Going Green May Save Your Life

Three related news items this week add to mounting evidence that going green should be one of your top 2010 resolutions.  It may actually save your life.

No wonder Kermit keeps on going.  He's probably long ago figured out that chemicals in cleaners and antibiotics in farm animals are not good for any of us.  Both are prominently featured in news stories this week.  Newly published studies find that increased use of chemicals in our cleaning products at hospitals and rampant overuse of antibiotics in farm animals are leading to superbugs with phenomenal resistance to all known antibiotics.  Infections like MRSA are likely the result of these and other industrial age catastrophes.

Story 1: Pressure Rises to Stop Antibiotics in Agriculture

couple of nights after watching "Food, Inc." (may be a while til I even
think about consuming meat ever again), this AP story supports urgent
calls for action to get antibiotics out of our food supply.

Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has
led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than
65,000 people in the U.S. last year — more than prostate and breast
cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of
antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs — 28 million pounds —
went to pigs, chickens and cows. Worldwide, it's 50 percent.
"This is a living breathing problem, it's the big bad wolf and it's
knocking at our door," said Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease
specialist at Duke University. "It's here. It's arrived."
The rise in the use of antibiotics is part of a growing problem of
soaring drug resistance worldwide, The Associated Press found in a
six-month look at the issue. As a result, killer diseases like malaria,
tuberculosis and staph are resurging in new and more deadly forms.
In response, the pressure against the use of antibiotics in agriculture
is rising. The World Health Organization concluded this year that
surging antibiotic resistance is one of the leading threats to human
health, and the White House last month said the problem is "urgent."

Story 2: Cleaning agents may help superbugs grow

My work with the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center has taught me that an entire hospital can be safely and effectively cleaned using green cleaning products rather than the highly toxic chemical soups typically employeed.  Now comes more evidence supporting the use of these greener agents.

Disinfectants commonly used in homes and medical facilities can
boost the resistance of some bacteria to life-saving antibiotics,
according to a study released on Monday.  The findings shed light on how at least one pathogen – Pseudomonas
aeruginosa – spreads, and could apply to other hospital superbugs as
well, the authors say.  In laboratory experiments, researchers showed that the bug can rapidly
mutate, building resistance to progressively higher doses of a
disinfectant known as BSK, or benzalkonium chloride.  The DNA-altered bacteria were able withstand concentrations of BSK up to 400 times greater than the non-mutated strain.  More critically, they also developed a resistance to an antibiotic,
ciprofloxacin, even though they had never been exposed to the drug… The findings, to be published next month in the journal Microbiology,
also point to the possibility that other drug-resistant hospital
killers – such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
and C-diff (Clostridium difficile) – could spread and build up immunity
to antibiotics in the same way.

Story 3: Will Copper Keep Us Safe from the Superbugs?

But not all is bad news – there might a copper-lining to the story.  According to Science Daily, "Three papers scheduled for publication in the January issue of the Journal of Hospital Infection suggest that copper might have a role in the fight against healthcare-associated infections."

In a busy Birmingham teaching hospital, researchers swapped a
conventional toilet seat, tap-handles and a ward door push-plate for
similar items made from 70% copper. They compared the number of
microbes on the copper surfaces against the number of bacteria on the
same items from another ward and found that the copper surfaces had
90-100% fewer live bacteria than the non-copper surfaces.

Similar findings were reported from a primary healthcare facility in
the Western Cape, South Africa. Researchers there found 71% fewer
microbes on frequently touched surfaces overlaid with copper sheets (a
desk, trolley, cupboard and window sill) compared with corresponding
items made with conventional materials.

In addition to copper surfaces, cleaners have been using a
copper-based disinfectant along with microfibre mops in Dumfries and
Galloway, Scotland. Microfibre products are widely used in UK hospitals
since they attract bacteria from surfaces and reach into places that
other cleaning materials do not; however, they are difficult to
disinfect. The copper-based disinfectant (CuWBO) cleaned the microfibre
as well as the environment. Then, it appeared to continue killing germs
for the rest of the day.

Sounds like we need to stay tuned to these interesting developments and pursue all potential safe and effective non-toxic cleaning methods – our lives may depend on it.

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