Friday, April 18, 2008

Sorry it's been so long, but let's talk ethanol

So I want to take a bit of a break from chemicals - but I'll be back, oh yes, I will be back - and talk about ethanol. This issue is a bit of a thorn in my side right now for a number of reasons. From what I've pulled together after reading Newsweek, listening to MPR, and grasping bits and pieces from other sources, something just doesn't add up. Worse, we may look back at the ethanol movement as one of the worst humanitarian blunders in recent memory. I realizet that's a strong statement, but consider the following points I've gleaned from recent news reports (and I will post my sources at the end of this post so you can interpret the information as you like):

1) Ethanol is, at best, no worse than fossil fuels when it comes to greenhouse gases. This is due to the enormous amount of fertilizer to grow enough corn to make ethanol, and the fuel needed to drive the tractors and process the corn into fuel. Furthermore, no one knows for certain whether the fumes that ethanol emit out the exhaust pipe are actually better for the atmosphere than gasoline.

2) Because farmers are making so much money from ethanol, many farmers are switching from other crops to corn. So not only does the demand for corn go up due to increased demand, but the prices of wheat, rice, soy and so forth go up as supply goes down. And as you may have noticed, your grocery prices are soaring. Don't think these two things are not related.

3) Not only are our grocery prices going up, but so is the cost of staples like rice and wheat in the rest of the world, including for those who have to live on $5 a day. They cannot afford to eat, so they are going hungry. In turn, they are protesting in ever increasing numbers, riots are starting, people are starving.

Conclusion: Ethanol is being incorrectly touted as the environmental and economic alternative to fossil fuels. Since no one seems to care that it's apparently doing nothing more than making farmers rich, the gov't insists we have to make more. Grocery prices go up, staple foods become more expensive around the world, people starve. And for what exactly? This is the part where I become confused, and if someone can't provide an explanation that actually makes sense, I will have no choice but to become very angry (you can practically feel the collective American government tremble in reaction to my threat).

Want to check out the information for yourself? Please do.

and one more

And by the way, I heard about this last one - the EU debate - on NPR the other evening.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My birthday party

What a lovely coincidence - my birthday happens to be the same day as the Living Green Expo here in the Twin Cities! While it's not the hottest date ever, my husband and I are pretty excited about it. Ok, honestly, I'm way more excited than he is, but then again, it's hard to know what excites him (with a few notable exceptions, upon which I will not expand). Anyway, here's the link, for any of you living in the Mpls-St. Paul metro area:

Best of all, the thing is free! How often do you get to go to anything fun, exciting, cool, inspirational, and free?!


From Ms. Duckworth at Laura Mercier, dated April 8th:



I will let know to email you when there is a change made in our Products.

Sandra Duckworth
Customer Service

That's good stuff right there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I heart Corporate America

7 April, 2008

To whom it may concern at Laura Mercier cosmetics,

I have been using your products for years, with no idea that any of them could be dangerous, especially during pregnancy. After all, there is no warning label (not one that I could find, anyway). Now I find out, on the Skin Deep database, that the foundation In Style magazine tags with their "Best Beauty Buy" award every year received a Highly Hazardous rating, as do many of your other products. I have since learned that there are safe and effective alternatives to the potentially dangerous chemicals in your products. Does your company plan to switch over, especially considering the new EU regulations? I'm very disappointed in all of this, as I will no longer be ac ustomer of yours (and will discourage my friends and family as well) until this changes, and I can be guaranteed (not just told) that my cosmetics are safe. I look forward to your response.



Thank you for your feedback on our products. I will forward your email to our Product Development Team to make them aware of your suggestion and the changes we need to make to our Cosmetics!

Sandra Duckworth
Customer Service


I followed up with an additional email, asking if I could expect to hear from someone in Product Development. No reply. But I'm sure they'll take my feedback to heart. Right?

Friday, April 4, 2008

How about some liver failure with your make-up this morning?

So before going to the Dow Chemical website to learn more about Trethanolamine, I was only moderately concerned. Then I read this. Just a little something to down with your morning coffee.

Health Information20,21
Based on the uses of TEA, the principal route of exposure is through skin contact, with some exposure occurring by inhalation of vapor and aerosols. If TEA is not used properly and contact does occur, it can occur and cause eye and skin irritation. It can also cause corneal injury. Inhalation of vapors or mists may cause irritation of the respiratory tract, experienced as nasal discomfort and discharge, with chest pain and coughing.
Prolonged or widespread contact with TEA may result in the absorption of potentially harmful amounts. Repeated overexposure to TEA may cause damage to the kidneys and liver. Skin contact may cause sensitization and an allergic skin reaction in a small proportion of individuals.
TEA is moderately toxic when swallowed. It may cause burning or painful sensations in the mouth, throat, chest and abdomen and cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It may also cause dizziness, drowsiness, faintness, weakness, collapse and coma.
Findings from the National Toxicology Program 22 demonstrated an increased incidence of liver tumors in mice dosed dermally with TEA for their lifetime. However, TEA did not cause tumors in similarly treated rats or genetically engineered sensitive mice, nor does TEA damage genetic material, an important determinant of potential cancer causing risk. Research has demonstrated that the most likely means by which TEA caused tumors in mice is by causing a deficiency in choline, an essential nutrient for proper cell growth and functioning.23 Chronic deficiency in choline is known to cause tumors in test animals.24 Significantly, humans appear resistant to development of choline deficiency compared to rodents. The relevance of the mouse tumor findings to humans has thus been questioned.25
TEA has not been identified in a screening study as having potential toxicity for fetuses.26

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A shaky foundation

I like visual aides. So I found this fabulous new program that allows me to upload my picture, enter the product I'm using, and it produces an image of what my face will look like after years of using the product. Let's give it a whirl, shall we?

Here's a picture of my face this morning, after applying Laura Mercier oil-free foundation:

Here's what my face will look like down the road if I continue slathering it all over my goofy mug:

The program takes a while.....


just a few more seconds......

OK, so as you probably guessed, I made up that part about the new program. Even if it existed, I probably don't have the computer skills necessary to use it. But you get the drift. The safety rating of my foundation?

8 out of 10!!!!
In case you're keeping track, that puts it in the "High Hazard" category. Awesome. The mystery toxin? Yet another name that simply rolls off the tongue and sounds oh-so-friendly:
According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review people, there is strong evidence that this stuff is, and I quote, a Human Skin Toxicant. I don't know exactly what that means yet, but I plan to find out, and anything with "toxic" in it feels like a red flag to me. Apparently it's safe for use in rinse-off products but, um, that clearly does not include FOUNDATION. Yes, people, I will be phoning the good people at Laura Mercier cosmetics tomorrow to hear what they have to say about putting a known Human Skin Toxicant in my foundation of all things.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


This is the user-friendly name for the most hazardous chemical in my Eucerin. What makes it potentially hazardous? It releases the same stuff that your lab frog was floating in before you dissected it in 9th grade biology. Formaldehyde. The Big F is apparently released in small quantities by this DMDM stuff, and in large doses, F causes all sorts of problems. Supposedly, my Eucerin does not have enough of the junk to cause problems, and is approved by the EU's most recent laws governing which chemicals are allowed in cosmetics. The other problem, though, is that DMDM Hydantoin causes allergies in susceptible individuals, one of whom is my husband. Which means my daughter may be a future candidate for allergies to the same chemicals (she already has some of his other allergy issues). I guess that means maybe I shouldn't be slathering it all over my face and then ask my family members to kiss me.

Another usual suspect in my lotion is PEG-40 Castor Oil. Also apparently safe in small quanities, in large amounts it is a neuro-toxin and at lesser amounts can trigger an immune response, leading to itching, burning, and other pleasant side effects.

So far, this is a really uplifting journey I've embarked upon. And this product is a 3 out of 10. How much do you wanna bet I use plenty of products that have earned a higher number?

Item Numero Uno - My daily face moisture lotion

I'm pleased to announce to myself that the first thing I put on my face in the morning only has a few potentially hazardous ingredients, putting it at the low end of the Moderately Hazardous category (a 3 out of 10). What's kind of sad is that a 3 is pretty good, comparatively speaking. While it's not the safest of its kind on the market, it's better than most, so I'm not sure if I'll change. Maybe I'll try one of the safer ones out there (Vanicream with SPF30 is supposedly a 1, making it almost as safe as you can get).

If you're interested in my daily moisture lotion with sunscreen (SPF30), this is it:

I tried to paste a picture of it, but surprisingly, manufacturers don't seem interested in making it easy for you to rip out a pic of their product and post it on your blog.

A rogue faux journalist takes on Big Make-Up

OK, I realize they don't call themselves Big Make-Up. I just like how that sounds. Makes me giggle a little, and when dealing with something this enormous and depressing, a little giggle here and there is helpful. Anyway, the point of this entry is to explain my strategy for answering some key questions I have about what I've been reading in Exposed, particularly those related to my every day beauty routine. While I put a high priority on looking good, I'm not sure as I'm willing to kill myself to do it. So here goes.

Goal: To figure out which cosmetics and personal hygiene products are least hazardous.
Plan: Go to the Cosmetic Database and research every product I use to find its safety rating.

Goal: To find out what's keeping the make-up companies I use currently not using the safest ingredients from switching to safer ones (sure seems like an obvious change to make, from my non-business perspective).
Plan: To call and/or email every company I currently buy from and get a direct answer from somebody (I'm not kidding - this is the rogue part).

Goal: To learn about the potentially hazardous substances I can't seem to avoid because they even exist in the "natural" and "organic" product lines.
Plan: Lots of research.

Goal: To explain my findings to you, the reader.
Plan: To explain my findings to you, the reader.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

JGM Book Club - Exposed Part I

"Trust no one." - Fox Mulder

At risk of sounding like I'm one renegade neuron away from wearing tinfoil on my head to stop the government from reading my thoughts: The government, I think, is out to kill us. Or perhaps more accurately, they aren't all that invested in preventing the premature death of American citizens. This book has left me a little speechless - which is saying something. I wish I knew where to begin, how to even discuss my reactions to the book so far. Instead, I think I'll talk about what I intend to do about it. I want this blog to be about more than pissing and moaning about what all is wrong with our government and the world in general. I want this to be about action.

As an avid consumer of cosmetics and hair products, this seems like an obvious place to start. I'm going to find out where the U.S. is at in terms of adopting the newer regulations now in place in the EU (discussed throughout the book), what is keeping us from benefiting from the safeguards protecting our friends across the pond, and how I can take matters into my own hands, purchase the best available products, and protect myself and my family from the chemical bath we are all taking every day.

In the meantime, I'd highly recommend checking out and

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The JGM book club launch!

I've decided to pretend I have Oprah's following, and start my own online book club. After all, what is blogging if not an attempt to live out the fantasy of being the next Katie Couric, Oprah, or Anne Coulter (that last one was my attempt at a joke)? To be quite honest, I want to be a part of the green movement, not because it's trendy, not because everybody is doing it, but because it's no longer a choice. Everyone needs to acknowledge that we are not living in a sustainable world. And it's not just about saving the planet. If you focus on something that large, that intangible, it's way too easy to put it off for another day. It's not just a global issues, it's quite personal. Saving the planet is as much about saving the people in it as it is about preserving the ozone. And so far, the best book I have found to outline just how personal (and political) this issue has become is this one here:

And thus, I officially announce the launch of the JGM book club with the book Exposed, by Mark Schapiro. Schapiro is a journalist, and the book is written like a really long Newsweek article, investigative (vs. textbook-y) in nature, meant for the layperson, and fascinating in content. He does a remarkable job resisting the temptation to be polarizing, to take a biased stance against corporate America and the GOP. He presents both sides of the story beautifully, and I can barely put it down (but I have to because, well, I have a job and kids and all of that). I should say that he does not hesitate to make his pro-environmental stance known, but rather than being extreme or sensational, he basis his conclusions on a fairly thorough evaluation of the evidence on either side, while still leaving you enough unanswered questions to make your own conclusions.

Please, please, please consider reading this book. Get your friends involved, maybe ask your parents to join in, too. Even your teenager will find this a great lesson in what is going on in the world around us, behind the scenes of the biggest corporations in the world.

In the interest of pretending that a million of you are reading my blog and are going to rush out to your local library, Barnes and Noble, or Half-Price Books, I will say no more until later.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Quick resource tip

Before you buy anything - make-up, a vacuum cleaner, whatever - check out the Green Guide. Follow the link to Consumer Guide. Invaluable. Maybe the best website I've found so far for buying day-to-day goods.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New topic for you to munch on

Sitting in your office, wanting to think about something more interesting than what's next on your Outlook calendar? Chew on this:

Thoughts? Reactions?

Good intro article from Newsweek

Last week's edition of Newsweek had a good introductory article on Green Homebuilding. If you're thinking about it as an option for your home, or are just curious, this is a good article. It doesn't go into major depth or anything, but it's at least motivating, and definitely raises some questions, which I'll discuss momentarily. Here's a link to the article:

By the way, if anyone knows how I can legally post the entire article on my blog, please let me know. That way, you don't have to switch back and forth. While you read, I'll go get a glass of wine and some chocolate.

I'm back and feeling much better with my end-of-the-day treat. OK, so let's discuss some issues indirectly raised in this article. The first questions that come to mind are these: Why isn't this kind of building and remodeling standard? Why do we even have the choice of putting stuff in our homes that is full of toxins? Why aren't we all installing cabinets and countertops that are made with recycled materials? Why aren't we all buying water-saving showerheads? Why do we even have the option of toilettes that use a ton of water when there are toilettes available that barely use any water at all? In others words - why isn't this standard?

I asked my husband. His theory is that there isn't a clear and present "pain point." In other words, when we install our formeldahyde adhesive-covered countertops or paint our walls with fume-y paint, or step into our 9,000 gallon whirlpool tub, there is no obvious and immediate negative consequence (unless, I suppose, you drown in your unnecessarily large tub). That, and the message that this stuff is bad for you is still fairly quiet, and oft-disputed. Yes, I think my husband is onto something - human beings don't change unless there's a serious fire under their collective ass. There has to be a clear and present danger, and so far, we have yet to meet the critical mass of environmentally concerned asses to be making lasting, global changes in the way we live our lives. The demand for safe homes is increasing, and my hope is that by contributing to the call for change, I can inspire others to do the same, and we can become one giant ass calling for the elimination of unnecessary products that do way more harm than good.

Please, if you have any thoughts on the matter, post your comments, let's discuss amongst ourselves. Or just keep tuning in for more monologues on the topic, if that's more your thing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Composting - Desire vs. Action

I don't know about you, but we throw away a lot of biodegrable food waste every day. Banana peels, leftovers-turned-science-experiments, mushy uneaten cereal, coffee grinds, and several hundred apple and pear cores. Every time I toss out yet another mostly eaten banana covered in hair because my little one wandered off with it and dropped it in the bathroom, I think, "We should not be throwing this into the garbage!!" I just don't know what else to do with it.

Ok, that's a total lie. I do know what to do with it: I need to compost it. Of all the earth-friendly steps I should take to reduce my role in trashing the planet, composting is probably the one I am most reluctant about. First of all, I don't garden, I don't even have house plants, and so anything soil-related is completely foreign to me. Secondly, I'm not much of a nature person. Worms aren't really my thing. And third....well, I just kinda don't want to.

But becoming a steward of the earth isn't really about what you want to do, is it? If I throw up my hands that are likely carrying orange peels, egg shells, or frostbitten peas and say "It's just too inconvenient," I'm not really all that committed, am I? I've been telling myself I'll just wait until my daughter starts going to her hippie kindergarten and she can teach us all how to compost. And then I think, um, she'll have just turned five. Is it really her responsibility to learn this stuff before I do?

So today I began researching the process of composting, and I'll admit, while I had hoped it would dispell my belief that turning food into nutrient-rich worm poop is overwhelmingly complicated, it has actually increased my skepticism that I'm cut out for this. First of all, this

is really gross. I know there are other ways to compost, but they seem even more complicated, requiring me to balance nitrogen with carbon and what not. Again, nature and soil things, not really in my skill set.

Nevertheless, I will soldier on in my quest to compost. I'm going to a Living Green expo later this spring, and I may just put it off until then, when someone can hold my hand and walk me through the process. In the meantime, if you'd like to read up on composting to see if maybe it strikes you as more doable and enjoyable than it looks to me, here's a good place to start:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why am I doing this?

I realized, after re-reading my first post, that I really sounded like some holier than thou tree-hugging perfectionist. While it's probably accurate to say that I have some strong and not always flattering perfectionist tendencies, they're not really related to the environment, and my motivation for this blog is not to preach to all you ignorant polluters who have yet to see the light. This is not just a come-to-Jesus blog, as I am not interested in being the green version of Jerry Falwell. The truth is, I'm actually not all that good at keeping up with environmental practices. I'm passionate about the topic, I love to waste all sorts of time at work reading about it, and I've definitely made progress. But I still forget my canvas bags about 30% of the time, I threw away a plastic bottle (gasp!) in the regular garbage can at work the other day when I couldn't find a plastic recycling bin, and sometimes I'm just not in the mood to take the light rail into downtown, so I drive in, along with the million other energy-consuming, air-polluting commuters who also can't seem to be bothered to let someone else determine at least a few minutes of their schedule. Because let's face it: life is easier when you just go with the flow. And when the flow is considerably cheaper and more convenient, well hell, sometimes the temptation is just too strong.

I was motivated to start this blog as a sort of accountability measure. After all, if I'm publicly decrying the use of plastic bags, I'd better put my canvas where my mouth is, right? It also gives me a forum for researching and thinking through various environmental issues. My plan is to write about toxins in make-up, easy environmentally friendly changes in household chores and products, and some day, a comprehensive how-to for anyone else who, like us, is planning to remodel their home a la Green. Along the way I hope to learn about other areas of living green, as well as maybe throw in a few posts about eating healthy and keeping your kids from turning into overweight computer zombies. As I learn about this stuff, I'll document it here for my own reference, and hopefully help out someone else who is as curious about all of this as I am.

Well, it's time for my (non-organic) nightly glass of (heart-healthy) red wine. I hope you will tune in as I get this blog off the ground. My hope is to add a creative flair and hopefully a little humor along the way. Cheers.

Plastic bags - the scourge of the earth

Ok, people, it's time to stop burying your head in the sand when it comes to plastic bags. Soon that sand will be littered with pieces of plastic bags anyway and you'd probably suffocate. So let's talk about your next trip to the grocery store.

Of all the "green" steps you can take, reducing or eliminating your use of plastic bags is probably the easiest one. Americans consume 370 BILLION plastic bags per year. Need to read that again?

American consume 370 BILLION plastic bags per year. 370,000,000,000.

Only 1% of them are recycled. Recycling them is expensive, and many environmentalists suspect that even the bags in many of the plastic bag recycling stations at your local grocery store end up in the landfill. The list of negative environmental consequences is lengthy, so if you think I'm just being melodramatic to make a point, Google "plastic bags and environment" and find out for yourself what we're doing to our planet just so we can carry our carton of eggs to the car. If you don't have a lot of time to do the legwork, here's a nice article from CNN:

Of course, there's no use bringing up a problem if you have nothing to offer as a solution. Which is why I have a solution. As I said earlier, reducing your usage of plastic bags is really, really, really simple: BRING YOUR OWN BAGS. I bought some simple canvas bags last year, like so: Now when I do my weekly grocery and Target shopping, I bring these along. Because I have a hard time just remembering to bring my wallet to the store, I keep the bags in the trunk of my car at all times. Besides, you never know when you'll make an impromptu stop at Whole Foods (danger! danger!). Not only are the bags environmentally friendly, but they hold a lot more food and are so much stronger than either plastic or paper bags from the grocery store. Trust me, it's a win-win situation. OK, so you may feel like a dork handing over your glob of semi-dirty canvas bags to the perplexed check-out girl, but she'll eventually figure it out, and if you're not me, you can always wash them regularly so at least they're clean.

Please, people, I'm bagging you (tee hee), get yourself some reusable bags and reuse them! Whole Foods is selling reusable bags for 99 cents now - you really are running out of excuses. Do you honestly want to be responsible for that poor dead turtle who suffocated on the Wal-Mart bag you used to carry your fish food?

The inevitable becomes a reality

Friends, family, colleagues: you knew it would eventually come to this. In high school, my friends fake-voted me "Most likely to be an aerobics instructor and own a health food store." My oldest child tells people she doesn't eat at McDonald's because "it's not good for [her] tummy," and that Old Country Buffet "makes people get too big and then they die." tee hee. I'm currently sitting on my fitness ball in my very corporate office because I haven't successfully talk our HR people into investing in those treadmill work stations developed recently by Mayo (I haven't given up yet, so stay tuned) and I refuse to let my body rot in a cushy office chair. Besides, I look so freakin' cool, like so:

Who knew office workers could be so hot?

I'm one of those moms who brings her own canvas bags to the grocery store and lectures her parents about the importance of recycling and buying fragrance-free hygiene products. I bought the whole family SIGG bottles and tell anyone who listens that plastic will bring about the death of our planet. We just registered our eldest child for kindgarten at the nearby environmental magnet school, where each classroom has a composting box, and the kids sell notecards they made out of bark in order to raise money to buy a sheep (or other sustainable living item) for a poor family in a Africa. My youngest will soon attend a daycare that makes all their food from scratch - using mostly organic and locally grown food - uses cloth diapers, and cleans with all natural cleaning products.

It should be no surprise to anyone, then, that I have decided to create a blog dedicated to informing anyone who will visit it about the joys and necessities of green and healthy living. In the process of researching material to post here, I hope to reduce my own negative impact on the planet, improve my family's health, and motivate myself to get started on the green home remodeling project scheduled to commence within the next year, or twenty, depending on if and when we sell our other home (long story and not all that interesting; to summarize, I hate the housing market of 2008).

So stay tuned, dear reader, as I do my best to make this the best of the 9,354,001 blogs currently in cyberspace dedicated to this trendiest, yet highly relevant and important, of topics.