Michigan's Environmental Literacy Plan

Updates on Policy and Practice: MIELP

The Michigan Environmental Literacy Plan (MIELP) is a set of guidelines and resources intended to get K-12 students connected with the natural world.  MIELP was passed in 2011 with the vision of creating “environmentally literate citizens” who would be aware of, and good stewards of, Michigan’s natural resources. In order to create environmental literacy, MIELP proposes five goals to be integrated into state education curriculum.  These goals are 1) instill understanding of natural systems and interactions within the environment, including human interactions, 2) provide hands-on experience, time to play outdoors, and service learning opportunities, 3) ensure understanding of stewardship towards the natural environment as well as have opportunities to be an active steward, 4) prepare educators with knowledge and resources for incorporating environmental education into the classroom, 5) utilize classroom assessments to provide evidence student based environmental literacy.

There have been two bills passed nationally which have provided the framework for MIELP locally; the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (2011) and the No Child Left Inside Act (2013), which has now been modified to the Every Child Succeeds Act (2015). The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (2011) issued that each state develops a strategy for children to be active outdoors and to do a study of national significance on this Act. The No Child Left Inside Act (2013) supported the implementation of state environmental literacy plans and developing environmental education curricula. The Every Child Succeeds Act (2015) amended the No Child Left Inside Act (2013) by adding accountability goals and measures as well as school interventions in relation to environmental education and student success.

The MIELP website contains many resources related to understanding environmental education as a whole, informational videos related to environmental education, as well as research reports and other links. MIELP also has a Facebook page with informational posts about upcoming events and research articles.

MIELP is implemented locally through the Ann Arbor Public Schools Science & Environmental Education Endowment Fund. Locals created this endowment fund in order to help Ann Arbor schools provide hands-on experiences for students through curricula, field trips, and more.

Students around Ann Arbor participate in field trips all over the community, from touring the Water Treatment Plant to studying urban hydrology in Allen Creek and learning about trail etiquette from naturalist guides. These environmental learning experiences take place from kindergarten through seventh grade, with each grade focusing on a different environmental concept. The environmental program has also been associated with the University of Michigan for the past 4 years, in which middle school students participate in collaborative projects.

However, environmental education is not solely focused on field trips and outdoor experiences. The Ecology Center, an environmental education based non-profit, believes that environmental education should be incorporated into daily curriculum within the classroom so that students learn to see their typical surroundings as part of the natural world. For example, the Ecology Center visits local schools to teach second graders about how their daily decisions can make a difference on a much larger scale. The Grow, Eat, Throw program focuses on the life cycle of common food products and provides students with an opportunity to be environmental stewards every time they get hungry. The non-profit also hosts educational programs at Ann Arbor’s Materials Recovery Facility (Recycling Center), including annual visits by all of Ann Arbor sixth grade students. Touring the Materials Recovery Facility provides students with an inside look at the recycling process and how their decision to recycle can have lasting impacts.

The Ecology Center also offers Educator Training.  In 2017, a series of one-day K-12 Teacher Lesson Planning Workshops and regional Energy Works Training are planned.  For more information on the following opportunities, contact katy@ecocenter.org.

K-12 Teacher Lesson Planning Workshop

Want to use real data on compelling environmental issues to teach math or science? As every teacher knows, creating exciting new lessons for our students takes time we often do not have. Join Ecology Center educators for a day devoted to lesson planning using authentic environmental and human health data.  Following the workshop, the Ecology Center will provide materials to pilot newly developed lessons. Next session scheduled for February 11, 2017, 8:30am – 3:30pm.

Energy Works Michigan (3rd-12th grades)

Energy Works curriculum is a coordinated set of lessons designed to demonstrate energy technologies and empower students to find solutions to the energy challenges that Michigan faces.  Energy Works encourages students to think critically, be aware of their own values, and draw their own conclusions about environmental issues, while also helping students to become responsible citizens.

  • rigorously reviewed and classroom tested
  • adaptable to meet teacher needs
  • hands-on, aligned to Michigan’s NGSS
  • Michigan-specific case studies and information

The health of our communities, physical environments, and children are fundamentally tied to one another.  It is encouraging that we have leaders within Michigan working to establish measures like the Michigan Environmental Literacy Plan which recognizes this fact.  Although such plans do not have the force of law, they do articulate a vision and set the groundwork for defending the legitimacy of environmental education within our public system.  In this age of educational accountability, the bright excitement for nature and passionate stewardship of our youth are at risk of being lost in the shuffle of packed schedules and test scores. We thank those educators and policy-makers who have remained committed to environmental education as an enriching and essential part of our lives. 

Written by Katy Adams, Sydni Jourban, and Camille Hollins. 

Published on January 12, 2017

Michigan Energy Legislation Finally Passes: Important Step Forward for Clean Energy

After almost two years of continued perseverance and hard work, and possibly a bit of luck, the Michigan Legislature was finally able to pass new energy legislation. A deal was reached in the last hours of the legislative session with the passing of Senate Bills 473 and 438, the state’s first comprehensive energy package since 2008.

The new energy plan, signed by Governor Snyder a week after being passed, includes an increased Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and retains and improves the state’s Energy Optimization Standard (EOS).  This is particularly notable since the original legislation introduced in the Senate would have eliminated these standards, leaving it up to utilities to propose within a new integrated resource planning (IRP) process. The updated standards now set a minimum floor that they will have to reach. 

In addition, the final legislation removed proposed grid changes for solar net-metering customers, directing the Michigan Public Service Commission to create a fair tariff after considering both costs and benefits to the grid. This was one of the agreements reached in the last hours of negotiation, resolving one of remaining hurdles that could have prevented passage of the bills.  

When energy legislation was first introduced almost two years ago, the state’s RPS requirement of 10% by 2015 had already been reached, and new commitments by utilities had started to slow down.  The new RPS extends the requirements to 15% renewables by 2021 with an interim goal of 12.5% by 2019. In addition, proposed changes to the definition of renewable energy were defeated that would have allowed a broad range of waste materials-- including petroleum coke, coal waste, scrap tires, and hazardous waste--to count as “renewable.”

The state’s energy optimization standard (EOS) was also in jeopardy when the original legislation was introduced. However, the final energy package maintained and improves our highly successful energy efficiency program that has saved customers more than $4 for every $1 invested and reduce energy waste. The new energy package retains the energy efficiency standard of 1% per year but removes the cost caps on utility spending that had previously constrained efforts to exceed the standard.  The legislation also creates additional incentives for utility companies to achieve annual energy savings greater than 1%.  

The new energy package provides a strong path forward for residential and other distributed solar power producers by warding off the one-sided “grid charges” proposed to the net-metering program. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) will be in charge of setting a fair and balanced tariff after considering and studying both the costs and benefits to the grid. Solar customers can continue to sign-up under the existing net metering until that time, and will then be grand-fathered under those terms for at least 10 years.  The earliest a new tariff is likely to be in place is in 2019, as part of a utility rate revision.  

Regulated utilities will also be required to submit (and update every 5 years) Integrated Resource Plans (IRP) for their entire electric portfolio.  These plans must project their generation capacity and resource needs for the next 20 years, and consider all prudent and reasonable opportunities to reduce waste and improve efficiency. The Commission will set guidelines for this process in 2017, with initial IRP plans due by the end of 2018.

There is a range of other provisions in the energy package, addressing capacity assurance, competitive bidding and the like.  Overall, the legislation also includes a goal that 35% of electricity in 2025 be provided by either energy efficiency or renewable energy, cumulatively.  All-in-all, it was a comprehensive update to the state’s policies and moves us forward in a number of important ways.

It’s important to recognize that these improvements did not just happen on their own. It took the dedication of a broad coalition of environmental, health, faith, and business groups, who by working together were able to strengthen our state’s commitment to clean, renewable, and efficient energy. Thank you to everyone who took action over the past few years, making phone calls, writing letters, sending emails, and meeting with legislators to ensure that Michigan’s energy policies would move us toward a clean energy future. And thanks also to our champions in the legislature who heard our pleas and refused to back down. Lastly, we must also extend thanks to Governor Snyder and his administration for kicking off the Michigan Energy Future effort several years ago and for stepping in to help broker a compromise during the recent overnight legislative session in lame duck. The passage of these bills shows that when enough of us come together with a common vision and a focused strategy for success, we can indeed accomplish great things.

Published on December 28, 2016

Ann Arbor Says “High Priority” to Act on Climate

Responding to community proposals to “act on climate,” the Ann Arbor City Council declared that climate action was a top City priority during their December 12 annual retreat, the first step in its regular budget process.  This was the first time that Council had put climate or energy on the City’s priority list.

Four years ago, though, the City of Ann Arbor had put itself on the map by adopting one of the country’s first community climate plans – committing itself to a 90% reduction in the community’s carbon emissions by 2050.  Ann Arbor has some things to show for what it’s done since – a major transit expansion, a commercial energy efficiency program, several other initiatives under development – but the pace of progress isn’t close to matching the ambition of the plan.

With the incoming Trump Administration pledging to block or roll back federal solutions to climate change, the focus for action in the United States moves to states and cities. Almost on a weekly basis now, top scientists report new findings on the extent of current climate impacts and on the narrowing window of time to take meaningful action to prevent the worst outcomes.  In Ann Arbor and throughout much of Michigan, we’ve already seen dramatic increases in precipitation, extreme storms, and flooding problems.  Ann Arbor suffers from 41% more extreme storms than it did 30 years ago. 

In response, community climate advocates – led by the Ecology Center, Huron River Watershed Council, Ann Arbor Climate Partnership, and leaders of the City’s Environmental Commission and Energy Commission – proposed a $1.2-million annual investment in clean energy and climate adaptation programs.  If fully implemented, the initiative would reduce climate emissions by more than half of the City’s goal for 2025.  The full plan can be found here.

There are five components to the Ann Arbor Climate Proposal – flood prevention, energy efficiency, solar energy, electric vehicles, and neighborhood-based initiative:

Rain Ready Ann Arbor.  Using a program developed by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, the City would offer practical and affordable improvements to minimize flood losses for residents and neighborhoods.  The emphasis is on neighborhood-risk mapping and the implementation of low-cost flood reduction and mitigation solutions.

EnergySmart Ann Arbor.  Based on a very successful four-year-old program in Boulder County, Colorado, the City would provide subsidized energy audits in residential and commercial buildings.  Energy advisor would guide owners through the results, and help them navigate available tax credit and state/local incentives.  A number of related services and local policies would multiply the program’s benefits.

A2 Solar for All. The City would sustain and expand two programs that are currently under development – a Group Solar Purchase program that gives residents and businesses cheaper and easier access to installing solar on their properties, and a Community Solar program that lets people purchase affordable shares in third-party solar arrays.  Both programs are modeled on successful efforts around the country.

Charge Up Ann Arbor!   Adopting practices that have worked in Portland, Indianapolis, and elsewhere, the City of Ann Arbor would gradually convert its city vehicle fleet to electric, covering the cost differential with new city capital funds.  It would develop the community’s EV infrastructure by providing matching grants to property owners to install charging stations, and by continuing to install stations at public facilities.

A2 Green Grants.  Modeled on long-standing programs in Seattle and Indianapolis, the City would provide grants – up to $5,000 per ward – for community-driven projects that enhance and strengthen neighborhoods, including ideas like community rain gardens, neighborhood-based emergency preparedness, or many other ideas.

The City Administrator and City staff will be working over the coming months to develop the City’s 2017-19 budget, which gets submitted to the Ann Arbor City Council for adoption in May.  We’ll be watching the process to make sure climate action moves forward, and to make sure the City backs up its strong words with real action, and real money.

Published on December 27, 2016

Why It Matters Who Runs Your MRF

Photo of Ann Arbor's Material Recovery Facility while operated by Recommunity. 

For the past six months, we’ve been raising concerns about how the City of Ann Arbor is managing its recycling program after it terminated a contract with the operator of its materials recovery facility (MRF).  City officials have responded that the recyclables all got recycled through other MRFs, and that raises the question:

Does it really matter who runs your MRF? 

In fact, it makes all the difference in the world.

Here’s the Recycling 101 explanation of what happens to old plastic containers, paper, and other recyclables after you put them out on the curb:

They get picked up by a recycling truck, and eventually delivered to plastics factories, paper mills, and other reprocessors.  Then they get re-made into new products for consumers but at a fraction of the climate emissions, air and water pollution, and resource depletion that comes from making those products out of raw materials.

But there’s a step between the curbside truck and the reprocessing plants.  It’s at the MRF that materials get sorted, prepared, and marketed.  It’s the key step in converting garbage into commerce.  And what happens at the MRF varies a lot, depending on the design of the facility and the interests of the operator.

Not all MRFs sort alike.  Different MRFs see a wide variance in residue rates, the percentage of incoming material that doesn’t go to end-markets because it was either mistakenly included in the recycling cart in the first place or because of imperfections in the MRF’s sorting process.  Eureka Recycling achieves a 2% residue rate at its facility in St. Paul, Minnesota.  When it was running, the City of Ann Arbor’s lost 7% to 10% of material to residue.  Nationwide, some single-stream MRFs suffer residue rates as high as 30%.  Typically, MRF residue gets landfilled or incinerated.

Some MRFs generate more end-market residue than others.  While some materials end up as MRF residue, others get mistakenly sorted into the wrong loads.  Sorting machinery may often treat flattened plastic as a paper product, and the MRF’s end-product sends plastic mixed in with paper to the mills, where it eventually get pulled out as end-market residue.  Once again, the residue is typically landfilled or incinerated.

MRF operators can help develop markets for hard-to-recycle materials.  Facing the same problems as communities everywhere are now having in finding markets for glass, Eureka Recycling worked with their state economic development agency to attract a glass benefication factory to improve the quality of glass coming out of the MRF and making it saleable to manufacturers who use it to make glass containers.

Communities can use their MRFs to troubleshoot problem areas in a recycling program.  MRF operators can use their scale house data to identify neighborhoods with poor participation.  They can inspect transfer station loads to learn what recyclables are getting thrown in the trash on a regular basis.  That information can inform community education programs.

Labor standards also vary between MRFs.  Recycling programs can be a good source of local jobs, and some MRFs pay their employees at above-living-wage levels.  But others pay close to minimum wage, and working conditions are difficult.

A material recovery facility is the hub of any community’s recycling program.  It can be a spark for regional economic development; a source of good local jobs; the key component in recycling education programs; and the guarantee that the environmental benefits of recycling actually get realized.  The MRF makes the difference between a mediocre recycling program and a great one. 

Published on December 27, 2016

Car Seats, Chemicals, and Kids

The Latest HealthyStuff Report on Toxics in Children's Car Seats

As parents we spend hours researching options when considering the purchase of a new car seat, one of the most important and well-used tools in keeping our little loved ones safe. We consider price, functionality, color, size, softness, etc. Most of us, however, never dream that we have to consider if the product contains hazardous chemicals or not.  

HealthyStuff.org, a program of the Ecology Center, recently released their 2016 Car Seat Study: Traveling with Toxics: Flame Retardants and Other Chemicals in Children’s Car Seats. Flame retardants (FRs) were found in all 15 tested car seats, particularly in the fabrics.

“It is essential that parents put their kids in properly installed car seats, which provide vital crash protection, regardless of chemical hazard,” said the Ecology Center’s Research Director, Jeff Gearhart.  “However, there are some seats that are healthier than others in terms of toxic chemical content.”

HealthyStuff researchers found that most car seats still contain brominated FRs. Brominated chemicals tend to be persistent (they don’t break down), bioaccumulative (the build up in the food chain and in our bodies), and—here’s the kicker—often toxic. The good news is manufacturers have stopped using some of the worst flame retardants, such as Chlorinated Tris, a known human carcinogen. Instead, HealthyStuff researchers found more phosphorus-based, halogen-free flame retardants. Gillian Miller, Ecology Center Staff Scientist notes, “Eliminating halogens is important, so this is a promising trend. But some halogen-free FRs also pose health hazards, so these need to be thoroughly evaluated as well.”

The health risks associated with the detected chemicals range from endocrine disruption (alteration of the hormone system) to cognitive impairments and cancer. Flame retardants are not chemically bound to the fabric, foam, or plastic in which they are found. The chemicals release over time. Meanwhile, our children are strapped in—perhaps wearing as little as a diaper on hot days—where they may inhale, ingest, and/or absorb the off-gassing chemicals.

HealthyStuff’s researchers encourage policy-makers to reconsider the federal flammability standard. Despite 44 years of this U.S. regulation, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can provide no evidence suggesting that the rule protects children in vehicle fires. But it has resulted in car seat makers adding many thousands of pounds of chemical flame retardants to products that infants and children are in close contact with every day.

The report celebrates one more piece of good news: HealthyStuff testing confirmed UPPAbaby’s 2017 “Mesa Henry” model to be free of chemical flame retardants...and is still compliant with current flammability standards. The secret? Wool, which has natural fire retardant qualities. This car seat will be available in March 2017. HealthyStuff will be launching a car seat challenge in 2017, asking all manufacturers to follow UPPAbaby’s lead and introduce flame retardant free car seats.

What is a concerned parent to do? 

Advice for car seats and the car environment as a whole—because every surface and material in the car itself is likely coated or infused with flame retardant chemicals.

CHECK THE REPORT and its ratings to see where your favorite brands rank.

VACUUM the car interior and the nooks and crannies of car seat at least weekly. Also dust surfaces with a wet cloth. Chemicals that migrate out, including flame retardants, can cling to dust particles. Open the car windows when possible

LIMIT THE TIME your children spend in their car seats. Only use the car seat during travel, not as a place for your child to nap or sit outside of the car.

LIMIT DIRECT SUNLIGHT on the car seat and high temperatures in your car. Flame retardants and other hazardous chemicals may be released at a higher rate when your car becomes hot. When possible, park in the shade or in covered parking. Window coverings in a car also substantially lower the interior temperature on a warm day.

CONTACT CAR SEAT COMPANIES. Let them know you expect them to manufacture products without toxic chemicals, which threaten the health of our children and natural resources.

To read more about the study and to view the full methodology, results, and rankings, visit www.HealthyStuff.org.

 

Published on December 20, 2016

Gifts for Your Mother (Earth, that is)

As with most mothers, it’s the simple things, the heart-felt things that matter most to the Earth. Practicing simple habits throughout the season can make a big difference. 

Gift-giving

Before purchasing a gift or other item for the holiday, do a quick mental checklist. Does the item have:

  • Low mileage? (Is the backstory like a retelling of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?) Opt for locally-made and regionally-made products. You will significantly reduce the transportation pollution connected to your gift and you will boost the local economy.
  • Minimal/ No packaging? Almost one third of municipal waste in the U.S. is discarded packaging, according to the EPA. Paper or cardboard packaging is more easily recycled than plastic
  • Natural content? From cradle (production) to grave (disposal), plastic and other petroleum-based materials (such as polyester fleece) wreak havoc on the environment and the health of the people who live near the facilities. A gift made of natural materials is also the least toxic option for the recipient.

Tip: Give home-made gifts, an experience such as tickets to a play, museum, or movie, an activity such as ice skating, or a service such as a massage for a 100% score on your checklist.

Energy

  • Opt for LEDs when updating and adding to your holiday light collection. They use 70% less energy than traditional bulbs. Use a timer to control when the lights are on.
  • Wrap your home! No, not with yards of gift paper and bows! Install storm doors & windows. Cover windows with plastic if you don’t have storm windows. Block drafts under doors.
  • Ask Santa to install a programmable thermostat for an estimated 10% cut in energy costs and use.

Waste

Americans throw away about 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. Non-material gifts win in this category as well. (Like most moms, I’m sure Mother Earth approves of a little healthy competition!) Experiences or services don’t need to be wrapped. Neither do football fields. We would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields if every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials. Ways to reuse materials:

  • Reuse gift bags.
  • Repurpose old t-shirts, maps, sheet music, newspaper comics, scarves, fabric, handkerchiefs instead of using new wrapping paper.
  • Turn cereal boxes inside out and decorate them.
  • Use reusable tins or decorative storage boxes.
  • Save used gift wrappings for the next holiday. Recycle any wrappings that can’t be reused.
  • Close the loop: Buy gifts made from recycled content.

Food Waste

About 40% of the food grown in the country is wasted, according to Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization in Southeast Michigan. One way to make a difference, they say, is to adjust your expectation of cosmetic beauty and buy “ugly” produce. Oddly-shaped produce often sits on the shelf and becomes waste before it is even sold. More ideas:

  • Make a pointed grocery list and stick to it. Don’t buy or make more than you need.
  • Have reusable containers handy for leftovers for you and others. Look up new recipes for leftovers.
  • Compost any food waste in a backyard pile or a vermiculture (worm!) bin.

Decorations

Keep it real whenever you can. Whether it’s a tree, a wreath, a swag, or table centerpiece, real greenery is healthier for you and the planet. Artificial trees and decorations are made of PVC plastic and cannot be recycled. They can also have lead, phthalates and other toxic chemicals. Experts recommend that parents don’t let children play under artificial trees. Real trees, on the other hand, are renewable, recyclable, and produce oxygen. Farmers plant one to three seedlings for every tree cut.

Opt for natural garlands as well, instead of beaded garlands. HealthyStuff research has found beaded garlands (that look like long strands of Mardi Gras beads) to contain a multitude of toxic contaminants, such as lead and high levels of hazardous flame-retardants.

Consider these ideas the ultimate handmade card to Mother Earth: they are not hard, they just take a little extra time, consideration, and love. 

Published on December 14, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

1. Consume Less!

Buying less stuff will save you money, use fewer resources, and create less waste. Think about how necessary your purchases are before you buy. When you do need an item, invest in things that are built to last. Studies show a simpler life is a happier life. Check out the #2 and #3 for more ideas on reducing consumption and waste.

2. Reduce your plastic use

Once you start looking at how much plastic you use, it can be overwhelming. Start small by focusing on disposable packaging: grocery/ shopping bags and water bottles. Use a reusable bag made from cloth or fabric instead of plastic grocery at the store or market. Need a new bag that doesn’t cost anything? Try a no-sew t-shirt bag. Check out reuseit.com for reusable stainless steel or glass bottles and containers.

When you are ready to take the next step replace plastic produce bags and plastic snack and sandwich bags. Here’s a neat tutorial on a drawstring produce bag. Opt for washable, reusable containers for lunches and snacks or disposable wax paper bags. And remember, reusable bags are good for every store; not just the grocery store.

3. Keep your food waste to a minimum

About 40% of food produced in the U.S. ends up in landfills where it turns into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. This wasted food means large amounts of fresh water and oil, and billions of dollars used in production and transportation are also wasted. One way to make a difference, according to Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization in Southeast Michigan, is to adjust your expectation of cosmetic beauty and buy “ugly” produce. Oddly-shaped produce often sits on the shelf and becomes waste before it is even sold.

Other ideas include making a list and buying for planned meals, getting creative with leftovers, and sharing with others (which can make you a happier person!). Check out Natural Resources Defence Council's Food Facts for more resources on reducing food waste. Lastly, turn any old food waste into beautiful soil by building a worm bin or backyard compost pile.

4. Conserve Home Energy: Save Money and the Environment

In the U.S. buildings are responsible for slightly more CO2 emissions than transportation (39% vs 33%). The biggest bang for your buck in home energy improvements according to Jason Bing, Ecology Center Healthy Buildings Director: air sealing and attic insulation. Weatherize by insulating the attic and walls, using storm doors and windows (or covering with plastic), and sealing leaks and drafts. You can save $200 – $800 per year on energy costs with proper weatherization. Eco Works, a local non-profit, has helpful guides for conserving energy and sealing air leaks. Other home energy-saving tips:

  • Updrage to Energy Star- certified appliances when possible,

  • Unplug usused appliances and chargers,

  • Program your thermostat to reduce heating when not at home or when sleeping.

  • Read #5 and #6 for more ways to help the climate.

5. Lower Your Transit Carbon Footprint. And fulfill your exercise resolutions!

Walk more, bike, carpool, ride the bus. Individuals who use public transportation get over three times the amount of physical activity per day of those who don’t (approximately 19 minutes, rather than six minutes) by walking to stops and final destinations. And you will also pollute less. By switching a 20-mile round trip commute by car to public transit, an individual can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year. Overall, public transit reduces U.S. petroleum consumptions by 1.4 billion gallons annually (the equivalent of 300,000 fewer auto fill-ups each day). And if you have to drive, invest in an electric or other high-mileage vehicle.

Find a carpool at www.erideshare.com. Support local efforts for more transit.

6. Take Action on Climate

As Kathryn Savoie, Ecology Center staffer, puts it, "We need a movement not just individual action to solve a global problem." Ideas include: getting involved with your local climate action group, letting your elected officials know that you are concerned about climate change, and supporting a fossil fuel divestment campaign.

7. Eat local and sustainably-grown

Join a consumer supported agriculture group, aka CSA (now is a great time to reserve your spot), shop your local farmers’ markets, or start a small garden in your yard or in containers.  CSAs and farmers markets are not just for veggies.  You can also get locally grown and produced eggs, dairy, and meat.  And whether you are shopping directly with the farmer or at the supermarket, ask for antibiotic-free animal products.

These options will reduce fuel consumption, provide you with fresher, healthier food (more nutrients and fewer chemicals), and preserve the viability of antibiotics for human use. (Did you know that 80% of antibiotics used today are given to livestock?) Local resources:

8. Ditch the Antibacterials

The FDA recently ruled the risks of consumer antiseptic washes outweigh the benefits of the "active ingredient" listed on the label. Triclosan interferes with our bodies’ hormone systems, pollutes local waterways, and may lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. There is no evidence that triclosan is more effective at reducing illness. Remember to wash with plain soap and water for 20- 30 seconds. The Rule only applies to antibacterial soaps, and hand or body washes; it does not apply to dental products, deodorant, household cleaners or other products. Avoid triclosan in these products as well. Use a spray of white vinegar to kill germs on surfaces instead of antibacterial sprays. Home Cleaning Recipes.

9. Free Yourself from Fragrance

Fragrances are full of hundreds of secret ingredients and they are everywhere: cologne, perfume, air fresheners, scented candles, lotion. shampoo, soap, laundry products, household cleaners. Two major concerns in these undisclosed formulations are phthalates and VOCs. Phthalates are common fixatives and are associated with a host of health concerns including birth defects and cancer. Dozens of commonly-used VOCs are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal law. Many are respiratory irritants and neurotoxins. Some are carcinogens.

This doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying scents. Natural perfume/ cologne can be made or bought that contains essential oils, which are derived from plants. You can dab a few drops of lavender, orange, rose, or other skin-safe essential oil just as you would perfume. Companies, such as Aubrey’s Organics and Pacifica, offer fragrances using only essential oils and carrier oils or water—and they are less expensive than your average perfume.

Avoid other body care products with “fragrance” on the ingredient list, unless the label states that the fragrance is plant-based or derived from essential oils. In the home absorb odors with baking soda or vinegar; rather than covering them up with toxic air "fresheners."

10. Plan for a Pesticide Free Yard

Pesticides are harmful to human health and the environment. They have been shown to cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, birth defects, learning difficulties, reproductive problems, and cancer. Pesticides are also linked to the drastic decline in beneficial insects, such as butterflies, honeybees, and native bees.

A few tips for supporting beneficial insects and foregoing pesticides in spring:

Learn more about "Green Gardening."

Published on December 12, 2016

Children's Car Seat Study 2016

The Ecology Center has tested child car seats periodically for ten years, tracking changes in chemical addtives. Car seats are a required product in which babies and children typically spend hours per day. The flame retardant (FR) chemicals historically used in car seats are known to include carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and developmental toxicants. Exposure occurs through contamination of air and dust.

How Toxic is Your Child’s Car Seat?

Leading Environmental Scientists Release New Study of Child Car Seats Based on Hazardous Chemical Content

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  DECEMBER 13, 2016

CONTACT: Shayna Samuels, shayna@ripplestrategies.com, 718-541-4785

Glenn Turner, glenn@ripplestrategies.com, 917-817-3396

ATTN TV Reporters: B-Roll featuring interviews with experts and product-testing footage is available upon request.

New Study on Chemicals in Car Seats Finds

Toxic Flame Retardants Still Widely Used

Britax & Maxi-Cosi Car Seats Rank Healthiest

First-Ever Flame Retardant-Free Car Seat by UPPAbaby Due Out in 2017

(Ann Arbor, MI) – A new study on toxic chemicals in children’s car seats was released today at HealthyStuff.org.   The sixth study of its kind since 2006, leading environmental scientists at the Ecology Center said that this year’s findings were an improvement from previous years, however there are still toxic chemicals found in car seats.

Download study

This year’s study focuses particularly on flame retardants (FRs), which continue to be used despite there being no data showing they provide a fire safety benefit to children.  Rather, they put babies and young children in close contact with chemical additives that are known to be carcinogens, hormone disruptors and developmental toxicants.  Babies are the most vulnerable population in terms of exposure to chemical-laden dust from products like car seats, since their systems are still developing.

“It is essential that parents put their kids in properly installed car seats, which provide vital crash protection, regardless of chemical hazard,” said the Ecology Center’s Research Director, Jeff Gearhart.  “However, there are some seats that are healthier than others in terms of toxic chemical content.”    

Fifteen infant and toddler car seats purchased in 2016 were tested, including two from the United Kingdom, by the following manufacturers: BabyTrend, Britax, Chicco, Clek, Cosco, Diono, Evenflo, Graco, Joie, Maxi-Cosi, Nuna, Orbit, Recaro, and Safety 1st; and a 2017-model car seat from UPPAbaby.  Three different analytical techniques were used: X-ray fluorescence, infrared spectroscopy, and gas chromatography with mass spectrometry.  A database with full results from the 2016 tested seats, as well as previous years, is available at www.HealthyStuff.org.

Highlights from this year’s findings include:

  • First-ever flame retardant-free car seat coming soon -- In 2017, for the first time, a car seat marketed as free of FRs will be on the market produced by UPPAbaby.   The “Henry”, a new infant car seat in their “Mesa” line, leaves out chemical FRs in favor of a wool blend to meet regulations.  The FR-free Henry will be available in the spring of next year. 
  • Flame retardants are still widespread – Aside from the UPPAbaby seat, FRs were found in all of the car seats that were tested, and for the first time were found to be in widespread use in the fabrics of car seats.
  • Most car seats still contain brominated flame retardants (BFRs) -- This is concerning, as brominated chemicals are typically persistent, bioaccumulative, and often toxic.
  • Alternatives to BFRs have not been tested for toxicity -- Manufacturers have stopped using some flame retardants with known hazards, but the health effects of many of the substitutes are unknown.

 

Please see the full list of results below: 

“UPPAbaby has finally proved that it is possible to make a car seat that meets federal flammability requirements without adding toxic flame retardants,” said Gearhart.  “We now challenge other companies to follow suit, especially those that make low-cost seats. Car seats are required by law for children in vehicles, and an affordable seat should not come with a chemical exposure cost.”

The Ecology Center is encouraging lawmakers to exempt child car seats from the federal flammability standard. Despite 44 years of this U.S. regulation, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can provide no evidence suggesting that the rule protects children in vehicle fires.   Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael, California) introduced related federal legislation (HR 5359) in May, which is pending. 

The new report reminds parents that car seats are critical safety devices and that parents should ALWAYS properly install and use a car seat for babies and children regardless of its chemical composition.

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Published on November 30, 2016

Michigan Deserves Better

Improvements Needed to Michigan’s Proposed Energy Package for Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Policies.

On Thursday, November 10th, the Michigan Senate voted and passed the most recent versions of Senator Nofs’s energy legislation (SB 437 and 438) with bipartisan support. The Senate bills increased the state’s highly successful renewable energy standard from 10 percent to 15 percent by 2021, with an interim goal of 12.5% renewable energy by 2019. Increasing our use of clean, renewable energy sources in Michigan is one of the most important things we can do to decrease air pollution and improve public health and environmental outcomes.

While this increase of the state’s renewable energy standard is an important victory, there are still improvements to the legislation that are needed.  For example, SB 437 contains language that rolls back our state’s extremely successful energy efficiency programs. The state's current 1 percent annual energy efficiency standard would be phased out by January 1, 2021, and replaced with an energy efficiency planning requirement. In addition, SB 438 increases incentives for utilities achieving levels of efficiency that they are already hitting. Higher standards are both achievable and affordable for the state of Michigan and should be included in final legislation. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) has found that consumers save more than $4 for every $1 invested by utility companies in energy efficiency programs.  

The Senate-passed legislation also contains language that will undermine the state’s net metering program by requiring unwieldy new fees on consumers who wish to install or are currently producing their own solar energy.  Michigan’s current net metering law allows customers to use all of the power that they generate on-site and then sell the excess power back to the utility at the retail rate. Utilities want to charge new “grid usage” fees to net metering customers without recognizing the benefits, including increased grid resiliency and decreased demand for new generation capacity and environmental compliance costs. We need to preserve the state’s current net metering rate structure or find an alternative that recognizes the benefits of customer-based solar generation.

Senate bills 437 and 438 are now in the Michigan House for further consideration in legislature’s “lame duck” session. It is time to make some final improvements and get Michigan’s energy policy back on track. The Ecology Center and our partners in the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs Coalition will continue to educate our state legislators and encourage them to make improvements to the proposed energy package. Now is the time for your help as well.  Please contact your state representative and show your support for clean, renewable, and efficient energy policies that will improve Michigan’s environment and public health.

Published on November 28, 2016

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