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Month: March 2013 (page 1 of 2)

Medical Waste Reality

The medical world has drastically changed throughout the years. Hospitals and laboratories are working endlessly to help protect and treat us human beings as best as possible. Many conditions are now more treatable than ever before, such as diabetes and heart disease. Cancer is now treated and life expectancy has risen. There is a price to this cure though, medical waste has become a real issue to face for our environment directly affecting our health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), medical facilities create between 600,000 to one million tons of medical waste each year. Approximately 15% of this waste poses environmental risks.

Medical waste comes from several sources. Their names alone can reveal the environmental danger. Sources include sharps which are scalpels, needles and other pointed instruments. Blood and blood products, laboratory cultures from diagnostics and pathological waste are further sources. Chemicals used in x-rays and chemotherapy pose risk as well. The main concern with these medical wastes is that they can introduce diseases such as HIV-AIDS into the environment. Immediate contact is the greatest danger of all.

In the late 1980’s there was an incident of syringe wash ups on the beaches along the East Coast of the United States, which were mistakenly attributed to health care facilities. In response to this, the government passed The Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) in 1988, with the EPA monitoring medical waste. Infectious waste is defined as solid waste that contains pathogens with sufficient virulence and in enough quantity that exposure can contract infectious disease of a susceptible human or animal to the solid waste. Medical waste if defined as infectious waste and other waste that contains or can be mixed with infectious waste.

Sharps must be contained in puncture resistance, rigid containers made of materials which may be made of rigid plastic or metal, designed to prevent loss of content and labeled bio hazardous waste. Other infectious waste must also be contained in sturdy packaging following strict standards. There are many companies which provide disposal service for bio medical waste. Examples are Waste Management Company and XMed Inc. These companies adhere to strict regulations via the EPA. They must dispose of the waste safely and follow the program regulations as stated in the MWTA Act. This act has expired in the early 1990’s, but each state is still responsible for establishing its own classification and management guidelines for medical waste. In addition, the staff workers which are in direct contact either through working facility or transport are also protected by OSHA, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Toxic chemicals and radioactive materials used in x-rays and other treatments are termed as Health Care Risk Waste instead of medical waste. Waste is identified due to its hazardous nature (biodegreadable, chemical, or radioactive). This is necessary for proper segregation, so that only those wastes needing special treatment and handling are treated. Wastes that are classified as infectious may be treated prior to disposal. Some of these technologies include incineration, steam sterilization, dry heat thermal treatment, chemical disinfection, irradiation, and enzymatic (biological) process among others. However, most treatment technologies cannot process chemical or radioactive waste. Many of these wastes can be treated with either incineration (hazardous waste incinerators) or chemically neutralized where feasible.

Medical waste is a diverse problem which is dealt with ongoing and it is ever changing due to new medical procedures being introduced each and every day. The key factor starts with proper identification of all medical waste so it can be handled and disposed of properly.

You Are What You Eat Part IV – Community Supported Agriculture

 

Written By:  Lee Ann Rush

We’ve already discussed processed-food behemoths such as Kraft, General Mills, Coca Cola, etal., and the stranglehold they have taken, not only on this nation’s food supply, but also on the food choices made by a large portion of the American public. Relentless marketing that promises convenience and great-tasting pre-packaged fare, including billions spent on luring young children into the fast- and processed-food web, have resulted in huge corporate profits along with skyrocketing obesity rates and frightening increases in diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even gout. As chef Mario Batali of TV’s “The Chew” often warns with a smile, “Processed foods will kill you.”

 

One way to buck the agribusiness establishment while simultaneously avoiding genetically-modified foods (GMOs) and cutting back on unhealthy processed foods is by becoming involved with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). For more than 25 years, CSA farms have given consumers the opportunity to purchase fresh, locally-grown foods directly from farmers who offer a fixed number of “shares” in their yield for sale to the public. These shares, or memberships, will entitle the purchaser to a weekly box of produce during the farming season. Some CSAs offer items such as eggs, meat, cheese, baked goods, fruits and flowers, in addition to the traditional vegetables. By purchasing a CSA share, the buyer assumes both the benefits and risks of farming.

 

There are many obvious benefits: eating just-picked vegetables at their peak of flavor and nutrition, learning about new vegetables and ways to cook and use them, developing a relationship with the farmer and learning how the food is grown, and actually visiting the farm. An added plus, surprising to some parents, is that their kids will often eagerly eat food from the farm, even if they’ve shunned veggies before. Those parents who have grown a backyard or container garden at home have probably noticed this phenomenon – I distinctly remember my then-two-year-old son grabbing a green bell pepper from my basket as I was picking what was left in our garden one late October, and taking a big bite as though it were an apple!  On the flip side, the risks of bad weather, drought, pests or other uncontrollable circumstances may result in a reduced crop for all the shareholders; after all, Mother Nature is truly the one in charge!

 

Currently, there are more than 3000 CSA farms in the United States, with the largest concentrations located in the eastern part of the country and on the west coast.  CSA farms offer varying share programs: some allow the purchase of half-shares; some will trade hands-on farm work for all or a portion of the share price; some will supplement their own produce with products from other local sources; and, as with everything in life, some will do a better job than others.  Before buying a CSA share, do your research and make sure you choose the right farm for your needs and lifestyle. Then, enjoy those fresh veggies!

Frankenveggies and the Monsanto Protection Act

 

Buried in the recently-passed  HR 933, a spending bill designed to prevent the shutdown of the United States government on March 27, is section 735, a provision that should have everyone who consumes commercially-grown food in this country up in arms and contacting his or her Congressional representatives. Officially titled the Farmer Assurance Provision but popularly called the “Monsanto Protection Act,” this anonymously-introduced rider strips the federal courts of their authority to halt planting, harvesting and distribution of genetically modified (GMO) crops that may be suspected of causing health concerns. Instead, the rider orders the Secretary of Agriculture to “immediately grant” permits for their continued use by growers, regardless of court rulings that they never received proper approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Although Democratic Senator John Tester of Montana proposed an amendment to delete section 735 from the bill, it never came to a vote because no hearings were held, and, in truth, most members of Congress were totally unaware that this rider was even in the bill.  Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest is now claiming that the vote shows a clear Congressional mandate for greater USDA power, but Laura Sesana, contributor to The Washington Times,begs to differ.  Referring to these GMO crops as “Frankenveggies,” she wonders how, given the secrecy and ignorance surrounding section 735, the passage of HR 933 can be seen as any sort of Congressional statement.  “What Jaffe sees as a … mandate, others see as a way to legitimize otherwise illegal practices by large companies like Monsanto … an ‘approve first, ask questions later’ approach that undermines the courts’ ability to protect the public, farmers and the environment from potentially hazardous genetically engineered crops.”

Monsanto isn’t the only biotech company that stands to gain from the passage of HR 933, but it is certainly the largest and most powerful, owning patents on 90% of all genetically-engineered seeds.  While Monsanto, in unison with our friends Coca Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo, et al. persist in shouting to the rafters that their products are safe, they are also pouring tens of millions of dollars into lobbying efforts to keep Frankenveggies from being labeled as GMO, even though such labeling is routine in more than 50 other countries.  The hypocrisy of this behavior is obvious; why lobby against accurate labeling if you have nothing to hide?  At this point, unfortunately, the only way around HR 933 would be a veto by President Obama.*  Interestingly, during his 2007 presidential campaign, Obama vowed to immediately require labeling of GMOs should he be elected.  So much for campaign promises.

*As predicted, the President signed HR 933 into law on March 26, 2013.

Author:  Lee Ann Rush

A Place Where Ships Lay to Rest

With all the news focus lately regarding cruise ships, I was beginning to wonder a little more about them and where do they wind up at the end of their long lives. Such a large vessel, with so many metal and other parts that are non-biodegradable, what happens to them? Are they reused or recycled? The Costa Concordia disaster in 2012 created so many environmental issues, which many people did not even notice, due to loss of life and rescue being far more important after the initial accident. The complete salvage and wreck removal of this beautiful Italian ship would take about 12 months and cost $300 million dollars, requiring many standards to be adhered to including fuel removal and other salvage parts to be safe for the environment both marine and land. The materials once in port will be dismantled and sold as scrap.

A ship graveyard is the term that is used for the place where old ships are abandoned to naturally disintegrate. This can also be referred to as a ship cemetery, where a large number of ships, boats or hulls of scrapped vessels are left to decay and rust. Graveyards are distinctly two different types; the ones created specifically for the purpose of a ship’s decomposition and the oceanic parts where ships have been stranded without any chances of getting rescued because of natural occurrences. There is also a location where abandoned ships are put that a defunct from the active line of duty because of some reason or another. The ten largest graveyards of ships around the world are listed as follows: 1) Curtin Artificial Reef in Australia, 2) Gadani in Pakistan, 3) Alang in India, 4) Landevennec in France, 5) Staten Island in United States, 6) Bikini Atoll in the United States, 7) Jervois Beach in the Adelaide Port, 8) Skeleton Coast in Namibia, 9) Bay of Nouadhibou in Mauritania, 10) One of the largest ship graveyards in today’s times is the Aral Sea in the Eurasian Country of Uzbekistan.

One of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters is the drying of the Aral Sea. It was once the world’s fourth largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90% since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region. The shrunken sea has ruined the once thriving fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of extremely salty sands, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, plaguing local people with health troubles. The land is deserted with camels standing near the hulks of stranded ships. This sea clearly represents one of the worst environmental disasters of the world, providing an extra large cemetery for so many deserted ships.

In Mumbai, India another major environmental issue related to ship graveyards comes into play. Private firms rent space from the Mumbai Port Trust at to use for breaking ships at Darukhana. Each day more than 6000 workers are faced with occupational hazards to dismantle ships, sort scrap, and then package it away. Ship-breaking involves toxic heavy metals, such as asbestos fibres, which can be thrown into the air, this exposes not just workers but people in the surrounding neighborhood as well. The International Maritime Organization has identified risks associated with ship breaking, which include generating of lead particles, fire hazards and dispersal of hazard waste. Besides pollution, the workers safety is also in jeopardy. Between the hazardous waste and poor working conditions, the circumstances remain dim.
Ship graveyards are a reality they affect our environment and leave their mark on our lands and sea. Too bad we can’t just provide them with a safe place to rest after their lives have come to an end.

Shopper Beware: You Are What You Eat – Part III

Composed by Lee Ann Rush           

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to reduce obesity and its negative impact on public health by banning food service businesses within city limits from selling sugary soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces was dealt a blow recently when State Supreme Court judge Milton Tingling struck down the ban, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and ruling that it overstepped the city’s jurisdiction.  Now, while I understand that Bloomberg is thinking in the right direction from a health and nutrition perspective, I agree completely with the judge’s decision.  Legal arguments aside, it makes no sense to ban something based on the size of the cup it’s served in; anyone could circumvent the rule simply by purchasing two 16 ounce sodas.  Honestly, if I’m really craving a Big Gulp, who is Mike Bloomberg to keep me from having one?  My mother, yes:  the Mayor, no.

A more productive, though perhaps no less controversial, avenue for Mayor Bloomberg to take might be to propose legislation requiring that New York City public schools develop a curriculum that not only pays lip service to  proper nutrition, but provides the children with hands-on lessons in learning where food comes from and what fresh food really tastes like.  As discussed previously, children are prime targets of the processed food industry’s marketing dollars. Once they’re hooked, there’s a good chance they’ll  be buying junk food for life; keeping the honchos at Kraft, General Mills and Pepsi-co living large while everyone consuming their fat- and chemical-laden products just keeps getting larger and unhealthier.   If young kids like those first-graders who couldn’t identify Jamie Oliver’s fresh tomatoes were to spend some of their allotted science, health or social studies class time planting and maintaining a classroom container garden where they grew vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, peas and green beans, the project would yield benefits far greater than the actual produce yield.

Sure, there would be some resistance from faculty and administration.  Logistical issues would need to be solved, and then, of course, there’s always the question of funding.  Logically speaking, though, what better way to spend educational dollars than by introducing to the schools a curriculum that has the potential to transform the way children look at the foods they eat and, ultimately, their own health and well-being?  In the old Life cereal commercials, “He won’t eat it; he hates everything,” quickly turned to, “He likes it!  Hey, Mikey!”   Have you tasted a just-picked cherry tomato lately?   There’s no added sugar, but it’s just as sweet and delicious as anything you could concoct in a laboratory.  I’m betting that the children will be excited to sample what they’ve grown in their classroom gardens and will actually like it!

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