Jaeah Lee

Associate Interactive Producer

Jaeah reports, writes, codes, and charts at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, GuardianWiredChristian Science MonitorGlobal PostHuffington PostTalking Points Memo, and Grist. She is a 2013-14 Middlebury fellow in environmental journalism. Her work has been named a finalist in the Data Journalism Awards. In a former life, she researched and wrote about China at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Get my RSS |

What Your Shampoo Bottle Isn't Telling You

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 5:04 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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Barnes & Noble, National Geographic's Illegal Logging Ties

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 6:00 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 1:34 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.

Which Major Corporations Are Backing a Climate-Denier Think Tank?

| Sat Feb. 18, 2012 6:00 AM EST

Over at ThinkProgress Green, Josh Israel and Brad Johnson expose 19 major corporations backing the Heartland Institute, the think tank whose internal documents were leaked this week, laying bare its plans to teach students that climate change is a hoax and other anti-climate efforts. As my colleague Kate Sheppard reported on Thursday, the documents—posted here and here—prompted a backlash from Heartland, which deemed at least one of the documents fake and some tampered with. Interestingly, Heartland president Joseph Bast then used the incident to write to donors, first to apologize—the leaked emails identified some private donors, to whom Heartland promises anonymity "because nobody wants the risk of nutty environmentalists or Occupy Wall Street goons harassing them"—and then to ask for more money ("Now more than ever, I need you to stand by us in our time of need").

Heartland's fundraising tactics (PDF) seem to have worked well in the past, given the group's impressive suite of corporate donations in 2010 and 2011. Here's a selection of the full list* of Heartland's corporate backers, via ThinkProgress:

Altria Client Services Inc.: $90,000

Amgen, USA: $25,000

Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc.: $5,000

AT&T: $100,000

BB&T: $16,105

Comcast Corporation: $35,000

General Motors Foundation: $30,000

GlaxoSmithKline: $50,000

Microsoft Corporation: $59,908

Nucor Corporation: $502,000

PepsiCo, Inc.: $5,000

Pfizer: $130,000

Reynolds American Inc.: $110,000

Time Warner Cable: $20,000

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the list above was the full list. The sentence has since been fixed.

EPA to Cruise and Cargo Ships: No More Dumping on California's Coasts

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 3:13 PM EST

Great news, Golden State: Federal regulators have ruled that, starting next month, no more sewage shall be dumped on your coasts. Or at least not without consequence. Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency designated California's 1,624-mile coastline (stretching from Mexico to Oregon) a federal no-discharge zone, banning large vessels like cruise (PDF) and cargo ships from unloading sewage and other types of pollution into the state's coastal waters. (Of course, oil leaks and spills and their aftereffects will continue to be a problem.)

"California's coastal waters will no longer serve as a sewage pond for big ships," said state EPA Secretary Matthew Rodriguez in an agency press release. "For too long, pollution from these vessels has endangered our marine environment, jeopardized public health, and threatened the coastal communities that rely on recreation and tourism dollars." The EPA estimates that the no-discharge zone will prohibit more than 22 million of the 25 million gallons of treated sewage dumped by vessels in California waters each year. A small boater flushing untreated sewage into the water produces as much bacterial pollution as that of treated sewage produced by 10,000 people, according to a 2003 study by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The marine conservation group Oceana estimates (PDF) that an average cruise ship generates 30,000 gallons of human waste every day. Untreated sewage, chemical, and oil runoff from marine vessels can contaminate water with toxins, coliform bacteria (the family of bacteria that includes E. coli), and invasive species, all of which can disrupt marine ecosystems.

The new sewage ban, which creates the nation's largest no-discharge zone to date, will apply to some 2,000 cargo ships that traverse the state's ports each year. It could also effect the nearly 77 percent of Californians who live on or near the coast, as well as marine and other wildlife. The state coastline is home to four national marine sanctuaries, portions of six national parks and recreation areas, and more than 200 other marine reserves and protected areas, according to the EPA.

Thu Aug. 29, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 22, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 1, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 11, 2013 3:03 PM EDT
Mon May. 13, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 20, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Mon May. 7, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Apr. 23, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Wed Apr. 18, 2012 12:50 PM EDT
Fri Mar. 9, 2012 5:04 PM EST
Mon Feb. 27, 2012 1:34 PM EST
Mon Dec. 5, 2011 5:30 AM EST
Mon Nov. 21, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Thu Nov. 17, 2011 12:19 PM EST
Tue Oct. 25, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Thu Sep. 15, 2011 5:15 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 15, 2011 5:30 AM EDT
Sat Aug. 13, 2011 4:25 PM EDT
Thu Aug. 11, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Fri Jul. 22, 2011 8:30 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 4, 2011 5:30 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 20, 2011 5:50 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 6, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 3, 2011 4:16 PM EDT
Mon May. 30, 2011 6:20 AM EDT
Fri May. 27, 2011 6:37 PM EDT
Mon May. 23, 2011 5:36 AM EDT