of Houston, could only exacerbate ozone levels in the Greater Houston area and make it more difficult for sensitive individuals, particularly those with respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.”

Lydia Avila, Conservation Organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, “The last thing Houston needs is another source of pollution that’s going to put our community in even greater risk of health problems. It’s time for the City of Houston to take a real stand against the proposed White Stallion coal plant and be an even bigger advocate for clean energy.”

 Background Information – White Stallion Facing Obstacles

Although the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave White Stallion a permit, the permit was remanded after a legal challenge showed that White Stallion filed multiple and conflicting plot plans to different governmental agencies.

The proposed White Stallion coal plant faces obstacles and may not be built:

  1. Air permit remanded back to TCEQ
  2. 404 Permit from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  3. Waste Water Permit from TCEQ
  4. Water contract from LCRA
  5. Other economic obstacles

Posted by Donna Hoffman, Communications Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.  Thanks Jared Pesseto, Sean, and Ben for inflating that humongous inhaler hand in front of Houston City Hall.

Check out the photo album on the Texas Sierra Club page on Facebook!

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Houston simply cannot afford a new source of air pollution.

According to the American Lung Association, Houston has one of the poorest air qualities in the nation. It’s no secret that Houston has refineries next door to neighborhoods along the ship channel. Within these communities, entire families live and their children go to school breathing air ridden with all kinds of pollutants.  The ALA estimates there to be more than 96,000 children at risk for pediatric asthma, based on recent census data. Could this be because Harris County has such unhealthy air? The ALA gave Harris County an “F” grading, based on annual average ozone levels.

Businesses and refineries that emit pollutants in the Houston area have rarely stayed under the EPA limit, if at all.  In neighboring Matagorda County the potential for air pollution emitted by the proposed White Stallion coal-fired power plant will make it harder still for Houston to achieve clean air.  If this coal-fired power plant is allowed to become fully operational, the quality of air in Houston will have even more difficulty staying under federal limits.

In a health impact study conducted by MSB Energy Associates on the proposed White Stallion coal plant, emissions could add more than 400 cases of chronic bronchitis.  This pollution may exacerbate the asthma of about 13,000 who already live with the condition. The most chilling effect is that there will be 630 deaths directly attributed to the pollutants emitted by this coal plant. This could be the death of a parent, a caretaker, or a child.

Another startling number to look at is the health care costs of such a plant.  Although the plant will provide funding to Bay City’s schools, the total estimated cost of health care due to air pollutants is more than $5 billion!  Already in hard times, we as Texans simply cannot afford a new coal plant.

Houstonians, please contact Mayor Parker and urge her to continue her support for clean air.  Tell our mayor that we can’t afford a new coal plant, to say NO to White Stallion.

– Kat Herrera, Beyond Coal Intern

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Kat at kat.m.herrera@gmail.com.   

Better Mercury Standards? It’s a no brainer.

The EPA Safeguard:

Currently the EPA is considering increasing protections on various air toxics, including mercury. The safeguard proposed will prevent 91% of the mercury in coal from being released into the air. This safeguard has been proposed because of a study conducted by the EPA in 2000 which found that 7% of women of childbearing age are exposed to levels of mercury high enough to hurt the developing fetus. Due to the results of this study the EPA feels that it is necessary to regulate mercury, as well as other air toxics, produced by power plants.

Health Impacts of Mercury:

Mercury has been studied most in young children and pregnant women, where it has been found to lead to neurological problems including verbal, visual, motor, and learning disabilities. If exposed to mercury, women who breast feed may also expose their child. According to the EPA, about 300,000 infants each year have an increased risk of being born with learn disabilities because they were exposed to mercury while in utero. Moreover, in as study contracted by the EPA mercury was found to be associated with cardiovascular problems, namely acute myocardial infarction, through epidemiological evidence as well as other measures.

Mercury Sources:

Humans often ingest mercury from fish. However, one of the largest sources of mercury is coal plants. The mercury in coal is released into the atmosphere when coal is burned, and may then be transported long distances. After this, mercury accumulates in clouds and becomes a part of the water cycle. The process of bioaccumulation begins with tiny aquatic plants and animals that take in mercury from the water. These are then eaten by larger fish, and so on. However, with each step up the food chain, the concentration of mercury increases until it reaches levels that are unsafe for humans.

Mercury emissions in Texas are the highest nationwide and Texas has 5 of the 10 top mercury polluting coal plants. These plants are Martin Lake in Rusk Co., Big Brown in Freestone Co., Monticello in Titus, Limestone in Limestone Co., and H W Pirkey in Harrison Co. 

 Texas Fish:

A study conducted by the Costal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program in 2010 tested levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), and polychlorinated dibenxofurans (PCDFs) in various fish including spotted seatrout, black drum, and redfish. A total of 49 fish were tested and they were found in various bays along the coast ofTexas.

Although smaller fish did not contain high levels of the contaminants, 4 out of the 5 oversized redfish collected in the surf zone contained levels of mercury high enough to be deemed unsafe for consumption by Texas Department of State Health Services. Moreover, the larger the fish, the more mercury that had accumulated. The average age of the redfish in this study was 20 years and these fish have a lifespan of around 50 years. It is expected that if the same conditions are present, these fish will continue to accumulate mercury. Redfish are a popular catch and fishermen sell many pounds of meat from the two oversized redfish they are allowed to keep. Although no conclusions can be made as the study was small, the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries program recommends further studies on the levels of contaminants in redfish and the Texas Department of Health Services is reviewing the study to determine if consumer advisories are necessary.

What can I do?

Support the EPA’s efforts to reduce harmful mercury pollution by submitting a comment here.

For more information on the safeguard visit the EPA’s site.

For more information on the health impacts of mercury and the worst mercury emitters check out the EPA’s site and the Environmental Integrity Project report.

For more information on the study conducted on Texas Fish visit this site.


For an article related to this post: http://www.caller.com/news/2011/jun/08/toxins-in-certain-game-fish-could-spark-a-closer/

– Julia Von Alexander , Sierra Club Beyond Coal Intern.