EarthTalk: What is the status of the land mines
issue popularized by Princess Diana and Paul McCartney’s
ex-wife, Heather Mills? How many mines have been removed?
How many are left? What is being done?
-- Jonas Schultz, via e-mail
mines were first widely used in World War II and have since
been used in Vietnam, the Korean War, the first Gulf War,
and in about a half dozen conflicts around the world today.
Initially, mines were used for defensive purposes, to guard
certain areas and keep the enemy out. Today they are used
for more insidious reasons such as to terrorize civilians
and limit their movement. And, of course, many remain behind
from past wars and continue to unintentionally kill or maim
civilians, including many children.
an estimated 110 million mines are still scattered around
the world in 78 countries, injuring or killing upwards of
26,000 people each year. According to a recent United Nations
(UN) study, the countries most affected by mines are Afghanistan,
Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Eritrea,
Iraq, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Nicaragua and Sudan.
The landmines in these countries make up almost 50 percent
of all mines deployed in the world today.
like these have prompted outcries from concerned people
all over the world. Organizations such as the International
Campaign to Ban Landmines and Adopt a Minefield work to
both rid the world of these weapons and to aid those injured
by them. In the last decade, such organizations have spearheaded
the destruction of as many as 30.5 million mines. Their
work has also led to such a dramatic decrease in the mine
trade worldwide that, since 2003, the manufacture and sale
of mines has essentially ended (or at least no evidence
exists that any trade in mines is still going on). In addition,
Costa Rica, Djibouti, El Salvador, Kosovo and Moldova have
all been declared “mine safe” as of 2004.
UN itself does more than conduct studies and issue reports.
Some14 different UN departments, agencies and programs work
on de-mining efforts in some 30 countries. The actual work
is done by non-governmental organizations and various military
entities employing commercial contractors. Many intergovernmental
and charitable organizations also support the UN’s
efforts with financial assistance.
rather low-tech methods are used to detect and destroy mines.
In Denmark, for instance, scientists have genetically modified
Thale cress, a fast-growing green plant from the mustard
family, to turn red whenever its roots are exposed to nitrogen
dioxide, a gas released into soil by degrading mines. The
Danish company Aresa Biodetection works with governments
around the world to sow fields with the plant in areas plagued
by mine problems. In another example, Colombian researchers
have trained rats to freeze when they encounter mines in
the ground. Since rats weigh so little, they don’t
December 1997 an international conference held in Ottawa,
Ontario yielded the Convention on the Prohibition of the
Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel
Mines and on Their Destruction, otherwise known as the Mine
Ban Treaty. The treaty was formalized in March 1999 when
122 countries became signatories. The international treaty
works to prevent mine use, production and trade, assist
victims and to destroy existing mines.
a Minefield; International
Campaign to Ban Landmines; Mine
EarthTalk: What are the best kinds of dishwasher
and laundry soaps to use in consideration of where all the
wastewater goes after use?
-- Jessica Weichert, Waterford, CA
The average North
American produces between 60 and 150 gallons of wastewater
every day, much of it a result of washing dishes and clothes.
Municipal water treatment facilities do their best to filter
out the synthetic chemicals common in most mainstream dishwasher
and laundry soaps, but some of these pollutants inevitably
get into rivers, lakes and coastal areas, where they can
cause a wide range of problems.
Perhaps the most
worrisome of these pollutants, phosphates, can cause large
build-ups of algae and bacteria that rob water bodies of
oxygen and thus choke out other life forms. In response
to just such a problem occurring in Lakes Ontario and Erie
in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. and Canada signed
the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972. The agreement
banned the use of phosphates in laundry detergents and dish
soaps used in the region, and resulted in a significant
decrease in algae blooms throughout the Great Lakes.
Despite the success
of the agreement, phosphates and other synthetic chemicals
continue to be widely used in laundry and dish soaps throughout
the world. Aside from their effect on water bodies, these
ingredients also trigger allergies, irritate the skin and
eyes and carry other health risks.
consumers now have more environmentally friendly choices
than ever. Companies such as Seventh Generation, Ecover,
Bioshield and Naturally Yours make safer dishwasher and
laundry soaps that do not contain phosphates or other harmful
synthetic chemicals. Many of these greener options are available
at retail stores like Whole Foods and Wild Oats as well
as online from websites like Kokopelli’s Green Market
and a host of others.
Seventh Generation CEO Jeffrey Hollender, consumers interested
in doing the right thing for the environment should look
at ingredients, not slogans. “Just because a product
says it is natural doesn’t mean it is nontoxic,”
he says. Environmentally friendly ingredients to look for
include grain alcohol, coconut or other plant oils, rosemary
and sage. Synthetic ingredients to avoid include butyl cellosolve,
petroleum, triclosan and phosphates. It is also best to
avoid detergents that employ fragrances, as they can contain
chemicals known as phthalates that have been linked to cancer.
chores can often be accomplished with non-toxic, homemade
alternatives—such as water mixed with borax, lemon
juice, baking soda, vinegar or washing soda—laundry
and automatic dishwashing soaps are not so easily replaced
with home concoctions. However, Emily Main, senior editor
at The Green Guide, recommends adding one-quarter cup of
baking soda or white vinegar to clothes washes to act as
a fabric softener, and for stain removal suggests soaking
fabrics in water mixed with either borax, lemon juice, hydrogen
peroxide or white vinegar. As to home recipes for dishwashing,
some hardcore homesteaders recommend trying an equal mix
of borax and baking soda, but this is probably best used
only in a pinch as the abrasiveness of such a mixture can
scratch glassware over time.
Green Market; The
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