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opposite: KEVIN DICKERT/ GETTY IMAGES ; right: STEVE HORRELL/Science Photo Library/Corbis

building efficiency—“We want it to become front of mind,” Wright says—and thereby encourage building owners to voluntarily make modifications that will not only reduce their energy costs but drum up local business for electricians, architects, engineers, and software providers, to cite a few examples. Efficiency doesn’t need to be expensive, Wright points out. “There are lots of strategies for managing energy use that are not capital-intensive. You don’t have to put a wind turbine on your roof to make a difference. You can make a difference by turning off your lights at night.” The City Energy Project will work with local governments to design energy-saving plans to raise efficiency where it is needed most. Each city will have its own customized plan. While some improvements, such as phasing out inefficient lighting, could be applied universally, others will be specific to a city’s workforce or real estate community: Chicago might want to focus on training its building operators, for example, whereas Los Angeles might see the need for better financing programs to help owners retrofit their properties. Because the participating cities are geographically and politically diverse—Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Orlando, Salt Lake City, and Philadelphia—they offer models that are applicable around the country. The long-term goal is to improve the efficiency of buildings not only in these cities but in the entire nation. “We’re hoping to create a domino effect,” says Jessica Lawrence, the director of city operations at the Institute for Market Transformation, a partner organization on the project. “We really hope other cities see that the program is viable—and replicate it.”

—Mary X. Dennis

cleaner soap You’ve known this since pre-K:

washing your hands helps keep you healthy. Unless you’re doing it with antibacterial soap. Triclosan, the active ingredient in most liquid antibacterial soaps, is a suspected endocrine disruptor that may contribute to infertility and early-onset puberty. The Food and Drug Administration never actually okayed triclosan for use in antibacterial soaps, although it is approved for use in thousands of other products. For any drug to be FDA-approved for over-thecounter use, its safety and

efficacy must be established. Scientific studies, however, have shown that soap with triclosan is no more effective than regular soap. Still, the FDA never banned triclosan from these soaps, creating a loophole that allowed it to be added to them. That was back in 1978. “NRDC filed a lawsuit in 2010 to compel the FDA to finalize its official list of approved ingredients—because it’s a little ridiculous already,” says Mae Wu, an attorney in NRDC’s health and environment program. The pressure seems to have paid off: these soaps will likely be off the market by 2016. But many products, from children’s toys to kitchen knives, still contain triclosan. So it’s best to stay away from anything advertised as antibacterial or anti—M.X.D. microbial.

Get the mold out

A legal victory will help prevent asthma attacks.

how to breathe easier

T

HOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN NEW YORK CITY’S HOUSING projects contend with indoor mold that can transform a home into a health hazard, causing asmtha attacks, trips to the hospital, and missed days at school or work. Most of the city’s housing projects, home to more than 450,000 people, are badly in need of repairs. It could take more than six months for the New York City Housing Authority to respond to a mold complaint, and “when they finally showed up, they often just cleaned off the mold and repainted,” says Al Huang, a senior attorney at NRDC who focuses on urban environmental justice. “They never addressed the underlying problem”—the broken pipes, leaky roof, or condensation around sweating pipes with no insulation. The community group Manhattan Together, part of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, had been battling NYCHA in state courts over indoor mold and moisture issues for more than 30 years, without much result. In 2011 the group approached NRDC for help, and Huang and his team began looking for a way to bring a case to federal court. Failure to comply with a federal court order, Huang notes, can result in court sanction and withholding of federal funding—and the housing authority receives hundreds of millions of federal dollars each year. In a stroke of inspiration, the team decided to focus on the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2006 the ADA expanded the definition of a disability to include impairment of any basic life function—and that included breathing. This meant the act now protected people disabled by asthma from housing discrimination. NRDC’s health and environment program provided peer-reviewed studies showing that not only mold but also the moisture that fosters it can exacerbate asthma in an indoor environment. The studies also expressed concern that the effects of climate change—such as increased storms and flooding—would only worsen these health threats. In December, NRDC reached a settlement requiring the housing authority to write a new policy for mold and moisture that “applies to everybody, regardless of whether you have asthma,” Huang says. NYCHA must also respond to a complaint of mold or moisture within one week and fix the root problem. Moreover, the agency now recognizes that asthma is a disability, setting a precedent for indoor mold battles in other cities. For residents of public housing —M.X.D. struggling with mold, breathing just got a little easier.

spring 2014

onearth 6 1

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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