Jaeah Lee

Jaeah Lee

Associate Interactive Producer

When Jaeah isn't coding, researching, or writing for Mother Jones, she's usually reading about foreign policy, climate change, or new dinner recipes. A lover of mass transit, she can pretty much navigate the New York City subway blindfolded.

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Prior to joining Mother Jones, Jaeah worked as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, focusing on China. Her writings have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Global Post, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and Movements.org.

Calculator: How Much Does Using Coal Really Cost?

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Each month, Americans households spend an average $111 on electricity—chump change considering we need it to do just about everything from watching television to charging our laptops to just getting around in the dark. Much of our electricity comes from coal, a relatively plentiful and accessible energy resource in the United States, but coal's abundance masks a dirty truth: Burning coal fills the air with toxic pollutants, with scary and sometimes fatal health consequences, particularly for people living near the power plants that fuel your home. What would happen to your monthly bill if utilities actually paid for these hidden costs? Use our calculator to find out.

Figures rounded to the nearest dollar. Sources: Clean Air Task Force; Energy Information Administration (PDF); EPA; Paul R. Epstein, Harvard Medical School. Additional reporting by Alyssa Battistoni and Hamed Aleaziz.

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What Your Shampoo Bottle Isn't Telling You

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 6:04 PM EST

I'm not the most discerning shopper when it comes to buying cosmetics or household products. (Why are parabens bad for you, again?) So if I saw the chemical diethanolamine listed on the back of a shampoo bottle, or decamethylcyclopentasiloxane on a surface cleaner, it probably wouldn't stop me from buying it. But chances are I'd never see those those names, anyway.

The main reason for this, a new study in yesterday's Environmental Health Perspectives points out, is that the state of product labeling in the US is pretty poor. How poor? The study's researchers—who analyzed samples from 213 different consumer products ranging from cat litter to shaving cream, sunscreen, dishwater detergent, mascara, and vinegar—detected some 55 toxic chemicals. Many of these, they report, weren't listed on the labels of products tested.

"The study shows that we are exposed to a complex mixture of toxic chemicals simply by going through our normal routines," Andy Igrejas, who heads the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said in a press release.

Labels are important, the study's authors write, because they help scientists determine whether (and to what degree) consumer products are responsible for toxic chemicals entering our bodies. We already know about some chemicals detected in the study (which was led by the Silent Spring Institute and partly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): Fragrances, BPA, phthalates, among others, are associated with a variety of health risks, most commonly asthma and endocrine disruption.

Improved research, in turn, would help consumers like me a ton. For example: With better labeling and due diligence on my part, I might have known that using a shampoo containing diethanolamine might irritate the nose, throat, and skin. Some animal studies have linked the chemical with increased blood pressure and impaired vision. I might also have known that decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (a.k.a. D5) is a compound widely used in cleaning, personal care, and baby products that's also pretty toxic; studies have shown D5 to be potentially carcinogenic, and can harm the nervous system, fat tissue, liver, and immune system (PDF)—all things that would sway me to opt for a cleaner free of these chemicals.

But the solution isn't just about better labeling, Igrejas says. "We need the federal government to sort through the chemicals on the market and ensure they are restricted where necessary."

Until then, it'll be up to consumers to decide what products are best avoided. As a start, we've already written about what to watch out for in sunscreen and household cleaners, researched the scary world of BPA, and sought the truth behind eco-labels.

Barnes & Noble, National Geographic's Illegal Logging Ties

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 7:00 AM EST
A cleared Indonesian rainforest.

Here's something to consider before you reach for your next book at Barnes & Noble: Its pages may come from Asia Pulp and Paper—a leading Indonesian company that's come under scrutiny for its dodgy environmental practices. APP claims that illegal logs are not part of its wood supply. That's not true, according to a yearlong investigation of the company by Greenpeace, the results of which were published yesterday.

APP, it turns out, has been violating Indonesian and international laws protecting the country's rainforests, in particular the ramin tree species. Ramin trees exist primarily in the country's Sumatra region, and are key to the survival of the endangered Sumatran tiger. The trees are protected under the United Nations CITES treaty (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species).

In the past, APP's questionable sourcing practices have led companies from Mont Blanc to Mattel to cut off ties with the supplier. But the Greenpeace investigation found that APP's paper still ends up in products you'll find on shelves at Barnes & Noble bookstores, in Xerox products, and—more surprisingly—in the pages of National Geographic. (The magazine has since issued a statement to Greenpeace pledging to stop doing business with APP). You can browse through other companies using APP products here (PDF).

It's Polar Bear Day. How Much Do You Care?

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 2:34 PM EST

Happy International Polar Bear Day! In case you haven't heard, polar bears could be gone by 2050, we're losing enough Arctic ice each year to blanket Alaska, Texas, and Washington state, and a host of oil companies are straining at the leash to get at receding Arctic ice shelves—estimated to contain some 25 percent of the world's untapped oil reserves—despite the inherent dangers of arctic oil exploration (imagine cleaning up a BP-sized oil spill in subzero conditions).

A lot of this is probably old news by now. Indeed, recent General Social Surveys have shown that Americans today know quite a bit more about polar regions than they did in 2006. But knowing more doesn't necessarily mean caring more, as seen in a recent analysis of public perceptions about polar regions (PDF). So exactly how much do you care, compared with the rest of the country? Take this survey and find out.

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