Friday, November 26, 2010

EU bans bisphenol-A chemical from babies' bottles

The European Commission has announced a ban on the use of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastic baby bottles.

The commission cited fears that the compound could affect development and immune response in young children. The EU ban will come into effect during 2011.

There has been concern over the use of BPA for some time, with six US manufacturers removing it in 2009 from bottles they sold in the US, although not other markets. The chemical is widely used in making hard, clear plastic and is commonly found in food and drink containers.

A European Commission spokesman said the proposal had been approved after being presented to a committee of national government experts on Thursday - months earlier than scheduled - and approved. The European parliament had called for the ban in June.

Areas of uncertainty

John Dalli, Commissioner in charge of Health and Consumer Policy, said the ban was good news for European parents. "There were areas of uncertainty, deriving from new studies, which showed that BPA might have an effect on development, immune response and tumour promotion," Mr Dalli said in a statement.

EU states will outlaw the manufacture of polycarbonate feeding bottles containing the compound from March 2011, and ban their import and sale from June 2011, the Commission said. The National Childbirth Trust is a British charity which has campaigned for the ban.

Its chief executive Belinda Phipps told the BBC: "When you put liquids into a bottle - particularly hot liquids or liquids containing fatty liquids - it leaches out of the plastic. And particularly as the bottle gets older and it gets more scratched, more and more leaches out and into the liquid."

Ms Phipps said that when a baby drinks from a bottle which contains BPA, the baby absorbs the leached chemical into its fat. "It's a chemical that mimics estrogens, but not in a good way," she said. "It interferes with estrogens getting into the receptors, and it can have some very unpleasant effects - and animal studies have shown significant effects."

Canada was the first country to declare bisphenol-A toxic in October, after it was concluded that the chemical might have harmful effects on humans, as well as the environment and "its biological diversity". The Canadian decision was strongly opposed by the chemical industry.

"Environment Canada's announcement is contrary to the weight of worldwide scientific evidence, unwarranted and will unnecessarily confuse and alarm the public," Steven G Hentges from the American Chemistry Council told the New York Times in response to the decision.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Modest hopes for climate summit, as gas levels rise

"Keeping the show on the road" may be all governments can hope for at next week's UN climate talks, the UK admits.

Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne said there was no chance of getting a legally binding deal at the summit in Cancun, Mexico.

The aim, he said, should be to get "within shouting distance".

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released data showing that greenhouse gas levels continued their rise through 2009.

It follows publication of a scientific paper at the weekend suggesting that without new constraints, global carbon emissions will re-commence rising at 2-3% per year, following a brief lull caused by the recession.

And on Tuesday, the UN Environment Programme (Unep) said pledges that countries had made on constraining emissions were not enough to keep the global temperature rise within limits that most countries say they want - either 2C or 1.5C since pre-industrial times.

"We want to see progress [in Cancun] - we don't want to see a shambles that involves lots of name-calling," said Mr Huhne.

"If we don't get peaking of [global] emissions by 2020, the prospects for the people on the planet are looking pretty bleak, so we really do have to make progress on this."

Realistically, the government believes, progress could be made on issues such as reducing deforestation, financial pledges and bringing the unilateral carbon-cutting pledges that countries unveiled at Copenhagen into the UN framework so they can be properly analysed.

Western countries are equally keen to pursue the place that private finance and the business sector can play in leading the transition to a low-carbon global society.

But the Secretary of State was downbeat about how much progress was possible given the legacy of last year's Copenhagen summit, the domestic concerns of a few key countries including the US and China, and the differing demands of various negotiating blocs.

"We're clearly not expecting a final agreement at Cancun; but our objective is to ensure we re-invigorate the whole UN climate convention (UNFCCC) process and manage to get a new sense of momentum, with the ambition of reaching full agreement [at the summit] in South Africa next year," he said.

However, even that may not be possible, officials acknowledged, unless important countries can find a way to reconcile their domestic political problems with the demands of other nations.

The US Senate is extremely unlikely to ratify any UN climate deal, meaning that prospects of the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter signing up to anything that other countries would consider legally binding is remote.

US officials - and their Canadian counterparts - are now talking openly about the possibility of a "Plan B" if Cancun does not move in the direction they want.

Among developing nations, China in particular has railed against demands from the West - and from Japan - that it must agree measures enabling its carbon-constraining performance to be monitored and verified.

The UK was encouraged by a recent Indian proposal to put international verification under the auspices of the UN climate convention.

But the US appears to be growing as an obstacle, with campaigners acknowledging privately that the balance of power in Congress is likely to become even less favourable to carbon-cutting legislation after the next round of elections in 2012.

Warming and wetting

The WMO data, meanwhile, confirms that atmospheric concentrations of the three gases principally responsible for the man-made component of the greenhouse effect - carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - all rose during 2009.

The agency highlighted the rise in methane emissions, which it says is probably due to higher than average emissions from wetlands around the Arctic and in the tropics, both related to weather conditions.

Heightened methane emission from wetlands and permafrost has regularly been touted as a potential amplifying factor in climate change, with warmer weather stimulating their release and so producing further warming.

"Greenhouse gas concentrations have reached record levels despite the economic slowdown," observed WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud. "Potential methane release from northern permafrost, and wetlands, under future climate change is of great concern, and is becoming a focus of intensive research and observations."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is Simple Green Pinkwashing?

Pinkwashing: A term used to describe companies that position themselves as leaders in the fight against breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease.

Yep, Simple Green is guilty of pinkwashing; Simple Green Pink Ribbon is the company’s All-Purpose Cleaner dressed up in a pink costume. But while the company trumpets their commitment to breast cancer awareness, it may still be using chemicals linked to the disease.

Simple Green doesn’t disclose the ingredients in fragrances or preservatives in their regular line of products, including Pink Ribbon. We know that several chemicals used in both fragrances and preservatives are possible carcinogens or hormone disruptors (which can lead to increased risk of breast cancer), such as triclosan and parabens. With 1 in 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer, we can’t afford exposure to hidden ingredients that may be linked to the disease.

If the company is truly committed to supporting breast cancer research, it should be proud to reveal that it doesn’t use chemicals linked to the disease. They disclose all ingredients in their Naturals line—what are they hiding in products like Simple Green Pink Ribbon?

Tell Simple Green to make good on their commitment in the fight against breast cancer and disclose all the ingredients in their products. Awareness is only part of the solution. What we need is prevention, and the first step to preventing breast cancer is having the information we need to avoid chemicals linked to the disease.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ultra-Efficient Danish Home Produces More Energy Than It Needs

This striking modern home located near Aarhus in Denmark packs an amazing array of green building strategies into a small footprint, allowing it to actually produce more power than it consumes. Designed and built to be super energy-efficient, smart, eco-friendly, and powered by the sun, the zero-plus Home For Life is an experiment in creating the sustainable house of the future. A family has been living in the home now for 14 months and reporting on their activities and the home's performance in order to improve the design for future iterations.

The Home for Life is one of eight experimental buildings created by VKR Holdings to develop the sustainable home of the future. The home is designed using the Active House principle, which has a strong focus on energy-efficient design, daylighting and renewable energy generation. Every room has at least two walls with windows on it, so the home makes great use of natural daylighting. During the cool seasons, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery is used so the cold air can be heated without the use of additional energy

The home's windows cover 40 percent of the total floor area, which is twice the area of a traditional house. An Active House takes similar principles of Passive House design, but incorporates more daylighting and utilizes "smart home" devices to optimize the use of energy. It is one thing to design and build a smart and energy-efficient home, but little research has been done yet to see how livable they are. Data collected from this experiment is very important to future designs.

The family reports on how comfortable they are with the automatic controls -- when the climate was just right for them, and when the controls made it too hot or too cold.The south-facing slate roof includes the photovoltaic system, solar hot water system and skylights. The home's energy systems are all optimized and work together to minimize energy use. The roof is key to the design -- it incorporates renewable energy generation, skylights for natural lighting, and operable windows for cooling.