EarthTalk: Are the plastic tiers on food steamers
safe for food and for re-heating? Some indicate they are
made from #7 plastic. I am very interested in buying a steamer,
but not if they are unsafe. What’s the best way to
—Jim Lichlyter, Jr., Valley Center, KS
though a plastic food steamer may be marked “BPA-free,”
there's no guarantee it won't leach other endocrine
disrupting chemicals into food or drinks. Consumers
might want to just play it safe and opt for food
steamers made of tried and true plastic-free materials,
like glass, stainless steel or bamboo.
© Wen-Yan King/Flickr
you may never know for sure whether the plastic parts in
a food steamer will contribute to health problems down the
road, why gamble? Plastic marked with a #7 recycling symbol—signifying
mixed sources (polycarbonate) or otherwise hard-to-classify
plastics (such as acrylonitrile styrene or acrylonitrile
butadiene styrene)—is considered one of the riskiest
in terms of chemical exposure. Polycarbonates are the most
common types of plastic in items marked #7. And any of these
three “feedstocks” just mentioned could contain
Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical in widespread use since the
1930s to harden plastic.
have found that exposure to BPA, a known “endocrine
disruptor” that can mimic the body’s natural
hormones, can lead to neurological and reproductive problems.
As a result, public health advocates recommend not using
containers marked with #7 for storing, heating or serving
food/drinks so as to minimize the amount of BPA in our bloodstreams.
Keeping BPA out of our bodies is an uphill battle: A recent
study found that 96 percent of pregnant women in the U.S.
have at least trace amounts of BPA in their systems already
(and probably the rest of us do as well).
response to increased consumer awareness about the potential
risks of exposure to BPA, many bottle and container makers
are now marketing versions of their plastic products that
are BPA-free—and the trend has extended to food steamers,
with several now available in BPA-free versions, including
Oster’s 5712, Black & Decker’s HS1050, and
Big & Fast’s Plastic Electric Food Steamer. Buyers
beware: Even some BPA-free steamers have non-stick surface
made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, better known as
Teflon), another hazardous chemical that health advocates
to complicate matters further, a July 2011 study by a group
of Texas-based researchers and published in the peer-reviewed
scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives found
that just because a plastic product is marked “BPA-free”
doesn’t guarantee that it won’t leach other
endocrine disrupting chemicals—what the study refers
to as “estrogenic activity” or “EA”—into
food or drinks: “Almost all commercially available
plastic products we sampled—independent of the type
of resin, product or retail source—leached chemicals
having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised
as BPA free,” the researchers reported. In some cases,
BPA-free products released greater amounts of estrogenic
chemicals than even products known to contain BPA.
light of all this, consumers might want to just opt for
food steamers (and food storage and preparation items) made
of tried and true plastic-free materials like glass or stainless
steel. Some highly rated non-plastic, non-Teflon food steamers
include Secura’s 3-Tier Stainless Steel Food Steamer
($90), Miracle Exclusives’ Stainless Steel Rice Cooker
and Vegetable Steamer ME81 ($70), and World Cuisine’s
4-quart Red Enamel Cast-Iron Steamer with a tempered glass
colander and a tempered glass lid ($220). And don’t
forget: You can save yourself some money and kitchen storage
space by just getting an inexpensive metal steamer basket,
collapsible insert or bamboo steamer, available at any cookware
store for less than $20.
Environmental Health Perspectives, Environmental
EarthTalk: What’s the latest in regard
to putting limits on greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.?
Is there any hope that Obama can get something done?
—Bradley Johnson, Helena, MT
still stand in the way of efforts to limit U.S.
greenhouse gas emissions. Two efforts, the American
Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) of 2009 and
the American Power Act of 2010, got tabled or failed
to make it to the Senate floor for a vote. ACES
was, however, passed by a narrow margin in the House
of Representatives, the first time the legislative
branch has called for sweeping climate legislation.
© Rachel Johnson/Flickr
Our best hope
to date was 2009’s American Clean Energy and Security
Act (ACES), a bill that called for the implementation of
a “cap-and-trade” system to limit carbon dioxide
emissions by capping overall emissions and allowing polluters
to buy or sell greenhouse gas pollution credits—similar
to what the European Union has been doing since 2005 to
successfully reduce its own emissions—depending upon
whether they were exceeding established limits or had succeeded
in coming in below them.
the bill, U.S. businesses needing to pollute more could
buy emissions credits on the open market; those able to
reduce emissions could sell their pollution credits on the
same trading floor. Thus there is a built-in incentive to
reduce emissions: If you exceed pollution limits you have
to keep buying costly credits; and if you can get below
limits you can profit from the sale of credits for the difference.
Among the bill’s
key provisions was a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse
gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020, with a mid-century
goal of an 80 percent reduction. Also, billions of dollars
would have gone to initiatives bolstering green transportation,
energy efficiency and related research and development.
The bill was approved by the House in June 2009 by a narrow
219-212 vote. But Senate Democrats decided they didn’t
have enough votes to get a version of the bill passed, and
tabled the discussion.
While ACES may
not have made it into the law books, its passage by the
House was significant as it represented the first time the
legislative branch called for sweeping climate legislation.
Also, the bill’s provisions served as a guideline
for U.S. negotiators heading to Denmark later in 2009 for
the COP15 international climate talks (although in the end
nothing binding was agreed upon there).
Then, in May
2010 Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveiled their
own cap-and-trade climate bill for the Senate. Dubbed the
American Power Act, it aimed to reduce overall U.S. greenhouse
gas emissions by similar amounts as ACES. But with the nation
still reeling from the effects of BP’s Gulf oil spill—the
American Power Act include provisions for offshore drilling—and
Senate Republicans leery of any climate legislation, the
bill failed to make it to a floor vote. Some point the finger
at a handful of Democratic Senators from coal-producing
states for not supporting their party colleagues. Others
say Obama wasn’t advocating strongly enough despite
his campaign rhetoric on the topic.
one could plausibly hope for in the next Congress, assuming
only modest Republican gains, is some sort of weak cap on
utility emissions, possibly with some weak oil saving measures,
though that would still require Obama to do what he refused
to do under more favorable political circumstances—push
hard for a bill,” writes commentator Joe Romm of Think
Progress, a liberal political blog. Romm adds that it’s
inconceivable to think the next Congress would even contemplate
strong climate or clean energy legislation “without
Obama undergoing a major strategy change and taking a very
strong leadership role in crafting the bill and lobbying
for the bill and selling it to the public.”
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