Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Chemical Inheritance

In a half-hearted attempt to organize my internet bookmarks this morning I found, for some unexplainable reason, ten or so bookmarks for the same article. I don’t recall bookmarking the page more than once, but somehow it seems to be cloning itself. Since it’s trying so hard to get my attention, I think I’ll pay it some by summarizing it here, even though I’ve touched on the issues it discusses previously.

The article, entitled “The Toxins that Affected Your Great-Grandparents Could be in Your Genes," was published in Smithsonian magazine. It makes the following points:

  • In 2005, a researcher who worked with biologist Michael Skinner botched an experiment. The two were studying the effects of a fungicide on fetal development in rats and the researcher accidentally bred the grandchildren of the original subjects.

  • When the new rats (the fourth generation of the rats who were originally exposed to the chemical) were analyzed, it was discovered that the animals had sperm defects, but that this was not due to a change in their inherited DNA.

  • The experiment was repeated many times with different rats, different chemicals, and different health effects. The pattern held that diseases related to chemical exposures showed up in the fourth and fifth generations. One pattern found was that subsequent generations of rats exposed to DDT were more likely to be obese.

  • It has long been known that an altered DNA message can be passed on to future generations. In Skinner’s rats, however, the disease process was found to be related to altered patterns of molecules called methyl groups. The author notes, “like burrs stuck to a knit sweater, these methyl molecules interfered with the functioning of the DNA and rode it down through future generations, opening each new one to the same diseases.”

  • The discovery spawned a new field, which has come to be called transgenerational epigenetics.

  • The “burrs” apparently fasten themselves in a particular arrangement, so that the biological fingerprint of the chemical may be traceable. In the future, it may be possible for doctors to screen people for methylation patterns in order to determine the chemical exposures of previous generations.

  • Skinner’s findings have been opposed by “moneyed interests” and by those still attached to the old genetic paradigm. Skinner responds by saying that “the best way to handle these things is to let the science speak for itself."

The science is speaking. Are we listening?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Non-Toxic Oven Cleaning

Thanksgiving weekend has come to a close, and for those who hosted guests, it’s time to put things back in order. If this means cleaning an oven from the effects of cooking a Thanksgiving feast, there are some things to keep in mind, including the following:

  • Commercial oven cleaners are generally very toxic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rated 12 oven cleaners on their safety. Of the 12, one product received a “C” grade and 11 received an “F.” 

  • Self-cleaning ovens aren’t a non-toxic option, either. Self-cleaning ovens are generally coated with Teflon or similar chemicals. See the previous post titled “Sticky Chemicalsfor more information on the dangers of PFCs. The burning of food particles during the self-cleaning cycle may also release small amounts of carbon monoxide and there may be fumes released from the oven’s insulation, including formaldehyde. Most oven manufacturers recommend opening windows, running ventilation fans, and/or leaving the house while the self-cleaning function is operating. Many also recommend removing pets from the home. In a Healthy Home Tip article, the EWG noted that the flu-like symptoms that people often get from heated Teflon-like chemicals are so common that they have been given a name by scientists: “Polymer fume fever.”  

  • It’s possible to clean an oven safely. There are many “recipes” that have been used successfully. Some people just use baking soda and water. Others use baking soda and vinegar. One blogger posted her recipe for using baking soda and dish soap, which is similar to what I usually do, except that I use a fragrance-free dish soap made by Seventh Generation. Other methods that have been recommended are to  use a pumice stick or citrus peels.

Here's what works for me.  

In the evening I make a paste of baking soda, water, and fragrance-free dish soap. I apply this to the oven interior. I then boil a pot of water on the stove. When it’s boiling nicely, I remove it from the stove, stick it in the oven, and close the oven door. This allows the oven to fill with steam. I leave everything alone until morning, at which time I wipe away all the gunk. After everything looks clean, I go over everything again with water or vinegar just to make sure I’ve removed all the residue. That’s it. It almost always works. Occasionally there’s a stubborn spot that remains, but some combination of baking soda, water, and time always removes it.

The chemical industry wants us to believe that our choices are harsh chemicals, filth, or exhausting work. It isn’t true. Let’s show them we know better.