Category Archives: Green Living

Avoiding Fishy Mercury

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Fish consumption is generally very healthy. They contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid that promotes healthy cardiovascular systems.

In a recent article I discussed different fish based on their environmental impact and fishing practices and suggested Eco-friendly fish for your consumption. Today I want to consider mercury levels in fish and its health effects, especially in kids and pregnant women.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, which is found in soil, rocks, lakes, streams and oceans. In addition to natural sources, mercury is released into the atmosphere and water from man made sources, such as coal generated power plants, mining operations and paper processing plants.

It is first released into the air and then enters the water with precipitation. Once in the water, methane-generating bacteria turn the mercury into methyl mercury, a highly toxic form of mercury. Fish consume methyl mercury through their diet and absorb it from the water. Predatory fish (fish that eat other fish) and older fish generally contain higher levels of methyl mercury than vegetarian or smaller fish.

Mercury bio-accumulates in fatty tissues. This means is that when a larger fish eats a smaller fish, it accumulates the level of methyl-mercury that the smaller fish contained. When it eats another smaller fish, it accumulates some more methyl mercury. The more fish it consumes, the more methyl-mercury it accumulates, and the level does not drop. Then along comes an even bigger fish and eats the fish that ate the smaller fish. This large predatory fish accumulates all the mercury of the fish it just ate and so the vicious circle continues.

And then when we humans eat a juicy fillet of that large fish, we consume all that accumulated mercury.

That’s why predatory long lived fish have the highest concentrations of mercury in their tissues, and those are the ones that we should avoid.

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Mercury can cause damage to the nervous system if consumed in sufficient amounts over a period of time. When you eat fish that contains methyl mercury, it is absorbed through the intestine and spread throughout the body. It affects the nervous system because it easily enters the brain. In pregnant women, methyl mercury can cross the placenta affecting the growing fetus. Methyl mercury is also passed through breast milk, increasing the risk of delays in brain development. The child may experience delayed motor skills and learning problems.

Most governmental, health and environmental organization recommends pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children to limit or stop the consumption of predatory fish such as tuna, shark, grouper and swordfish. For the remainder of the population, the standard recommendation is to consume these fish no more than once every two weeks to a month (depending on body weight).

Following you’ll find a list of fish with high, medium and low levels of MERCURY:

HIGH: Swordfish(*), Marlin, Tuna(*), Shark(*), Grouper (*), King Mackerel.

MEDIUM: Bass, Cod (*), Halibut, Lobster, Mahi Mahi(*), Snapper.

LOW: Sardines, Oysters, Salmon, Crab, Tilapia, Shrimp (*), Trout, Herring, Mackerel (not king), Clams.

(*) Highly Environmentally Destructive Practices

SOURCES

EPA

NRDC

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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Algae, the Fuel of the Future

Earth2tech

Earth2tech

Biofuels that come from corn, palm, sugar cane or soy are responsible for deforestation and an increase in food prices.

This is not the case of a  biofuel that was first considered in the seventies, and is now getting much deserved attention: algae.

Algae transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day, and can generate 30 times more oil per hectare than other plant based biofuels. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.

Its production doesn’t require massive amounts of land like other plant based fuels.

On top of those advantages, algae grows better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas),  and on contaminated water bodies. By collecting algae we could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems at the same time.

Various algae contain different levels of oil, and they can also be genetically modified to produce more oil. Most scientists argue that the algae found in pond scum is best suited for biodiesel.

Also, pressing algae creates a few more useful byproducts such as fertilizer and feedstock without depleting other food sources.

Once the oil’s extracted, it’s refined, mixed with an alcohol (such as methanol), and a few more steps will bring algae biodiesel fuel.

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

But the most exciting part of algae biodiesel is the great productivity at low cost (economic and environmental). Biodiesel makers claim they’ll be able to produce more than 800 gallons of algae oil per ha per year.

Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products such as palm or corn. For example, a 50 ha algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in a single year. Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum-based products each year. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies will only need about 40 million ha of land to build biodiesel plants, compared to billions of hectares for other biodiesel products. Since algae can be grown anywhere indoors, it’s a promising element in the race to produce a new fuel.

For now algae based biofuel is still in the R&D stage, but we’ll hopefully  run our cars on this uber green fuel in our lifetime.

Some interesting Algae Biodiesel Start-ups:

GreenFuel

Aurora

BFS

Saphire

Less than 50 years to say goodbye to Sushi

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 % of the world’s fisheries are now either over-exploited, fully exploited or significantly depleted. A study published in Nature concluded that 90 % of the “big” fish (tuna, swordfish, and marlin) are already gone.

Scientists agree that if we continue to fish at our current rates, all commercial fish species will disappear in the next 50 years.

Government subsidies to the fishing sector, totaling approximately $20 billion annually, represent one of the principal forces behind the overfishing crisis. But the biggest force behind this crisis are the world’s industrial fishing fleets which are destroying the ocean at an alarming rate.

If all the fish we ate was caught old school using a simple fishing rod the oceans would be in much better shape. Small fishermen are trying to shift to sustainable practices, because they are realizing that overfishing is not only destroying the ocean, but also destroying their livelihood, leaving them with no fish left  to catch.

But unfortunately most of the fish that we consume doesn’t come from sustainable sources, it comes from large industrial boats that use highly destructive fishing methods and harvest massive amounts of fish at an unsustainable rate.

Following are some of the most destructive and also most common fishing practices. This is how the fish we consume gets harvested from our oceans and ends in our kitchen and restaurant tables:

Bottom Trawling:

Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, coral, sponges, plants, and all kids of sea life. It literally scraps the ocean floor clean of life.

It is used to fish cod, haddock, squid, shrimp and crustaceans among other commercial fish.

If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers will destroy deep sea species before we have even discovered much of what is out there. What we are doing to our deep oceans by allowing trawling is like driving a huge bulldozer through an unexplored, lush and richly populated forest leaving a flat and lifeless desert.

This practice is so widespread and damaging that it can even be seen from space:

bottom-trawling-from-space

Bottom Trawling from Space

Botom Trawling

Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawler

Bottom Trawler (Greenpeace)

spanish_trawler

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Long lines:

Long-lining is one of the most widespread methods of fishing. The lines are up to 130 km long (80 miles) and have hundreds of thousands of baited hooks at a time. The hooks are dragged behind the boat at varying depths or are kept afloat by buoys and left overnight.

This method is used to catch mainly tuna and swordfish, but it also kills millions of sea birds, dolphins turtles, and other marine life every year.

pelagic_longline

Oceana

turtle__fishing_line

Turtle killed by a long line

Gillnets:

Gill nets hang like massive curtains in the oceans, drifting with the currents. Ranging from 3.5 to 10 km in length, gill nets are weighted at the bottom and held upright by floats at the top, creating what some have deemed “walls of death.”

Fish are unable to see the netting, and unless the mesh size is larger than the fish, they get stuck. When they try to back out, the netting catches them by their gills or fins and they get stuck.

In many occasions they are left to drift for days an many of them get lost (become ghost nets) killing thousands of untargeted marine life- specially dolphins, turtles and seals.

Gilnet (By Oceana)

Gilnet (By Oceana)

ww1994-gillnet

Sea Lion killed by Gillnet

Purse Seines:

This is the primary fishing method for tuna fish. Tuna swim at the same level as dolphins, and fishermen usually track dolphin pods in order to locate tuna.

The dolphin schools are then chased by small high-speed boats or even helicopters that accompany the fishing boats. When the dolphins begin to tire, the fishermen encircle the school with huge nylon nets that are up to 5 km long and 100 m deep. When both the dolphins and the tuna have been completely surrounded, the bottom of the net is pulled closed, much like a drawstring purse, hence the name purse-seining. Purse-seining has proven to be an extremely effective method of catching fish. Entire schools of tuna are able to be scooped up without a single fish escaping. Unfortunately, many dolphins are also killed in the process, as they become entangled in the nets and drown, or are crushed as the nets are pursed and hauled in.

pursesiene

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Solutions:

  • Only 0.8% of the ocean is protected, we need to make more ocean sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited.
  • We need to ban these destructive fishing practices which are not only damaging the oceans, but also endangering the only protein source of millions of people and endangering the livelihood of many small fishermen.
  • Shifting to sustainable  fishing practices,  having stricter quotas and regulations could aid the recovery of most commercial fisheries.
  • Demand and support safer fishing alternatives, it is possible and it must be done soon!
  • Aquaculture can be an alternative, but it also has many negative consequences if not properly managed. There are sustainable aquaculture farms, but it depends on the fish you want to grow (some species are more suitable than others) and the methods used.

Guide to sustainable Sea Food :

Most Sustainable Fish : Anchovies, Sardines, Salmon (Wild), Mussels, Mackerel (Atlantic), Oysters (Farmed), Trout, Clams (Farmed), Lobster, Halibut, Crab.

Least Sustainable: Chilean Sea Bass, Tuna, Grouper, Cod, Swordfish, Shrimp, Salmon (Farmed), Octopus, Monk fish, Mahimahi (Imported), Snapper (Imported).

—————————————————————————————————————————

(Spanish)

Guia para comer pescado/marisco:

Mejores opciones: Anchoas/Boquerones, Sardinas, Salmon (Salvaje), Mejillones, Cavalla, Ostras (Cultivadas), Trucha, Almejas (Cultivadas), Langosta, Cangrejo.

Marisco menos sostenible:  Atun, Bacalao, Pez Espada/Emperador, Gambas (importadas), Salmon (piscifactoria), Lubina (Importada de Chile/Asia), Pulpo, Rape, Dorada (Asia o Sur America)

SOURCES:

Oceana

Greenpeace

WWF

Environmental Defense Fund

“Environmental Economics: Towards Sustainability” at Boston Green Scene

Boston GreenScene is a great new site promoting green living in the Boston area.

I wrote an environmental economics article for the launch, check it out by clicking on the picture:

forestprice

Stop Flushing Ancient Forests Down the Toilet

WWF-Kurt Prinz

WWF-Kurt Prinz

We hear it in the news, we see it everywhere, forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Most of us are aware that deforestation is one of the most serious problems of the century, but we continue to flush old growth forests down our toilets.

Most people are extremely surprised when they learn that the two largest manufacturers of tissue products in the world still use virgin fiber from old growth forest to make toilet paper. It seems like a bad nightmare, but it’s a reality!

Kimberly-Clark (Kleenex, Scott, Scottex and Cottonelle) and Procter & Gamble (Bounty) sell millions of tons of tissue products in over 150 countries annually, making each over 14 billion US dollars of profit every year.

Their toilet papers are made with virgin fiber that comes from old growth boreal forests located in Canada, Russia and the Balkans. They also use virgin pulp from tropical forests located in Asia and Latin America.

WWF published in a recent report that “Every day, about 270,000 trees are flushed down the drain or end up as garbage all over the world”.

This is clearly unnecessary and it needs to stop!

You as the consumer have the power. Buying 100% post-consumer recycled toilet paper is a very easy way to protect some of the last old growth forest left in the world.

Yes, recycled toilet paper is not as soft , but it’s a very small sacrifice that can save millions of trees!

And anyways, how soft do you really need your toilet paper to be? You only use it a few seconds a day!

According to the NRDC, “ If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees”.

There are tons of recycled toilet paper alternatives out there, these are just a few…

In the US: Seventh Generation, 365 (Whole Foods), Earth First and Green Forest . And Naturelle, Ecotopia and Essential in Europe among others.

Also note that the whiter the tissue, the more likely it is to contain high levels of virgin fibers and huge amounts of bleaching, which also has very negative impacts in the environment.

So from now on try to buy recycled toilet paper, and if your supermarket doesn’t carry it ask for it!

The consumer has the power. Vote with your money!

You can also ask Kimberly-Clark to stop using old growth forest here.


Sources:

NRDC

WWF

Greenpeace-Kleercut Campaign


Smart at the Market

Organic Choice- From thedailygreen.com

Organic Choice- From thedailygreen.com

It can be difficult to know which products are OK  if not organically grown, and which of the foods that we eat should be organic.

Some products are more heavily treated with pesticides than others, and some like tomatoes or grapes have very thin and permeable skins that easily allow synthetic chemicals to enter and stay in their tissues.

In a previous post I wrote about the different reasons why organic is better for you, the environment and local farmers.

Following you’ll find two tables showing which fruits and vegetables have high or low pesticide content. The columns under highest pesticide represent the fruits and veggies which have the highest amounts of pesticides in their tissues, and the green column (lowest pesticide) shows produce that are not as heavily treated with toxic chemicals.

If you regularly eat products from the red columns, be aware that those are some of the products with higher pesticide content, and if you are gonna buy any organic produce those should be the ones to consider.


pesticidesinfruits1
pesticidesvegetables1

You should also be aware that MILK contains high amounts of pesticides, hormones and other synthetic chemicals. Organic dairies cannot feed their cows with grains grown with pesticides, nor can they use antibiotics or growth hormones like rGBH or rbST, so if possible buy organic milk!


Are you ready to take a QUIZ?


10 Toxic Chemicals that you can and should avoid

It’s almost impossible to avoid all the man made chemicals that we are exposed to.

They are present in most of our daily activities: our food, or cosmetics, furniture, cleaning products, electronics, cars, etc.

Most of us have around 150 synthetic chemicals in our bodies, which we pass on to our babies through the mother’s blood stream or lactancy.

These chemicals are responsible for reproductive problems, birth defects, hormonal distruption, nervous system anomalies and cancer.

toxicchemicalsplacard

Here’s is a list of 10 synthetic chemicals that you can avoid without changing your lifestyle:

1-Bisphenol A (BPA)

This chemical is used to make certain plastics soft and pliable and it has been linked to hormonal disruption, heart disease, type II diabetes and liver enzyme abnormalities.

It leeks from plastic containers and also gets released when microwaving food inside plastic containers.

To avoid them buy food preserved in glass bottles and containers (especially tomatos, other acidic vegetables and oils).

2-Mercury

Mercury is found in almost every fish on earth, but the higher in the food chain the higher levels of mercury (it bioacumulates).

Mercury is emitted by coal burning power plants, oil refineries, medical waste disposal facilitties, and also from the combustion of diesel, jet fuel, and heating oil, and then released to the land and oceans.

Doctors recommend pregnant women not to eat fish because it can cause mental retardation in unborn babies.

Many studies suggest that our fish consumption should be limited because mercury can also cause dephiciencies in the motor system and kidney damage.

Tuna, swordfish and marlin have the highest mercury concetrations, and sardines, wild salmon and anchovies some of the lowest.

3-Pesticides

I already wrote about the health effects of pesticides in a previous post.

Organophosphate pesticides have immediate effects on the nervous system, motor function and attention span. Other pesticides (Carbaryl) are listed as human carcinogens, and linked to a higher incidence of infant brain cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Avoid them by buying organic fruits, vegetables, milk and meat.

4-Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)

A family of fluorine chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain and stick resistant.

They are found in Teflon pans, water resistant clothing, stain resistant textiles (for sofas, etc.), grease resistant packaging, and cosmetics.

Researchers are finding serious health concerns about PFCs, including increased risk of cancer.

In order to avoid them stay away from oily or greasy packaged food, avoid stain resistant treatments for fabrics, avoid cosmetics containing any “fluoro” or “perfluoro” ingredients (they are present in eye make up, dental products, moisturisers, etc) and avoid burning teflon or non stick cookware.

5-Phthalates:

Phthalates are plasticizing and softening chemicals used in a wide array of consumer products, especially those ccontaining PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

They are present in PVC products such as vinyl flooring, vinyl shower curtains, and children’s toys. Also in many personal care products, such as perfumes, nail polish, and lotions, automobile interiors and medical equipment.

In several studies they have been found to cause reproductive problems and asthma.

There have been many companies, hospitals and government agencies that are switching to other alternative safer materials, and if possible you should limit the n of pvc’s in you home.

Image from toxicnation.ca
Image from toxicnation.ca

6-Nonylphenol & Nonylphenol Ethoxylates

Nonylphenol compounds are effective and cheap solvents used in cleaning products.

There are many safer substitutes, so simply don’t accept any “nonylphenol” on the ingredient list of products in your house because they can severely affect your reproductive system.

7-Polybrominated Flame Retardants

They are used in mattresses, electronics, plastics and other materials to prevent them from catching fire and burning.

Even if some states (such as California,etc.) and Europe have banned them,studies in the U.S., Europe, and Asia have found them in fish, meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and infant formula.

Adverse health effects include problems in brain development and genital malformations.

Avoid polybrominates by buying clothing, bedding and furniture made from natural materials.

8-Glycol ethers

There is a whole range of glycol ethers, many of which are relatively safe. However, the dangerous ones can cause birth defects and lower quality and quantity of sperm.

Look out for methyl cellosolve, Ethylene Glycol Ethyl Ether, Ethylene Glycol Methyl Ether Acetate, and Ethylene Glycol Ethyl Ether Acetate.

They are commonly used in paints, inks, house cleaners, detergents, etc.

9-Aluminum

Aluminum is the world’s most common metal, and it’s present in many products around us.

It is used in cans and aluminum foil, as lightweight sheet metal in airplanes and other machinery, in electrical wiring and in personal care products such as deodorant and antiperspirant.

The problem with deodorants and antiperspirants is not only the aluminum, but how it works to reduce sweat and smelly odors.

Aluminum compounds or aluminum salts, such as aluminum oxide are key ingredients in almost every antiperspirant. They are powerful astringents that close pores, stopping sweat and odor from escaping the body.

Antiperspirants may leave the outside of the body smelling fresh and clean , but inside, the toxins that would have escaped the body in the sweat have nowhere to go.

What’s more, “antiperspirants are designed to be absorbed”; the aluminum and many other chemicals are taken into the body and may affect the endocrine and lymphatic systems, as well as being a potential risk factor in breast cancer.

Aluminum has not only been linked to breast cancer, but many studies have shown links between between Alzheimer’s disease and aluminum.

Avoid buying deodorants with aluminum in it, check for the ingredient list!

10-Sodium Lauryl Sulphate

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is a very harsh detergent found in almost all shampoos and a few toothpastes.

Studies suggest that “Shampoos with SLS could keep children’s eyes from developing properly”.

It can also cause cataracts in adults and delays the healing of wounds in the surface of the cornea.

It has a “low molecular weight and so is easily absorbed by the body, building up in the heart, liver and brain and can cause major problems in these areas.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate causes skin to flake and to separate and causes roughness on the skin.

After long term applications it actually corrodes the hair follicle and impairs the ability to grow hair.

“Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is routinely used in clinical studies deliberately to irritate the skin so that the effects of other substances can be tested.”

Check the ingredients in your shampoo right now, I assure you they have Sodium Lauryl Sullhpate in it!

toxic_chemicals2

We have to learn to check the ingredients in the products that we buy and know their properties.

We trust our governments and chemical regulations, but they still have a long way to go, so staying out of these dangerous chemicals is up to you!

SOURCES:

Toxic Nation

The dirty dozen

WWF-Toxic Chemicals

Healthy Homes

Aluminum in deodorants

Health Report: SLS