Nancy Rechtman
Column Archives
For Book Clubs



by Nancy Rechtman

OK, I give up now. The past few months have involved recalls of dog food, children's toys, spinach, baby carrots, more children's toys, more food until our head spins. I prefer my kids' toys be unleaded. I prefer that my dog food be untainted. I prefer that our food be free of e-coli and other nasty bacteria.

We have also recently been informed that we shouldn't be drinking bottled water. Not for health reasons, although there is no firm proof that bottled water is any more or less healthful than tap water - or even that it isn't actually tap water in pretty bottles. No, it's the fact that while we're attempting to be health-conscious - and even if we think we're being environmentally conscious as well, by recycling our water bottles - we are now being informed that the amount of oil and energy it takes to produce and transport those very water bottles is causing more pollution, clogging our landfills (as a large number of people do not recycle said water bottles) and adding to the destruction of our planet. Sigh.

And now comes popcorn! Yes, popcorn! There is a man in Colorado who has been diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer that seems to be linked to his breathing in the delectable aroma of fake butter in his microwave popcorn bag. According to
It looks harmless enough, but microwavable popcorn contains the chemical diacetyl in the buttery flavored topping. It's that chemical that's believed to be linked to the man's lung disease.

The patient in Colorado ate plenty of popcorn -- for more than a decade he'd have it twice a day and when he'd open the bag he'd smell the aroma because he loved it so much.

It's the constant exposure to heated diacetyl that may have caused the problem, according to the man's doctor.

Now, real, buttered popcorn is still as safe as can be - except for the trans fat it contains, and the effect it may have on our hearts and the expansion of our waists. But beware the microwave variety. I guess you will now need to hold your breath when that burst of steam shoots out at you when you rip the scalding hot bag open as you try to avoid burning the tips of your fingers off.

Another big surprise for me was reading an article about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs to those in the know - which now includes you). We have all been hearing that we should make the switch over to CFLs to help the environment. Even though I have never been a big fan of fluorescent lighting (because it usually makes me look green and feel dizzy), I was thinking about making the switch as I feel it would be a good thing if we each try to save the Earth in any small way that we can. And we are told that today's fluorescent bulb is not your grandmother's fluorescent bulb - or something like that. But I recently read that these bulbs contain varying levels of mercury - a potent neurotoxin which, you might imagine, means it's not very good for us or the environment. Recycling is being promoted as the proper way to dispose of these light bulbs, as they are not supposed to be thrown out in the trash where they will most likely break before even reaching the landfills, exposing people to the mercury and possibly contaminating the soil. So, you would think retailers would offer convenient recycling for these bulbs so that people can dispose of them properly. Here is the following information from

Some other big companies have started paying attention to the recycling problem.

General Electric has been making compact fluorescents for 20 years. Now the company admits that the little bit of mercury in each bulbs could become a real problem if sales balloon as expected.

"Given what we anticipate to be the significant increase in the use of these products, we are now beginning to look at, and shortly we'll be discussing with legislators, possibly a national solution here," says Earl Jones, a senior counsel for General Electric.
Now, I'm not saying don't use these light bulbs - I am a big fan of helping our planet. However, it seems to be another case of a great idea that has come to fruition before anyone was actually ready for it. If they are going to promote the use of CFLs as heavily as they have, why wasn't there a widespread, convenient recycling program put in place at the same time as the sales push? Why are they now first starting to pay attention to the problem? According to in quoting Wendy Reed, manager of EPA's Energy Star program, the biggest sellers of these bulbs "haven't stepped up to the plate."

"The only retailer that I know of that is recycling is IKEA," she says, referring to the Swedish-owned furniture chain store.

So retailers, please do step up to the plate. Give us a handy recycling bin for our CFLs. And manufacturers, you need to step up to the plate as well. We need toys our kids can play with without the level of lead in their blood skyrocketing, vegetables that are actually good for us, dog food that won't sicken our dogs. And for heaven's sake, let us be able to once again enjoy the delicious aroma of our fake-butter, microwave popcorn without fear. After all, we've got to have something to munch on while we're trying to save the planet.

Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at

See additional columns in the archive

Sign up for Nancy's monthly e-mail newsletter to receive her column, as well as latest news about appearances, book signings, reviews, new works published and more:


Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail