Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Triclosan Update

I've posted on my concern for triclosan-containing products before. I think far too much of it is being land applied in our biosolids:

It makes little sense to land apply recalcitrant compounds that needlessly get rid of soil microbes. Fomenting the growth of resistant strains of disease organisms is only one concern. Soil functional capacity is largely mediated by living processes. It is the height of folly to jeopardize those functions for a useless consumer item.
How much effect does it have on biosolids-applied soil? Probably it is only slight at any given site. It is the total mass involved and the extent of the impact that has me uncomfortable.

Being soil-aware, I have also come to appreciate that our skin, like soil, hosts a diverse population of bacteria that when in balance, works in our favor. Part of our disease protection comes from that community. If we kill off the easy ones, we are left with the toughs who can now move into the colonization sites left vacant. That's how it works on the skin of the earth, anyway. I'm not saying that we should avoid washing our hands, just that acting on simplistic thinking can expose us to risks greater than the ones we act to avoid.

For example, the latest concern with triclosan use is that when exposed to warm (100 deg F) tap water containing chlorine, a common scenario for use, it breaks down after less than a minute of exposure. The breakdown products include chemicals of concern to skin care including chloroform. This may better explain reports that triclosan-containing products induce dry skin, eczema, and, under conditions of high use (20-25 times per day), open sores. Open sores and a tough crowd of bacteria is not a good combination.

This observed rapid breakdown of triclosan does not negate previous observations of recalcitrance in the treatment process, in the soil, and in our waterways. The wastewater treatment processes that produce biosolids do not employ chlorine, or any equivalent chemical oxidizing agent. To shock the process with chlorine would kill the bugs doing the work.

I am sure there are some good uses for triclosan. Maybe a place in the acne control tool box is one. The majority of this product is sold for normal household use. The casual use of triclosan needs to end.

Image Source: Neil Duazo

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Forgive me faithful blog-readers, it has been 2 weeks since my last post. You are probably wondering if, now that it is day-light-savings time, if I will again drop off the face of the blogging earth until Holloween as happened in 2006. Its a good bet that my posts be much thinner from here on out, but I will do my best to post once a week.

March and April are treacherous months for time management. My corporate taxes are due March 15th. The garden and yard are waking up.

March and April are where several core client report due dates fall. It is also the opening bell of the wetland hydrology growing season, when, for a 2 week window, wetland delineations are much simpler (and cost effective) to document, especially in the irrigated arid West. Once our extensive and leaky system of irrigation canals fill in April, normal hydrology can be overwhelmed. And without the steady high water of spring thaw, hyporheic hydrology sufficient to support plant life adapted to saturated soil conditions has to be established using secondary indicators. Away from the streams and river, our xeric (aka Mediterranean) climate makes the first 2 weeks of the growing season the wettest.

The new Arid West Supplement (see here) to the 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual came into play in January, giving those of us who delineate wetlands something new to work with. It is more soil oriented, moving emphasis from hydric soil criteria to the more complex, regional system of field indicators of hydric soils (see here), which should make our field reviews even more interesting.

Client activity wakes up at this time of the year, and the phone starts ringing with new work for the summer.

This is also the first 60 days after I get back from the annual meeting of the National Society of Consulting Soil Scientists (NSCSS), with its invigorated interaction between members and affiliated societies.

NSCSS is affiliated with the US Consortium of Soil Science Associations (USCSSA), and I have offered to help revamp USCSSA's soil science consultant listings. As with several of my NSCSS side projects, I am posting my notes on how to go about this at NSCSS' new wiki leaving the door open for peer collaboration.

The topper on the schedule is that wife Rosemary has courageously taken on becoming superintendent for the clubhouse of the Woman's Club of Spokane. No one else in the Woman's Club lives in the 'hood where the clubhouse sits, which seems quite ludicrous. The clubhouse is a hundred year old, 10K SF public meeting facility only a block from our house. It is on every historic register available. It anchors the spirit of the place for blocks around, making it far more important to our quality of life than is understood by the Woman's Club members, or at least the current leadership. The club is rented out for dancing, weddings and such. It has two kitchens, a dining room, and three halls with two stages. The club haven't had a designated super for two years, and the building has suffered from this and other lapses of longer standing. I am spending these first weeks of her tenure helping Rosemary figure out how the place "works", since the club has let their corporate memory drift as to what's where and why. Much fun is being had by all. I feel much better now that we have figured out where the water shut off is.

Final note. The City of Spokane spans the Spokane River cataracts, using a series of 7 bridges to straddle the gorge and tie the city center together. Right now the water is running high, so Rosemary and I wandered down to listen to the roaring.

Monday, March 05, 2007

GeoAgro soil data collector

I just got back from the 20th Annual Meeting of the NSCSS in San Antonio, TX. Ed DiPollina, TekConsultants, was one of the presenters, and I was very impressed with the potential for a product his company is bringing to market, the GeoAgro Soil Data Collector. Designed for field soil scientists like myself, the Soil Data Collector helps us log soil profile descriptions and geo-reference our field notations, map features & test pit locations in the field on a Tablet PC.

I saw many NSCSS soil scientists sign on as beta testers. Considering the varied applications that field soils data is applied to, this is surely going to be an interesting process.

Similar field data solutions are available to government soil scientists (Pedon PC software was presented to us by USDA-NRCS in San Antonio), but the GeoAgro Soil Data Collector is the first one geared to consulting field soil scientists, arguably a larger and faster growing market than represented by government soil scientists.

It struck me during Ed DiPollina's presentation that the GIS and GPS portion of these types of products is becoming more of a commodity, with the forms and data entry portion holding the interest of the San Antonio audience.

Unlike similar solutions geared to institutional needs, this product will be affordable for the small business to enter into. This is not always a given since GIS solutions vary wildly in price relative to the value provided. If you are already using a GIS product like ESRI's ArcView (ESRI is the world leader in GIS software), no problem, the Soil Data Collector has the ability to export and import different types of files, such as shape, drawing and spreadsheet formats, along with substantial GIS functionality. Don't already have a GIS solution? A simplified non-ESRI solution is being provided.

Speaking of ESRI, affordable alternatives to ESRI products are on the rise. If you are already a locked into being a customer of ESRI, or you are a status quo driven public institution, this will not matter to you. A growing number of us are not. We constitute a market that ESRI has pointedly chosen, through proprietary file formatting and opportunistic pricing, not to serve. I don't fault ESRI for choosing a captive market business model. Its a legit choice. Unfortunately for ESRI, and ultimately ESRI's customers, it is difficult model to adapt to changing market conditions. If the monopolistic aspects of ESRI have escaped you, consider. GIS solutions are simple, ubiquitous, data processing solutions for publicly available georeferenced data. The algorithms used to project the data into only 2 dimensions were constructed long ago by federal agencies using public funds. The math and the data are both freely available to everyone. ESRI doesn't add value to data in the classic meaning of value, it locks it into a proprietary format and holds it for ransom.

A captive market business model smothers the necessity to innovate. Over at competitor Manifold System GIS, several sub$1K solutions are optimized for multiple core CPUs and 64 bit processing. This has been available since August, 2006. ESRI has yet to announce when they intend to provide multi-core or 64 bit functionality, even at the >$120K level. Some generally similar observations about ESRI: (1) (2) (3)

ESRI's loosening grip on the lead and a general increase in GIS software choice and capability are helping to bring innovators like TekConsultants onto the playing field.

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