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Scientifically Accurate 'Stuff'

August 17, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 33

I was surprised to find Rudy Baum dismiss the short educational video "The Story of Stuff," because the video is scientifically accurate, and his disregard for its content was not (C&EN, May 18, page 3). The video is an outstanding introduction to life-cycle assessments, an important principle in understanding pollution prevention, energy efficiency, and sustainability.

Measuring inputs and outputs, pathways and toxicology, materials used and wastes generated, extraction rates and rates of absorption are all inextricable parts of determining long-term impacts of human and ecosystem health. As an environmental scientist who must dive into toxicology and lowest-detection-limit levels on a regular basis, I can assure you that science supports the neurotoxicity of brominated flame retardants.

Many commonly used chemicals have been proven to cause serious endocrine disorders, possibly cancer, at parts-per-million levels. We still don't know the toxicology of many breakdown products, combinations of chemicals, or their long-term exposure impacts on health and ecosystems. The U.S. has one of the highest cancer rates in the world. Environmental scientists are trained to always err on the side of safety. So I agree with the video when it asks: "Where is the wisdom in adding neurotoxins to our pillows?"

The video does a great job illustrating the incongruence of Earth's ecological limits and the continual-growth model of capitalism. Environmental scientists have been pointing out for decades that capitalism is the greatest destroyer of our environments. The U.S. is leading the world in environmental destruction on a global level.

I recommend reading the recently published book by James Gustave Speth, dean of Yale's School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, called "The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability " (Yale 2008). In it, he scientifically outlines the impossible coexistence of the capitalistic model with any type of sustainable or healthy future.

Just as global warming was ignored by fellow scientists and the general public, so too is this fact. I fear you have chosen to take the side of the ignorant.

Lena Hakim
Santa Fe, N.M.



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