Week of 11/01/2003

From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Are commercial hair dyes dangerous to my health?
—Alice Martin, Ithaca, NY

It’s a relative rarity, but people do develop allergic reactions to commercial hair colorings. The most common allergens in dye are ammonia and peroxide, or the chemicals p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) or diaminobenzene. All permanent dyes use PPD to adhere to the hair shaft and peroxide to open it. A person can become allergic to these chemicals even after years of use, and the chemically sensitive sometimes find them too toxic to use at all.

In addition to allergies, hair dye has come under scrutiny in recent years due to a possible link to various types of cancer. In 1994, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute announced that deep-colored dyes (like dark brown and black), when used over a prolonged period of time, seemed to increase the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. In 200l, the International Journal of Cancer found that those who use permanent hair dye are 2.1 times more likely to develop bladder cancer (as are their hairdressers).

For a truly natural hair dye option, consider a non-chemical treatment like Ecocolors, or try henna, which is made from the powdered leaves of a desert shrub called Lawsonia. Henna has been used for thousands of years to color hair and skin (Cleopatra was a famed proponent). Although it seems to pose no health risks, some sensitive people might still experience allergies when using it.

CONTACT: Ecocolors, (877) 852-4515, www.ecocolors.net

From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Which are healthier to eat: salmon grown on fish farms, or wild salmon?
—Jay Simms, Madison, WI

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, 842 million pounds of fish were produced in 1999 by the United States through fish farming, or aquaculture, including 39 million pounds of salmon. Over 50 percent of the world’s salmon is now farmed rather than wild-caught, according to the National Audubon Society. More than likely, the next time you purchase salmon at the supermarket or in a restaurant, it is from a farm.

In a study published by the journal Chemosphere, both wild and farmed salmon from British Columbia were analyzed for toxicity, as were the foods fed to the farmed salmon. The researchers concluded that farmed salmon contained higher levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides and polybrominated diphenylethers than wild salmon; the discrepancy was thought to result from the high levels of toxins that were also found in the commercial salmon feed. However, a study by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency determined that the levels of these harmful chemicals in fish feed would not cause fish to exceed the safety standards set in the Canadian Guidelines for Chemical Contaminants and Toxins in Fish and Fish Products.

Though there is not yet conclusive evidence about the toxicity of farmed salmon, what is certain is that salmon aquaculture along the Atlantic coast is causing the population of wild Atlantic salmon to severely decline. According to National Audubon, farms are situated in prime locations where the tide flushes out the area, forcing wild stocks to migrate to less-than-ideal areas. The international organization, North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, is working to increase the population of wild salmon stocks through habitat protection and reclamation.

CONTACT: National Audubon Society, (212) 979-3000, www.audubon.org