Green Apple Cleaners turning the Big Apple Green

New York, NY – January 31, 2008 – New York State has filed lawsuits against at least three companies for groundwater and soil contamination that they attribute to perc, the dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene (PCE) used by over 90% of all drycleaners. In California and recently proposed in New Jersey, the use of perc in dry cleaning will be outlawed within the decade. Not only bad for your health, it turns out that harsh dry cleaning chemicals and traditional finishing methods can also be harmful to clothing by dulling the finish, breaking fibers and leaving residues on the garments.

The timing couldn’t be better for health conscious Green Apple Cleaners, the only environmentally friendly dry cleaner in Manhattan. At the Green Apple Cleaners plant in New Jersey, trained specialists using state-of-the-art CO2, Wet Cleaning and European Finishing equipment, treat garments with gentle handling. The special care they give to the clothes, and to the customers, has been recognized by Green Apple Cleaners’ acceptance into the elite group of prestigious cleaners – “America’s Best Cleaners(TM)”. Their care for the planet has placed them among New York’s top green businesses and they are one of the founding members of the Sustainable Business Network of New York.

Taking care of the environment was the brainstorm of entrepreneur David Kistner and his partner Christopher Skelley who founded the business in 2006. When Mr. Kistner’s wife announced they were having twins four years ago, he vowed to keep hazardous chemicals not only out of reach, but also out of their home. In searching for safer dry cleaning in New York, he found no alternative solutions. Two years later, Green Apple Cleaners is now servicing over 450 buildings in Manhattan and over 9,000 clients, including the big apple’s most celebrated personalities. Though the bulk of their business is pickup and delivery, they have already added two storefront locations last year with four more planned for 2008.

The popularity of Green Apple Cleaners is a sign that New York City is serious about going green. Another boost for the brand is that more people are catching on to the misleading “organic” signs cropping up on dry cleaning windows all over town. As the CEO and founder David Kistner says, “If clothes could talk they’d tell you that “organic” means volatile organic compounds – pretty tricky!”

On another environmental front, Mayor Bloomberg’s new plastic bag recycling law will require over 2,000 stores in Manhattan, including many large dry cleaning operations, to take responsibility for their plastic bags. “It is important to take as many steps as we can to recycle plastic bags,” Bloomberg says. “They are not biodegradable, but instead break down into small pieces that pollute the water and soil. Due to their light weight, plastic bags can easily escape from our sanitation system…” Green Apple Cleaners supports waste reduction with its signature black garment bags used to transport dry cleaning to and from their customers in eco-friendly vehicles. Any disposable bags they use are 100% biodegradable.

Early on, Green Apple Cleaners founders secured the telephone identity 1-888 I LUV CO2 to tout CO2 as the key to cleaner cleaning, and wrote the company motto themselves: The Cleaner Dry Cleaner. Get the real dirt on dry cleaning by visiting www.greenapplecleaners.com

Breathing easy: Improving the air quality in your home

By Martha Shaw

With winter approaching, the joy of keeping all the windows open to let fresh air in our homes is behind us. We begin sealing up our houses, latching storm windows and applying weather stripping to prevent heat loss before cold weather sets in.

When we think about weatherizing our homes, we should also consider how best to refresh the air inside. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is basic to human health, particularly for the very young and elderly who are more susceptible to the effects of dirty air and who typically spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors. Even in crowded, industrial cities, outside air is usually much cleaner than the air inside, and the Island is no exception.

“Though houses are more energy efficient and built tighter than ever before, the natural exchange of air with the outdoors through leaky windows is less,” says Jim Hart of Hart Company Plumbing and Heating, Inc. in Vineyard Haven.

As a result, emissions from detergents, pesticides, furnishings, gas appliances, oil burners, paints, toxic construction materials, and radon can get trapped indoors. Also, unwanted flora and fauna like fungi, algae, pollen grains, viruses, bacteria, and dust mites can flourish inside our homes. Combined, the concentration of these pollutants can be up to a hundred times higher than outside air, particularly when indoor air is re-circulated for an extended period of time.
“Heat ducts and clothes dryers can become moist breeding grounds for mites and mold and it’s very important to clean or replace the filters,” says Mr. Hart. “We open up heat registers and find dead insects, mouse droppings, animal hair, dander and other things that you don’t want getting into the air you breathe.”

Fireplaces, wood and coal stoves, and kerosene heaters can also be a major source of indoor air pollution. Mr. Hart suggests tuning up gas stoves and furnaces every few years to reduce dirty fuel emissions, to get air ducts cleaned, and to vacuum out electric heaters before they are turned on.

According to John Abrams of South Mountain Company in West Tisbury, who specializes in energy efficient building, some homeowners install mechanical ventilation, the best of which is an energy-efficient heat recovery ventilator (HRV). An HRV filters and preheats fresh outside air in exchange for stale indoor air.

Proper ventilation is key

Radon is a natural gas, yet dangerous when high levels of it are trapped inside. It is found in most homes at very low levels. Originating naturally in earth and rocks, and even groundwater, it seeps in from beneath the house through cracks in concrete and flooring and through floor drains. Radon becomes a problem when it gets trapped without proper ventilation. It is estimated that prolonged exposure to radon is the number two cause of lung cancer. Fortunately, testing for radon, as well as getting rid of it, is relatively simple. One good source for finding out more about radon and for ordering test kits is www.accustarlabs.com.

Ventilate well when using paints, paint stripper, glue, caulking, welding tools, and sanding equipment, or wait for a nice day and do these projects outside or with the windows open. Cleaning dete and bug sprays, mildew fighters, and dust busters may be advertised to get your house cleaner than clean, but don’t be fooled. Many of thes products are unregulated and untested in terms of their health risks. You can find natural alternatives specializing in nontoxic products and homemade remedies. If you hire professionals to clean your home, let them know that you prefer natural products, and provide them with your own supplies if they aren’t offered. You’ll spare your septic system and the Island’s soil and groundwater of toxic chemicals.

Prevent mold growth

Mold growth is usually obvious to spot in your house, but there are invisible spores that are equally toxic. Because they are invisible and airborne, they pose a higher risk to people who are susceptible to respiratory disease. These spores contain allergens whether they are dead, alive, or dormant, and they need to be physically removed, preferably by a vacuum. Mold mitigation professionals will isolate the area, set the spores into suspension, and suck them up through powerful air scrubbers known as air “polishers.” In some cases, sheetrock and other affected surfaces must be replaced.

To help prevent mold growth, keep household humidity below 50 percent. Make sure rain and melting snow are directed away from your house and your rain spouts are operating effectively. During the winter, vents in the basement, bathrooms and above the kitchen stove should be run frequently to avoid moisture from building up on walls, floors, ceilings, wall cavities, and tile grout. If you see condensation on pipes in your home, you have moisture, a breeding ground for mold. The easiest way to detect mold and mildew is a musty smell, which is of microscopic life side your home. Ac- Donald Cronig of Beacon Home Inspections in Vineyard Haven, up to 20 percent of the air pollution in a home comes from the basement through stairwells, laundry chutes, and other openings. He recommends a good dehumidifier and a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air filter) in the basement to extract mites, spores, chemicals, and other pollutants, and personally uses IQAir Health-Pro Plus in his own home. Unfortunately, Beacon Home Inspections is no longer in the business of indoor air quality and the Vineyard does not appear to have a full-time IAQ professional working on the Island. One off-Island resource is Nauset Environmental Services, and another is the Indoor Air Quality Association at www.iaqa.org. Also reference the book, “The Mold Survival Guide for Your Home and Your Health,” by Jeff and Connie May.

The good news is that winter doesn’t last forever and there are plenty of warm days here and there to air out the house. The best way to prevent toxic build-up in your home is to choose products and building materials wisely and take precautionary steps before indoor pollutants become highly concentrated and out of control. That way, your whole family can breathe easier. Martha Shaw of Oak Bluffs specializes in environmental issues and is the founder of Earth Advertising, an agency that promotes the use of earth-friendly products.

To find out more about energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on the Island, visit www.vineyardenergyproject.org. This article is sponsored by the Vineyard Energy Project through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Vineyard Energy Project promotes sustainable energy choices through education, outreach, and renewable energy projects. The author, Martha Shaw, is a member of the Vineyard Energy Project’s advisory board. The Times publishes these columns as a service to its readers.

A 10-year Energy Plan goes into action

By Martha Shaw (MVTimes, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts)

As though perfectly timed, given the rising costs of fuel, a 10-year Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Action Plan has just been completed for Martha’s Vineyard that assesses the Island’s energy usage and provides recommendations for the next decade.

In a nutshell, the Energy Plan recommends the following: better efficiency in new construction; improved efficiency in existing construction; increased availability of alternative energy services and technology; more education and outreach; the expansion of solar and wind power; a move toward alternative fuels in transportation; and utilization of biomass and composting that reclaims profits for the Island.

Four people, each concentrating on different areas, are poised to help put the solar component of the Energy Plan into action: Nan Doty; Susan Wasserman; Bart Smith; and Kate Warner. Ms. Doty is a former schoolteacher who advocates for solar energy education in the local schools. Ms. Wasserman is organizing solar users to share their experiences. Mr. Smith is planning solar awareness events to reach residents, seasonal homeowners, and summer visitors. And Ms. Warner, the founder of the Vineyard Energy Project, is facilitating training workshops in solar electricity, solar hot water and energy efficiency for electricians, plumbing and heating professionals, architects, and builders.

Nan Doty talks about why she is focused on energy from the sun. “I learned as a teacher that students expand their thinking when they experiment. Hands-on school projects show students how the sun’s energy can power everything from solar model cars to the schools themselves. The idea is that they will take their understanding of energy home with them. When you flip on a switch, it’s important to be aware of where the energy comes from and why. The history of the Island, and the rest of the world for that matter, has been shaped by energy supply and demand and the choices we make. With new technology, we now have an opportunity to take solar power seriously if we are open minded.”

The completion of The Energy Plan marks an important moment in the Island’s energy history. Over the centuries, Martha’s Vineyard has relied on everything from whale blubber to windmills that once dotted the island. Today, more than 99.9 percent of all energy used on the Island comes from the mainland via underwater electricity cables connected to power plants on the Cape, fuel barges, and trucks bearing oil, propane, and kerosene. The Energy Plan outlines ways to significantly decrease the Island’s dependency on these sources.

Toward the goal of expanding the number of solar installations on the Island as outlined in the plan, Susan Wasserman, who powers her own Victorian home in West Tisbury with solar, is creating a Solar Corps: a network of homeowners who use solar power. The hope is that those who are enjoying reductions in their energy bills through their solar electricity and hot water systems will inspire others by sharing their experiences.

Outreach efforts like Solar Corps will be strengthened by solar events and communication programs throughout the year, led by Bart Smith. “By expanding communication on the Island around renewable energy alternatives and efficiency, we can get more people on board, which is important if we are going to make a difference,” he said.

Kate Warner agrees. “The biggest challenge is definitely shifting people’s thinking about energy. We are trying to provide the Island with information that will help people draw their own conclusions. Once we realize as a community the many ways we can benefit by reducing our energy dependency on non-renewable resources, anything’s possible. Martha’s Vineyard is learning lessons from communities all over the world and can be a healthy model for the Northeast.” Ms. Warner is the Vineyard’s solar pioneer who initiated the U. S. Dept. of Energy’s Million Solar Roofs program on the Island, and who continues to demonstrate that solar power is a viable and important source of energy, even in this climate. Subsidies provided by the program have given homeowners the economic incentive they needed to invest in solar systems.

Though the uncertain future of oil is reason enough to look closely at other options, it is not the only factor weighing in. Emissions from coal and fuel-burning power plants situated just up wind are considered to be a health hazard to people and other living things, while shipping fuel has proven to be an environmental liability and an added energy drain. But perhaps the most urgent incentive to get a better grasp on the Island’s supply and demand is the fact that the submarine transmission cables are approaching capacity.

Last year, free energy audits offered by the Cape Light Compact helped homeowners and businesses easily and economically realize energy efficiencies and reduce consumption. Meanwhile solar installations are turning Island rooftops into viable energy producers. An increasing number of homes are creating solar electricity, while others are solar-heating their hot water and pools. The Island now has at least 140 solar roofs in place. Approximately 80 are solar electric roofs, and 60 are solar hot water. By 2010, the Plan shoots for 500 total, which would account for about 1% of the usage. That could make a difference considering the Island’s 2005 energy bill is projected to be about $64 million.

Energy-efficient building materials, better insulation and innovative architecture can play key roles in keeping the Island’s consumption of fossil fuel at bay. However, population growth, continued development, and the new phenomenon of extra-large summer homes that are powered, heated and cooled year-round are serious challenges. The Energy Plan represents a unified effort to meet the Island’s energy needs while preserving the quality of life.

Everywhere on earth, the strength or weakness of Island people is closely tied to their ability to protect resources, to innovate and plan ahead, and Martha’s Vineyard is no exception. With the rapid emergence of new technology and a boom in the clean energy industry, a unique opportunity has presented itself for the Island to regain more energy independence – just as energy prices are projected to go through the roof.

To find out more about the Energy Plan or to request a copy of the full report, go to www.vineyard-unplugged.com.

This article is sponsored by the Vineyard Energy Project through a grant from the U.S. DOE’s Million Solar Roofs program. The Vineyard Energy Project promotes sustainable energy choices through education, outreach, and renewable energy projects. The author, Martha Shaw, is a member of the Vineyard Energy Project’s advisory board. The Times publishes these columns as a service to its readers.