Thanksgiving: 10 Tips for a Healthier Feast

This season, give thanks with a healthier and more eco-friendly dinner!!  Remember, you vote with your dollar every time you make a purchase at the market.  So vote for a cleaner and healthier future by supporting products made with fewer pesticides and less processing!

This Thanksgiving:

  1. Eat Locally - Try an organic or locally raised turkey, or perhaps even a climate-smart center piece such as a stuffed winter squash!
  2. Avoid BpA Exposure - Canned green beans and cranberries are both high in pesticide residues and, because of their canned storage, are also high in BPA (an endocrine disrupting chemical). Try using the fresh and organic forms of these ingredients. Maybe it’s a good opportunity to improve your cooking skills too!
  3. Minimize the Fat - Some experts estimate that the average person consumes the equivalent of 3 sticks of butter at the Thanksgiving table. Use heart-healthy and GMO-free oils if you can.
  4. Avoid Pesticides - Substitute white mashed potatoes, which are high in pesticides, with that made from sweet potatoes (low in pesticides). 
  5. Avoid Pesticides - Replace high pesticide stuffing ingredients such as celery and carrots with their organic substitutes. 
  6. Waste Less – While it might be tempting to use disposable plates and cutlery when hosting for a large group of people, this amounts to much wasted production energy, excess garbage to our landfills, and air pollution (from waste incineration).  Using glass/china plates, glasses, and regular silverware is much more environmentally sound.  If you choose to wash your dishes by hand, using lower temperature faucet water is even more eco-friendly!
  7. Recycle- Don’t forget to recycle the items used to make your Thanksgiving meal, such as aluminum foil, metal cans, cardboard egg cartons, food boxes, glass/plastic bottles, jars, etc.
  8. Use Tap Water - Serve your guests tap water.  Bottled water creates mountains of plastic waste and is actually no healthier than tap water in the U.S.  In fact, studies have shown bottled water to have a higher bacteria count than tap!
  9. Save Leftovers - Sadly, the average American wastes roughly $600 of food annually.  This Thanksgiving, be sure to send leftovers home with your guests if you can’t finish them singlehandedly.
  10. Store Smart - Package your leftover food in reusable containers as opposed to tin/aluminum foil and plastic wrap.
Be sure to share these tips with family and friends! And remember, where YOU cut down on waste and energy demand, you enable a future world in which your children and your children’s children can enjoy the same quality of life and opportunity for a healthy environment that you’ve enjoyed!  

For information on where to purchase locally grown produce, visit:

For information on where to purchase antibiotic-free meat, visit:

For information on the carbon footprint associated with various food products, visit:

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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                                                                                                -Shahir Masri, MS


Air Pollution: Announced to be Cancerous

    Just yesterday morning the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced the classification of outdoor air pollution as a Group 1 human carcinogen.  A specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the IARC is the leading authority on the carcinogenicity of environmental chemicals.  After a thorough review of what has amounted to decades of air pollution research and epidemiology, the IARC has officially concluded that there is “sufficient evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer.”  The group also noted a relationship between air pollution and an increased risk of bladder cancer. 
      For a long time, air pollution as been known to increase the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, however, its association with cancer is something that has taken longer for scientists to demonstrate.  The most recent science, however, indicates that in 2010 there were over 220,000 lung cancer deaths globally as a result of air pollution.  By officially assigning outdoor air pollution to the Group 1 cancer category (reserved only for chemicals in which sufficient causal evidence exists), the IARC is shining a much needed light on the importance of air pollution exposure.  While in the developed world air quality is by no means a vestige of the past, this issue is of particular importance in developing nations, where dirty industries complimented by burgeoning automobile fleets are causing major air quality problems.  One can only hope that with this new categorization by the IARC, countries will take special notice and tailor their domestic policies so as to minimize dirty emissions to our atmosphere.  To read the full press release by IARC, visit http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/pr221_E.pdf

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                                                                                                -Shahir Masri, MS


The Impacts of Marine Plastics


            Ocean contamination by plastic pollution is a growing problem worldwide.  Since plastics don’t biodegrade, they persist and accumulate in large ocean gyres (rotating ocean currents).  As many of these plastics float near the surface, they are often mistaken for food by birds and fish.  Plastic ingestion can lead to choking, starvation, and drowning of marine species as well as introduce organic toxicants into the food chain. The bioaccumulation of toxic pollutants in fish and other marine species through plastic ingestion also has indirect implications for public health due to our consumption of these species.  In this blog, I’ll highlight the main points surrounding plastic pollution in the hopes that by increasing awareness we can collectively begin to curb our use of plastic and improve public health and the environment.  

Lifecycle of Plastic Pollution

       Plastics that don’t reach the landfill are often swept to nearby ditches and streams by wind and rain, at which point they are carried to the ocean.  Once in the ocean, plastics then enter large-scale rotating currents called ocean gyres.  Due to the convergence of surface water, these gyres effectively concentrate plastics and other floating debris, earning the name “garbage patches” as with our very own Pacific Garbage Patch off the coast of California.  Plastic polymers do not undergo biodegradation, but rather photodegradation, meaning instead of being metabolized and transformed by living organisms they are simply divided into small particles by the effects of sunlight.  Plastics therefore persist and accumulate indefinitely in ocean gyres and in the environment in general.

Relevance to Public Health and the Environment

       Due to their hydrophobic properties, plastics readily attract PCBs, DDT, and other harmful pollutants.  Consequently, floating plastics essentially become toxic pills.  By way of ingestion, these plastic particles, or pills, introduce toxicants into the marine food chain, becoming concentrated in fish and other marine species over time.  The smallest plastic fragments have both the highest proportion of contaminants as well as the greatest likelihood of being ingested by marine animals.  It is through human consumption of these animals that plastics pose an indirect threat to public health.  Many of the contaminants that bind to plastics are the same chemicals I’ve discussed in earlier blogs such as phthalates and pesticides, associated with hormone disruption, cancer, organ disruption, etc. (See Pesticides in Food and Toxic Water Bottles).  In addition to human health effects, bottle caps, lighters, and other plastic debris are often ingested by marine birds and fish, preventing their migration and reproduction as well as causing choking and starvation.  Plastics also entangle marine species, leading to restricted growth and suffocation.  Lastly, and perhaps least obvious, buoyant plastics when aided by currents can serve as vehicles for introducing foreign and destructive species to new habitats.  


Plastic Facts

  • The average American throws away about 186 pounds of plastic per year.
  • The plastic-to-plankton ratio is over 6:1 in some regions of the Pacific Ocean!!
  • Nearly every plastic created that hasn’t been incinerated still exists somewhere in the environment
  • Over 8 million tons of plastic are washed into the oceans from the land each year
  • Studies show that 100% of certain marine bird chick carcasses and regurgitated food boluses contain plastic

Do Your Part to Help!

  • Avoid purchasing/using plastic products such as single-use plastic water bottles and grocery bags, plastic substitutes usually exist (e.g. stainless steel bottles and reusable bags).
  • Recycle your plastic products and encourage others to do the same.
  • Avoiding purchasing excessively packaged goods and choose products packaged in recycled material when possible
  • Avoid littering and pick up litter when you see it
  • Put pressure on government officials to address the issue of marine plastics in the ocean

For more details and info on the issue of marine plastic contamination, visit

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                                                                                                -Shahir Masri, MS


Fracking for Natural Gas: Why the Hype?

What is natural gas and where does it fit in as an energy resource?

            Natural gas (NG) refers mainly to methane (the simplest hydrocarbon), but can also include other gases born from the earth including ethane, propane, and butane.  NG is just one of many sources of energy, others being coal, oil, nuclear, as well as “green” sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal.  Keep in mind that much of these raw resources are simply means of generating electricity, which is why electricity itself isn’t considered an energy source.

What is fracking and what’s all the hype about?

            Fracking is a nickname given to hydraulic fracturing, a process recently developed and now being used to liberate NG from underground shale deposits.  The process entails drilling a mile or more beneath the earth’s surface where sand and “proprietary” fluids are injected at high pressures to fracture and crack, or frack, the surrounding shale, allowing NG to then escape back up the drill pipe.  Since about 2005, with the use of fracking technologies, companies have been able to tap previously inaccessible NG supplies, thus dramatically increasing supply.  Largely due to this increase, domestic NG prices have dropped lower than at any time in recent history, making NG a hot item in the world of energy and politics.

Why isn’t fracking fluid regulated?

            Perhaps the most overt and shameless example of political pull relating to U.S. environmental policy is the so-called Halliburton Loophole, a provision passed in 2005 that exempts fracking fluid from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This odd provision was passed under then Vice President Dick Cheney, who also happens to be the former CEO of Halliburton, one of the largest providers of hydraulic fracturing services to gas companies.  A coincidence?  I’ll let you decide.

Natural Gas and Fracking

  •  Burning NG produces considerably less carbon dioxide per unit energy than either coal or oil (about half the emissions compared to coal).  This means less of an impact on climate change compared to dirtier sources.
  • Increasing NG supplies means lower prices for the consumer.
  • Developing domestic energy supplies means greater energy security and perhaps more stable energy prices. 
  • As the word “proprietary” suggests, the chemical ingredients used in fracking fluid are kept hidden from both the government and general public.  If fracking was a closed process, perhaps this wouldn't matter.  Instead, fracking fluid often leaks into the surrounding groundwater, affecting community drinking water as well as the ecosystem.  You can actually find videos on youtube.com in which people from fracking-afflicted towns set fire to their faucet water to demonstrate its contamination.
  • Fugitive emissions, or unintended releases, of methane gas could offset the benefit of reduced carbon dioxide emissions, thereby exacerbating global warming (methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide).
  • Compared to greener energy sources, methane is still a hydrocarbon and thus its combustion directly translates to the release of greenhouse gases.
  • The use of NG means higher exports of dirty coal to other nations, effectively solving our local pollution problems by shipping them overseas; though from a global pollution perspective (i.e. pollutants that spread across the globe), we aren’t solving anything.
  • Low NG prices, while out-competing coal prices, are also competing with more sustainable technologies, meaning solar, wind, and other green technologies will be even slower to develop.

Closing Thoughts

            Hell, since I’ve written this much I might as well close with my personal thoughts about natural gas and the future of energy.  In my opinion, expanding the NG industry is akin to having expanded the oil industry in the past.  We’re once again focusing an entire industry and global economy on a resource that will ultimately become exhausted.  And when it does, we’ll be forced yet again into a panic, the product of which will be green renewable energy technologies.  In the meantime, however, the effects of climate change will have worsened and afflicted generations more of people.  This cost to humans and the environment is not justified by the short term profits realized by the select nations/companies that stand to benefit form NG expansion.  Finally, relating to the economy, the infrastructure required to fully develop NG resources (including expensive import/export/NG compressions facilities) will require billions upon billions of dollars worth of investments, reshaping domestic economies in certain instances.  Who is thinking about the fate of these economies when NG supplies run out?  Not the NG companies I can assure you.  As a society, we're better off bypassing the ramifications that will inevitably ensue with NG expansion and instead focus our efforts on long term energy solutions, that is, renewable energy. 

If you enjoyed this article, please join my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button to the right, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!
                                                                                                -Shahir Masri, MS