How to avoid going up in flames on Valentine’s Day: eat more fish and get a nanotech mattress made in China

by Yule Heibel on February 14, 2005

My [other] alma mater has a new electronically-available alumni magazine called Grad Gazette. Already, two articles caught my eye.

First, there’s Old Computers and Toxic Waste, which profiles UBC engineer Monica Danon-Schaffer, who theorises that it’s all those computers in landfills that are causing the unbelievable build up of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) — flame retardants — in organic matter, from mother’s milk to farmed and even wild fish. (“A Health Canada survey released earlier this year found that women in Canada had levels of PBDEs five to 10 times higher than women in other industrial countries.”)

Like PCBs and the pesticide DDT, substances now banned, PBDEs are slow to break down and, in a process called bio-magnification, their strength and resistance increases as they move up the food chain. What troubles Danon-Schaffer is that they are spreading globally at a faster rate than older pollutants like PCBs.

Danon-Schaffer thinks the main source of PBDEs may be the tons of computer parts dumped into landfills every year. Although computer manufacturers are starting to phase PBDEs out of newer generations of electronics, older models containing substantial quantities — up to 30 per cent of the final product in some cases — are now coming to the end-of-useful-life phase.

All the plastic components of these computer products — monitors, circuit boards, printers, scanners — amount to “only a sliver” of products containing the contaminant, she adds, but that “sliver” adds up to 70,000 tons of computer garbage in Canada annually. In the U.S., the figure is even more staggering. An estimated 55 million computers will be tossed into landfills in 2005. [More…]

On a weirdly less alarming note, there’s this article, Turning Gold into Green with Old Mine Tailings; Waste rock may help slow global warming, says geochemist. Knock me over with a bit of slag, but who would have thought that any good might come from the garbage we leave behind from mining?

…mine tailings — the waste rock produced in the mining process — may actually be helping to slow global warming by absorbing the greenhouse gases thought to cause climate change.

Greg Dipple, an associate professor of earth and ocean sciences, has been studying the waste rocks’ ability to soak up carbon dioxide (CO2) and hold, or sequester, it for long periods. His findings could impact mining operations worldwide.


“With tweaking, the tailings could soak up all the greenhouse gases that mining operations produce. I think it’s possible that we could turn large mining projects into a greenhouse gas neutral industry,” he says.

It’s also possible that mines could soak up more than they produce, earning them carbon credits — the system being developed under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The credits could be used to pay for mine reclamation. CO2 credit futures currently trade for about CD$1.23 / tonne at the Chicago Climate Exchange, and are predicted to increase in value to CD$10/tonne or more as the Kyoto Protocol is implemented.

Not surprisingly, mining companies have taken notice of Dipple’s research. [More…]

Not surprisingly, indeed.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and don’t try to set yourself on fire with all that passion. Probably won’t work, anyway: you’ve absorbed too many PBDEs. However, you can now have safe (i.e., fireproof) sex on a hot new mattress made & designed in China with nanotechnology — and it doesn’t use any PBDEs. This looks like one cool product…!

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