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Are We Killing Ourselves With Chemicals?

Friday, April 30, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

I’ve always been afraid chemicals in many of the products I and my kids use are hurting us. So in the past I’ve written about things like chlorine and PBDEs to help me keep the issue top-of-mind.

But it can be tough to keep track of all the harmful ingredients in the stuff we buy. The EPA has just made it a bit easier, though, by releasing its ToxRefDB database. You and me and anyone else can search and download thousands of toxicity testing results on hundreds of chemicals.

So this is what I did: I took five cleaning products off my shelf at home, looked at the ingredients (what few ingredients were listed, anyway; they don’t really want us to know, after all), then plugged the ingredient names into the new EPA database.

All Purpose Cleaner – This “Lemon Breeze” 4-in-1 disinfectant only had one ingredient listed: Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides, which, the bottle says, make up less than 1% of the solution. So they’re keeping secret 99% of what’s in there. I couldn’t find in the ToxRefDB the exact chemical combo indicated on the cleaner, so I’m assuming it’s relatively harmless (which is why they chose to display it on their bottle, presumably), but I’m also assuming the 99% of what they don’t disclose isn’t so harmless. Especially when you consider this warning written on the bottle: “Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking and chewing gum, using tobacco, or using restroom.” Lovely.

Hair Clog Removal Gel – The old drain cleaner. Obviously hazardous to our health; this is something everyone knows to handle with care. There were only two ingredients listed, potassium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite. Neither was listed on the ToxRefDB site. (The potassium hydroxide is basically lye, I think). So I threw them into the National Institutes of Health’s MESH database, and it shot back a ton of research on health dangers for both the potassium hydroxide and the sodium hypochlorite. But again, there’s nothing surprising about drain cleaner being bad for us.

Upholstery Cleaner – Gotta keep that couch clean and smelling fresh, right? So in exchange for that fresh smell, we get exposed to butoxyehtanol, which, while not listed as a carcinogen, is in the ToxRefDB has having been shown to cause developmental problems in rats and rabbits. It’s also an ingredient in the dispersant BP’s using on the Gulf oil spill, according to a report on ProPublica.

Abrasive Disinfectant – This one exhibits the trickiness of an exercise like this. The one ingredient listed is sodium dichloro-s-triazinetrione dihydrate. I couldn’t find much in the EPA database, but once I searched the MESH database, it returned an article that identifies this chemical as also being known as cyanuric acid, which has caused all sorts of problems in lab animals, from cancer growth to reproductive problems.

Wasp and Hornet Killer – And now we’re to the biggie. The TxRefDB site primarily covers chemicals found in pesticides, which, since they’re meant to kill things after all, probably pose the biggest risks to us. My can contained something called Prallethrin, which, while the EPA database says is “not likely be carcinogenic to humans,” it does list a number of studies showing it causes major damage in lab animals. The other ingredient it listed is called lambda-Cyhalothrin, which the TxRefDB says is inconclusive as to whether it’s a carcinogen, but that, again, messes up lab animals in many ways. The EPA links to another site that has details.

So what are our alternatives to all these hazardous chemicals? There are plenty of ways to clean with natural, nontoxic stuff like baking soda or vinegar. Matt Hickman over at Mother Nature Network has a great series of posts on purging chemicals from your cleaning routine.

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Now Is The Time To Replace Your Boiler

Monday, April 26, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

If you’ve got an aging boiler, furnace, water heater, clothes washer, air conditioning unit, you name it – you’ve probably still got time to take advantage of your state’s Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program.

The federal government funded it with $300 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and though it’s already run out in some states (sorry to Captivate viewers in Chicago, Boston, the Twin Cities, Dallas, Ft. Worth and Houston – funds are gone in your home states) there’s still plenty of rebate money out there.

To find out exactly what appliances are eligible, go to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers Web site and choose your state from the list.

You’ll have fill out an application, buy an appliance, ensure your old appliance is recycled and then wait a month or two, but really, for rebates of up to $1,000 (depending on how major the appliance is) – plus all the annual cost-to-run and CO2 savings you'll get from upgrading - it’s well worth it.

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The Day After Earth Day

Friday, April 23, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

Today is April 23, the day after Earth Day. It’s not a significant date on any calendar, but it does have meaning for each of us. It can be the start of 364 straight days of not having to think about our role in the natural world, of not having to consider how important it is to live an environmentally conscious life.

Or, maybe, it could be the day we recognize that thinking about nature shouldn’t be a once-a-year obligation. It could be the day we finally get around to reading Walden or Silent Spring; the day we, for no good reason, stop and actually listen to the sounds birds make; the day we notice that the trees that line the walkway to our office aren’t all the same type; the day we stop flicking our butts into the street.

Today can be when we put Earth Day and its distractions behind us to again focus on the "important" things like arranging for the babysitter and getting to the bank before it closes. Or it can be when take a few minutes alone, maybe late tonight, to watch the stars or listen to the wind in the trees, and to rethink the meaning of important.

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Sharing Bikes

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

Why didn’t you bike to work today? It’s healthy, it cuts emissions, it’s a wonderful way to start your day.

Oh. Don’t have a bike, you say? Well of all the excuses for not riding, that would seem the most airtight. But soon, even that may not be viable – thanks to a movement called B-cycle.

B-cycle is a bike-sharing business that launches tomorrow (Earth Day) in Denver, dropping 500 bikes at various points around the city for anyone to use as they see fit (“fit” being the key word here). There are fees – both “membership” and “usage” – but for as cheap as 18 cents a day (with a yearlong membership and minimum usage), you can free yourself of your smog-spewing car.

The company is a collaboration between healthcare giant Humana, Trek Bicycles and ad/design agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Humana has been promoting bike sharing for years as a way to improve members’ health, and seeks with B-cycle to become the first nationwide bike-sharing system.

SmartBike, a predecessor to B-cycle, debuted in Washington, D.C., almost two years ago, but that hasn’t spread in the U.S., popular only in Spain, France, Italy, Norway and Sweden. And SmartBike certainly wasn’t the first such service in Europe – Copenhagen’s Bycyklen, rolled out in 1995, holds that distinction. Since then, a myriad of bike-sharing-type programs have taken hold, mostly in smaller iterations, across Europe and the U.S. Check out the International Bicycle Fund for a list of places you can share bikes.

Paul DeMaio, a bike-sharing consultant who’s Managing Member of Washington, D.C.-based MetroBike, feels the time is ripe for bike sharing to take off in the U.S. as it has in Europe.

“It's taken a bit longer for bike-sharing to catch on in the U.S. as bike facilities (i.e. bike lanes, cycle tracks, trails, and parking) are not as well developed here as in Western Europe,” DeMaio says. “Many U.S. cities have made great strides towards becoming bike-friendly during the last decade and having a network of safe places to ride in urban environments is a necessary precursor for bike-sharing. Bike-sharing will do well in the U.S. as it fills the niche of convenient, inexpensive, on-demand transit and allows folks to add activity into their lives.”

And B-cycle is banking on such assessments as it aims to bring the concept big time in Denver, where it’s rolling out 500 bikes at 50 stations across the city.

B-cycle bikes look (above) pretty cool: they feature three or eight speeds, lights and a basket that holds up to 30 pounds, and each is equipped with a tracking system that calculates mileage, calories burned and carbon offsets, with all info Web-accessible.

Denver isn’t the only Captivate market bound for bike-sharing bounty: Boston and Minneapolis will get their own systems this year, thanks to Montreal’s public bike program, BIXI.

Let’s be honest – if you’re commuting miles upon miles to work, you’re not gonna give up the car for a bike. But if you’re in the city, with a relatively short ride somewhere – why not? Studies have shown 60% of car pollution is created in the first few minutes of operation and 50% of car trips are less than two miles. Plus, you can burn 300 calories an hour, or more, riding a bike, according to the American Heart Association.

If you’re totally into the idea of bike sharing but your city isn’t yet, check out the B-cycle map, where you can request your town become part of B-cycle’s expansion.

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Companies' Green Promotions - UPDATE

Friday, April 16, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

For those of you who missed Starbucks’ free coffee promo yesterday, there’s still a way you can take advantage of the café queen’s largesse (though a relatively small largesse): they’re taking 10 cents off any order made by a customer who has his own reusable mug.

See below for other great deals you can take advantage of in the coming days.


Companies’ Green Promotions

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

With Earth Day right around the corner, all kinds of corporations are looking to take advantage of the marketing power of ‘green’ by running some sort of promotion. Here’s some of the best of them:

The coffee behemoth is encouraging everyone to switch from paper cups to reusable travel mugs, and will give a free coffee tomorrow to anyone who brings in their own mug.

Equinox Fitness
On April 20, the upscale workout chain – voted “America’s Healthiest Gym” by Health magazine – will give free fitness sessions and organic cocktails, tea and snacks to members and anyone who stops by to inquire about becoming a member. They’ll also dispense tips on how to live green, and will plant a tree for every new member who joins that day.

Get a free Earth Day tee, and contribute toward the planting of 20,000 trees, when you buy three Hanes products.

Service Experts
This heating and AC servicing company is running a sweepstakes in which visitors to their Web site can win prizes from a Ford Fusion Hybrid to having your energy bill paid for a year.

The laundry detergent line is attempting a green rebranding, and as part of that is giving away a $20,000 green home makeover. Just tell them what you’d do with the money and you’re entered to win.

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Earth Day Events

Friday, April 9, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

April 22 is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day (Poor Earth. Kickin’ around for 4 and half billion years and only in the last 40 does it get a day for itself) and I’m sure you’re looking for some way to participate. The EPA has a nice list of events, broken out by region. Check that out.

Plus, the Dow Live Earth Run/Walk for Water will be held in nearly 100 cities across the globe April 18. Get in shape while helping raise awareness of the need for clean drinking water.

And here’s a few other events to consider in various Captivate markets:

-- Get down and dirty – but clean your conscience – with the BeltLine Cleanup, set for April 17. Make your city beautiful, Atlantans!
-- Bring the kids to Earth Day Kids Fest at the Chattahoochee Nature Center April 17 and teach the basics of being green.
-- EarthShare of Georgia’s Earth Day Party on Land, on the big day itself, features music, food, lots of green info and an auction.

-- The Sustainable Living Expo marks its seventh year April 17 in Hull with exhibitors of all sorts of green energies, focusing on wind. There’ll be tours of the Hull Wind Turbine, recycling demos and hybrid vehicle rides.
-- Franklin Park Zoo’s Party for the Planet, set for April 18, celebrates Earth Day with crafts, activities, animal encounters and environmentally-friendly exhibitors.
-- Garden in the Woods in Framingham is marking Earth Day by waiving entrance fees on April 24. Take a guided walking tour and participate in family activities like face-painting and bird-feeder making.

-- The National Geographic Speaker Series, at the Field Museum, features photographer James Balog on April 13. He’ll show his latest work, which documents melting glaciers.
-- A 5K run/walk, followed by a green living expo, will be held April 24 at Humboldt Park. Expect music, food and “environmental education and fun.”
-- The Wolfe Wildlife Refuge will be the site of nature walks, hybrid car and other green displays, and kids’ activities April 24.

New York
-- NYU is hosting a week of events, from movie screenings to street fairs to live music.
-- GreenHomeNYC’s Green Building Tour of the Gen. Colin Powell Apartments in The Bronx is slated for April 24.
-- South Bronx Earth Fest is April 24.
-- Eco-Festival 2010 at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn is April 27-30.

San Francisco
-- San Fran gets things kickin’ early with the Spring Green Festival this weekend. With more than 200 speakers and artists and multiple pavilions on green living, this is sure to be a huge event. Even the major will be there!
-- People’s Earth Day at India Basin Shoreline Park on April 17 will feature an educational theater production, restoration projects, live music and plenty of food.

Washington, D.C.
-- D.C.’s big day really isn’t until the weekend, when groups from the EPA to Earth Day Network will hold rallies on the National Mall.

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National Cell Phone Recycling Week

Thursday, April 8, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

Going green, being conscientious toward our environment, can sometimes be tough, what with all the rules for responsibility and pledges to purity.

But not this week.

No, this week it’s easy to be green, because this week is the EPA’s National Cell Phone Recycling Week.

Recently get a cell phone? Helping the environment is as simple as not dropping your old one in the trash. So what do you do with it, you ask?

Often it’s as simple as stopping by a store to drop it off, and sometimes you don’t even have to leave your house, as some companies, such as LG Electronics and VirginMobileUSA, will send you self-addressed stamped envelopes for sending your phone(s) back to them.

AT&T, Verizon and Best Buy are just some of the stores that will take old phones for recycling. Check out the EPA’s Plug In To Ecycling site for more info.

And, companies like AT&T contribute proceeds from cell phone recycling to Cell Phones for Soldiers, which has distributed more than 75,000 prepaid phone cards to soldiers overseas.

Though about 11.7 million cell phones were turned in last year for recycling, that’s less than 10% of how many are in use in the US. The EPA says the energy saved by recycling just one cell phone is enough to power a laptop for 44 hours.

So be green this week. It’s easy.

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.