EarthTalk: I’ve been noticing a lot of
organic wines lately in the supermarket. Is this going to
be a continuing trend?
-- Peter Toot, via email
recent upsurge of interest in organic foods has indeed not
escaped the wine business and, yes, organic wines are more
popular and more readily available than ever.
to the Organic Trade Association, an industry group representing
organic food producers and distributors, U.S. sales of wines
made with organic grapes reached $80 million in 2005, a
28 percent increase over the previous year. Such sales represent
little more than one percent of the total U.S. domestic
wine market, but the association expects organic wine sales
to grow about 17 percent a year through 2008, mirroring
growth across all sectors of organic agriculture.
are two types of organic labeling on wines. The vast majority
of wines made with organically grown grapes do not qualify
for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s)
white-and-green “certified organic” label. This
is because, like many conventional wines, they include added
sulfite preservatives to prevent oxidation and bacterial
trace amounts of sulfites occur naturally in wines during
the fermentation process, most producers add more, later
in the winemaking process, to prolong shelf life. An estimated
one percent of consumers, primarily those with asthma, report
sensitivity to wines with larger amounts of sulfites. Symptoms
can include a quickened pulse, lung irritation, skin redness
and rashes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
banned the use of sulfites on fruits and vegetables in 1986
after 13 consumer deaths were linked to them.
USDA rules allow wines containing fewer than 10 parts per
million (ppm) of sulfites and made from organic grapes to
carry the “certified organic” label. But organic
wines may only advertise that they are “made from
organic grapes” if they contain more than 10 ppm and
up to 100 ppm of sulfites. Some organic grape growers consider
it unfair that the addition of sulfites—which occur
naturally and are not synthetic chemicals—should disqualify
their wines from “certified organic” standing.
beyond organic, a handful of vineyards have adopted so-called
“biodynamic” (BD) grape growing methods, adding
to organic methods the practice of cultivating, pruning
and harvesting on a strict calendar in sync with lunar cycles.
Many view such practices skeptically; nonetheless, proponents
claim that BD wines taste better and remain drinkable longer.
The website Wine Anorak (“anorak” is British
slang for “geek” or “nerd”) lists
biodynamic wine labels from around the world.
leading organic (and low-sulfite) wines include varieties
from Ceago, Frey, LaRocca, Bonterra and Organic Wine Works.
Meanwhile, the California-based Organic Wine Company sources
and distributes organic wines from around the world. Additionally,
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), a trade group
representing that state’s organic agriculture industry,
provides a free online directory of California organic products
and services, including the state’s many purveyors
of organic and biodynamic wines.
Wine Company; CCOF
EarthTalk: What is “Sick Building Syndrome?”
-- Annie Sundberg, New York, NY
The term “sick
building syndrome” was coined in the 1970s to describe
a phenomenon whereby occupants of a building would become
ill without explanation, and then symptoms would appear
to decrease or go away altogether once they left the building.
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), those afflicted
usually experience symptoms such as headaches; eye, nose
or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness
and nausea; difficulty concentrating; fatigue; and extra
sensitivity to odors. Usually sick building syndrome is
associated with commercial buildings, but residential homes
can also trigger symptoms. And, according to the U.S. Green
Building Council, more than half of all U.S. schools have
sick building syndrome.
in building design and energy efficiency may be major contributors
to the problem, as airtight indoor space is not as well
ventilated as areas cleansed by fresh air breezes. According
to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
indoor air pollution, biological contaminants such as bacteria
and mold and inadequate ventilation have all contributed
to a rise in SBS in recent years.
Adhesives, upholstery, carpeting, copiers, manufactured
wood products, cleaning agents and pesticides are all sources
of indoor air pollution, as are many of the chemical smells
and other odors present in manufacturing and service settings.
Also, according to the EPA, outdoor pollutants such as car
exhaust can enter buildings through poorly located air intake
vents and windows and become trapped indoors.
wonder that cases of sick building syndrome have been on
the rise in recent years: People are spending more and more
time indoors, and building materials, furniture and equipment
contain many more synthetic chemicals than they did 50 years
ago. Buildings operated or maintained in ways they were
not originally designed for can create problems, as can
occupant activities such as smoking or the use of colognes
is convinced that on-the-job illnesses are associated with
a building’s environmental factors. In a study conducted
by Dr. Mai Stafford, M.D. of the University College London
Medical School, symptoms were instead strongly linked to
other factors such as job stress and lacking social support
at work. Dr. Stafford and colleagues concluded, “…if
sick building syndrome is reported in a building, management
should consider causes beyond the physical design and operation
of the workplace and should widen their investigation to
include the organization of work roles and the autonomy
of the workforce.”
of measures can help reduce sick building syndrome, including
increasing ventilation and air distribution, removing known
pollutants, replacing water-stained ceiling tiles and carpets,
introducing air filtration—and educating management
and maintenance personnel. Heating, ventilation and air
conditioning systems, at a minimum, should meet local building
code ventilation standards. And time should always be allowed
for new building materials to off-gas chemical contaminants
Sick Building Syndrome.