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Month: October 2013

Moistened Towelettes: To Flush or Not to Flush?

  Written by: Lee Ann Rush

Years ago there were just “baby wipes,” moistened towelettes that were tossed into the nursery diaper disposal pail once the baby was changed.   In recent years, we’ve seen a proliferation of pre-moistened wipes available for a myriad of household purposes, including bathroom use.  These wipes, marketed under brand names such as Charmin, Cottonelle, Kandoo, Earth’s Best and Wet Ones, are all advertised as being “flushable.”  Unfortunately, that’s only partially true.  Yes, you can flush the wipes down the toilet and they will disappear from view.  The problem is that, once they reach the sewer or septic system, these “flushable” wipes do not break down and decompose. Instead, they clog pipes, sewer pumps and other machinery, causing backups in municipal sewage systems around the country and across the Western world, and wreaking untold havoc on private home septic systems (i.e., the cesspools used by many homeowners here on Long Island and in other areas).  This wastes money, resources, and is just not Green on any level whatsoever!

In July of 2013, the wet wipes problem gained notoriety when sewer operators in London reported having to remove a 15-ton mass composed of wrongly-flushed grease and “flushable” wipes from the city’s sewer system.  This repulsive mass, termed the “fatberg,” was the size of a city bus!  Ugh!  Also this past summer, the problem of clogged sewers reached a breaking point in Bemus Point, New York, when municipal officials literally and figuratively set up traps:  basket strainers were installed in various sections of neighborhood sewer piping to determine which residences the offending wipes were coming from!  Officials then contacted the flush-culprits and beseeched them to stop flushing wipes, said Tom Walsh of the Chautauqua Lake Sewer Districts.  “We could walk right up, knock on the door and say, ‘Listen, this problem is coming right from your house,’” he continued.  So watch out, the wipe-patrol may be paying a visit to your neighborhood.

Naturally (pun absolutely intended), spokespersons from the manufacturers of bathroom wipes, which include corporate giants Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly-Clarke, insist that it’s not their products causing the problem.  No, of course not, it must be those other non-flushable items like paper towels, feminine products and those pesky baby wipes, which were never meant to be flushed in the first place.  However, the trade association of the Non-woven Fabrics Industry (INDA) has revised its voluntary guidelines, specifying seven specific tests for wipes manufacturers to use in determining if their wipes are truly “flushable.”  INDA also has recommended a universal “Do Not Flush” logo (a crossed-out stick figure person and toilet) to be displayed on non-flushable products.  You can’t make this stuff up.  We’ll see how soon the manufacturers voluntarily comply with that recommendation!

Bottom line:  there are only three things that should be flushed down the toilet.  We all know about Number One and Number Two.  The third thing is very simple:  toilet paper.

The Tesla Car Fire in Washington: Setback for Electric Vehicles?

Author: Lee Ann Rush

On October 1, 2013 a Tesla Motors Model S electric car burst into flames on a highway exit ramp in Kent, Washington as the vehicle reportedly struck a large metal object in the road that had fallen from a tractor trailer.  The impact damaged the Tesla’s lithium-ion battery pack and caused it to ignite, destroying the car.  The Tesla battery pack is a long, flat slab protected by reinforced metal and located on the bottom of the vehicle underneath the passenger compartment.  Although there were no injuries in the fire, the immediate reaction to the incident among many investors and media outlets was to sound the death knell for Tesla Motors and cast doubt on the future of electric vehicles in general.

According to auto industry consultant Jason Vines, the Tesla fire, which was videotaped by a witness and aired on numerous television news broadcasts in the immediate aftermath, will probably raise even more doubts about the safety and efficacy of electric vehicles, which have yet to catch on with the driving public in general.  “This could be another stake in the heart of electric vehicles,” said Vines.  “It is inevitable that some people are going to say they are just not ready to go on the road.”  This opinion was echoed by Karl Brauer, an auto analyst with Kelley Blue Book, who stated, “It’s a relatively innocuous occurrence to hit something in the road, but in this case there’s a fire, and [the fire is] difficult to put out.”  Battery expert Ralph J. Brodd opined that the Tesla’s metal battery shield may not have been adequate to prevent the impact from causing the battery to short circuit and burn.  “If you have an accident that jars the battery or … deforms it a bit, the wiring could go, and then you would have a short.”

Conversely, Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, has often proclaimed the Tesla to be the safest car on the road.  Indeed, the Model S had received glowing safety ratings and been praised by automotive publications for its performance and safety features. According to Musk, drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles are five times more likely to have their cars catch fire than are Tesla drivers.  While statistics compiled by the National Fire Protection Association and the Department of Transportation appear to bear out Musk’s claim, it is also true that the research and development of lithium-ion batteries is a relatively new endeavor, and that further studies on the way road impacts may affect these batteries is necessary.  According to researchers at MIT, physical impacts to lithium-ion batteries can cause increases in temperature, making the ability to “detect onset of electric short circuit,” even absent a fire condition, imperative.  That makes perfect sense.

Time will tell whether Tesla Motors survives and prospers, but one thing is still certain: greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles have to be reduced substantially if we want to continue living on Earth as we know it.

Global Warming Will Bring Unfriendly Climate by 2047

   By:  Lee Ann Rush 

Was this past summer hot enough for you?  Two recent studies on climate change predict that, unless stringent measures are taken very soon to curtail the greenhouse gas emissions that function to trap heat in our atmosphere, the climates of many areas in the world will achieve a “new normal” of significantly hotter temperatures by 2047; only 34 years from now.  According to research done by scientists at Harvard University and the University of California- Berkeley and published last week in the journal Nature, tropical locales will probably be the first to experience this climate shift, which could occur within the next ten years.

Over the past 50 years, the warming temperatures associated with the arrival of spring have moved up almost two days earlier than normal.  According to Alexander Stine of Berkeley, no other temperature shift of this type has been noted in temperature records dating back to the 1800s.  Between 1954 and 2007, spring warming has moved forward 1.7 days; much of this acceleration has occurred since 1981.  “Really, the last 27 years stand out as being different from anywhere previous in the record,” cautioned Stine.   Hmm, what may have brought about such a change over the last three decades?   It might just have something to do with the expansion of global manufacturing without proper controls on plant emissions, along with the huge increase in the number of greenhouse gas-spewing motor vehicles clogging the roads and fouling the air.

Lest you think that warmer temperatures will be a pleasant enough change, the studies note that, on the contrary, they pose a significant threat to thousands of species of plants and animals, which will have to either move to different locations, adapt, or face the possibility of extinction.  Humans will not be spared either, according to Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii, Manoa.  “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past,” he warned.  Many aspects of human society will be negatively impacted by the rise in temperatures, from agriculture to public health and the safety of the water supply.  Even if the world’s nations should unite in adopting an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gases, Mora’s research indicates that the annual mean temperature of the average location on Earth will still rise above its previous normal range by 2069.

We’ve all felt the recent hotter-than-normal summers, and we’ve witnessed the rise in major storm activity across the country over the past decade or so.  Is there anybody who still believes that global warming is a figment of the Green movement’s imagination?  Wake up, people, before we destroy our planet!

Mexico’s Population Leveling Out

For years, farmers throughout the United States especially in the rich land of California, have had abundant, cheap labor for picking high value crops such as grapes, peppers, apples and such. Most of this cheap unauthorized labor is from our border country Mexico. Recently these statistics have taken a turn for the worse. There is a drastic shortage of workers for farm labor. The shortage is driven by a struggling U.S. economy, more jobs in Mexico and bigger hurdles to illegal border crossings. The shortage and competition for workers means labor expenses have climbed, harvests are getting delayed, leaving waste from the decaying fruits and vegetables unable to be picked. This causes income for the farmers to suffer and in the long run consumer prices to increase. The trend appears to be long lasting, ultimately affecting our economy and environment.

One of the main reasons this problem has come about is due to the sharp decrease of Mexico’s fertility rate. This further decreased the number of young men crossing into the United States to work in the fields. Mexican men are known to leave their wives and children behind to cross the border in hopes of a better future. It’s a part of life that they have become used to and although it sounds cold, it has existed for a very long time. The Mexican economy is doing better now than it has in the past. Mexico has a free market economy in the trillion dollar class. It has a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, dominated by the private sector increasingly. With less population becoming apparent, more young men can make it possible to work at home with smaller families to provide for.

Upon all the research that I have done, I was surprised to discover that the main culprit for Mexico’s fertility rate dropping did not have anything to do with outside influences. Meaning chemicals or consumption of preservatives and such. For years, Mexico has had (and still does) a reputation for large families with many children. The fertility rate has plummeted drastically in the past few decades, now almost to the same level as the United States. Better education and improved job opportunities for women means that the expense to stay home with children is no longer appealing. The government has improved availability of birth control and liberalization of abortion rules in some countries makes the outcome easier to avoid. Another influence is the American culture, with massive number of people going back and for the into the United States and NAFTA (mass media) many Mexicans are now following by example and discovering that life is easier and more productive with smaller families. As labor markets in Mexico tighten, and wage rates rise, few Mexican youngsters will be interested in crossing the border to the U.S.

This means that the main problem of illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico is really just temporary. Labor shortages already show the truth about what is going on in Mexico and how the country is slowly rising above poverty level and more of the people are resisting leaving their home land. The amount of energy the U.S. is placing on border control is similar to building a dam with no water behind it. A better solution at this point for our farmers would be more jobs for Americans with better pay and benefits. Money well saved thus becoming money well spent.

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