Jan 19, 2010
So many sad stories have come to me since I started working to eliminate toxic chemicals, which can harm people or poison pets, from common flea control products. Many people have written me about their beloved pet who died or became seriously ill after a flea treatment that they picked up at the pet store. They are frustrated and shocked that such dangerous products are allowed on the market, and upset that major retailers continue to profit from the sale of these chemicals, at the expense of their pets’ and families’ health. I share their frustrations.
And I worry about the people I haven’t heard from, since they may still be using these dangerous products unknowingly. You see, the problems caused from toxic flea chemicals don’t always manifest immediately, and they don’t necessarily just affect our pets.
Last spring, my team of researchers at NRDC released a report on the toxic chemical residues that remain on pet fur from flea collars. We found residue levels measuring high enough to potentially cause neurologic harm to children who hug their pets or even just stroke their fur. In fact, we found levels of one of the chemicals in these products, which is listed as a known carcinogen in California, were high enough to even pose a significant risk to adults. And of course, the long-term risk this poses to our pets for cancer and neurological harm is extremely worrisome.
After NRDC released our scientific findings, we petitioned the EPA and even suedmanufacturers and retailers for selling these dangerous products without any warning labels. We thought this would be enough to lead companies to do the right thing. Unfortunately – we were wrong.
Now I’m losing my patience. More than eight months have passed since we published our scientific findings, and every day children, dogs, cats and pet owners are unknowingly using these risky products even though safer alternatives exist. So I’m asking for your help.
Together we must call on the two largest pet supply chains in the country – PETCO and PetSmart – and demand that they remove toxic flea products from their shelves. Together we can send a powerful message that they can’t ignore! Thank you for helping us to protect the children and pets we love from dangerous chemicals.
Here’s what you can do to help:
Click here to send a letter to PETCO Chair Brian Devine, PETCO CEO James M. Myers and PetSmart CEO Robert F. Moran, asking them not to sell dangerous flea products, especially flea collars with two pesticides called propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos.
Jan 19, 2010 2:14pm
Oct 20, 2009
By Solvie Karlstrom
Longer nights, hollowed out gourds, random celebrities showing up at your doorstep demanding candy—yes, Halloween is upon us again. As a celebration (or contest) of creativity, All Hallow's eve is unmatched and helping out with your child's costume is one way to get back a bit of the Great Pumpkin's spirit.
Costumes and Masks
Whether your child wants to be Iron Man, Hannah Montana, or a fairy princess, drugstores and specialty shops across the country are lining their racks with scores of the perfect mass-produced getup. But while the store-bought Optimus Prime costume, plus accessories, seems perfectly suited to your child’s transformer fixation, many pre-made costumes and masks are made from PVC. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl, is a non-recyclable plastic whose production releases cancer-causing dioxins into the atmosphere. What’s more, soft vinyl products, like shiny imitation leather accessories, usually contain phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to reproductive abnormalities and liver cancer.
You can avoid the creepy unknown element in store-bought costumes by creating one yourself. Mix a few hand-me-downs with a handful of safety pins and a little imagination for a unique costume that isn’t nearly as scary as it looks. Here are a few ideas:
- With a little paint or pieces of fabric, transform solid-colored leggings and turtlenecks into any variety of animal or insect, such as a white stripe down the back of black basics for a skunk, or black polka dots on white for a Dalmation.
- Bend wire coat hangers into half moons or ear lobes and cover them with stockings for a pair of angel wings.
- Hang crepe paper and lace from a flashlight for a fairy wand that will light the way on dark neighborhood streets.
- Mask possibilities are endless with paper plates, construction paper and papier mache.
- Rummage through closets and thrift stores for forgotten fashions and uniforms to repurpose. An old cheerleader uniform can turn your child into a Highschool Musical star and worn out khakis can be the basis for Indiana Jones. Take scissors to any old outfit for a brain-dead zombie.
- With a little glue and a few strategically placed armholes, a gently used cardboard box can become anything from a rocket to Spongebob.
Many costumes don’t seem complete without a face full of fake scars or a ghostly complexion. But many costume make-ups come with toxic ingredients, like lead, that can be readily absorbed in the skin. So before turning your child’s face green, blue, or any other ghastly color, make sure you’re makeup choice doesn’t come with any other frightening side effects. Here’s how:
Whenever possible, create the desired effect with adult cosmetics rather than play and costume makeup, which is often imported from a countries with less stringent regulations and can be vague about ingredients.
- Look for products that contain no more than 10 ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the less likely your child is to be exposed to a potentially irritating or harmful chemical.
- Choose products that are listed in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics database.
- Powdered products generally contain fewer potentially harmful ingredients, but if you do use oil-based makeup, pay attention to the type of oil that is used. Mineral oils are harsher on your skin than plant-based oils, but plant-based oils can cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Always check the expiration date before using any makeup product.
- Even when you’re confidant that the product is safe, it’s always a good idea to test out a small amount on your child’s arm a few days before to be sure they don’t have adverse reactions when you apply larger amounts.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sep 17, 2009
By Wendy Gordon
While it is true the United States has some of the best drinking water in the world, a disturbing new report conducted by The New York Timesrevealed that one in ten Americans has been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals, including carcinogens in the tap water of major American cities and unsafe chemicals in drinking water wells in more rural areas. The primary reason, according to the report: The laws intended to protect our water supplies, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), are not being enforced. In fact, researchers found, barely 3 percent of violations resulted in fines or other significant penalties by state officials responsible for enforcing the law.
Is your water safe?
Whether you water is safe or contaminated depends on several factors: its source, what treatment it receives (if any), and the quality of the pipes in your home. Follow these simple steps to check out the quality of your water:
* Find out about your water system. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates the community water systems that supply drinking water to most Americans. Every water system is required to publish a yearly "consumer confidence report" detailing contaminants or violations of water quality standards. You can see the report for your water system by contacting the system directly. To find your water system, visitwww.epa.gov/enviro/html/sdwis/sdwis_query.html.
* Have water from your own well tested. Wells, which are not typically regulated by the SDWA, are more likely to contain contaminants than municipal water systems. The EPA advises that you test well water annually, especially if you see signs of trouble like corroded pipes, strange odors or stained laundry.
* Check to see if there are free or low cost testing services available. Your municipality, county or state health department may offer free or low-cost testing services; otherwise, you can use a laboratory certified in your state. The EPA has a list at www.epa.gov/safewater/labs/index.html. For further information on well water quality, the EPA suggests consulting nonprofit groups like the American Ground Water Trust.
* Decide which contaminants to test for. Ask for guidance from the lab or your local health department on which contaminants to test for. Find out whether radon or heavy metals like arsenic are present in underground rocks or soils in your area. Tell the laboratory if you live near a farm, an industrial cattle-feeding operation, a gas station, a mine, a factory, a dump or any kind of operation that might produce contaminants that can find their way into ground water.
NRDC recommends that you test your tap water for lead contamination, particularly if you have young kids, are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, since lead is especially dangerous and levels can vary enormously from house to house. A lead test costs about $25 (see, for example, University of North Carolina's low-cost testing information).
What should you do if your water is contaminated?
Once you have identified the problem, you can take the appropriate steps to fix it.
* If the problem is corroded pipes in your home, consider replacing them.
* If your well is contaminated by bacteria, you can have it disinfected or you can drill a deeper well.
* If your water contains other contaminants—including heavy metals, pesticides, volatile organic chemicals, minerals, parasites or bacteria—you should consider installing a filtration system. Consult our Checkout Counter: Water Filters for help selecting the filter that best meets your needs.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10451396@N00/ / CC BY-NC 2.0
Sep 15, 2009
While we’ve been enjoying summer in the Northern hemisphere, flu season has been raging in the Southern and in that time “swine” flu (or the H1N1 flu strain) has become the dominant flu strain, spreading four times more quickly than the seasonal flu. In Australia, this winter eight out of every ten people with the flu had the new flu strain. President Obama has even taken the step to recommend that Americans get vaccinated for H1N1 flu when the vaccine becomes available in mid-October. NRDC Senior Scientist Gina Solomon answers questions about the pandemic and who it might affect.
Q. To start, is this flu more or less severe than the seasonal flu?
So far, H1N1 has taken less of a toll than seasonal flu with fewer deaths and hospitalizations following its spread. And, happily, it hasn’t yet shown a tendency to mutate when it comes in contact with other strains of the flu, reducing scientist’s concerns that it might turn into a very lethal “superbug” like the strain that caused the global pandemic in 1917. That said, people have died from this flu, and the end of the epidemic is nowhere in sight.
Q. Given that this is a different kind of a flu, who are the most vulnerable?
It may be less severe than seasonal flu so far, but it can still be deadly, especially to those with underlying conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls particular attention to those with asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnant women, noting that the flu can increase the risk of complications from these conditions.
For example, among patients with heart disease, fevers can cause fatal strain on the heart and inflammation from the flu may make their symptoms worse.
Q. Should pregnant women take even more precautions than they normally would?
Although it is unknown if H1N1 will cause more serious problems for pregnant women or developing fetuses, the CDC recommends that pregnant women living with anyone who has the flu should contact their health care provider to determine if they should get treatment to reduce the risk of infection.
Q. What about children going back to school?
Unlike seasonal flu, H1N1 has resulted in the deaths of more older children than children under the age of five, according to the CDC. Most of the children who died suffered from underlying conditions, but some developed staph or strep bacterial infections that came on top of the flu. One reasonable precaution for school-age children is to take them out of school at the first sign of illness; the CDC has even begun a “Keep ‘em home!” campaign. Children can remain infectious for over a week.
Q. What are the warning signs that my child is sick enough to require emergency care?
Although this is flu isn’t as bad as the seasonal variety, CDC notes that parents should look out for these emergency warning signs that require urgent medical attention:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Dusky blue or gray skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Q. What treatments are available?
CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu) or zanamivir (trade name Relenza) to treat or prevent infection. The World Health Organization has recommended oseltamivir for heart patients, HIV patients and pregnant women who may have caught H1N1. Early treatment is suggested because antiviral drugs are most effective during the early stages of infection. However, patients need check with their doctor to determine if antivirals will interfere with any other medications they are taking.
Q. Who should get vaccinated?
Although President Obama has suggested that everyone get vaccinated , it is particularly important that those in vulnerable groups as well as health care providers and caregivers for children six months and under be vaccinated as soon as the H1N1 vaccine becomes available.
Q. What should I do to help myself and my children avoid catching the flu?
See the list of health tips in “Back to School Time: How to Avoid the H1N1 Flu.”
Jul 28, 2009
By Paul McRandle
We clean our kitchens and bathrooms constantly—as we should—but there are easy ways to get rid of bacteria while also avoiding lung irritants like ammonia and chlorine bleach and skipping the hormone-disrupting phthalates in scented fresheners. Instead, make your own cleaners from healthier, least-toxic ingredients.
Circumvent the armada of commercial cleaners by keeping an ample supply of these eight items, which make up the basic ingredients for nearly every do-it-yourself cleaning recipe.Baking soda:
provides grit for scrubbing and reacts with water, vinegar or lemon by fizzing, which speeds up cleaning timesBorax:
disinfects, bleaches and deodorizes; very handy in laundry mixes Distilled white vinegar:
disinfects and breaks up dirt; choose white vinegar over apple cider or red vinegars, as these might stain surfaces Hydrogen Peroxide:
disinfects and bleachesLemons:
cut grease; bottled lemon juice also works well, although you might need to use bit more to get the same results Olive oil:
picks up dirt and polishes wood; cheaper grades work well Vegetable based (liquid castile) soap:
non-petroleum all-purpose cleaners Washing soda:
stain remover, general cleaner, helps unblock pipes; should be handled with gloves due to its caustic nature. Washing soda is usually found in the laundry aisle of grocery and drug stores.
Don't forget to pick up an empty spray bottle at the hardware store, and keep those old rags and used toothbrushes for wiping up and scrubbing. BATHROOMToilet Bowl
To clean and deodorize, sprinkle toilet bowl with baking soda, add white vinegar and scrub with a toilet brush.
Tub and Tile
Dip the face of the lemon half in borax to create a hand-held scrubber for dirty areas. Rinse and dry the surface afterwards.KITCHENCountertops
Marble: Mix one Tbsp castile soap with a quart of warm water, rinse well, then dry with a warm cloth.
Other surfaces: halved lemon dipped in baking soda to scrub off residues. Follow up, by spraying with glass cleaner mix (below).Dishwashing
Wash your dishes in one dishpan filled with a mix of water and castile soap, then rinse in a separate pan containing a mix of water and vinegar (a 3-to-1 water-to-vinegar ratio works well).Drains
1 cup baking soda
1 cup vinegar
Add baking soda and vinegar to a pot of boiled water and pour down the drain, then flush with tap water.
For more stubborn clogs, use a "snake" plumbing tool to manually remove blockage, or try suction removal with a plunger.
To prevent clogs, install inexpensive mesh screen, available at home improvement and hardware stores.Glass
1/4 cup vinegar or 1 Tbsp lemon juice
2+ cups water
Fill a clean spray bottle with water and either white vinegar or lemon juice; wipe with a rag or old newspaper.Oven
Sprinkle baking soda on surfaces, spray water, then let soak several hours or overnight. Rinse with water.Stovetop and Oven Grease Remover
1/2 tsp washing soda
1/4 tsp liquid soap
2 cups hot water
Add washing soda and soap to hot water in spray bottle. Since washing soda is caustic, wear gloves.
/ CC BY 2.0
Jun 30, 2009
About 76 to 80 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur in the US annually, most as a result of eating contaminated meat. But this summer, there’s no need to char your burgers into briquettes for fear of bacteria. Learn where animals came from and what they were fed, avoiding those that have been packed in disease-promoting factory farms and feedlots or contaminated with mercury or PCBs from polluted waterways. Whether you prefer fish, flesh or fowl for your firepit, you can avoid hazards if you follow these simple shopping and food handling steps.
What You Can Do
Food Handling and Preparation
Following these USDA-recommended practices will reduce risks from pathogens:
- Wash hands and surfaces often;
- Separate raw meat, poultry and fish from other foods and each other, cleaning hands, knives, and cutting boards between items.
- Always cook to proper temperatures and check with a thermometer (ground beef and all cuts of pork, 160°F; beef and lamb roasts, steaks and chops, 145°F; poultry thigh and breasts, 170°F; whole birds, 180°F). Remember: Checking for pink meat in the middle does not protect you—even if meat is all brown, it can have pathogens.
- Seafood should be cooked as follows: finned fish until it is opaque and flakes easily; crab meat should be red and pearly opaque; and clams and mussels should be cooked until shells open. Discard shellfish that remain closed.
- Refrigerate before and within two hours after cooking (one hour if temperatures are above 90°F).
Natural gas and propane are the cleanest and most energy-efficient fuels. To avoid propane fuel leaks, which can cause fires, most states require overfill safety devices on tanks. Check to make sure yours has one.
Unlike that using charcoal or wood, electric grilling can safely be done indoors without releasing dangerous gases. Stoves, however, should be adequately vented.
While some barbecue connoisseurs adore wood’s smoky flavor, it also releases the greatest amount of ash and smoke, both respiratory hazards. Hardwoods, like hickory, mesquite (aka kiawe), are preferred but grow slowly. Never use lumber or wood scraps–they may have been treated with hazardous chemicals.
Foodborne Illness in Meat and Poultry
Charcoal is made from wood, but its production releases more greenhouse gases than burning wood and causes greater deforestation. Avoid the VOCs from petroleum-based lighter fluid and self-lighting briquettes by lighting coals with a newspaper-burning chimney starter.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow,” transmitted by cattle feed contaminating animal parts, has made grassfed and organic beef (from cattle raised on vegetarian organic feed) your safest bet. Avoid hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages, which may contain meat from many cows, including diseased nerve and brain tissue.
Found in most chickens, this bacteria also produces diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever.
Carcinogenic compounds that accumulate in animal fat, dioxins can be avoided by choosing lean cuts of meat. Happily, grilling helps reduce fat in meat.
E. coli 0157:H7
This bacteria, often found in undercooked, ground beef, causes bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The US allows higher levels of contamination in ground beef, which can be composed of meat from as many as a hundred different cows. Ask you grocer to grind meat for you. Cook well.
A bacteria primarily affecting pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems, listeria causes fever, muscle aches and sometimes nausea or diarrhea, killing 500 people annually. High-risk foods include hotdogs, deli meats, unpasteurized milk or cheese.
Meat and Poultry Labels
Most often encountered in eggs and poultry, salmonella is also found in raw meat, fish and shrimp. Infections cause fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, killing an estimated 600 people a year. Keep eggs refrigerated, avoid imported raw seafoods (10% contain salmonella) and cook thoroughly.
When shopping, here are some healthy choices for you family and the environment.
American Grassfed Association
Requires that animals eat grass only and if they receive antibiotics due to illness they must be removed from the program; prohibits growth hormones. Grass-fed beef is lower in overall fats, yet has more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef, making it a healthier choice (americangrassfed.com).
Animal Welfare Approved
Sets high standards for health, shelter and handling, including spending most of life in pasture; prohibits growth hormones and antibiotics may only be given to sick animals (animalwelfareapproved.org).
Certified Humane Raised and Handled
Sets high standards for health, shelter and handling; prohibits growth hormones, allows antibiotics to be given only to sick animals (certifiedhumane.org).
Demeter Certified Biodynamic
Prohibits synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, requires pastured livestock, and promotes holistic farming and the preservation of high-value conservation areas (demeter-usa.org).
Requires low- or no-pesticide use, worker welfare, habitat protection, well managed agriculture and humane care of livestock (foodalliance.org).
Animals are fed organic vegetarian feed and are not administered any antibiotics or hormones. Antibiotic overuse in conventional livestock increases the risk of creating drug-resistant bacteria (ams.usda.gov/nop).
USDA Process Verified Grass-fed
Contaminants in Fish
Animals eat grass and forage only, but are allowed to receive antibiotics and growth hormones (ams.usda.gov).
A neurotoxic heavy metal which can harm brain development, mercury is found in high levels in Atlantic halibut, king mackerel, pike, sea bass, shark, swordfish, tilefish (golden snapper) and tuna (steaks and canned albacore). At most risk are young children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and women of childbearing age. For safer seafood choices, see NRDC’s guide to mercury contamination in fish.
Polychlorinated biphenyls, found in unsafe levels in some fresh water fish, can cause developmental damage in fetuses and newborns, and learning disabilities later. Check EPA advisories at map1.epa.gov before eating lake or river fish.
Indicates fish were caught from healthy fisheries and contain low contaminant levels (fishwise.org).
Marine Stewardship Council
Certifies well-managed fisheries with healthy populations that are captured without damaging ocean ecosystems (msc.org). This label does not consider mercury or PCB contamination.
Though the US lacks organic standards for fish, imported organic farmed salmon and trout certified by the UK Soil Association are available in U.S. groceries. Lower fish oil in feed reduces PCB and dioxin contamination.
Jun 29, 2009
By Wendy Gordon
When the conversation turns to cap and trade, is your first thought: “Oh, that will never work, it’s too complicated?” It’s true, it can be harder to get one’s arms around than a gas tax or even a carbon tax—who doesn’t get taxes, right?—but cap and trade is a familiar, and an effective, means by which to reduce pollution among regulators and industry.
In the 1990s, the U.S. acid rain cap-and-trade program achieved 100-percent compliance in reducing sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. In fact, power plants took advantage of the allowance banking provision to reduce SO2 emissions 22 percent (7.3 million tons) below mandated levels for the first phase of the program. And on the global warming front, cap and trade is up and running in 10 states in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions, which have pledged to work together to reduce climate altering pollution from regional power plants by 10 percent by 2018.
While driving down pollution, cap and trade will also generate a lot of money for investing in energy efficient programs and clean energy. These investments, in turn, will help to create over 2 million new American jobs in just 2 years.
Cap and trade is a central feature of the American Clean Energy and Security Act which the House may vote on this week. Please take a minute to tell your representative “vote YES for ACES.” Click here for a quick and easy way to send your message. Thanks.
Jun 23, 2009
By Paul McRandle
When I decided to join the 21st century and picked up a new iPhone, the lure of the iApp topped my list of reasons (if not excuses) to make the purchase. And among the heap available free or for little money, I was intrigued by those dealing with food—how to find local foods, what’s in my food and what it’s all going to cost. With maps and a compass on the 3GS phones, I got to wondering if I could track down raw milk, find stands of unpicked wild mushrooms, scan bar codes for environmental details or at least locate the nearest the farmers market. Not quite, but there are some interesting options available.
At $2.99, Locavore is a bit more expensive than the average iPhone application, but the promise of tracking in-season food, use of NRDC ’s and Local Harvest’s excellent databases, and its ability to detect where you are is enticing. In some ways, it stands up. The in-season list of produce not only shows you what’s available in your area, but lists items by how little time remains before they go out season. For instance, there are only two more weeks left in the strawberry-growing season in New York state—good to know if you want to stock up and freeze fresh, puréed strawbs. There’s also a coming attractions list of fruit and veg soon to be in season, which will literally whet your appetite. And you can browse by food item, the main interest of which is seeing where items like broad beans or cardoons are growing (and if you don’t know what cardoons are, Locavore provides a link to Wikipedia entry as well).
Locavore, however, is lacking some important items provided by cheaper apps, the most obvious of which is a shopping list. Furthermore, it only provides fruit and vegetable listings. If you want to find local fish, meat or milk you’re out of luck. It will show you which markets are nearby, but you can’t search for markets in other locales and though I live about 7 miles from Manhattan’s biggest farmers’ market by far, at Union Square, that listing doesn’t show up among the 26 green markets that appear for my area (which includes some farther away). More annoying still, it lists all markets in an area regardless of whether they are open or not—10 out of the 26 markets that popped up won’t open until July.
$2.99 isn’t much, but this app needs more to do more work itself and rely less on links to external databases to make it really worthwhile.
Farm Fresh NYC ($2.99)
Produced by Thinkenhaus, Farm Fresh NYC is much more local and a better value than Locavore if you happen to live in New York City’s five boroughs. It provides in-season listings of produce as well as seafood, but like Locavore skips meat and dairy. Within its seafood listings, Farm Fresh NYC includes warnings for high mercury in swordfish and tilefish but not for tuna, and it notes that flounder and cod are overfished but not monkfish. These inconsistencies make it a not terribly reliable guide either for health or environmental concerns.
That said, Farm Fresh does provide a grocery list as well as a list for items you are waiting to arrive in season. Its farmers market directory covers markets in every borough, listing them by neighborhood and will drop a pin in a Google Map to show you where the market is. Strangely for a product that lists seafood, it does not give listings of fishmongers in the city.
As useful as it is, it’s a shame Farm Fresh only covers New York City now, but Thinkenhaus promises upcoming versions for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans.
Produced by Oh My Brain, iLocavore is free and that’s just as well. Providing national listings without taking advantage of the iPhone’s geolocation abilities, iLocavore forces users to drill deep down in its menu system. It took four steps to get from Products & Producers to Fruit & Vegetables and then I was confronted by a random list of items ranging from A Perfect Pair (available in Napa, California) to the Winter Green Farm in Noti, OR. Lacking a search tool, iLocavore makes finding find produce in my area a fruitless venture. However, I can learn that there are 17 Dazbog Coffee Company locations in Denver, Colorado—all listed individually on the Coffee Shops page. Unfortunately for a local food app, this one drowns in its own information, proving itself about equally useless no matter where you might be.
Good Guide (free)
Years in the making, the Good Guide is the brainchild of a University of California, Berkeley professor of environmental and labor policy. The focus of the guide is its rating system, which evaluates over 70,000 products according to health, environmental and fair labor criteria, giving them all scores ranging from 0 (worst) to 10 (best). Unfortunately, the rating system isn’t complete yet for many food items so, for example, environmental and labor data aren’t included for fruit. This means that organic nectarines score higher (at 10) than fresh conventional nectarines (8.4) but Fair Trade bananas and coffee aren’t even listed. The search function works well, but the huge number of products makes it tedious to track down items while you’re in the store elbowing your way among other shoppers. Furthermore, because the Good Guide is so specific in it selecting individual products (it has separate listings for Seventh Generation’s Grape fruit and lemon dishwasher gels), there are a large number of items for which you won’t find listings. All in all, this app is more useful to browse through while at home than to try to grab quick appraisals on the fly.
Unique among these apps, Good Guide lets you create a user profile where you can store a lists of favorite products and products to avoid. However, it provides no local information or mapping, which means that you’ll still have to hunt down on your own where to find the best-rated items. And though there are bar code scanner programs out available for the iPhone, none sync up yet with Good Guide’s databases. But you can forgive these weaknesses in a free app and hope for improvements to come.
Whole Foods Markets (free)
If you’re a fan of Whole Foods Markets, they have created their own recipe app which allows you to find foods by diet type (low-sodium, gluten-free, sugar-conscious, etc.), the type of meal you’re planning (quick and easy, budget, entertaining, etc.) and the course. It’s handy to be able to look up foods for these specialty diets, but Epicurious and other recipe apps handle similar sorts of information. Still, many of the recipes—such as home-made peach-mango popsicles—look appetizing and can be saved to a favorites list. Happily, the branding isn’t too obtrusive either (though it does map all Whole Foods stores in your area), so this app has its uses.
I had the most fun with this application even though it told me nothing about finding local, healthy foods. The point behind shopper is to create shopping lists for different stores, allowing you to keep track of what you need and how much you will spend at each. Unlike most of the other apps here, this is one I can use at the store just like a shopping list. However, the user has to be willing do some data entry via the iPhone touch screen pad—not the quickest way to note that bananas cost 89 cents per pound. Over time and with some patience, I’m sure I could type in most of the products I get on any given shopping trip. Unfortunately, my local stores change their prices so frequently, that I suspect the totals will essentially become estimates from the moment they’re entered. That said, Shopper is very simple to navigate and because it can be so easily customized will be useful for the varied needs of most consumers. Not surprisingly, it’s quite popular.
Photo Credit: Paul McRandle
Jun 15, 2009
By Wendy Gordon
Forget the tie. How many does a man need, anyway? Give your dad something he’ll really appreciate—a good nap and then a trip to the park. “How can I do this?” you say. “I’m just a kid.” Do a couple of the weekend chores on his list and, to bring him real peace of mind, do them in a green way. Then follow up with a treat for everyone—a day or weekend at a National Park (100 are offering three fee-free weekends this summer) or a favorite nature spot near you. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there are a couple of green chores to be done.
Give the Car a Waterless Carwash
Whether you live in a drought-prone area or not, dumping buckets of water to clean the car seems a little extravagant. How extravagant you wonder? With most garden hoses spraying about 10 gallons of water a minute, the average driveway wash uses between 80 and 140 gallons of water. That’s a lot actually—and in places now forced to restrict usage so there’ll be water to drink at summer’s end, that’s too much and probably wouldn’t be allowed.
Fortunately, you can give the car a good scrub down using less water than it takes to brush your teeth. Spray on a waterless car wash that breaks down grime and can be wiped off without the rinse. Eco Touch's waterless car wash uses just 4 to 6 ounces of water per wash and polishes as it cleans ($9.99/24 oz.; www.ecotouch.net). Lucky Earth's Waterless Car Wash ($16.99/32 oz.; www.luckyearth.com) will get between seven and ten washes per bottle.
Muscle-Mow the Lawn
Believe it or not, the power mower in the garage is more polluting than the car you just washed to a spanking clean shine. According to the California Air Resources Board, gallon for gallon, the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars. Mowing for an hour with a gasoline- powered lawn mower can produce as much air pollution as a 200-mile drive. And consider this: Whether you are sitting on it or pushing it, either way, your nose is within a yard of the tailpipe.
What to do? Dust off the reel mower in the corner of the garage and work those upper arm muscles pushing it around the lawn. If your family doesn’t have one, suggest to your mom to get one. No matter who mows the lawn next time, they’ll appreciate the work out. Online you can find reel mowers for $95 at planetnatural.com, a far cry cheaper than a gas or electric mower.
Spend A Day in the Park
With the chores done, sit down with your dad and plan a day or weekend trip to a park near you. 100 National Parks are offering three fee-free weekends this summer, the first on Father’s Day Weekend, so start planning now for that one! The other two weekends are July 18–19th and August 15–16th. Note, it’s not just the big parks that are participating, lots of smaller parks and historic sites that may even be reachable without a car are offering the fee-free weekends as well.
Here’s a state-by-state list to all the participating parks and this National Park Locator can help you find which are nearest you. For other great nature spots that may be within walking and biking distance or a short drive from your home, check out NRDC’s wonderful Google-Powered Nature Map.
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