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The Safety of Compact Fluorescent Lamps

More and more Canadians are replacing regular incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient products, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). While CFLs are being promoted because they are energy-efficient, their use has also raised health concerns.

The federal government has adopted a national standard for lighting efficiency that will come into effect in 2014. Most traditional, incandescent bulbs currently available will not meet the required performance level. The objective is to ensure that only more efficient bulbs such as CFLs, enhanced halogens, and others that are expected in the near future, are used in Canada.

Fluorescent lights have been around for a long time, and CFLs are the latest variation on the traditional tube fluorescent light. CFLs fit into a standard light bulb socket. Like the old-style fluorescent lights, they use a different method to produce light, which makes them energy-efficient. They are low-pressure, mercury vapour lamps that produce invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. When the lamp is turned on, the mercury vaporizes inside the lamp and becomes ‘excited’ by the high voltage electricity. The UV then ‘excites’ the phosphor coating inside the lamp, which emits the light you see.

With more Canadians using CFLs, some have begun to question their safety, including the level of UV emissions, the electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) they create, and the presence of mercury in the lamps. In response to concerns, Health Canada has conducted UV radiation and EMF tests on a range of CFL bulbs, and submitted a final report outlining the results to Natural Resources Canada who commissioned the study.

What CFLs emit

Ultraviolet radiation

Canadians can be exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from a variety of natural and artificial sources, including the sun, welding equipment, lasers, tanning equipment, and fluorescent lights. The incandescent lights that have been used by Canadians also emit UV radiation. UV can be beneficial: it can be used to kill germs and treat various skin conditions, and it is needed to form vitamin D in our bodies. At the same time, there are risks attached to all forms of radiation, and overexposure to UV has been linked to sunburns, premature skin aging, skin cancer, eye problems, and weakening of the immune system.

As noted above, fluorescent lights produce UV when the mercury vapour is ‘excited’ by the electrical current. However, the amount of UV produced is so small that it is not considered hazardous to your health. The results of the Health Canada study showed that, when either CFLs or regular light bulbs (incandescent) are used at a distance of 30 cm or more, UV emissions do not present a health risk to the general population. Health Canada recommends that people keep this minimum distance between themselves and any light source. When CFLs or regular light bulbs are used daily at 30 cm, exposure should be limited to no longer than 3 consecutive hours.

Although the amount of UV emitted by CFLs poses no problem for the average person, some people are extremely sensitive to UV and may be affected by the amount of UV produced by CFLs. Those who have Lupus or another auto-immune disease and certain skin conditions can be sensitive to the UV from CFLs, in the same way they would be sensitive to sunlight and other light bulbs that emit UV. If you believe you are suffering from symptoms related to UV, you should consult your health care provider.

Electric and magnetic fields

Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) surround all electrical equipment from appliances to power cords to outdoor power lines. You cannot see or feel them. An electric field forms whenever you plug a lamp or an appliance into an outlet, even if it is not turned on. The higher the voltage, the stronger the electric field.

A magnetic field forms when the current is flowing through the wire or appliance. The greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field. Electric and magnetic fields can occur separately or together. For example, when you plug in a lamp, it creates an electric field. When you turn the lamp on, the flow of current creates a magnetic field, in addition to the electric field.

Like other electric appliances found in the home, CFLs emit EMFs. Health Canada has made measurements of the EMFs at 20 centimetres from the lamps, and when compared to departmental and international science-based guidelines, the levels of emissions are well below the maximum levels of exposure. Health Canada does not consider the EMFs from CFLs to be a health risk. This conclusion is in line with current international scientific opinion.

What is in a CFL?

Mercury is the only existing element that produces the UV wavelengths needed to make CFLs work. While mercury is a highly toxic substance, only a very small amount is used in a CFL, about the amount to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. There is no risk to your health when the lamps are unbroken. Even when a CFL is broken, there is a very low risk to your health, unless you mishandle it or store it carelessly. Health Canada has developed clean-up procedures, which are found in the following section.

cfl

Health risks of CFLs

Sensitivity to CFLs

In the past, some people reported headaches or eye strain when using fluorescent lighting. Some could see a flicker in the lighting, caused by lower frequencies and magnetic ballasts. The newer CFLs use higher frequencies and electronic ballasts, which means the human eye cannot detect any change in the light frequency. There is also less of a ‘hum’ in the newer lights. The ‘hum’ in older lights may have caused headaches.

There have been individual reports of health effects such as headaches and depression from the use of CFLs. It may be possible that a small number of people are more sensitive to CFLs as noted above; the majority of people are not. Health Canada will continue to review the scientific evidence as it becomes available, and act if any potential risk is found.

Minimizing your risk

Although CFLs are considered safe to use, here are some steps you can take to further protect you and your family:

  • Always handle CFLs carefully when installing and removing them.
  • Check with your municipality to see if CFLs can be recycled in your area. Recycling them means that the small amount of mercury they contain will not end up in the environment.
  • If you have skin sensitivities to UV, or have Lupus or another auto-immune disease that makes you sensitive to UV, you can take these steps:
  • Buy CFLs that are marked low UV.
  • Buy CFLs that have a glass cover already added, which will help further filter out UV radiation.
  • Use additional glass or plastic materials in your lighting fixtures to act as UV filters.
  • Increase the distance you are from the CFL, as this will reduce the level of UV exposure.
  • If you break a CFL, follow these directions for clean-up:

Leave the room

  • Remove people and pets from the room and keep them out of the room during the clean-up process.
  • Avoid stepping on any broken glass.

Ventilation

  • Ventilate the room for at least 15 minutes prior to starting clean-up by opening windows and doors to the outdoors. This will ensure that mercury vapour levels are reduced before you start cleaning.

Clean-up Directions for Hard and Carpeted Surfaces

  • Do not use a vacuum to clean up the initial breakage, as it will spread the mercury vapour and dust throughout the area and may contaminate the vacuum.
  • Wear disposable gloves, if available, to avoid direct contact with mercury and to prevent cuts.
  • Scoop or sweep up the broken pieces and debris with two pieces of stiff paper or cardboard. Do not use a broom.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape or masking tape, to pick up any remaining fine glass or powder.
  • Wipe the area with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe to remove any residual particles.
  • Place the broken glass and clean-up materials in a glass container with a tight fitting lid to further minimize the release of mercury vapour.

Carpeting – Steps to Take After the Initial Clean-up

  • If the rug is removable, take it outside, shake and air it out for as long as is practical.
  • The first time you vacuum on installed carpet after the clean-up, shut the door to the room or close off the area as much as possible and ventilate the room in which the lamp was broken by opening the windows and doors to the outside. When the vacuuming is done, remove the bag, wipe the vacuum with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe, and then place the vacuum bag and paper towel in a sealed plastic bag outside. In the case of a canister vacuum, wipe the canister out with a wet paper towel and dispose of the towel as outlined above. Continue to ventilate the room for 15 minutes once the vacuuming is completed.

Disposal

  • Immediately place waste material outside of the building in a protected area away from children.
  • Dispose of the waste at a household hazardous waste location as soon as possible. Check with local, provincial, or territorial authorities about the requirements for recycling and for the location of household hazardous waste depots or pick-up.
  • Do not dispose of the waste in your household trash.
  • For further information on disposal, please contact Environment Canada.

Washing

  • Wash your hands after storing and disposing of waste.

Additional Information

  • Remove and install the CFL by handling only the base of the lamp to prevent any unnecessary pressure on the glass that may cause it to break.
  • Consider using a drop cloth when replacing a CFL to minimize the chance of breakage should the lamp fall or to protect the flooring and assist in clean-up should the bulb drop and break.
  • Store fluorescent lamps in containers that prevent them from breaking, such as in their original packaging.
  • Consider avoiding the use of CFLs in areas where the lamps may be easily broken.

 


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How to Avoid Summer’s Health Woes

Experts explain strategies for preventing 6 common maladies from ruining your summer fun

By Heather Hatfield     WebMD Feature     Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It’s summer, which means the mercury is on the rise, the beach is where it’s at, and a cold glass of lemonade is exactly what the doctor ordered.

WebMD looks at how to survive the summer season – from heat waves to poison ivy to bad burgers.

Dehydration and Heatstroke

“Dehydration and heatstroke go hand in hand,” says Peter Galier, MD, associate professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “It happens most commonly in people who are out in the sun.”

What happens, explains Galier, is that people sweat and replace their lost electrolyte-packed body fluids with only water. Dehydration can soon follow, and heatstroke can set in if a person becomes so dehydrated they can’t sweat enough to cool down, and their body temperature rises.

How to avoid it. “If you are outside and sweating, you should be drinking at least a 50-50 mix of Gatorade and water, which has potassium and sodium,” Galier tells WebMD. “You need to be drinking at least one small liter bottle of this mix every hour if you’re working or exercising in the sun.”

Warning signs. “Symptoms of dehydration can run the gamut from thirst and general fatigue, to headaches, nausea, and confusion,” says Galier. “Heatstroke symptoms are also headache and confusion, but include delirium and even hallucinations.”

What to do. While mild dehydration can be treated by rehydrating with fluids, heatstroke is more serious. “If you have heatstroke, you need to go to the emergency room so you can have intravenous fluids,” says Galier. “With really bad heatstroke, your kidneys can shut down.”

Poison Ivy

The old adage still rings true, explains Galier. “Leaves of three — let them be,” he says. So when the summer months begin, plan ahead when you know you’re going to be trekking through the woods.

How to avoid it. “Poison ivy is a tri-leafed plant, usually with a little yellow and purple, and it tends to be anywhere with shrubbery, hiding out with other vegetation,” says Galier. “So stay out of shrub areas or wear high boots or high socks, stay on the path, and don’t touch anything you don’t recognize.”

Warning signs. Poison ivy can creep up on you, even if you wear head-to-toe clothing. “It’s the oil of the leaf that’s the problem,” says Galier. “If you take your clothes off and you touch your clothes, you’re going to get it.” The “it” he’s referring to is the itching and swelling.

What to do. It’s time to get out the topical anti-itching cream again, like calamine lotion. “If you can suffer through it and it doesn’t get worse, you can ride it out,” says Galier. If it gets worse, you’ll need to see a doctor for topical steroids or oral steroids.”

Food-Borne Illnesses

“Food-borne illnesses are more common in summer for a number of reasons,” says Linda Harris, PhD, professor in the food science and technology department at University of California Davis. “If the temperature is higher, there is more opportunity for temperature abuse of foods – that is leaving them in the danger zone, which is anything above 40 and below 140 degrees. In this range, microorganisms that cause food-borne disease can multiply.”

From the pasta salad left out all afternoon on the Fourth of July, to a turkey and mayo sandwich in your backpack on a 3-mile hike up a mountain on a warm day, to simply driving from the grocery store to your home in the sweltering heat, summertime foods are a breeding ground for trouble — and bacteria.

How to avoid it. “There are four basic rules for preventing food-borne illness: cook, clean, chill, and separate – and these become important during summer,” says Harris, who is a scientific communicator with the Institute of Food Technologists.

First, she recommends, use a thermometer when cooking so you know your food is adequately heated.

Second, “when you are outside, it’s always best to wash with soap and water. But if you can’t, bring sanitizing handy wipes so you can clean your hands after you handle food,” Harris tells WebMD.

Third, “if you are going to a picnic, use a cooler where you can maintain food in a cool temperature,” says Harris. “Don’t use it to make things cold, but to keep things cold. Remember to bring enough ice, as well. If you can’t use a cooler, like on a hike, bring foods that don’t need refrigeration. Or freeze your foods, so when you are ready to eat them, they’re thawed out.”

Finally, Harris says, “Keep your utensils and dishes that you use for raw meat separate from those you use to eat.”


Warning signs. The warning signs of food-borne illness are the usual suspects, explains Harris: vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, or any combination of these not-so-pleasant symptoms.

“One of the mistakes people make is to assume that the last thing they ate is the cause of their symptoms,” says Harris. “While some types of food-borne illnesses take two to six hours until symptoms appear, others take one or three days. So the culprit is not always the last thing you had, even though that’s probably what came up.”

What to do. Despite best efforts, if you fetch up with something you might suspect is food-borne, keep in mind, “Some food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli O157:H7, can be life-threatening, particularly for young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems,” according to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Symptoms that are severe or prolonged may need to be treated. People who believe they may have contracted a food-borne illness should call their physician.”

Mosquito Bites

While mosquito bites used to be little more than annoying and itchy bumps on your arm or behind your ear, now we have even more reason to avoid them with things like West Nile virus and Triple E (Eastern equine encephalitis) making headlines.

How to avoid it. Your attack against a mosquito bite is three-pronged, according to the CDC’s web site: “Use insect repellent, particularly those with DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus; wear as much clothing as the warm weather will allow; and avoid the outdoors during dusk and dawn — peak biting times.”

Warning signs. Mosquito bites will appear as red, raised bumps on your skin. Worse, they’ll itch.

What to do. Mosquito bites usually go away in less than a week, according to the web site of the University of Maryland Medical Center. In the meantime, you can wash the area and keep it clean, use an ice pack or a cool compress to alleviate itching, take an antihistamine, or use an anti-itching cream, such as calamine lotion.

Nearly 80% of people infected with West Nile virus will not have any symptoms. If you start to experience symptoms like fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach, and back, according to the CDC’s web site, see your doctor. There’s a chance these could be symptoms of West Nile virus.

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is a kid’s nightmare when summer finally arrives.

“Just like when your fingers get pruney when you’re in the water too long, the same thing happens to your ears,” says Galier.

When you swim, or even shower or bathe, water can get trapped in your ear canal, causing the canal to get inflamed and infected.

How to avoid it. Gone are the days of Silly Putty in your ears. Now it’s simply wax ear plugs, or custom-fit ear plugs, explains Galier, to prevent swimmer’s ear.

Warning signs. “The symptoms of swimmer’s ear are ear pain and decreased hearing,” says Galier.

You might also experience, according to the web site of the American Academy of Otolaryngology, a sensation that the ear is full, fever, or swollen lymph nodes.

What to do. “Treating swimmer’s ear requires a prescription,” says Galier. “You need to see your doctor.”

Sunburns

There’s nothing worse than a sunburn in the summer. It hurts, it looks funny, and it means you have to stay inside until it gets better – or go outside in the hot summer sun fully clothed to protect your burnt-to-a-crisp skin. Why does the sun cook us like a strip of bacon? According to the CDC’s web site, “Sunlight consists of infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, and ultraviolet light consists of UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. The UVA rays cause tanning and wrinkling, while UVB rays cause sunburn, aging, wrinkling, and skin cancer.”

How to avoid it. It’s simple – either stay inside or wear sunscreen. According to the CDC’s web site, “Dermatologists recommend using a full-spectrum sunscreen that blocks or absorbs all UV rays.” And of course, don’t think just because it’s cloudy you can skip the sunscreen. Most UV rays pass right through clouds.

Warning signs. While the sun might feel nice while you’re baking underneath it, a few hours later, you’ll pay the price if you didn’t protect yourself with sunscreen. According to the CDC’s web site, “Symptoms usually start about four hours after sun exposure, worsen in 24-36 hours, and resolve in three to five days. In mild sunburn, the skin becomes red, warm, and tender. More serious burns are painful, and the skin becomes swollen and may blister.”

What to do. The bad news is, there’s really no way to treat a sunburn — you just need to ride it out. The CDC recommends aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to relieve pain and headache and reduce fever; drinking water to help rehydrate; and cool baths.

If the sunburn is more severe and blisters develop, the CDC’s web site recommends, “Lightly bandage or cover the area with gauze to prevent infection. The blisters should not be broken, as this will slow the healing process and increase the risk of infection.”

source: webmd.com


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7 Trusted Injury Treatments That Are Dead Wrong

Update your first-aid kit and learn which common treatments for burns, poisoning, excess bleeding, and other injuries can be dangerous to use in an emergency.

 By Patricia Curtis from Reader’s Digest

Today, Ann LaBelle admits that it was a stupid thing to do. But when she jumped off her boyfriend’s motorcycle and burned her inner leg on the tailpipe, she didn’t know how to treat the injury. “It burned a hole right through my jeans, about the size of a fifty-cent piece.” Her boyfriend’s mother suggested she clean the area and put butter on it. For the next several days, LaBelle repeated the process. “It kept getting redder and redder, and it really hurt.” Two weeks later, when the burn wasn’t healing, and she developed a 104 degree fever, LaBelle went to the hospital. There she was given antibiotics to fight the infection. But they didn’t help. About a month later, she underwent surgery to close up the wound.

LaBelle made an all-too-common mistake—she relied on an old wives’ tale. First-aid treatment has evolved, and many of our mothers’ remedies are no longer recommended. Take a look inside your first-aid kit: bandages, some gauze, painkillers, a tube of antibacterial cream, maybe iodine or hydrogen peroxide. We’re all familiar with these tried-and-true solutions.

They may be tried, but they’re not all true. “Many people still use their mother’s remedies, like putting peroxide on a wound,” says Michael VanRooyen, professor of emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “This, and other remedies are very common, but wrong.” After years of research, experts are finding that your standard first-aid response may sometimes be the worst thing you can do in an emergency. Here’s how to update your first-aid kit.

BURNS

Butter
You burn your hand—on the stove, an iron, or a hot plate. According to a popular old wives’ tale, you should spread some butter on the burn to ease the pain. But that isn’t a good idea, says VanRooyen. “Butter was thought to coat the burn, but it can cause infection and create an environment for bacterial growth.”

Better Bet
Run the burn under cool water immediately to help remove the heat and put an end to the damaging process. “The water will also clean the area, decrease the risk of infection, and make it feel better,” says VanRooyen. Next, wrap the burn with sterile gauze or a nonadhesive bandage, and keep it clean and dry. If blisters form, don’t break them—the fluid inside is sterile, and it creates a natural bandage over the burn.

POISONING

Syrup of Ipecac
When a child swallows anything that’s poisonous, parents probably think they are well prepared if ipecac syrup is on hand. Wrong, says the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology. If you have ipecac in your house, get rid of it. For years, ipecac was thought to be a good way to treat a child who had swallowed a toxic substance, but not anymore.

Made from the root of a Brazilian plant, ipecac irritates the stomach to induce vomiting. But a recent study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that ipecac doesn’t reduce ER visits or save lives. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t always remove enough of the toxic substance from the body, says American College of Emergency Physicians spokesperson Charles Pattavina, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University Medical School. Ipecac can leave 40 to 50 percent of the toxin behind. It can also lead to excessive vomiting, a problem that may cause dehydration and prevent doctors from giving other treatments. Another risk: If the poisonous substance is caustic, like lye, it burns the esophagus when swallowed, and can burn it again when it comes back up.

Better Bet
Immediately call the national poison control hotline (800-222-1222), which will be answered by your local poison control center. (Paste the number on the back of your phone.) The experts will be able to tell you what, if anything, to do. If it’s a true emergency, they may send you directly to the ER. There the treatment of choice is often activated charcoal (AC), a very finely ground charcoal powder. When the tasteless powder is swallowed (often it’s mixed with soda), it can soak up the ingested substance like a sponge, preventing it from entering the bloodstream. The charcoal then passes through the digestive system and leaves the body.

It’s important to move quickly, since AC is best taken within an hour of ingesting the poison. Some poison control centers recommend having AC on hand (you may find it in drugstores), but stress that you should never use it without expert guidance. The poison control center will tell you if it’s necessary, and how much to use, which depends on the victim’s weight. Look for AC in powder form, or pre-mixed with water (called a slurry), not capsules—you’d need to swallow 50 of them to get the benefit, says Henry Spiller, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Center.


EXCESS BLEEDING

Tourniquets
Once upon a time, every well-trained Boy Scout in America learned how to stop bleeding with a tourniquet. But studies show this method causes more harm than good. “Only in the most dire circumstances would you want to put a tourniquet on somebody,” says Pattavina. Tourniquets can increase the risk of tissue damage or even the loss of a limb, and since there are other methods that can slow the blood flow—and preserve life—without the loss of the limb, tourniquets are out.

Better Bet
Apply direct pressure to the wound. This is what the Red Cross has always recommended and it’s the best solution, says VanRooyen. Simply place a clean cloth on the wound and press firmly; don’t remove the cloth, even if it gets saturated. If necessary, add more cloths right on top of the first. Applying direct pressure reduces blood flow to the wound. This should stop the bleeding and promote clotting, but still leaves blood circulating to the rest of the limb, says VanRooyen.

If that’s not enough, you can further slow the blood flow by applying pressure to the main artery of the upper arm or leg, depending on the site of the wound. You can learn about this procedure in a first-aid course or through the American Red Cross at redcross.org.

CUTS AND SCRAPES

Hydrogen Peroxide, Iodine, Rubbing Alcohol, Mercurochrome

When the skin isn’t broken, it’s hard to beat iodine for killing bacteria. That’s why doctors use it to clean an area before surgery. But when there’s a cut, says dermatologist Robert Kirsner, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology, full-strength iodine, hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol can be toxic to skin cells, impeding healing. The chemical reaction (and bubbling) that occurs when hydrogen peroxide hits the skin isn’t only cleaning the wound—it’s killing healthy cells. And that stinging from the rubbing alcohol? This stuff hurts because it’s wiping out healthy tissue.

Putting iodine on cuts and wounds kills bacteria, says VanRooyen, but it won’t clean the wound. “You want to protect the good tissue, and iodine doesn’t do that.” Mercurochrome also kills bacteria, but as the name suggests, it contains mercury, which is toxic, and not generally recognized as safe, says the FDA. Today, doctors don’t use Mercurochrome.

Better Bet
Remarkably, cleansing a wound has become much simpler: “The most effective way to get rid of debris and bacteria without damaging healthy tissue is flushing the wound out with water,” says VanRooyen. Put the wound under a faucet, or spray it with the nozzle on the kitchen sink. Flush it with water to clear it of all debris. If you are worried about the bandage sticking to the wound, consider using an antibacterial ointment that contains bacitracin or neomycin to keep the area lubricated.


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Giant weed that burns and blinds spreads across Canada

Drew Halfnight   10/07/13 

A huge, toxic plant that can burn skin and cause permanent blindness has been found for the first time in eastern Ontario, prompting calls for a federal response to contain the spread of the poisonous plant as fear grows no province is immune.

A forestry official confirmed two new findings of giant hogweed last week in Renfrew County, west of Ottawa. It has previously been spotted in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Quebec, southwestern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. About 50 plants were spotted in Toronto’s Don Valley two weeks ago.

Contact with the weed’s clear, watery sap can be very dangerous, Jeff Muzzi, Renfrew County’s forestry manager and weed inspector.

“What it does to you is pretty ugly,” said Mr. Muzzi. “It causes blisters. Large blisters and permanent scarring. What’s left over looks like a scar from a chemical burn or fire.”

Even a tiny trace of sap applied to the eye can singe the cornea, causing temporary or permanent blindness, he added. The chemicals in the sap, furocoumarins, are carcinogenic and teratogenic, meaning they can cause cancer and birth defects.

Most provinces have not authorized official weed inspectors to destroy the poisonous plant because it does not impinge on agriculture.

Mr. Muzzi said he only began eradicating the plant because nobody else would. “It’s not really my job,” he said. “I just thought, somebody better take the bull by the horns here, ’cause this stuff is really dangerous.”

Giant hogweed is already rampant in parts of Europe including England, where the rock group Genesis wrote a 1971 ode to the plant and its “thick dark warning odour.”

Native to the Caucasus Region and Central Asia, it was brought to Europe and North America as a botanical curiosity in the 19th and 20th centuries and has spread rapidly. It typically grows on riverbanks, ditches and roadsides.


The risk of infection was so high, Mr. Muzzi wore a Tyvek suit, protective goggles, rubber gloves, “the whole nine yards,” to remove it, he said. “Which is really nice in 35-degree weather.”

The weed’s sap, which is found all over the plant, bonds chemically with human skin when exposed to sunlight and, within 48 hours, leads to inflammation, red colouring and itching, weeping blisters and eventually black and purplish scars.

“It’s those flower heads you want to get rid of,” Mr. Muzzi said. “I went out, suited up, cut all the flowerheads off and bagged them. Then I nuked the plants with Round-Up.”

Most susceptible to infection are gardeners, campers and children, who have been known to use the plant’s large, hollow stems as play telescopes or pea-shooters.

“If a person takes a weed-whacker to this stuff, they get the sap all over,” Mr. Muzzi said.

While the weed is on the federal government’s official noxious weeds list, there is apparently no national or provincial strategy in place to stop its spread.

Guy Baillargeon, a biologist with the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility, called the weed an “emerging” problem, not yet a national one.

“Very few people are aware of it right now,” he added. “I am not aware that this species is on any provincial list yet.”

Mr. Baillargeon said a federal plan is in the works to deal with invasive species in general, but not hogweed in particular.

“I believe the plant has been here long enough that it would now be difficult to eradicate it,” Mr. Baillargeon said.

“So I don’t expect that things will happen overnight. But we need to talk about it.”

A 2005 study of the plant’s spread in Canada said it was likely to continue for the next 25 to 100 years “with worsening ecological, economic and health effects.”


source: National Post


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Are You Watering Your Garden With BPA and Toxic Chemicals?

by Jill Richardson, via AlterNet.org
What says summer like running through the sprinkler, eating a homegrown tomato off the vine, or drinking right from the garden hose? Unfortunately, those summer experiences might come with toxic chemicals like lead, bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and even flame retardants. That’s what the Ecology Center found out when it tested a number of different common garden products recently.
The finding that your hose might be the most dangerous tool in your garden was not necessarily what the Ecology Center expected to find.
“We’ve been looking at a wide range of products where there is a credible connection to having human exposure and we know that consumer products are a very significant source of exposure to many of these chemicals,” explained John Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s research director. “We’ve looked at everything from baby products to toys to things as big as vehicles and building materials.”
They had not yet examined garden products, and a few people had asked about them. “We started off trying to do a broader assessment and we did screen a range of products, but overwhelmingly we found that the garden hoses were of most concern.”
What is so dangerous about an innocent-looking hose? To start, one in three of the hoses tested had levels of lead that exceeded drinking water standards. And water sampled from one hose was 18 times the levels allowed in drinking water! Only there is nothing illegal about this, because hoses are not regulated by the same laws that limit lead leached by plumbing fixtures into drinking water. (Since, you know, no one is ever going to drink out of a hose or use it to water plants they might eat.) Brass, often used in plumbing fixtures, is an alloy that can contain up to 8 percent lead. In addition to its uses in brass fixtures, lead is also sometimes used as stabilizers or pigments, particularly in yellow or green hoses. Lead is a neurotoxin and children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults.

The good news is that the state of California took action against three major manufacturers of water hoses over lead content in their products in 2003 and settled in 2004. Under the settlement, the companies Teckni-Plex, Inc.; Plastic Specialties and Technologies, Inc. Teknor Apex Company; and Flexon Industries Corporation were to limit the lead content in their products.

While the Ecology Center did not test any of these brands for lead leaching, presumably gardeners who purchased their hoses since 2007, when the settlement terms fully took effect, can skip worrying about lead – and instead only worry about other chemicals like BPA and phthalates.
For anyone familiar with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), nicknamed “poison plastic,” it should come as no surprise that PVC hoses contain phthalates and leach them into the hose water. According to Gearhart “most vinyl hoses are going to have phthalate plasticizers in them.” Phthalates, used as plasticizers, are endocrine disruptors, and some studies link them to liver cancer. Levels of one phthalate, DEHP, was found in the hose water at a rate of four times the amount permitted in drinking water. Several phthalates have been banned in children’s toys, but they are still used in garden hoses and garden gloves.
Another concern found was BPA, an endocrine disruptor that has gotten a lot of publicity recently due to campaigns to ban it from use in baby bottles and sippy cups. Nowadays, consumers have wised up, and many plastic water bottles are marketed as “BPA-free.” The hose industry has faced no such scrutiny, it seems. This endocrine-disrupting chemical was found at a level 20 times higher than what is considered a safe amount in drinking water by the National Science Foundation.