The 15 foods I most frequently freeze

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Since March is National Frozen Food Month, it’s as good a time as any to sing the praises of my freezer. Sure, I like my refrigerator, but I like-like my freezer. It is a magical box that stops time and keeps naturally decaying food in a state of delicious suspended animation. While some items don’t enjoy the process—say, salad greens and delicate sauces—most foods take pretty kindly to life at zero degrees. Here are the ones that I freeze the most.

Which state you live in matters for how well environmental laws protect your health

Pesticide use on school playing fields varies from state to state. matimix/iStock/Getty Images Plus

by Susan Kaplan, University of Illinois at Chicago

Your child could go to gym class on Monday morning and play soccer on a field that was sprayed over the weekend with 2,4-D, a toxic weedkiller that has been investigated as possibly causing cancer. Alternatively, the school grounds may have been treated with a lower-toxicity weedkiller. Or maybe the grounds were managed with safe, nontoxic products and techniques.

Which of these scenarios applies depends in large part on your state’s laws and regulations today – more so than federal regulations.

For example, Texas requires all school districts to adopt an integrated pest management program for school buildings; IPM prioritizes nonchemical pest control methods and includes some protections regarding spraying of grounds. Massachusetts also restricts pesticide use on school grounds. Illinois requires IPM for school buildings only if economically feasible. States also vary greatly in the education and technical assistance they provide to implement these practices.

Two men with sprayers connected to hoses walk across a lawn, spraying it. One has a backpack container with liquid inside.
Chemical pesticides can be harmful to human health. Huntstock/Brand X Pictures via Getty Images

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is involved in some baseline pesticide functions, shortcomings of the main pesticide law, along with industry influence, can leave vulnerable groups like children inadequately protected from these exposures.

EPA registers products for use based on a finding that they do not cause an “unreasonable” risk but considers economic costs and benefits, an approach that can result in decisions that pose health risks. And required labels may omit ingredients considered trade secrets.

As an environmental health lawyer and professor, I teach, write and think about the pros and cons of one level of government or the other overseeing environmental health – the impact of the natural and human-made environment on human health. Pesticides on school grounds are just one example of the problem of uneven protection from one state to the next.

Congress eased off, states stepped in

State policy choices have become more important for limiting people’s exposure to pollution and toxins as the federal government has increasingly retreated from major environmental health lawmaking.

Many of the country’s major environmental health laws were passed in the 1970s on the momentum of the environmental movement and with bipartisan support that is rarely seen today.

For example, the Clean Air Act amendments of 1970 required U.S. EPA to regulate a wide range of air pollutants, in some cases based explicitly on protecting human health. They were approved 374-1 in the House and 73-0 by the Senate and signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon signed the law that created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1971.

A 1970s-era photo of cars on a freeway with 'Santa Monica' on the sign.
Concerns about smog from vehicles that choked cities like Los Angeles helped lead to environmental laws in the 1970s. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

One analyst has written that groups that pressed legislators for environmental protection later splintered into groups advocating for and against environmental laws, reflecting an emerging debate over the appropriate extent of regulation.

At the same time, after the success of many federal environmental health laws, attention turned to problems that are harder for Washington to solve. With state environmental programs growing, some suggested that the U.S. EPA’s role should shift from compelling to catalyzing – from requiring specific pollution-reducing actions to helping states act by providing increased information and help with compliance. Yet this view acknowledged that under this scenario, residents of some states would enjoy stronger environmental health protections than others.

Reflecting this dynamic and the extent of political division in the U.S., even when the federal government does create tougher environmental regulations, they are often reversed by the succeeding administration or challenged in court.

Sometimes, states should make the decisions

In some cases, it makes sense to leave decisions to states. A health department in a western state may focus on protecting vulnerable groups from wildfire smoke, given the growth of blazes in that part of the country. Some states may welcome fracking operations while others prefer to keep them out.

States can also serve as laboratories of innovation, and the experiences of state programs and policies can inform federal actions.

But this regulatory patchwork creates inequities. If you live in one of the dozen-and-a-half states that follow California’s tailpipe emissions standards rather than the less stringent federal standards, you probably benefit from reduced air pollution.

The same holds for East Coast residents within the confederation of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which limits greenhouse gas emissions – and other air pollutants in the process. A recent study that compared RGGI states with neighboring non-RGGI states concluded that data “indicate that RGGI has provided substantial child health benefits,” including a reduction in childhood asthma cases.

Drinking water limits or labeling requirements for PFAS – perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – also vary by state. PFAS are found in products from nonstick cookware to some personal care products, and they have been linked with a range of troubling health effects. Because of their toxicity, broad scope of contamination and longevity in the environment, 18 states’ attorneys general are asking for a federal law.

How you can hold lawmakers to account

Environmental health often suffers from a cycle of panic and neglect. People worry about a concern like the chemical alar used on apples, until the next issue erupts. The public can keep up pressure on state and federal decision-makers to consider how the environment affects health in an array of ways:

  • One person can be dismissed as an outlier, so start a group or join other groups that have similar interests.
  • Research the problem and best practices and possible solutions, like program or policy development, education or stepped-up enforcement. Then call, email and send letters to elected representatives and request a meeting to clearly and concisely explain your concerns and ideas.
  • Identify a “champion” – someone in a position to spearhead a change, like a school nurse or facilities manager – and reach out to them.
  • Get the issue into the local news media by writing op-eds and social media posts. Be sure to communicate benefits of the action you’re advocating, like improved school attendance or financial return on investment.
  • Attend public meetings and speak on the issue during the public comment period. Successes at the local level can provide examples for state officials.

Susan Kaplan, Research Assistant Professor of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Microplastics: are plastic alternatives any safer for our health?

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by Xavier Coumoul, Université Paris Cité; Jean-Baptiste Fini, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (MNHN); Nicolas Cabaton, Inrae, and Sylvie Bortoli, Université Paris Cité

Plastic pollution is now pervasive in our environment, contaminating everywhere from our homes and workplaces to the planet’s deepest recesses. The problem regularly makes headlines, with the spotlight turned toward ocean pollution in particular.

The startling images of plastic pollution may seem far removed from our lives, but they should not distract us from a problem that is less visible and so receives far less attention and affects human beings and ecosystems – microplastic and nanoplastic contamination.

In contrast to macroplastics, which result from the degradation of larger objects (found in the form of paint flakes or fibres, for example), microplastics are usually defined as particles whose size or dimensions do not exceed 5 mm. They have no minimum size.

As for nanoplastics, these can be no larger than 0.1 micron, equal to 1/10,000th of a millimetre. Rather instinctively, we were able to predict that the smallest particles could enter organisms, but this had never actually been demonstrated until recently.

Microplastics in our blood

In 2022, a study conducted by several teams in the Netherlands showed for the first time ever that microplastics were present in the blood of 22 healthy human volunteers at an average concentration of 1.6 mg/L.

The kinds of plastics detected varied greatly, and including polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used to make water bottles and other items; polyethylene, used to produce food containers; and polystyrene, whose uses include fresh produce packaging and yogurt pots.

It should be noted that the study focused solely on particles with dimensions of 700 nm and above, and that there is as yet no information on the smaller particles categorised among the many forms of nanoplastics.

Microplastics detected in human blood for the very first time (Down to Earth, 25 mar 2022).

Adverse health effects in animals

Although no effects on human health were reported in the study, research conducted on animals or using cellular models (some of which modelled human cells) have documented a host of biological impacts from microplastics, including cellular lesions, oxidative stress and damage to DNA.

In these cases, either the microplastics cause the effects directly or they act as carriers of other harmful substances. Moreover, some of these substances, such as bisphenols or phthalates, are actually found in the composition of some plastics.

Generally, this contamination may manifest as inflammation or fibrosis, whose effects are already observed in humans via other ways of entry, such as the respiratory tract. The lungs, for instance, have been a reported site of contamination for workers in the plastics industry.

Migration into food and drink

How can we explain this contamination of the healthy volunteers in the study? Simply put, it is linked to the food chain, although this method of microplastics exposure remains difficult to characterise or measure, with results varying drastically between 0.2 mg per year and 0.1 to 5 g per week.

Nonetheless, a vast number of studies (more than 1,000) clearly indicate that several molecules can migrate into food or drink upon contact. This is the case for reusable plastic sports bottles, which shed a huge quantity of components, and all the more so when cleaned in the dishwasher.

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An effective way to prevent potential health risks from microplastics and nanoplastics would be to reduce our exposure, especially in our digestive tract. It is vital for us to change practices at the consumer level, particularly with for the most vulnerable – pregnant women, infants, young children and adolescents, whose systems of detoxification have not yet matured and whose bodies are still developing.

It should also be noted that these groups are more exposed to plastics per pound of body mass than adults are, further compounding the risks to their health.

The perils of reheating food in plastic containers

Positive changes that we can make include reducing our consumption of processed products and packaged raw products; limiting use of containers or components made even partially from plastic (such as cardboard cups, pizza boxes, etc.); and avoiding storing, cooking or reheating food in plastic containers (when using a microwave, for instance).

This is because it has been demonstrated that heat causes plastic components to break down, which, in turn, causes particles to leach into our food.

These more positive habits would also help reduce the overall amount of microplastics and nanoplastics in our environment and ecosystems, leading to a natural decrease in the contamination of our digestive system.

Starting from 2025, France will be banning single-use plastic containers in collective catering (especially school cafeterias).

But are the alternatives any better? In France, it is up to each municipality to choose which alternative materials to use, whether these be stainless steel, cellulose (a component of plant cell walls), bamboo or bioplastics.

Bioplastics may not be any safer

Containers made from bioplastics are a handy alternative widely used by the agrifood industry, since they are lighter than the more conventional, allegedly “inert” receptacles made of stainless steel or glass.

But what are bioplastics made of? They are sourced from plants, but blended with synthetic materials to ensure that they are as waterproof as traditional plastics.

Less than half (44%) of bioplastics produced today are biodegradable due to their chemical composition. Shutterstock

Upon seeing the prefix “bio”, consumers may be led to believe that they are purchasing a natural product that presents no health risk. In terms of regulations, bioplastics must undergo the same tests other plastic containers, and their rate of migration into food is also capped at 60 mg/kg.

Unfortunately, only a small number of tests (primarily regarding their effects on DNA) have been carried out, none of which examine their potential impacts as hormone disruptors. Recent scientific literature has not yet proved whether or not they are harmless to humans. Lastly, when it comes to biodegradability, all bioplastics still break down into microplastics.

Stay wary of “alternatives”

Such questions are important to consider in a world that tends to brush away the environmental impact of certain products by offering alternatives (think of biofuels, “green” hydrogen or e-cigarettes) whose effects themselves are little known. In this respect, the substitution of bisphenol A with other bisphenols (such as S and F) should make the scientific community stop and think, as reports increasingly show them to have similar or other deleterious effects.

Given their origin and manufacturing method, it appears only appropriate to ask these same questions with regard to “bioplastics”, so as to prevent consumers from inadvertently becoming a source of environmental contamination when attempting to be eco-friendly. In France, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) also advises against the use of “biodegradable” or “compostable” single-use plastic bags in household compost bins, as it is not certain that such products break down fully during composting.

It is crucial that local authorities be better informed on the characteristics of bioplastics. This will allow them to design policies that will help protect consumers, especially children, who are particularly vulnerable to pollution.

Translated from the French by Enda Boorman for Fast ForWord.

Xavier Coumoul, Professor of Toxicology and Biochemistry, Université Paris Cité; Jean-Baptiste Fini, Professeur du MNHN, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (MNHN); Nicolas Cabaton, Chercheur en Toxicologie, Inrae, and Sylvie Bortoli, Ingénieure de Recherche, Université Paris Cité

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Product safety commission requests information on gas stoves, taking possible step toward regulation

Read the full story at The Hill.

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday said it is asking the public for information on any hazards associated with gas stoves and possible solutions, marking what could be a step toward regulating the appliances. 

The commission approved a formal request for Information on the topic, Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. said in a statement on Wednesday.

The request asks for research that links gas stoves to health issues including childhood asthma and seeks possible solutions, as well as the costs and feasibility of those options. 

Requests for information are a common step taken by the federal government ahead of taking regulatory action as part of an effort to gauge what the impacts of possible regulations could be. But such a request doesn’t necessarily guarantee further action. 

This woman wants to destroy your lawn

Read the full story at Down East Magazine.

And replace it with something better. Why Heather McCargo and the Wild Seed Project want us all to think differently about what we plant (and yeah, to think about it in the winter).

…in which I attempt to read my water bill

Read the full post at Legal Planet.

I felt at least decently about myself when I paid my water bill recently, because I was told that my usage was somewhat better than other people in my neighborhood (which is a low bar, but you take what you can get). But when I tried to figure out why it was better, I got no information whatsoever. That’s a huge problem.

Will Mill be a game-changing solution to home food waste?

Read the full story at Sustainable Brands.

The Mill system offers a practical, circular solution for reducing home food waste and the resulting, climate-changing greenhouse gases — with minimal effort on the part of users.

We still use appliances like it’s 1970. There’s a better way.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

When I was a kid, my dad followed behind me, shutting off the incandescent lights I left burning around the house. “You’re wasting energy,” he’d scold as I tried to slip out of the room. He was right, of course. In the 1980s, 5 to 10 percent of an average household’s electricity bill went to keeping the lights on. So when my own son was born last June, my dad joked he was waiting for the day when his grandson would exact his revenge on my utility bill.

Luckily for me, this day will never come. I’ve been rescued by LED lights, now the primary lighting source for about half of U.S. homes. LEDs are wafers of semiconducting material that emit as much light as incandescent bulbs while using about 10 percent of the electricity. Later this year, incandescent bulbs will disappear from store shelves for good as new federal efficiency standards take effect. If it isn’t already, your home lighting will soon be a rounding error on your energy budget.

Yet many people still sound like my dad. When you ask Americans how they save energy at home, “turn off the lights” has been at the top of the list since the 1980s. But when it comes to actual savings, it doesn’t even crack the top 10. Like most conventional wisdom about how to reduce householdenergy and emissions, much of what we believe about our homes and appliances is wrong.

It’s time to update our thinking.

U.S. national household food waste tracking identifies emerging trends

Read the full story at Waste360.

Food waste data collection has been largely inconsistent over the past few decades.

An increased focus on food insecurity and waste systems has improved data collection. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doled out $10.2 million to fund pilot projects aimed at food waste reduction and composting in 2022.

With the addition of funding from governmental, private and public entities, researchers across the globe are now honing in on solutions to food waste reduction. One such project dedicated to identifying and emerging trends has been a two-year effort at The Ohio State University (OSU).

Do-it-yourself (DIY) air cleaners: Evidence on effectiveness and considerations for safe operation

Read the full story at the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health.

A review of academic and technical literature showed that do-it-yourself (DIY) air cleaners performed similarly to commercial portable air cleaners in terms of clean air delivery rate (CADR) and energy efficiency under controlled conditions. However, DIY devices were much more cost efficient that commercially available air cleaners. Both types of devices generated >50 dB of noise.

Field evaluations of DIY air cleaners have found they were effective in homes and schools, but there are no long-term studies. There is also a lack of user engagement to understand whether DIY devices are used properly and consistently.

The “best” DIY design will depend on the space to be cleaned, the activities carried out, space available, noise disruption, and other factors. Because CADR can vary substantially depending on material quality, it may be useful to evaluate DIY air cleaner effectiveness post-construction using low-cost particulate matter sensors indoors and outdoors.

DIY air cleaners made with newer model fans are unlikely to pose a fire or burn risk, but should be kept clear of obstructions and operated with common sense precautions. The filters should be changed when soiled; duration of filter lifespan will vary with use and conditions.

Portable air cleaners are only part of a comprehensive indoor air quality strategy. They do not replace the need for ventilation and should be used in conjunction with other appropriate health protective measures.