Dear EarthTalk: It is true that the carcasses of whales that wash up on shore
are considered dangerous to humans because of the amount of toxins and chemicals
in their blubber?
-- Michael OLoughlin, Tigard, OR
Whether wildlife officials in a given region consider a dead beached whale a
biohazard or not is local decision, but nevertheless experts agree that only
trained professionals should go anywhere near a dead wild animal to prevent the
spread of bacterial infection alone, no matter whether any industrial pollutants
might be oozing out. But regardless, it is true that some types of whales, given
their spot at the top of the marine food chain, do harbor chemical pollution in
their fatty tissue and organs.
Researchers have found, for instance, that PCBs, dangerous toxins notorious
for polluting New Yorks Hudson River and long banned in the U.S. are present in
the blubber of beluga and orca whales, among others, in amountssome 80 parts
per millionthat could kill a person. DDT, a pesticide banned in 1972 in the
U.S. for wreaking havoc on bird and other wildlife populations, also still shows
up in measurable amounts in whale blubber around the world.
Beyond such well-known pollutants, newer ones are starting to show up in
large amounts in the carcasses of beached whales and other top marine predators.
Today biologists are most worried about the marked increase in flame retardants
(PBDEs) and stain repellents (PFOS) in dead marine mammals. Flame retardants are
particularly troublesome because they seem to travel over long distances in the
atmosphere, and some studies have shown that they can be toxic to the immune
system and can affect neurobehavioral development, according to a recent report
by the Arctic Council, a multilateral international body in charge of overseeing
Arctic law and development. The report also noted that PFOS does not seem to
break down under any circumstances, meaning it is passed up the food chain to
whales and other top predators, and then in some cases consumed by humans,
especially indigenous Arctic people still hunting marine animals as part of
their subsistent lifestyles.
According to the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), whales arent the only
wild animals carrying around large amounts of toxic chemicals. Bottlenose
dolphins, manatees, polar bears, seals, sea lions and other marine wildlife also
have PCBs, DDT, PBDEs, PFOS and the other pollutants in their tissues and
bloodstreams. The large-scale die-off of bottlenose dolphins along the
mid-Atlantic coast of the United States in the mid-1980s may have been the
direct or indirect result of increasing levels of toxic waste from industrial
sources, HSUS reports, adding that such pollutants can depress the immune
system of marine mammals, making the animals susceptible to diseases they could
normally fight off. Another example: Polar bears in Norway have been exhibiting
serious congenital abnormalities; HSUS blames exposure to toxic pollutants in
the bears otherwise pristine environment.
Environmental and health experts worry about such contamination because many
of the chemicals in question are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they can
impair reproduction in both wildlife and humans by mimicking or altering natural
hormonal activity. Such chemicals can also cause neurological problems and
developmental or skeletal abnormalities.
CONTACTS: Arctic Council,
www.arctic-council.org; HSUS, www.hsus.org.
Dear EarthTalk: Ive found environmentally friendly shoes for myself, but
have had trouble finding similar shoes for my kids. Are they out there? -- Dawn
Masterson, Augusta, GA
Kids shoes are a quickly expanding market and companies with a green
perspective are now jumping into the race with mini versions of everything from
flip-flops to slippers to heeled dress shoes. While green kids shoes from
makers like Simple, which offers organic cotton EcoSneaks with car tire soles,
might seem expensive at $40 or more, they are durable enough to get passed
around from sibling to sibling. It is an investment if youre going to do
quality, says Craig Throne, general manager of footwear at Patagonia.
Patagonia has been making climbing gear and outdoors wear for over 30 years,
and is committed to using sustainable materialsincluding recycled polyester and
only organic cotton in their clothes. Using hemp and recycled rubber content,
the company has created kids shoes that are rugged and sturdy enough for hiking
or climbing, or for simply running around in the back yard.
Of course, packaging plays a big role and in Patagonias case that means 100
percent recycled content boxes with soy-based inks and fun graphics that
encourage kids to reuse the boxes. Were getting kids to participate and be
more aware of the outdoor world, says Throne.
Timberland has launched its own line of sustainable kids shoes, too. Kids
today are learning about the environment at a younger and younger agein many
cases, theyre even teaching their parents, says Lisa DeMarkis, head of
Timberlands kids division. Its important to show kids that even small
choices can have a positive impact.
The company strives to use the most environmentally friendly materials when
possiblelike recycled soda bottles (PET) in linings or meshes, recycled laces
and organic cotton canvaswhile always making sure that the shoes meet
performance goals: At the end of the day, the shoe has to stand up to kids and
their daily adventures, DeMarkis says. Curious customers can read the
nutritional labels, which include the amount of renewable energy used in
production, right on Timberlands 100 percent post consumer recycled shoeboxes.
Parents looking to avoid leather in their kids shoes, whether for ethical or
environmental reasons, have to do a bit of hunting online. While many vegetarian
and non-leather clothing sites have yet to add kids shoes, KidBean.com has,
including the popular baby shoes called Isabooties, which are made with soft,
For parents of budding dancers, a vegan alternative ballet slipper can be had
from the Cynthia King Dance Studio in Brooklyn, New York. The dance instructor
and studio owner approached a local shoemaker when she couldnt find an
affordable outlet for vegan slippers, and now provides them to the world at
CONTACTS: Cynthia King Dance Studio,
Isabooties, www.isabooties.com; KidBean,
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