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Batteries, neurotoxins and green food: the rundown on hazardous waste, Pine Sol and companies that care.

Household batteries are often discarded on the ground and near, or even in, water sources. What is the impact of this, and what would be the ideal disposal method? - Tom Shamrell, Brattleboro, VT

Unfortunately, most of the estimated 750 million alkaline batteries sold each year to power our radios, flashlights and Walkmans are landfilled and incinerated, not recycled. The chemicals in batteries - particularly mercury and cadmium - present a major health hazard if they leak from their corroded metal jackets. Mercury damages the kidneys and central nervous system; cadmium is a probable human carcinogen, and can also affect kidney and lung function. In spite of this, only six states - Alaska, California, Minnesota, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Washington - classify alkaline batteries as hazardous waste. One indirect solution is offered by Duracell, whose batteries list an 800 number (800-551-2355) to be used by consumers who want a postpaid zip-lock bag for free return and recycling.

Another solution is rechargeables. Radio Shack has joined forces with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) to set up in-store collection points for worn-out nickel-cadmium batteries. And the California-based Real Goods sells a solar-powered recharger that works with both rechargeable nickel-cadmium and alkaline batteries. You can also contact your town's solid waste office to see if there are any scheduled Hazardous Waste Collection Days. Batteries awaiting recycling must be stored separately from other hazardous materials in a cool and dry area. CONTACT: Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, PO Box 141870, Gainesville, FL 32614-1870/(352)376-5135; Real Goods, 555 Leslie Street, Ukiah, CA 95482-5576/(800)762-7325.

I've used Pine Sol for years to clean my house. Could you enlighten me on just how toxic this product is? - Mark L. Quire, Nederland, CO

Before tackling the specific nature of household cleaning products that contain pine oil, it should be pointed out that many all-purpose cleaners contain chemicals that by themselves are not carcinogenic, but may form carcinogens in combination with other substances. David Steinman, co-author of The Safe Shopper's Bible, believes that consumers are not always aware of these harmful chemicals because "the labeling is so inadequate."

There are several products on the market that contain pine oil - a weak allergen that can cause central nervous system disorders in very large doses. By itself, pine oil should not cause a problem unless the user is chemically sensitive. Some pine oil products contain chemicals that can be neurotoxic (damaging to the nervous system) and may even be fatal. Either isopropyl alcohol or butyl cellsolve, which are both known to be neurotoxic, can be found in most Pine Sol products, Pine Magic II MultiPurpose Cleaner, Spic n' Span Pine Cleaner Liquid and Lysol Pine Action Cleaner. Looking for alternatives? Shadow Lake's Citra-Solv is made entirely of biodegradable materials, is not tested on animals, and is completely non-toxic to users. CONTACT: PR With a Purpose, c/o Washington Toxics Coalition, 516 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105\(206)632-1545; Shadow Lake, PO Box 2597, Danbury, CT 06813/(203)778-0881.

I'm a deep believer in sustainable agriculture and concerned that some companies are in business solely to reap the benefits of an expanding market. Which companies should I support? - Michael Faber, Acton, MA

Under current marketing regulations, food packaging can use the word "organic" without any proof that organic conditions actually existed. However, federal adoption of National Organic Standards - expected soon - will vastly improve the situation. Until then, says Jim Smillie of the Organic Trade Association, "The most important thing is to look for the certification label."

Certification ensures that no chemicals were used in growing your food. But what about social responsibility? Some companies, like Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, exhibit their ethical side by donating a percentage of their profits to environmental causes. Usually the packaging displays this information, though this approach, too, can be a marketing ploy.

Supporters of sustainable farming should investigate joining a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) co-op. These partnerships between small organic farms and local consumers are formed by members who buy seasonal "shares" in the year's crops. Agricultural economies are strengthened as members get a steady supply of produce, meat and baked goods from neighboring farmers. CSAs also contribute positively by developing community compost centers and donating surplus foodstuffs to soup kitchens. CONTACT: Organic Trade Association, PO Box 1078, Greenfield, MA 02238/(413)774-7511.

Send your questions about environmental issues, from the personal to the political, to Ask E, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881, or by email to Please keep your questions brief and type them double-spaced. Include your full name and address and a daytime phone number.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Earth Action Network, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Green Living
Author:Burger, Michael
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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