How Clean is Too Clean

Coming clean on the risks of using antibacterial productsPosted: 26 Jul 2011 09:00 AM PDT

When was the last time you cleaned your hands, washed some dishes or used a wipe with the term “antibacterial” in its name? With the public’s growing fear of germs and increased desire for fierce sanitation, the number of new antibacterial products has exploded to the point where most people use these kinds of products, and the chemical triclosan, on a daily basis.

Interestingly enough, you might not realize how often you are exposed to triclosan. Products containing the chemical can be found in many consumer products, from cosmetics such as soap and deodorant to dish soap, facial tissues, bed linens and toys. This hit home personally a few months ago when I discovered I had been using toothpaste containing triclosan.

Rachel Brown and Katie van der Sloot are two high school students in Medicine Hat, Alberta, who noticed a flood of these products in their community after the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. They wondered whether our massive defense against germs is actually riskier than the germs themselves. So they launched an ambitious science fair project to find out.

First, they found triclosan-resistant bacteria in their local water. And they’re not alone; Environment Canada has also found triclosan in the Saint Lawrence River. What does the presence of triclosan in our ecosystems mean? I was surprised to learn that it can poison aquatic life, persist in the surrounding environment, and bioaccumulate in animals. As a result, the David Suzuki Foundation placed triclosan on its Dirty Dozen list of chemicals to avoid in cosmetics.

In addition to the environmental effects of triclosan, the chemical can also promote antibiotic resistance. Rachel and Katie found evidence of this when the environmental and human bacterial samples they collected for their experiments showed signs of cross-resistance with triclosan. The antibacterial is also a suspected endocrine disruptor and may form carcinogenic substances, such as chloroform, when mixed with chlorine (this could happen when any product containing triclosan gets used with chlorinated tap water, such as when brushing teeth or washing dishes). As we increase the number of antibacterial products we use, our exposure and the risks to our health grow — triclosan has been found in human blood, urine, and breast milk.

While you can look for triclosan in the fine print of personal care product ingredient lists, manufacturers are not required to disclose ingredients in other types of products. Until this changes, the best thing you can do to avoid triclosan products (PDF) is avoid products that make antibacterial claims. Check out and sign the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Pledge to go Triclosan-Free.

Since conducting their research, Rachel and Katie have become advocates against the use of triclosan by posting a video on YouTube. In an e-mail to the David Suzuki Foundation they state: “We believe these findings should be broadcast internationally for the health and protection of our society.” The pair is well on its way to doing just that. They earned a place at the National Science Fair and took home a bronze medal. They also won the UNESCO Peace and Development award and are on team Canada in an international competition in Slovakia this week. “We highly encourage all members of society to stop their use of antibacterial products altogether and turn back to good old soap and water for cleanliness.”

The Canadian Medical Association agrees; it passed a resolution (Resolution 74) to call on a federal ban on the sale of antimicrobials in consumer products, citing the effectiveness and adequacy of using plain soap in households to prevent infection. The chemical is on the Government of Canada’s radar as a part of the Chemicals Management Plan. The David Suzuki Foundation will be supporting a ban on this chemical.

From the David Suzuki Foundation

Back to my Beautiful Life

Well, you may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging and trying to share my opinions with you for quite a while. I was taking part in that great exercise of democracy – the Federal election campaign. I was supporting my local candidate by canvassing door  to door, erecting and replacing and replacing signs that were blown down by the wind. Mother Nature wanted to be sure she wasn’t ignored during this campaign, but alas, most did not recognize her interventions.

By canvassing door to door, I’ve learned a great deal about how large and diverse and yet similar my electoral riding is. More on this later. Today I’m just glad – yes even elated to be back to a more reasonably paced life.

Yesterday, I saw only one of the pair of geese that have been visiting my horse pasture every day. They usually return to join their flock at night to be safe. Maybe they are honeymooners, wanting a little together time. Last evening, just the male was there calling constantly. There was also a fox in the pasture – the first one I’ve seen here in more than 10 years. Eventually the male goose ran toward the fox, then turned, and flew away. Perhaps he was trying to lure it away from something. I fear for the female, I hope she isn’t hurt.

This morning, I saw three wild turkeys regally stalking across my pasture, walking under the electrical fence and off into the brush. The warm spring weather is enticing many animals to show themselves. I am happy to witness them.

The Peace of Wild Things

This is my absolute favourite poem. It used to comfort me greatly when I was struggling through the pain of raising two young children by myself, and juggling those responsibilities with a full time job. Now twenty years later, I have significantly more time and less money to juggle, and my children have grown into two wonderful, wacky and compassionate adults. The poem is still wonderful. I now have different fears, now my fears are for my grandchildren and the Wild Things that are struggling themselves with Climate Change and loss of habitat. This poem still has the ability to calm me; to remind me to rest in the grace of the world; to savour that grace and be thankful.

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry (Thank you SLOWest Times, March 1, 2011, for printing this poem)

Beavers – Canada’s Eco-Saviours

I’ve always respected the hard working beaver – the watershed engineer of nature – and figured that we would do better to leave them alone and appreciate their indigenous knowledge. They know better than we do the ultimate purpose of their work and the interconnectedness of it all.

Now it seems that at least the Globe and Mail agrees with me:

The beaver’s new brand: eco-saviour

Erin Anderssen

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 7:24PM EST
Last updated Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 11:18PM EST

Our bucktoothed icon is hard-working and monogamous, steadfast and stable in the Canuck way. But beloved? Not when one drops a tree on your cottage or floods your land with its dam. These days, however, the beaver has a new brand: eco-saviour. An increasingly vocal group of scientists and conservationists believes the dam-building rodent is an overlooked tool to mitigate climate change – a natural remedy for our sick rivers and ravaged wildlife. Fly away with that, bald eagle.

Engineers with tails

It’s the beaver’s avid dam-building that makes it a star with conservationists. In 2002, when University of Alberta biologist Glynnis Hood was in the middle of getting her PhD, the Prairies experienced the worst drought on record. She watched the wetland dry up “right before her eyes.” But where beaver dams existed, the pond water remained. Poring through 54 years of historic aerial photos, records of beaver populations and climate data, she discovered that the ponds with active beaver lodges had nine times more water during droughts than ponds without dams. In dry summers, the beavers kept water from trickling out and built channels to guide the water in; they had more impact than any rainfall or drought.  …Read More

Optimism versus Pessimism – Is it a Trap?

My husband and I are opposites – I am optimistic generally -ready to lunge into things and Liam is the pessimist – wanting to be sure, researching the risks. Together we achieve a fine balance-though of course I prefer being optimistic!

So I was confused and fascinated to read this quote of Tom Atlee’s about being pessimistic or optimistic when initiating significant change in communities:

The Optimism/Pessimism Trap

I’ve found myself bouncing back and forth between optimism and pessimism. “Things are going to work out well.” Or: ” There’s going to be a real disaster!” It’s been really exhausting.

But lately something’s changing about all this.

I’ve begun to notice how the whole optimism/pessimism dichotomy is a death trap for my aliveness and attention. I watch myself acting as if my sense of what might happen is a description of reality. And what I notice is this: whether I expect the best or the worst, my espectations interfere with my will to act.

That’s so important I’m going to repeat it. Whether I expect the best or the worst, my expectations interfere with my will to act.

I’ve started viewing both optimism and pessimism as spectator sports, as forms of disengagement masquerading as involvement. Both optimism and pessimism trick me into judging life and betting on the odds, rather than diving into life with my whole self, with my full co-creative energy. …..

by Tom Atlee, Crisis Fatigue and the Co-creation of Positive Possibilities, Co-Intelligence Institute

I’m not too sure if I agree with Tom on this one. What about you? Get back to me with your comments.

My Three Muses of Sustainability

On Monday night I met 3 highly engaged people participating in the SLOCentre Inspiring Actions towards Sustainability meeting.

AMBER – who decided to buy nothing new for one year and blogged about her experience. She is now succeeding at being an Urban Homesteader – growing a great deal of her own food in 4 allotment gardens, canning and preserving it for eating year-round. She is always looking for ways to reduce her carbon footprint.

ERIN – Works for Just Food -She is very interested in improving local farmers access to consumers in Ottawa. She worked in the International Development field for 25 years and then left it to find a more sustainable way to make a living.

Raul – A filmmaker who wishes to use his video skills in publicizing sustainable food issues and in spreading the word about Transition Ottawa.

These muses of sustainability are lending their skills and taking action in turning Ottawa into a more sustainable place to live.