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Friday Finds: Flame Retardant Flameout

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11 May 2012, 9:14 AM
Beneficial pollution, farmers market boost, plastic oceans
Photo courtesy of matthewven (

Investigation sets flame to chemical retardant claims
Flame retardants have long been heralded as life-saving chemicals that slow fires, but a recent investigative series by the Chicago Tribune has found that the toxic chemicals, which are found in American babies at the highest recorded levels among infants in the world, both may not be safe or prevent fire deaths. Among the discoveries that the Tribune uncovered includes a decades-long campaign of deception by the flame retardant industry that has loaded American homes with furniture treated with chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility. Read the entire series here.

Air pollution protecting humans from climate change
Air pollution may be clogging up your lungs and burning your eyes, but at least it’s keeping global warming in check, reports E: The Environmental Magazine. According to research by Harvard scientists, for many decades the eastern half of the U.S. stayed cooler than the rest of the country thanks to a thick cloud of particulates that reflected incoming sunlight, helping to mitigate rising temperatures. But as levels of industrial pollution have decreased, warming has increased, inadvertently creating a perverse incentive to pollute the air. Despite the benefits, the researchers were quick to point out that they weren’t against improving air quality. After all, air pollutants like particulate matter from coal-fired power plants can embed themselves deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems, no matter how breezy the weather stays. Find out how Earthjustice is working to enforce Clean Air Act regulations to both clean up the air and reduce greenhouse gases.

Farmers markets to get food stamp boost
More people will soon have access to fresh fruits and vegetables thanks to a request by the USDA for funds to expand its food stamp program in farmers markets, reports Grist. Part of a broader approach to increasing access to healthy food in low-income communities, the agency’s request calls for $4 million that will be given to states with the largest numbers of farmers markets that are not participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Since 2008, food stamp spending at farmers markets has increased by 400 percent and one estimate suggests that the USDA boost could help bring food stamp processing machines to an additional 4,000 farmers markets.

Ocean filling up with plastic at record rates
The ocean is filling up with plastic, and fast, reports the Oakland Tribune. Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography recently found that the amount of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has increased a hundredfold since the early 1970s. Most of it is from land-based sources like plastic bags and Styrofoam, which is why many cities and counties have banned the two items in recent years. Plastic bits in the middle of the ocean aren’t just eyesores; they also pose threats to wildlife like sea turtles and fish who mistake the plastic for food (as well as those of us who eat seafood). But at least one species is benefiting from the influx of plastic. The marine insect Halobates sericeus, also known as a “sea skater,” uses tiny bits of floating pulverized plastic as places to lay its eggs.

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