Posts Tagged ‘Chemicals


Breakfast Chemistry

Oh! What chemicals must there be in my breakfast sandwich that it only takes 10 seconds to cook! I watched the woman assemble it from pieces in two refrigerated drawers: one for the egg, one for the sausage. She dropped on a slice of American cheese, wrapped the sandwich in paper, and threw the bundle into a microwave. She pressed three buttons, and 10 seconds later, I was paying for it.


It’s 2 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Contribution to Global Mercury Poisoning Is?

It’s like … ten thousand sick Nigerians when all you need is a clear desktop.

The day after we dropped off a non-functioning printer and a bag of old cell phones and chargers at the recycling center, we found this from the AP:

America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas

An excerpt:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Most Americans think they’re helping the earth when they recycle their old computers, televisions and cell phones. But chances are they’re contributing to a global trade in electronic trash that endangers workers and pollutes the environment overseas.

While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

“It is being recycled, but it’s being recycled in the most horrific way you can imagine,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, the Seattle-based environmental group that tipped off Hong Kong authorities. “We’re preserving our own environment, but contaminating the rest of the world.”

Beautiful. You think you’re saving the planet, but really you’re just killing Chinese babies. Uhm … It was emotionally wrenching enough to get rid of my old Power Mac G3 in the first place (not to mention my dear departed iPod). I was hoping not to add unwilling complicity to murder into the bargain.

You just can’t win … so it would seem.

Lucky for us, we live in the civilized borough of Queens, and we dropped off our junk at Build it Green NYC‘s collection site in Astoria. In association with the Lower East Side Ecology Center, Build It Green provides a drop-off center for disposing of electronic equipment — the right way.

From their Web site:

Is any of the recycled material sent overseas?
No. We share your concern about dumping electronic waste on developing countries. Therefore we require that our vendors recycle all collected materials in the US and provide us with documentation about their down stream vendors. We audit this information to confirm validity.

Yay! We win.

For more information:


Ghost Stories

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The dear, sweet maintenance man where I work begins mopping the floors precisely at 3:30 p.m. daily. He mixes a noxious cocktail of chemicals from generic, yet dangerous-looking, plastic jugs. I think he experiments sometimes, because the odor is never the same twice in a row. And it is a truly foul aroma.

There are two things I’ve smelled in my life that are worse. One was the stripper my dad used when he restored my sister’s bedroom set. That stuff really did make me throw up once. The other, I’d rather not mention. I don’t know what it does to the floor, but it produces an instant headache. It’s like something you’d use to scour a slaughterhouse. Truth be told, I don’t think he knows what he’s using.

One day he walked into my office with an industrial-looking bottle.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked.

I just sort of blinked at him. “Do I know?”

“Yeah,” he continuned. “Will this make the floors shiny. I want to wax the floors and make them shiny.”

I gamely took the bottle and examined the label, which may as well have been written in Cyrillic, and I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t. “Uh, I don’t know what this is,” I said.

“I think it’s wax,” he said. He took the bottle and walked away. The next day, I noticed no difference in the floors.

Sometimes he gets it right and shines them up magnificently. Seems a waste, mind you. They’re in terrible condition, bare wood exposed under cracked tiles. In some places, whole tiles are missing. It’s like running a vacuum cleaner on a dirt floor. But he takes intense pride in those floors. No different from the rest of us, I guess. We all want to be proud of our work — without poisoning people in the process.

So I don’t mind so much when he comes into my office to mop around me at my desk. And I feel bad when I have to tiptoe across his work, leaving half-footprints behind me. For a long time, I didn’t complain about the headaches. Or being driven to fits of sneezes with the “air fresheners” he sprays to cover up the odor, adding yet another layer of chemicals. (Imagine falling into a huge box of laundry detergent powder. Makes my skin crawl.) He comes in and out. It passes. And life goes merrily on.

And we have clean floors.

Sometimes he mops them three times in a night. Just to be safe.

One of my colleagues sometimes encourages him to come later. “You know, I hate to be in your way,” she said. “Why don’t you come back after five when we’ve left?”

It’s the ghosts, he told her once. That’s why he starts so early. He wants to get his work done on the top floor before everyone leaves, because he hears noises, he said. He’s seen doors close and open on their own. Lights turn on and off. And he thinks he’s seen a woman in white.

The building is old, and it can be creepy when no one’s there, I’ll give him that. And he’s not the only person to have ghost stories from that building. I’ve been there as late as 8 p.m. and heard noises myself. But ghosts? More likely, it’s the chemicals he uses that conjure these visions.

Another colleague once made a passing reference to him about the “evil spirits.”

“Oh no, don’t worry about evil spirits,” he said to her. “There’s no such thing as demons.”

These are just ghosts, he informed her. “I know. I’ve read the bible.”

I think someone talked to his boss, because for a while he did start later. But I guess the ghosts got the better of him. He’s back to his old routine. I think he’s using different chemicals.

the untallied hours