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March 11, 2013

The Fireplace Delusion: Wood smoke is like the worst thing you can breathe

The Fireplace Delusion : Sam Harris
Here is what we know from a scientific point of view: There is no amount of wood smoke that is good to breathe. It is at least as bad for you as cigarette smoke, and probably much worse. (One study found it to be 30 times more potent a carcinogen.) The smoke from an ordinary wood fire contains hundreds of compounds known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, and irritating to the respiratory system. Most of the particles generated by burning wood are smaller than one micron—a size believed to be most damaging to our lungs. In fact, these particles are so fine that they can evade our mucociliary defenses and travel directly into the bloodstream, posing a risk to the heart. Particles this size also resist gravitational settling, remaining airborne for weeks at a time. Once they have exited your chimney, the toxic gases (e.g. benzene) and particles that make up smoke freely pass back into your home and into the homes of others. (Research shows that nearly 70 percent of chimney smoke reenters nearby buildings.) Children who live in homes with active fireplaces or woodstoves, or in areas where wood burning is common, suffer a higher incidence of asthma, cough, bronchitis, nocturnal awakening, and compromised lung function. Among adults, wood burning is associated with more-frequent emergency room visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illness, along with increased mortality from heart attacks. The inhalation of wood smoke, even at relatively low levels, alters pulmonary immune function, leading to a greater susceptibility to colds, flus, and other respiratory infections. All these effects are borne disproportionately by children and the elderly. The unhappy truth about burning wood has been scientifically established to a moral certainty: That nice, cozy fire in your fireplace is bad for you. It is bad for your children. It is bad for your neighbors and their children. Burning wood is also completely unnecessary, because in the developed world we invariably have better and cleaner alternatives for heating our homes. If you are burning wood in the United States, Europe, Australia, or any other developed nation, you are most likely doing so recreationally—and the persistence of this habit is a major source of air pollution in cities throughout the world. In fact, wood smoke often contributes more harmful particulates to urban air than any other source.

March 07, 2013

Toxic Sludge Is Good For You!

Human waste is so contaminated with pharmaceuticals and pesticides and BPAs and our own awful diets that human poo is *likely* quite bad as fertilizer. We don't know, as all research into it has met with bad ends. (See the book TOXIC SLUDGE IS GOOD FOR YOU for more info.) Recycled sewage: Biosolids, Dillo Dirt, and compost from human waste. - Slate Magazine
It wasn’t the bands that were the problem. Earlier that year, Austin had laid sod in Zilker Park, home of the annual fall festival, after years of dust problems, including one gritty festival infamously known as the “dust bowl.” In keeping with the city’s environmentally friendly ways, Austin used a locally made compost called Dillo Dirt when laying the new grass. But a day of heavy rain and tens of thousands of festivalgoers turned Zilker’s lush lawn into a mud pit. Dads toting Texas-orange camping chairs, hipsters decked out in impractical vintage, and college students in bikinis and rain boots all shared the same traumatized, confused expression as they waded into the chocolate-pudding-like sludge: What is that smell? The park was ripe with the scent of human waste. The culprit? The Dillo Dirt, a compost whose central component is highly treated human waste, known in waste-management circles as biosolids. In cities across the United States, biosolids are being used to achieve greater civic efficiency while reducing costs. But concerns over regulation and health effects and a general uneasiness with our bowel movements—sterilized or not—are providing fodder for punny poop headlines in newspapers large and small. . . . So why are groups such as the Sierra Club or the Organic Consumers Association raising a stink (sorry) about biosolids? They say that outdated regulation, the potential for illness, and the unknown cocktail of components found in human waste make biosolids a disconcerting trend. And research on the long-term health effects of biosolids and their components appears scarce. A 2009 study of the biosolids produced by 74 publicly owned waste treatment facilities found metals, pharmaceuticals, steroids, hormones, flame retardants, and other chemicals in the samples. “It is not appropriate to speculate on the significance of the results until a proper evaluation has been completed and reviewed,” the EPA said of the study. A 2002 University of Georgia study of 48 individuals found that participants living within 1 kilometer of sites where biosolids were applied to the land suffered from skin rashes and burning of the eyes, throat, and lungs after exposure to winds blowing from the treated fields.

UPDATE: Even When Bloggers Are Bad at Math, Global Climate Change Is Still a Reality

Late in 2012 we--along with most of the pinko-hippie blogosphere--posted...