Week of 9/27/09

Dear EarthTalk: As I understand it, hair salons are pretty toxic enterprises on many counts. Are there any efforts underway to green up that industry?

—Paula Howe, San Francisco, CA

Hair salons have long been criticized for the pollution they generate. Traditional hair dyes and many shampoos contain harmful synthetic chemicals that are routinely used on customers" scalps—and then washed down the drain where they can accumulate in waterways, soils and even our bloodstreams.

While there doesn’t appear to be an industry-wide, coordinated effort to green up these operations, green-friendly salons are popping up all across the country, leading the charge by taking matters into their own hands. A simple Google search for "green hair salons" followed by your two-letter state abbreviation may well turn up one or several within driving distance.

Not surprisingly, Southern California seems to be ground zero for the green hair salon movement. For example, Beverly Hills" Shades Hair Studio prides itself on its chemical-free atmosphere. Spurred on by her own health problems related to working with conventional hair dyes, owner Susan Henry—so-called "colorist to the stars"—first created her own line of natural hair colors that contain no harmful ammonia, and then transformed her Shades salon into a model for environmentally friendly hair care.

Hair salons have long been criticized for the pollution they generate. Fortunately, while there doesn't appear to be an industry-wide, coordinated effort to green up these operations, eco-friendly salons are popping up all across the country, leading the charge by taking matters into their own hands.© Getty Images

Across town, Nori’s EcoSalon in Encino is making waves in the industry for its non-toxic permanent hair color treatments and 100 percent botanical henna using home-grown formulations. To boot, Nori’s interior features energy efficient lighting, recycled denim insulation, low-VOC paints on the walls and sustainably sourced bamboo on the floors, along with a number of other green touches to keep indoor air quality high. And up the coast, San Francisco’s Descend Salon goes to similar lengths, and then steps it up a notch by recycling its hair clippings for use in absorbent mats used in oil spill clean-up efforts.

Not just for California anymore, eco-friendly hair salons occupy just about every major North American city, many operating in the same spirit as Shades, Nori’s and Descend in making use of non-toxic and/or organic ingredients while greening indoor surroundings for an overall healthy experience. Then there’s the granddaddy of them all, Aveda, which in addition to operating some 200 of its own spas, supplies natural hair care and personal care products to 7,000 professional hair salons and spas in 29 countries.

Another way to get a greener hair treatment is to search on the websites of green hair care product makers such as EcoColors, Aveda, Modern Organic Products or Innersense for salons that use their products.

Of course, if none of the salons in your area have gone green, take it upon yourself to encourage them to make the transition. You can start by showing them this article and suggesting they begin to carry some all-natural products, perhaps by first contacting companies like EcoColors, Aveda, Modern Organic Products or Innersense to see what’s out there that they could easily transtion to.

CONTACTS: Shades; Nori’s EcoSalon; Descend salon; EcoColors; Aveda; Innersense.

Dear EarthTalk: Not long ago there were concerns about honey bees disappearing. Are the bees still disappearing, and if so do we know why and do we have a solution?

—David, Grand Rapids, MI

Finding a single cause of Colony Collapse Disorder seems unlikely, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture
s Agricultural Research Service points to the possibility of a "perfect storm" of stresses that compromise the immune system of bees, disrupt their social system and make colonies more susceptible to disease.© Rainer Hungershausen, courtesy Flickr

The topic of disappearing honey bees first cropped up in 2004 and by the spring of 2007 was all over the news. Thousands of commercial beekeepers across the U.S. and beyond were reporting in some cases that as many as two-thirds of their honey bees were flying away from their hives, never to return. What made the problem—dubbed "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD)—so unusual is that most traumas to bee colonies leaves bees dead in or around their hives, not mysteriously gone altogether.

Strangely enough, there was no concrete evidence pointing to disease or predation or of mites that tend to attack bee hives. Some beekeepers reported that moths, animals and other bees were steering clear of the newly empty nests, leading to speculation that chemical contamination due to widespread use of pesticides might be to blame. But no smoking gun emerged and the mystery remains today.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), which last year convened a multi-agency steering committee to assess the problem and find solutions, several factors could be combining to cause CCD. "Pesticides may be having unexpected negative effects on honey bees," reports ARS, adding that as yet unknown parasites, pathogens or viruses could also be wreaking havoc on bee colonies. Studies have also indicated that poor management of populations of commercial honey bees—including inadequate diet and long distance transportation—may play a role.

In one study, researchers from Columbia University isolated the presence of a virus—the so-called Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus—in upwards of 96 percent of the hives studied that were affected by CCD. Other studies point to widespread use of Imidacloprid, a common grub-control chemical used on lawns and farms and which has already been banned in France due to its alleged effect on bees. But finding a single cause of CCD seems unlikely, and ARS researchers point to the possibility of "a perfect storm of existing stresses" weakening colonies to the point of collapse: "Stress
compromises the immune system of bees
and may disrupt their social system, making colonies more susceptible to disease."

Whatever the cause, CCD remains a real threat to agriculture. About a third of all American farm production is dependent upon the pollination efforts of commercially-raised honey bees. While diversifying the stock of insect pollinators beyond just one species of honey bee would certainly represent a step in the right direction, re-jiggering the nation’s agricultural system represents no small challenge.

Not surprisingly perhaps, organic beekeepers have not experienced CCD, leading to speculation that overall greener management practices could be the answer even if direct causes are not determined. Meanwhile, efforts to genetically modify bees that are resistant to predators and pathogens could also prove fruitful, although such high tech solutions are still untested and could open up other cans of worms.

CONTACTS: USDA Agricultural Research Service; CCD Steering Committee Q&A.

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