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Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Last summer you could hardly go a couple of days in Quebec without hearing about blue-green algae, a toxin affecting the province’s lakes and chasing swimmers out of the water.

While agriculture and sewage from lakefront homes greatly contribute to the spread of blue-green algae, a small part of the problem is phosphates coming from things like dishwasher detergents. So we switched to a phosphate-free brand that we picked up at our local health food store. But at $8 a box, it seemed awfully pricy. I thought there had to be a better way.

So I mixed up some homemade dishwasher detergent — half baking soda and half Borax. It cleaned well for a while, and I felt very virtuous and thrifty. But then we started to get a whitish film on our dishes. That’s when we started alternating the homemade with the outrageously expensive store brand.

Then our dishwasher conked out. My husband spent hours taking it apart, peering inside, and swearing. We thought we would have to buy a new one, but he managed to resurrect it from the near-dead. And then put a ban on the Borax after he found a warning on the company’s website to not use it in the dishwasher.

So my ears perked right up today when I heard that the federal government is instituting a country-wide ban on any detergents with more than 0.5 per cent phosphates, something the Quebec provincial government has already done. The bummer in today’s announcement from Ottawa? It doesn’t take effect until 2010. Greenpeace slammed the decision today, saying Quebec pharmacy chain Jean Coutu has done more to restrict phosphates by refusing to stock phosphate-containing soaps.

Even Quebec’s Environment Minister says even with the new restrictions on phosphates, we’ll be stuck with the blue-green algae for at least another 10 years.

Until the phosphate bans come into effect, I’m going to try this homemade dishwasher detergent and see if we can do our small part in the crusade against blue-green algae — and not break the dishwasher while we do it.

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Something fishy

When I was a teenager growing up in Eastern Ontario, people used to rave about the Lancaster perch, a freshwater fish locals caught in the nearby St. Lawrence River. It was a speciality at local greasy spoons, and a treat at community events. But it always seemed a risky idea to me to eat it, coming as it did from the St. Lawrence River. My parents never took us swimming in the river, even though it was a quick car trip away. Too much pollution, they said.

I was reminded of the Lancaster perch fish frys, and my parents’ wariness of the St. Lawrence River when I heard this piece by the CBC’s Loreen Pindera on The Current today. The report discussed plastics and chemicals that act as endocrine disrupters — basically, they mimic hormones. What really caught my attention was the work of some McGill University researchers, who discovered male fish downstream in the St. Lawrence from Montreal with ovaries. The researchers said the male fish were becoming females because of endocrine disrupters found in the river. When they fed the fish to rats, they found the rats’ fertility was compromised.

Yet another reason that I’m glad I don’t eat fish from the St. Lawrence. And I plan, on an upcoming trip to Ottawa, to hit this store in Wakefield, Qc. that sells non-plastic food containers. We try to use reusable containers for lunches, but with three young girls at home, I’d rather pack their food in containers that aren’t leaching chemicals into their food.

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