Phthalate Chemicals Found in Infants

Infants are widely exposed to a class of chemicals that might be harmful to their
reproductive systems. That’s according to new research published today/this week
(Monday, February 4th, 2008) in the journal Pediatrics. Mark Brush reports – the
chemicals are known as phthalates:

Transcript

Infants are widely exposed to a class of chemicals that might be harmful to their
reproductive systems. That’s according to new research published today/this week
(Monday, February 4th, 2008) in the journal Pediatrics. Mark Brush reports – the
chemicals are known as phthalates:


Phthalates are everywhere. They’re used to make plastics softer. And they’re used in
perfumes, shampoos, and lotions to help the product absorb into your skin.


Researchers at the University of Washington found that infants had higher concentrations of phthalates in their urine if their mothers used baby lotions, shampoos and powders.
Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana led the study. She says it can be hard to avoid phthalates:


“In terms of personal care products and cosmetics, we don’t know. The products are not
labeled to contain phthalates in them, and so it’s very, very difficult to kind of counsel
families about what to do.”


Sathyanarayana says more study is needed to determine human health effects. Animal
studies have shown that the chemicals can change hormone levels, leading to
reproductive problems in males.


For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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Part 1: Tidal Power in the Pacific

  • Research teams are looking for turbines that make tidal power work without harming sea life, like this one. (Photo courtesy of Charles Cooper with Oceana Energy)

For decades, people in the Pacific Northwest have relied on hydropower
for most of their electricity. But dams hurt salmon runs and river
ecosystems. That’s sent Washington utilities on a quest for new, cleaner
sources of power. As Ann Dornfeld reports, some are looking for new ways
to harness the power of flowing water:

Transcript

For decades, people in the Pacific Northwest have relied on hydropower
for most of their electricity. But dams hurt salmon runs and river
ecosystems. That’s sent Washington utilities on a quest for new, cleaner
sources of power. As Ann Dornfeld reports, some are looking for new ways
to harness the power of flowing water:


It’s a brilliant day outside. Craig Collar is perched on a rocky outcropping
overlooking rushing green water swirling and eddying below. Collar says
the water is moving so quickly because this is one of only two spots where
the Pacific Ocean flows into Puget Sound:


“As the tide comes in, it comes into this constrained passageway at
Deception Pass. Y’know, all that energy gets channeled, focused
through this very narrow area. So that’s what results in these rapid
tidal currents that we’re seeing right here.”


Collar researches new power sources for Snohomish County Public Utility
District. His goal is to use a sort of underwater windmill to convert some of
this water’s energy to electricity and funnel it onto the power grid. It’s called
“tidal power.”


Collar says there are dozens of underwater turbine designs to choose
from. Some look like a standard wind turbine with three big blades; others
look like a metal donut or a fish tail.


The Utility District is considering putting underwater turbine farms at half a
dozen locations around Puget Sound. It estimates tidal energy could power
at least 60,000 homes. Collar says the technology has a lot going for
it. It doesn’t emit carbon dioxide or other pollutants. He says underwater
turbines can be much smaller than wind turbines because they’re so
efficient:


“And that’s just as a result of the higher density of water. Water’s
roughly 800 times denser than air, so it contains a lot more energy.”


Unlike the wind, tides aren’t really affected by the season. You know the
saying: “predictable as the tides.” Collar says lunar phases let you forecast
the tides for decades into the future:


“Where with wind, you’re doing good if you can forecast hours or
even a little bit ahead. That really helps utilities like us integrate that
power into the power grid.”


Collar acknowledges there are a lot of questions about the impact of tidal
turbines on marine ecology.


These questions worry nearby Native American tribes. The Tulalip
reservation is close to Deception Pass, and they fish throughout Puget
Sound. Darryl Williams is the tribes’ environmental liaison:


“Five species of salmon, orca, grey whales, eagles, hawks, falcons…
y’know, we have numerous species of fish and marine mammals and
migratory birds that use the areas that are being proposed for these
turbines, and the studies really haven’t been done yet to show what
the impacts may or may not be.”


Along with the marine environment, Williams says the tribes are worried
that tidal turbines could scare away fish or get tangled in fishing nets.


“For the tribes, the fisheries aren’t only an economic source but
they’re also part of the tribes’ culture. Most of our cultural activities
are centered around salmon, and if we can’t catch the salmon, then
that part of our culture really goes away.”


A research team at the University of Washington is looking for ways to
make tidal power work without harming sea life. Brian Polagye is a
mechanical engineering graduate student whose focus is renewable
energy. His team is working with the oceanography department to look at
the ecological risks of tidal power. But Polagye says there are a lot of
misconceptions about what those risks are.


“The most obvious one is the question of ‘Oh! So you’re going to put
these rotors in the water and you’re gonna make sushi in addition to
electrical power.’ People view these turbines kind of as almost a
propeller that’s moving through the water so rapidly that if anything
gets near it it’s gonna get chopped to pieces. In practice, you can’t
actually run the rotors that fast. The maximum speed that the tip of
the rotor can turn at is about 25 miles an hour. Which is actually
relatively slow.”


Polagye says one of the biggest risks is that removing some of the energy
from the tidal currents will change the ecology downstream. He’s studying
how much power can be extracted from an estuary before it has a
noticeable effect on the ecosystem.


Back at Deception Pass, Craig Collar with the utility district says even if
there is a small ecological impact, it’s key to look at the overall picture:


“At the end of the day the thing that’s compelling about tidal energy
for us is there just aren’t very many opportunities for clean,
renewable, emission-free energy that’s both predictable and close to
the loads. And all those things are true for tidal energy in the Puget
Sound region, and there simply is no other renewable for which all
those things are true.”


The utility is working with the University of Washington to figure out
whether tidal power is viable in Puget Sound. If so, it could help reinvent
hydropower on the Pacific Coast for the next generation.


For the Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld.

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Gardeners Have Hand in Invasive Species Control

  • Centaurea diffusa a.k.a. Spotted knapweed. Introduced in the late 1800's, knapweed can reduce diversity in the region's prairies. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but if they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests, lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but, if
they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests,
lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them
about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series “Your
Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Gardening, especially flower gardening, seems to get more popular all the time. Maybe
it’s because the baby-boomers have all reached that age where they’re beginning to
appreciate stopping for a moment to smell the roses.


That’s fine. In fact if gardeners plant the right kinds of plants… it can be great for
wildlife. There are all kinds of guides for backyard natural areas.


But… in some cases… gardeners can unleash plant pests on the environment.


Katherine Kennedy is with the Center for Plant Conservation. She says almost all of the
problem plants that damage the native ecosystems were planted with good intentions…


“I don’t believe that any invasive species has ever been introduced into the United States
on purpose by someone who willingly said, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be a problem, but I
don’t care.’ They’ve almost all been inadvertent problems that were introduced by
someone who thought they were doing something good or who thought they were
bringing in something beautiful.”


English ivy, a decorative ground cover, is now killing forests in the Pacific Northwest…
kudzu is doing the same in the southeast… and in the Great Lakes region and the
Midwest… pretty flowering plants such as purple loosestrife and water plants such as
Eurasian watermilfoil are causing damage to wetlands, crowding out native plants and
disturbing the habitat that many wildlife species need to survive.


Bob Wilson works in the Michigan Senate Majority policy office. Like many other
states, Michigan is looking at legislation to ban certain problem plants. Wilson agrees
that these plant pests are generally not intentional… but they do show that people seem to
unaware of the problems that they’re causing…


“The two most common vectors for bringing in these kinds of plants are typically
landscapers, who bring it in as a way of decorating yards and lawns, and then aquarium
dumpers, people who inadvertently dump their aquarium, thinking that there’s no
consequence to that. Before you know it, something that was contained is now spread.”


But stopping the import of pest plants is a lot harder than just passing laws that ban them.
With mail order and Internet orders from large nurseries so common, the plants can get
shipped to a local nursery, landscaper or local gardener without the government ever
knowing about it.


Recently, botanists, garden clubs, and plant nursery industry groups put together some
codes of conducts. Called the St. Louis Protocol or the St. Louis Declaration… the
document set out voluntary guidelines for the industry and gardeners to follow to avoid
sending plants to areas where they can cause damage.


Sarah Reichard is a botanist with the University of Washington. She helped put the St.
Louis Protocol together. She says if a nursery signs on to the protocol, it will help stop
invasive plant species from being shipped to the wrong places….


“And it’s up to each of the nursery owners, particularly those who sell mail order or
Internet, to go and find out which species are banned in each state.” LG: And is that
happening?
“Uh, I think most nursery people are pretty responsible and are trying to
do the best that they can. I’m sure that they’re very frustrated and understandably so
because the tools aren’t really out there for them and it is very difficult to find the
information. So, it’s a frustrating situation for them.”


But in preparing this report, we found that some of the biggest mail-order nurseries had
never heard of the St. Louis protocol. And many of the smaller nurseries don’t have the
staff or resources to check out the potential damage of newly imported plants… or even
to check out each state to make sure that banned plants aren’t being sent inadvertently.


Sarah Reichard says that means gardeners… you… need to do some homework before
ordering that pretty flowering vine. Is it banned in your state? Is it a nuisance that could
cause damage? Reichard says if enough gardeners care, they can make a difference…


“You know, gardeners have tremendous power. We, you know, the people that are
buying the plants at the nurseries – that’s what it’s all about. I mean, the nurseries are
there to provide a service to provide plants to those people and if those people have
certain tastes and demands such as not wanting to buy and plant invasive species, the
nurseries are going to respond to it. So, we’re all part of one team.”


Reichard and others concerned about the problem say although agencies are working on
it… the federal government has not yet done enough to effectively stop invasives from
being imported and shipped to the wrong areas. They say it’s up to the nurseries, the
botanists, and the gardeners to stop them. If not, we’ll all pay in tax money as
government agencies react to invasives with expensive eradication programs to try to get
rid of the plants invading parks, preserves, and other natural areas.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

GARDENERS HAVE HAND IN INVASIVE SPECIES CONTROL (Short Version)

  • Centaurea diffusa a.k.a. Spotted knapweed. Introduced in the late 1800's, knapweed can reduce diversity in the region's prairies. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

Gardeners are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

http://environmentreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2004/05/graham2_053104.mp3

Transcript

Gardeners are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that
cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Botanists, plant nurseries and gardeners are all being asked to do a little more homework
before importing, selling, or planting new kinds of plants. Katherine Kennedy is with the
Center for Plant Conservation. She says some of the plants you mail order from the
nursery can end up being invasive kinds of plants that damage the local ecosystem…


“We are actually at a point where these invasions crowd out the native community, not
just a species or two, but the entire community. And the wildlife value falls and the
native plants are displaced. And, so, the destructive potential for a species that becomes
truly invasive is more immense than I think many people realize.”


Kennedy says you can’t count on the nursery to warn you when you order plants. She
says gardeners have to make sure the plants they’re ordering won’t hurt the surrounding
landscape.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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