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Earth Talk
EarthTalk®
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 28 June 2010 08:11

Dear EarthTalk: I heard about a supposed dangerous chemical called

earthtalktriclosan

"Manufacturers that use triclosan in their
products insist that the synthetic chemical
helps reduce infections. But numerous s
tudies have shown that washing hands with
products containing triclosan was no more
effective in preventing infectious illness
than plain soaps. Other research even links
triclosan to various human health and
environmental problems."
Credit this image to "Jack Black's Stunt Double,
courtesy Flickr."

“triclosan” that is in many personal care and other consumer products. Can you enlighten?    -- Carl Stoneman, Richland, WA

Triclosan is a synthetic chemical compound added to many personal and household care products to inhibit illness by preventing bacterial infection. It works by breaking down the biochemical pathways that bacteria use to keep their cell walls intact, and as such kills potentially harmful germs if used in strong enough formulations. First developed as a surgical scrub back in 1972, triclosan is now used in upwards of 700 different consumer-oriented products, many of which people use more than once a day. They include hand soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, kids’ toys, yoga mats and, of course, hand sanitizers.

Whether triclosan is actually as effective as advertised, especially in the small doses found in consumer products, is a topic of much debate. Manufacturers insist that the product helps reduce infections. But researchers from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health found, after surveying 27 different studies conducted between 1980 and 2006 on the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps, that washing hands with products containing triclosan was no more effective in preventing infectious illness—and did not remove any more bacteria—than plain soaps. The analysis, “Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky?” was published in 2007 in the peer-reviewed journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases. According to lead researcher Allison Aiello, triclosan—because of the way it reacts in living cells—may cause some bacteria exposed to it to become resistant to amoxicillin and other commonly used antibacterial drugs, but she adds that more research is needed to bear out this hypothesis.

 
EarthTalk®
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Tuesday, 22 June 2010 08:24

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that bananas are taboo for anyone who is

earthtalkbananas

"Banana production has long been known for its
environmental and human rights abuses, which
have included the use of dangerous pesticides,
water pollution, deforestation and poor working
conditions. But that is slowly changing thanks to
the work of The Rainforest Alliance, the Sustainable
Agriculture Network and other nonprofit groups."
Credit this image to "Ian Ransley Design, courtesy
Flickr."

concerned about rainforest destruction? Even if I seek out “fair trade” or organic bananas, am I feeding the demand which is causing rainforest to be cleared?     -- Laura Barnard, Hillsboro, OH

Sadly, the short answers to these questions may be yes and yes for now, but that may change as the $5 billion banana industry slowly comes to terms with greener forms of production. Historically, growing the world’s most popular fruit has caused massive degradation of rainforest land across the tropics, spread noxious chemicals throughout formerly pristine watersheds, and poisoned and exploited farm workers.

 
EarthTalk®
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 14 June 2010 13:16

Dear EarthTalk: What is “kenaf” paper? From what I've heard, it’s good for the

earthtalkkenaf
"U.S. Department of Agriculture research shows that
kenaf yields some six to 10 tons of dry fiber per acre
per year, which is three to five times more than the
yield of Southern Pine trees, now the dominant paper
pulp source in the U.S. Kenaf also absorbs more carbon
dioxide than any other plant or tree. Pictured: Bill
Loftus tends kenaf plants at the Kenaf Research Farm."
Credit this image to "Kenaf Research Farm."

environment. But what exactly are its benefits and where can I obtain some?  -- Tiffany Mikamo, via e-mail

Kenaf, a fast-growing, non-invasive annual hibiscus plant related to cotton, okra and hemp, makes ideal paper fiber as well as great source material for burlap, clothing, canvas, particleboard and rope. Its primary use around the world today is for animal forage, but humans enjoy its high-protein seed oil to add a nutritious and flavorful kick to a wide range of foods. In fact, kenaf has been grown for centuries in Africa, China and elsewhere for these and other purposes, but environmentalists see its future in replacing slower-growing trees as our primary source for paper.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research shows that kenaf yields some six to 10 tons of dry fiber per acre per year, which is three to five times more than the yield of Southern Pine trees—now the dominant paper pulp source in the U.S. And to top it off, researchers believe kenaf absorbs more carbon dioxide—the chief “greenhouse gas” behind global warming—than any other plant or tree growing. Some 45 percent of dry kenaf is carbon pulled down from the atmosphere via photosynthesis.

 
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