Me and My Petroleum Distillates

What’s in your cleaning cupboard? Got anything poisonous? Are you sure?

You might have trouble finding out.

Take Petroleum distillates. As part of a remodel, we received a sample cleaning solution as a “gift.” It worked pretty well — magically, wonderfully well. It did everything — polished mirrors, cleaned sinks and counters.

When the sample ran out, I bought a jug of it.



Never mind the strong smell. It made things look really good.

Now the bottle is almost empty. Reorder? Probably worth it to find out what’s in it. Also, maybe it’s time to look into why it smells, and if it does bad things to the water used to wash the cleaning rags.


Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin. Avoid prolonged breathing of vapors.

1. What’s in it? You have to look carefully to find out. The only ingredient listed on the label is down at the bottom, in small letters, on the back of the jug: Petroleum distillates.

2. What are petroleum distillates? According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), it’s a synonym for Naptha and rubber solvent. It is flammable. Permissible exposure limit: 500 parts per million.

3. How much is 500 parts per million? How much time does it take for “breathing of vapors” to become “prolonged”? Unknown.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, another of my favorites, Spray n Wash laundry stain remover has a petroleum distillate, too. Hmm. Spartan Chemical Company’s material safety data sheet adds more info., pretty much unintelligible to me.

So, my digging leaves me on the fence. Wear gloves. Don’t breathe it. Use sparingly. Already doing all of the above. Should be OK, right?  Maybe. Maybe not.

4. Should it be kept out of the water supply? Unknown.

5. Why is it so hard to figure this out?

Partly because there’s a labeling loophole that allows chemical companies to omit the names of ingredients in dyes, fragrances and preservatives. Partly because nobody is sure about the dangers. 

Friday (April 11, 2014) Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced the Household Cleaning Products Right to Know Act of 2014 bill, which would require cleaning products makers to disclose ingredients. We can follow how that goes at his website.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group turned out to be a good resource. They looked at 2000 household chemicals in 2012 to see what’s in them, and rated the ingredients in terms of the risks they pose.   Protect All Shine Plus isn’t on the list, but lots of other stuff is. Check it out. They give petroleum distillates an F, citing allergy and cancer risks.

OK, ok. Probably not worth the shiny sinks.



Image Source: kakisky via Morguefile


Got any substitutes for me?

Mini Militants: Five Rules for Feeding Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds can weigh less than a penny, and have heart rates as high as 1200 beats per minute.


Photo credit: Pslawinski, Wikipedia Commons

How do they stay alive in winter?


Our hummingbird feeder

They have tricks:

They weave their nests with spider silk, which must be pretty warm.

They sit around most of the time.


Photo credit: Morguefile

They consume more than their body weight in nectar (or sugar water) every day and supplement with insects.

They fiercely defend their territory from invaders.


Photo credit: Morguefile

When food is scarce, they slow down their heart rates, as low as 80 beats per minute.


They respect the flag. Photo credit: Morguefile

They train humans. I recently bragged to friends about single-handedly saving the hummingbirds from a cold spell by thawing out the feeder two or three times a day. My friends confessed they had all done the same.  We’re foot soldiers to one ounce generals.


Photo Credit: Morguefile


(1) Standard fare: 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. Heat to almost boiling so the nectar doesn’t ferment and intoxicate the hummingbirds, although that might be funny. In extreme cold, it’s OK increase the concentration of sugar, maybe 1 1/4 to 4, but return to normal concentration when whether warms. Too much sugar will cause harm to the birds.

(2) Healthy sugars for humans are bad for hummingbirds. Brown, raw and turbinado sugars can be fatal over time. Use white sugar.

(3) When it’s below freezing, take your feeder in at night, or rotate two feeders, allowing one to thaw while the other remains on duty.

(4) Change the food every few days so you don’t start any salmonella epidemics.

(5) Pipe cleaners and old tooth brushes work well to clean black stuff, like mold, off the feeder.

Follow these rules and you are qualified to be a hummingbird slave. The birds will reward you by appearing daily, even when it’s twelve below. The Aztecs believed hummingbirds brought sexual potency and skill at war, but there is no scientific proof, so admire and envy hummingbirds for their amazing metabolism, and wish the same for ourselves, especially at this time of year.


We Need a (better) Sign!

To the Traffic Sign Wizards in Eugene: We’re still waiting…


Spot the “bicycle crossing” signs:

Sign #1:


See it? The orange one. Bicycle crossing. But where?  

Sign #2:


The crossing is here. See the sign? Hint: it’s green, on a gray signpost, after the big tree. Directly across the street is a mid-block curb cutout.

Curb cutout for bicyclists:


Would you be on the lookout for bicycles crossing here?

Time for the annual appeal to the city Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator and the Assistant Traffic Engineer to beg for better signage on this bicycle route. Join me! It just takes a few clicks. Here’s a link to the City of Eugene’s Transportation Department web page, with e-mail links for bicycle and transportation coordinators:

Previous appeals:

Rape Seed II: Ready for RoundUp?

IMG_1586At last report, the Oregon Department of Agriculture was accepting comments on whether to allow canola, a.k.a. rapeseed, in the 3.7 million acre protected agricultural zone in the Willamette valley.

Canola can legally be grown in much of the state, but the protected zone is home to a $50 million/year specialty seed industry, and genetic purity drives the business.  Canola cross-pollinates with other crops, spreads easily and is notorious for transmitting disease and pests, so it’s a problem here. Also, although you won’t find this mentioned in official reporting, 95% percent of canola is genetically modified.  In Oregon, the Department of Agriculture doesn’t distinguish between GM and natural canola, hence no official discussion of  the matter, but the truth is, once Round-up Ready canola mixes with other brassica, it is darn near impossible to get rid of it.

Last fall the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a quiet, some say sneaky, ruling (at 5 p.m. on a Friday night) allowing a temporary exception to the ban on canola, so farmers can grow it as a rotation crop and, with state and federal energy tax credits, to  press as an oil for fuel. Seed growers feared, with good reason, that temporarily admitting canola would mean a de facto end to international demand for organic cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, mustards, kohlrabi and other brassica seed crops.

At a public hearing in September, 99% of the speakers, including biologists from Oregon State University, opposed allowing canola in the valley. Funny thing — while representatives from the big GM seed companies didn’t testify at the hearing, it’s hard to imagine a few weren’t around for the annual Farm Bureau Classic, a golf tournament sponsored by Monsanto, DOW and Syngenta, which was held the day before.


Photo courtesy of Oregon Farm Bureau via Facebook

The Department of Agriculture issued a ruling allowing canola into part of the protected area. Undeterred, specialty seed crop farmers, biologists and activists kept the pressure on, and this week the Oregon House, rebuffed the Department of Agriculture and passed HB 2427, which would prohibit canola in the valley until 2019, and provide money to Oregon State University to study the risks of cross-pollination and disease.  It now moves to the Senate. If this is an issue you care about, contact your (or an) Oregon State Senator, a.s.a.p! Here’s how.  For more information: see Friends of Family Farmers, and The online research magazine for the Oregon State University Agricultural Experiment Station

Baggy Baggy

“I hate to tell you this,” the clerk says as she folds my new pants.  “But I’m required to. By law. I have to charge you five cents for a bag. Would you still like a bag?”  She raises her eyebrows in an ominous and foreboding way.

Our bag ban (see post) went into effect last month.  Plastic grocery bags are outlawed and stores are required to charge a nickel for paper bags.

Bellyaching abounds.  A woman buying groceries ahead of me in line, who looks like she probably has a few nickels to spare, commiserates with the checkout lady about the usurious bag fee. They roll their eyes, sigh and shake their heads.

One letter to the editor complains that cloth bags are bacteria laden. Isn’t everything bacteria laden? Never mind. Another letter writer wonders how he’ll line his trash can.


Newspaper and rubber bands. Or skip the lining. That works, too. Uh-oh. Is that bacteria on the outside?

There are complaints about the five cents, it’s not the nickel, it’s the principle of the thing. It better be about principles, since nickels are worth so little we can barely afford to make them. What else can you even get for a nickel these days?


Go ahead. Ask how much Hallmark charged me for this bag.

One man writes that from now on, he is going to shop in the neighboring town. So there.

I think people are secretly happy about the bag ban. It gives us something to talk about besides the weather. So much simpler and more accessible than crazy stuff like teacher layoffs and global warming.  Here is the crux of the national debates in our own little town, something we can really wrap our tomatoes in.

Good work bag monsters.


Image Source: Check out Ban the Bag Facebook page

My Country Tis of Thee

Talking of patriotism, what humbug it is; it is a word which always commemorates a robbery. There isn’t a foot of land in the world which doesn’t represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successive owners.
     – Mark Twain

Who’s your favorite patriot?

It’s great to love your country (I do), but Patriotism, man, what a loaded word. Remember the flap about whether or not then-candidate Barack Obama lacked patriotic spirit because he didn’t have a flag pin on his lapel?  Forevermore, we Americans will see flag pins on Presidents’ and Presidential candidates’ lapels!

Rah rah!   Remember when true patriots only bought cars made in America?  Kind of a shock when it came out that many parts under the hoods of our beloved American cars came from China.  Remember Freedom Fries, when those naughty French refused to support the Iraq War in 2003?  Representative Walter Ney led the charge to rename French Fries and French Toast, Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, on the menus in the Congressional cafeterias.  In 2006, the names were quietly changed back, and Walter Ney pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.  Some patriot.

So, here’s my nomination for True Patriot.  Son of a German immigrant brew-meister who was ridiculed by his peers during World War I because of his heritage. To prove his love of country, he joined the Boy Scouts and became a top salesman of Liberty Bonds.  When former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt came to town to award medals to the top ten bond sellers — oops — there were only nine medals, and none for the son of the German immigrant, who was hustled off the stage.  He suffered from a fear of public speaking for the rest of his life.

His father was a member of the Park Board in his hometown of Springfield MA, and while tagging along at the local zoo, he started a lifelong love of doodling animals, usually in an exaggerated fashion.  He went on to squeak through Dartmouth and drop out of Oxford, to write ads for a pesticide company, all the while hoping to make a living drawing zany creatures.  In 1937 while on a ship to Europe, he made up a limerick to go with the sound of the engines, that eventually became his first children’s book, To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. It was rejected 27 times by publishers who said they only wanted stories with morals, but finally picked up by a publisher, and the rest is history.  He continued to write imaginatively and heroically, for the rest of his life.  Oh The Places You’ll Go is one of the top gifts to graduates, and his protest against pollution, The Lorax, both raises hackles and inspires budding environmentalists to this day.  We miss you Dr. Suess.

Patriotism isn’t wearing a symbol or singing a song at a baseball game.  It’s working to give back to your country as much as it has given you, and in the end, helping the country give back to the world as much as it’s given us.

Who would you nominate for the honorable title of Patriot?

Written for the great GBE 2: Blog OnWEEK #76 (10-28-12 to 11-3-12): Patriotism.  Join us!  

Bag Hag, part 2: Bans and Best Reusable Bags

Plastic Bag Ban Update:  The City council banned plastic bags this week.  Not all plastic bags, just checkout counter bags, the ones that look like this: 9/14/12

And this:

Yum. (Photo credit: Environment Oregon) 

Not covered by the ban:  plastic bags on rolls in the produce section …

Photo credit: Food Bags

… plastic bags for meat and the thicker bags you get at clothing stores.  Stores are also required to charge 5 cents for paper bags.

Judging from letters to the editor, some people are pretty upset.  One writes he won’t shop in our town anymore.  Another that the nickel charge for paper bags will hurt low income people, and that paper bags are worse than plastic ones. Another writes that the number of bags in the rivers and oceans is exaggerated and asks why we should ban one kind of plastic if we aren’t going to ban all plastic?  Someone else complained about having to wash reusable bags.

What a bunch of hooey.  Forget the bickering about whether the city was right or wrong.  We don’t need throwaway bags.  Bring your own.  Use them many times. Toss them in the washer with your socks.  It’s easy.  Once you get used to it, it’s fun.

KEY:  buy bags you like.  Don’t invest in any old thing.  Any woman who carries a purse will tell you, if you hate your bag, you won’t use it.  Three recommendations:

  • String bags.  Like a Volkswagen Beetle stuffed with clowns, you can fit an astounding number of things into string bags.  They are inexpensive, washable and last forever.  Store clerks like them.  People ask if you’re from Europe.

Photo credit:

  • L.L. Bean bag.  This is an investment.  It starts at about $25 new, but like the string bags, these babies last for decades.  Because they have sturdy sides, clerks (and you) don’t have to fiddle with holding them open when loading up, very handy at farmer’s markets.  The bottom is steady enough to support cartons of eggs, berries and other delicacies.  I like the long-handled version which can be carried as a shoulder bag.

  • Lightweight, see-through mesh bags.  My grocery store sells 3B Bags, but there are several brands out there. They weigh next to nothing, are washable, durable, and inexpensive.  Use these, and there is no need for the produce bags on a roll.

Don’t wait for a city ban.  Bans start fights about the law rather than discussions about sensible solutions.  Move the lowly shopping bag up in the world to something worth a little thought and investment.  We need fossil fuels and trees for more important things.

What do you think about the bag fights?  Do you use re-usable bags?  Any favorites?

Earlier post on ins and outs of the bag war:

Good to Be Loved

Week 24 in the quest to cycle 104 times this year.

The weather report says that today is the last in a long line of late summer days.

Tomorrow brings rain.

How many of us cyclers greet this news with mixed feelings?  Leaf blowers are already corralling leaves into the bike lanes in anticipation of the city pickup, which won’t happen for another two months.  It’s kind of fun to roll through the leaves when it’s dry, but once the rain starts, look out.

Today we ride. Tomorrow we slide.   

I’m considering, in my quest to cycle 104 times this year, starting to count walking as the same as bicycling.  Isn’t the point to just get out of the car?

Ah, but walking takes so long.

I take solace in the graffiti garden …

P.M. isn’t in the graffiti dictionary. Maybe the artist’s initials? Happy Halloween to you, too.

… which is tucked next to a field of wild fennel,
behind the jail and the train tracks …

… which reminds me that next summer, probably, coal trains will be chugging through the city.  The county commissioners vote next week on whether or not to allow coal trains through town.  The coal will be headed for the coastal town of Coos Bay for shipping and processing overseas.  Four trains a day, up to 150 open cars each.

Coming soon to the fennel field: a veil of coal dust.

This is not what people usually mean when they call Eugene Track Town

Coos Bay needs the 165 jobs the coal trains will bring.  Get a community desperate enough for work, and worries about air pollution count for nothing.

Pedal on.  Here, a small consolation, a sign next to the bike lane:

A nod from Hummingbird Wholesale

It is good to be loved.

Are you ready for winter?  How do you feel about coal trains, and coal in general?  Any solution to the city’s leaf recycling program, which leaves (pun not intended) bike paths treacherous for weeks?
Update on the quest to bicycle 104 times in 52 weeks.  Week 24:  rode/commuted twice.  Grand total:  63 (15 rides in the bank).

Gas vs. Grass: Canola War in the Willamette Valley

It’s a standoff.

In one corner, canola growers.

In the other corner, seed producers, opponents of genetically modified crops and fresh vegetable farmers.

In Oregon it’s a long-standing feud.

“Reservoir Dogs” Mexican Standoff

For the last decade or so, Oregon’s Department of Agriculture weighed in by prohibiting canola from being grown without special permission on 3.7 million acres in the Willamette Valley.

Why?  Canola likes it here a little too much.  It’s a good rotation crop that doesn’t need to be watered, which means it grows like, well, a weed.  It takes off quickly, and happily cross pollinates with other members of the brassica family, including grasses, radish, turnip, mustard, rutabaga, cabbage.  This is fine for farmers who need to give fields a rest with an alternate crop, or are looking for a quick buck with an off-season crop.  It’s not so good for the $32 million a year specialty seed business, which depends on 100% pure and untainted seeds.  Unlike most agricultural states which focus on a crop or two en masse, say corn or soy, Oregon farms produce over 200 crops, many grown for seed, which is internationally famous for high quality and purity.  If you’re a fan of saving seed species diversity, this valley is heaven.

Canola is a problem for organic farmers.  About 90% of the canola grown in the U.S. is genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides.  Canola’s prolific cross-pollination means that unintended crops end up with GM genes, and organic farmers lose their licenses if their produce is crossed with a GM crop.  The USDA doesn’t make a distinction between GM and non-GM canola, so Oregon’s Department of Agriculture doesn’t either, and offers no relief.

GM canola’s tendency to spread beyond its fields also causes problems if farmers re-plant tainted seeds, even if they do it unknowingly.  See Monsanto v. Schmeiser. Why?  Because once a company creates a genetically modified plant, all its offspring are the private property of said company, forever and ever.  It sounds a little like me taking credit for my son’s senior college project, but whatever.  Farmers have been sued.  Courts have ruled in company-creators’ favor.

From the incomparable Willamette Valley Cartoonist J Compere

If all that isn’t enough, canola attracts cabbage maggots, is susceptible to stem cankers and black mold rot and other insidious plant illnesses, which then spread to other crops.

This issue, like all issues, is complicated.  There are different kinds of canola, which is actually a variety of rapeseed, used throughout history for lamp oil, but until recent incarnations, too bitter for food.  Recently developed strains are now usable for animal and human food, produced from the seeds. The name in fact comes from the abbreviation Can. O. L-A (Canadian Oil Low-Acid).

Anyway, on with the story.  Canola’s well-documented problems were taken note of by Oregon’s Department of Agriculture, and a relatively small slice of the state was set aside as canola-free.  All is well, right?

Enter biofuels.  Rapeseed oil, it turns out, works pretty well as a biofuel, and so the pressure to open up more acreage to GM canola heated up.  Permits for test plots in Rickreall and Baker were issued, with 3-mile protection zones set up around them, and all went well, according to the canola growers.  Then the Department of Agriculture tried to pull a fast one.

On Friday, Aug. 3, just before 5 p.m. the department sent out a news release announcing that they were going to “refine” (i.e. shrink) the no-canola zone.  Temporarily.  (Making it temporary allowed the department to sidestep public notice or comments.)  Planting to begin immediately.


Oregon, however, is not a state of slackers.  Within days, seed growers, farmers and environmentalists filed suit against the temporary ruling.  Over 10,000 people signed a petition asking the department to hold its horses.  23,000 people world wide signed the petition, which gives you an idea of how much people care about this, everywhere.

Given the immediacy of the question, the Oregon Court of Appeals granted a stay to the temporary rule (i.e., in favor of the no-canola plaintiffs),

which will be in effect until …
… the newly drafted permanent rule, which makes the temporary “refinement” of the no-canola zone immutable, takes effect.  Follow all that? Translation: canola will be allowed into the protected zone unless in the coming month public pressure convinces the Department of Agriculture otherwise.  This time the hearing will be public:  9:00 a.m., September 28, Salem, Capital building. Comments also accepted up to Oct. 5 via e-mail or by mail:

Mail to: Canola Hearings Officer; ODA; 635 Capitol St. N.E.; Salem, OR 97301.

As with so many of the things we care about these days, the jury is out.  Will canola be grown in Oregon’s protected agricultural zone?  Does the need for fuel outweigh the need for untainted seeds and crops?  Can canola be grown safely in areas where cross-breeding crops are grown?  To be continued …


Opal Creek

Anyone else turning off the radio and TV when presidential campaign ads or stories come on?  Seems like a waste, considering how much money is spent on campaigning these days, but the content is so empty and repetitive, it isn’t worth watching.

As awful as the process is, I’m having to remind myself that it works, and not always in favor of the people with the biggest checkbooks.   Here’s a template from the not too distant past when Republicans and Democrats, loggers and conservationists, righties and lefties teamed up.

Opal Creek Wilderness Area

The Opal Creek Valley includes 50 waterfalls and the largest contiguous portion of low elevation old growth left in Oregon, a remnant of the forests which once covered the western part of the state.

Starting in the 1840′s, the area was mined for gold, copper, zinc, lead and silver.

It was included in the first Wilderness bill in Congress in 1967, but didn’t make it into the final version.

In 1980, a 6’8″ Bunyan-esque* District Ranger of the Detroit Oregon region, Dave “Chainsaw” Alexander, vowed to “cut Opal Creek.” Soon after, the Forest Service laid boundary markers to clear cut the area, but the sale was halted in 1982, when (future Mayor of Salem) Mike Swaim brought a lawsuit against it.  Opal Creek was included in the 1984 Wilderness bill, then pulled at the last minute by Republican Senator Mark Hatfield.  A 1989 fight to make Opal Creek an Oregon state park spurred the production of an Audubon video, “Rage Over Trees.”

Industry opponents got advertisers to boycott the film, so Ted Turner showed it 6 times on his network, without commercials.

Local activists like  George Atiyeh (nephew of Republican Governor Victor Atiyeh), Michael Donnelly and Jerry Rust worked to keep the issue alive, and were joined by Republicans like Oregon Logger of the Year, Tom Hirons.  As public pressure grew, Mark Hatfield arranged for a group of conservationists to meet with industry representatives and a mediator from Willamette University.  The upshot was a Hatfield-sponsored bill designating Opal Creek a Wilderness area.  It passed in 1996.

Tens of thousands visit every year.  The Opal Creek Forest Center runs education programs, an outdoor school and backpacking trips for kids, and old logging camp cabins are available to the public for rent.

It is spectacular.

If you have stories about political successes, or just want to commiserate about the politics this season, I’d love to hear from you.  

Acknowledgements and resources: Eugene Register Guard Archives, *Michael Donnelly’s 1997 article “Opal Creek Preserved,” David Seideman’s book “Showdown at Opal Creek.”  Photos by me.