Hot Reads: Toxics, Parenting and Other Interesting Stuff

Colorado Meadows

Colorado Meadows (Photo credit: QualityFrog)

It’s a two for one! After some radio silence, I’m kicking off a new regular feature with a bonus double-feature. Lucky you. Every Friday or Saturday going forward, I’ll post links from the week before that grabbed my attention from the week.

To make up for my lost time up in the lovely mountains of Colorado last weekend, this week I’m posting two weeks of news you can use.

From last week:

  • Derailed: I’m sure you were as horrified as I was about the deadly train crash in Lac-Megantic involving 46,000 barrels of oil and 47 deaths. I was saddened by the crash, and then angry when I read an op-ed by a former Lac-Megantic locomotive engineer detailing the decay of government regulations and industry practices he witnessed on the job. Could such an awful thing happen here? Sadly, yes. As I learned when I worked at Public Citizen years back, trains carrying hazardous materials pass near city centers every day. Just two months ago, a train operated by the railway-giant CSX exploded in a Baltimore suburb. From my past work, I know that CSX routinely fights common-sense measures to reroute hazardous materials around densely populated areas. Years ago, when we worked with the D.C. city council to ban hazardous materials from tracks passing within four blocks of the Capitol building, CSX sued, successfully, to overturn the measure. The ban would have required CSX to reroute fewer than five percent of its trains in order to safeguard the safety of DC. Let’s just hope that federal regulators are on the case.
  • Explosions in the sky: The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is positioning itself to call out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) foot-dragging on a number of recommendations concerning chemical plants and refineries. The safety board, an independent federal agency, has issued numerous recommendations disregarded by OSHA (the regulator) for years now. After the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas this past April that killed 14 people, there should be a renewed urgency to act.
  • European make-over: A 2009 European Union rule requiring considerably more transparent labels for personal care products and cosmetics just fully entered into force on July 11th. The rule includes specific restrictions of nano-materials used in products like sunscreens, as coloring agents, or other uses, and requires that where they are used, they must be identified on the label. Given the active scientific debate and level of uncertainty over the safety of nano-particles in products, transparency is really the least that consumers should have. While certain “greener” items here in the U.S. do specify when they do not contain nano-technology, for the most part consumers are in the dark about their use in a wide range of common products. As usual, Europe’s in the lead on an important chemical safety issue: so, er, pass the freedom lotion? Or something…
  • Parents, please follow the directions: While it’s sadly self-evident that kids don’t come with an instruction manual, Resources for Infant Educarers just published a truly wonderful list of tips to help new parents. They suggest common-sense, helpful concepts to guide your approach, including nurturing a child’s innate curiosity, creating a safe play place and connecting with your child through caregiving tasks.
  • Trayvon could have been my child: I was moved to tears by this local mom blogger’s passionate and eloquent response to the verdict in the Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. She writes: “Like with much of parenting, I suppose I will stumble my way through this with as much love and good intention as I can manage. With Trayvon’s mother in my heart, I can promise that I will do what I can to teach my son and my daughter to not fear different faces. Not to be afraid of someone else’s child. So that child may live with a little less fear that my child might do him harm.”

This past week:

  • The royal treatment? There were lots of babies born, but only one had the whole world squealing. The frenzied, round-the-clock coverage of the royal birth was nothing if not obsessive. Me being me, I began pondering the odd status of women as combination sex symbols and baby-delivery devices, and wondered aloud via Twitter just how long it would be until we would start hearing about Kate’s plans to lose pregnancy weight. The pathetic answer? Not even a day. Within 24 hours of the birth, a British tabloid ran a story detailing the royal regimen to shed pregnancy pounds. At least I wasn’t the only one who found it offensive. And the issues it stirs up run deep: here’s a thoughtful piece on pregnancy, body image and the media obsession with obtaining a “post-baby bod[y],” which, IMHO, is about erasing the procreative possibilities of women’s bodies so as to unburden the male gaze. This attempt to erase the physicality of pregnancy comes at an incredible cost to women in manufactured self-loathing, and forms a bad model for our children, as this daughter writes in yet another tear-jerker of a post, entitled, simply enough, “When Your Mother Says She’s Fat.” For all these reasons, I adored this gorgeous photo-essay of real moms in all their glory, many with their partners and kids. I’d love to see more of that kind of art, please, and less of the mawkish hyper-monitoring of the mom-bod.
  • And nailed down: Having forgone my beloved mani-pedis for several years now due to the serious concerns they trigger about salon workers’ health, I was delighted to hear about a new program in Santa Monica, California, that could produce healthier conditions in nail salons. Many salon products contain dangerous toxins: oluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde are the nastiest. Salon workers face long hours of exposure, and even OSHA admits many of them can cause long-term health impacts. The Santa Monica program rewards salons that choose safer alternatives. Let’s hope it signals the beginning of a national trend. (While I’ve found that most so-called “green” nail salons are anything but, there are some exceptions. If you’re ever in downtown Philly, there is a truly organic nail salon there: Mi Cumbia in Rittenhouse Square. Mi Cumbia is a wonderfully relaxing place owned by a pioneering couple in green nail salons. If you know of others like this in your city, please do tell in the comments, as I would love to know when I travel where I might get a truly better pedicure!)
  • Targeting toxins at Target: Basically everyone, including me, occasionally shops at Target. So please consider signing onto this important petition to call on Target to remove toxin-laden products from their shelves. It’s organized by one of my fave coalitions, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which tirelessly advocates for toxics reform and also manages to publish a great blog.

Hope this was useful! Feel free to suggest what I’ve missed in the comments…

2 thoughts on “Hot Reads: Toxics, Parenting and Other Interesting Stuff

  1. Thanks for the information on the nail salon, Mi Cumbia in Philadelphia. I live in South Jersey, just a short distance from Philly. I actually checked this nail salon out several years ago, it was called Tierra Mia at that time. It seemed nice, but with all things marketed as “green” and “nontoxic”, I was skeptical. I never got a chance to actually try the nail salon out, and when I recently looked into going again I realized they changed their name and services. I planned on going before I had my third child a few months ago, but again I never made it. Since it seems to be the real deal and they have more information on their website now explaining all of their nontoxic practices, I will definitely make a point to get over there! And of course with your vote of confidence I am excited to actually pamper myself a little bit and not worry about all the chemicals.

    I also wanted to mention a train derailment that happened very close to where I live here in South Jersey. Back in November a train derailed in Paulsboro, NJ and vinyl chloride, used to make PVC of course, was released into the air. I stayed inside the house with my kids and called my husband to tell him to do the same at work . We live and work between 5-10 miles from where this happened. I watched the news coverage all day about this derailment, and for awhile after. The day it happened the news said they were told that this chemical leak was not toxic, and when it was released into the air it turned into a gas and basically disintegrated (I can’t remember their exact wording now). They said it would have no harmful effects. However, many people in the immediate area went to the hospital with adverse effects. I can recall a woman who they interviewed outside of the hospital. She was taking her kids to school when they all became sickened, and she and her five children had to go to the hospital.

    Again the news reported that the symptoms were very mild. As the days went on they slowly started to evacuate more people who lived in the immediate area, and some of the people who had become sick started to talk about how sick they got. This was not very mild like they had first reported. I heard a few months later that some of the residents near the derailment sued due to the health problems they experienced, and for the health problems they could experience down the road, including cancer. None of this was reported or talked about however. Just after I read your post I saw this latest update on the derailment.

    This whole situation is very disturbing. No one was told the truth of how very serious this incident was, and therefore many residents and responders unknowingly put themselves at risk. The worst part is this is a low income area, and the report states that many of the people who sued Conrail (relinquishing their rights to sue in the future should they become ill) settled for as little as $500.

    This train was traveling through heavily populated areas. I remember a couple of residents that lived right near this bridge, where the train derailed into the water, saying on the news right after it happened that they reported to authorities within the weeks leading up to this accident that they heard noises on the bridge when trains passed over it that made them feel the bridge was going to fail. They heard various sounds that made them feel the structure was unsafe. I am not sure what ever came of the inspection reports of this bridge before the accident.

    This whole incident is very disturbing. The fact that chemicals and substances that are so toxic pass close to our homes every day and there is no concern for those lives is appalling. Or the fact the PVC should not be used in products to begin with. Get rid of these toxic chemicals and we will all be safer!

    • Thanks so much, Meg, for this thoughtful and disturbing note. So much to be upset about here — whether it’s the environmental justice piece, the idea that chemical transport is so haphazard, or the lack of any real information on risks!

      On a more fun note, I also went to Mia Tierra when that was the name, and spent some time talking personally to the owners. They are lovely people, and really trying to do the absolute best in terms of a green salon. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and please do let me know if you go.

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