October Fun Facts: Eliminate Toxicity

This is the second of three Fun Fact entries focusing on GreenBlue’s mission alignment to Sustainable Materials Management, a robust framework with three main foci 1) Use Wisely looks at material sourcing; 2) Eliminate Toxicity from products and packaging, and 3) and Recover More value from the waste stream.

Eric DesRoberts continues his series of facts and tidbits he’s uncovered during his research to better understand materials used in products and packaging. You can check out his past Fun Facts here.

        1. The list within the list -The NRDC lists Five Dangerous Pollutants in the Air You Breathe Everyday:
          1. Diesel exhaust is a mix of more than 40 toxic air contaminants and has been linked to cancer, asthma, and premature death. Many Americans live or work near diesel hotspots such as bus terminals, truck depots, and busy intersections, and some studies have found that kids riding inside diesel buses can be exposed to higher levels of harmful diesel emissions than people in nearby cars.
          2. Formaldehyde has been linked to lung cancer, and may also cause leukemia and asthma attacks. It is used in the manufacturing of insulation, pesticides, and disinfectants, but a significant piece of the industrial emissions comes from the lumber industry and the production of plywood. Proper treatment and applications of indoor construction materials should be employed to reduce potential exposure to formaldehyde.
          3. Benzene is a carcinogen that causes leukemia and a number of other illnesses. It is used in motor fuels, solvents, detergents, and many other substances. Common exposure points include gas stations, cigarette smoke, and diesel exhaust.
          4. Particulate matter are fine particles that become embedded in your lungs and impair their ability to function. Most particulate matter comes from burning fossil fuels or wood.
          5. Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxides and other pollutants emitted by cars, trucks, buses, coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel burners react with sunlight to form the principal ingredient in smog.
        2. A recent Harvard study found that sub-lethal exposure to the neonicotinoid class of pesticides (widely used in corn, soybeans, cotton, apples, and many other crops) may be a key driver of Colony Collapse Disorder. It is suspected that the collapse is partially due to the impairment of neurological functions. Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value. As we transition into bio-based materials, we need to work to better understand the effects of using chemical treatments for higher yields.


  1. Though the actual number is unknown, it is estimated that there are 115 million animals used in laboratory testing worldwide. The cosmetics industry is an often cited as employing animal testing, where some practices include skin and eye irritation tests (chemicals are rubbed onto the shaved skin or dripped into the eyes of restrained rabbits), repeated force-feeding studies (looking for signs of general illness or specific health hazards such as cancer or birth defects), and “lethal dose” tests (animals are forced to swallow large amounts of a test chemical to determine the dose that causes death).
  2. Top ten polluted waterways lists:Watersheds Receiving Toxic Releases by Volume (lbs)
    • Lower Ohio-Little Pigeon Rivers (IN, IL, KY) – 14,727,205
    • Upper New River (NC, VA) – 7,338,166
    • Middle Savannah River (GA, SC) – 5,025,161
    • Muskingum River (OH) – 4,414,602
    • Blackbird-Soldier Rivers (IA, NE) – 4,372,706
    • Lower Platte-Shell Rivers (NE) – 3,726,866
    • Buffalo River-San Jacinto (TX) – 3,557,254
    • Brandywine Creek-Christina River (DE, PA) – 3,416,615
    • Lower Des Moines River (IA) – 2,902,489

    Watersheds Receiving Toxic Releases By Toxicity (based on EPA Toxic Weighting Factors – see source above)

    • Lower Brazos River (TX) – 33,474,792
    • Lower Grand River (LA) – 1,926,751
    • North Fork Humboldt River (NV) – 1,042,622
    • Nooksack River (WA) – 1,028,364
    • Noxubee River (AL, MS) – 593,695
    • Lower Cape Fear River (NC) – 550,152
    • Lower Sulphur River (AR, TX) – 508,181
    • Lower Tennessee River (KY) – 474,284
    • Bayou Sara-Thompson Creek (LA) – 341,414
    • Middle Pearl River-Silver River (MS) – 328,186
  3. A study from Columbia University’s School of Public Health found that prenatal exposure to pollution correlated with developmental delays at age 3, fewer IQ points at age 5, and behavior problems at age 7. If New York City reduced its pollution from sources like diesel fumes by a 25%, affected children could expect to earn an additional $215 million in their lifetime.

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