There Is No Away

Feeling a little bullish and full of questions about Earth Day.

Do we still need Earth Day?

I remember the first Earth Day. We were told, "Make every day Earth Day."

Did we?

At the time, our cars slurped leaded gas, power plants belched out smoke and smog without recourse, and our rivers were on fire.

With even cleaner ways to power our vehicles, have we embraced cleaner cars? With mercury pollution poisoning our children and asthma on the rise, is our air clean enough? What will happen to our rivers and ground water if our land is fracked?

Earth Day was inspired by the anti-war movement. It tapped into that tremendous energy to bring public awareness to air and water pollution. In April of that year, 20 million Americans rallied for a healthier environment. Groups fought for less polluting power plants, eliminating toxic landfills, bans on pesticides, and cleaner roads.

How'd they do it?

In a rare political alignment, Republicans and Democrats created the EPA, and then passed the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Could this be done today?

We've got climate change deniers in Congress, and a well-funded pro-polluter lobby drumming the false message that we have to choose between the economy and our precious planet. Such a no-brainer. Where's the economy headed if we can't breathe the air, drink the water or farm on the land?

What can we do with such a divided environmental community?

We've come a long way since 1970, yet we haven't answered all the questions. I'm thinking we need a new uprising, a new mission for Earth Day...a grassroots movement focused on the single most important environmental problem of our time--global warming. Our parents fought hard for a cleaner environment for their children. And we've learned there is no away.

Maybe it's time to repurpose Earth Day?

Earth Day 1970...

Poster: IDSA

Why I Keep Fighting

Before I begin discussing a matter that affects us all, I want to thank my Econesting followers for supporting environmental issues.

OK, deep breath...

As many of you know, I'm concerned about pollution. Air, water, name it, I'll fight for it. Clean air is a complicated issue made messier and mushier by politics. It shouldn't have to be that way, but it is.

I get that we need jobs. I get that we need power.

What I also get is that we need healthy people to create the jobs that create the power.

Here's the rub: sacrificing jobs for health is not the issue. We can have jobs and breathe clean air. And history has proven that our politicians can make nice and come together on an environmental issue that the majority of people want...clean air.

The Clean Air Act was signed into effect in 1970 by a bi-partisan Congress. In 1990 President Bush called for the EPA to address mercury and other dangerous air pollutants. The rule to eliminate this poison has been in the making for 21 years. Now the polluter lobby is pressuring the White House to weaken, or add gaping loopholes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Mercury is a terrible neurotoxin. Our littlest creatures: infants, toddlers and even our pets are especially vulnerable to mercury poisoning.

Where does the mercury come from? Coal-fired power plants emit half of all toxic mercury pollution in the U.S. and over 386,000 tons of other hazardous air pollution every year.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule is one of the most important clean air regulations to ever come out of the EPA. It would reduce mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other hazardous air pollution from America’s oldest and most polluting coal-fired power plants. Such a great regulation that uses American engineering, and creates jobs—without harming the economy. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would prevent 17,000 premature deaths every year.

Why do I keep fighting? Because they are not going to stop...the polluters. A handful of coal utility companies, armed with powerful lobbyists, are urging the clean-up be delayed. They would like to ditch the EPA and weaken clean air standards for the most toxic pollutants.

Can we ask our lawmakers to take off the gloves and not pollute our natural resources? Yes! They must, and we must continue fighting for our children because they deserve a future with clean air, water and land.

Please tell President Obama that you support the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Photo used with permission: Chris Scott Snyder

Illuminating A Waste-Free Halloween

Are pumpkins invading your nest like these grinning jack-o’-lanterns that have overtaken this Massachusetts home? Even when the pumpkin glow is at a minimum, ambulance if you celebrate Halloween with your little ones, buy cialis it may be time to pick up those heavy holiday footprints. Why?

According to the EPA, household waste increases more than 25 percent between Halloween and New Year’s Day!

On Halloween, the US spends a whopping $6.5 billion on candy, costumes and decorations. That’s a carbon footprint more like a Loch Ness monster than a dainty Halloween bat. Plumping up our local landfills for years to come is not the friendliest, or healthiest legacy to leave our little trick-or-treaters.

We talk a lot about what we can do to clean up the planet, but often it’s what we don’t do that creates the most impact.

Here’s a ghoulish goal worth bobbing for: Cut down on holiday waste, and don’t perpetuate the horrors of Halloween’s past. Here are 10 DIY Ways To A Waste-Free Halloween and here are my kids demonstrating one such DIY idea: "Ditch the cheap mass-produced non-recyclable polyvinyl chloride (PVC) costumes. Dig through your closet (or a friends), or take a spin through vintage clothing stores, resale shops and flea markets for Halloween inspiration."

Happy Halloween, and hold those red-dyed #40 bloody ladyfingers, because I think I see a green light beaconing out of one of those jack-o’-lanterns!

Photo: Richard Nowitz for National Geographic

Mother Love Is A Force Of Nature

We launched! It's been a busy time for the folks at Moms Clean Air Force. We've been writing, designing, developing, and finally launching a shiny new website!

While I've been holed up with my computer for hours on end, the collaborative effort has been incredibly inspiring. Working with a team is something I've missed being a freelance writer/editor/blogger these past four years.

Once I corral the talented team of writers, and teach them how to use all the nifty new tools, I will have time to write again. Yay!

In the meantime, do you want to learn more about MCAF? Of course you do!

Below is the MCAF welcome note from founder, Dominique Browning. After you check out the website (just beautiful, huh?), please come back and tell me what your thoughts are about the site and our mission to clean up the air. Thank you!

Mother Love Is A Force of Nature

Moms Clean Air Force has a newly designed website, and I’m delighted to welcome you to our community. We’re creating a movement for people who see air pollution as a straightforward, urgently important health issue.

Our goals are simple: educate people about why air pollution is still a big problem; raise awareness about what’s at stake politically; inspire people to take simple, fast action to send Washington a message.

We know moms are busy. But moms are also extraordinarily protective of their children’s health. We specialize in Naptime Activism.

Our bloggers take our message into their communities, reaching millions of readers. We network on Facebook and Twitter. Our growing community includes nurses, doctors, scientists, politicians, novelists, journalists, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, knitters and bakers–concerned moms, dads, sisters, brothers, daughters, and sons. Air pollution is harmful to everyone with a beating heart.

Air pollution contains toxins that harm people’s brains, lungs, and hearts. It is affecting our food and water. Children are especially vulnerable to toxic pollutants; Latino and African American babies suffer disproportionately from poisoned air. While there are lots of things we can do, as individuals, to keep our children safe at home, no one can control the air they breathe. We need regulations for that.

We’re all for respecting reasonable, efficient government budgets. But we don’t want our babies thrown out with the bathwater.

President Nixon’s Clean Air Act of 1970, and the agency he founded, the Environmental Protection Agency, have accomplished a great deal in cleaning American air and water. But the work isn’t done. The sky might be blue, but that doesn’t mean it is clean. In forty years, we’ve learned much more about invisible pollutants that wreak havoc on our health, causing neurological and developmental problems. Asthma rates among children are skyrocketing.

Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It is poisonous. Polluters are fighting for the right to pollute!

The Clean Air Act and the EPA are facing an unprecedented attack by some politicians and coal and oil industry lobbyists. That’s because emissions from coal-fired power plants are the single largest contributor to mercury toxins in our air.

Many responsible coal plant owners have done the right thing and cleaned up their toxic air emissions. It hasn’t hurt their bottom lines at all–they’re making record profits. The EPA has created thousands of jobs for Americans in the last forty years–in sectors from research to enforcement to engineering to new technology development.

Air pollution can be cleaned up. Please join Moms Clean Air Force to make our voices loud and clear. Send politicians a forceful message: Strengthen and enforce pollution regulations!

Polluters have power, money and political influence. But moms have love. And that’s the strongest force of all. Now we have to use it.


Tracking Air Pollution: There’s An App For That!

There’s a breath of fresh air coming from that smartphone you covet in your purse or pocket. It can track air pollution exposure where you live. The National Institutes of Health recently funded a two-year grant to University at Buffalo for exploring data that will link air pollution to location with the study participants’ smartphones.

This app comes about at a time when smartphones and air pollution are on the rise. Smartphones contain a rich set of sensors that include cameras, GPS systems, compasses and accelerometers, and powerful communication capabilities. This has inspired phone technology companies to competitively clamor to create applications that allow their phone users to help monitor air quality. The smartphone app designed for this study will measure the person’s location frequently using the GPS receiver, and track air pollution right from the GPS.

"This project will develop a method that will improve our ability to estimate human exposures to air pollutants, and will improve public health by allowing researchers to more accurately measure human exposures and relate these exposures to health outcomes."

What is the purpose of the app?

The primary purpose is to provide research that links an individual’s health information to their air pollution exposure. The design of the app will give the user an instantaneous or near-instantaneous estimate of air pollution exposure.

How the app will work?

Data from the GPS will stream from the smartphone to researchers server. Scientists will use the information models of air pollution exposure based on person’s location, how close they are to a major road, how densely populated the area is; depending upon the particular time of day and time of year.

Why is it important to track air quality?

With asthma rates on the rise, and some politicians and CEO’s vying to delay, deregulate or ditch the Clean Air Act, research on air pollution and its health effects can help fuel the fight for clean air. Using residential addresses to measure pollutant exposures, researchers will be able to work with public officials to estimate and improve air pollution exposures in certain areas. It can provide for the data for stronger regulations for clean air.

What's in the air?

Power companies, most notably coal-fired power plants emit mercury, and 84 different hazardous air pollutants that cause adverse health effects. Here are just 5 nasty emissions:

1. Carbon Monoxide – Sources of carbon monoxide come from worn or poorly maintained combustion devices, vehicle exhaust and power plant emissions. Acute effects of carbon monoxide can be counted in the formation of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake. At moderate concentrations, angina, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result. At higher concentrations, CO exposure can be fatal.

2. Nitrous Oxides - From vehicle and smokestack exhaust compromises lung functions and can cause respiratory and viral illness. This is exacerbated in children.

3. VOCs - VOCs react with sunlight and nitrous oxide to form ground level ozone. This is capable of traveling thousands of miles. Once the VOC’s hit ground level, health conditions such as asthma and lung disease are adversely affected.

4. Sulphur Dioxide - Created by the combustion of fossil fuels containing sulphur compounds, contributes to various lung conditions even at moderate levels of concentration.

5. Fine Particles and Soot - Dusts, sulphates and nitrates are emitted from road traffic and power plants. These fine particles can be carcinogenic. They easily pass through the lungs into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and serious conditions, particularly in children and animals.

On the horizon…

For smartphones in the Los Angeles area running the Android system, the experimental Visibility app is being tested near a conventional air pollution monitoring station. The iSmog app by Apple similarly displays a map of smoggy air and air pollution alerts in the Bay area.

Exposure to air pollutants is largely beyond one individual's control. It will require action at the regional, national, international levels…and each and every one of us. By joining the Moms Clean Air Force, you can help us advocate for the need to continue providing technology tracking, which will assist in eradicating air pollution for our children.

The more we study, track and regulate air pollution, the easier our kids will breathe.

Credit: iTunes