Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sugar cane : arsenic :: love : marriage

Whew! Deriving today's title required summoning dusty recollections of analogies from the recesses of my mind. Anyway, many locals know one of Hilo's worst-kept secrets: that Hilo Bay and environs are polluted with arsenic, a by-product of the Canec industry. Canec is a building material, made only in Hawaii, that was popular and cheap, and made from sugar cane stalks treated with arsenic.

From 1932 to 1963 the Hawaiian Cane Products plant in Hilo manufactured Canec from bagasse, the fiber left after sugar cane stalks are crushed for their juices. The process included treating Canec with arsenic to deter insects and minimize mildew. Although Canec hasn't been manufactured in decades, contamination survived. At least one study reported arsenic concentrations in the sediments of Hilo Bay as high as 6370 ppm, approximately 34 times higher than anywhere else in the state.

A few years ago the plan was to cover shoreline soils with three feet of fresh soil. I'm not quite sure what that would--or did--accomplish, since the proposed fix seemed as ineffective as the discredited "solution to pollution is dilution." Nevertheless, as recently as late April, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported that work was continuing on efforts to cover up contaminated soil on the site of the future Target and Safeway stores in Hilo, where high levels of arsenic, dioxins and petroleum compounds were found.

So, if covering up a heavy metals problem, well, only covers it, what's the alternative? Yup, you guessed it. Vetiver!

Research conducted at least since the mid 1980s confirms that Vetiver tolerates a wide range of soil acidity, alkalinity, salinity, sodicity, and elevated levels of Aluminium, Manganese, and heavy metals such as Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Nickel, Lead, Zinc, Mercury, Selenium and Copper in the soil. (Truong, P., et al).

It also absorbs large quantities of heavy metals from industrial waste and, in the process, protects ground water from contamination, claim a duo of researchers at India's Kerala University.

In a paper presented at the Kerala Environment Congress 2010, concluded on Saturday, researchers D.S. Jaya and G. Dhanya report that the penetrating roots of fast-growing
Vetiver can effectively remove hazardous heavy metals from industrial effluents.

Since industrial waste poses a great threat to the environment, Vetiver will become a great boon, say the researchers, who are the faculty members of the Department of Environment Science of Kerala University. Vetiver planted around industrial firms that flush out metal-rich waste water will remove the metals from the water. "Thus the soil and ground water of the region will be protected without being degraded," Jaya said.

Large numbers of Vetiver plants could be grown in artificial wetlands around factories and industrial units and thus protect the environment, she said, adding that technologies were also available to recover the metals from the plant material.

"Another interesting fact is that the plants have shown different efficiency for absorbing different metals. Good results are shown for zinc, lead and cadmium," Jaya said.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Has Vetiver gone to the dogs? Grrr, not exactly...

From the author of the Smartdogs' Weblog 6/10/10 entry, called Animal Attraction

I like to experiment with essential oils. I love perfume. Good perfume, not cheap drugstore stuff. And essential oils not only give me a way to experiment with different scent combinations, I can also use them make my own scented soaps and cleaning products.

One day as I was playing around with mixtures of different scents while surrounded by a pack of curious dogs, I thought “I wonder what the dogs think of these?”

Anyone who’s spent a bit of time with dogs understands that they don’t make the same kinds of value judgments about smells that we do. Seriously. In case you have not already noticed the obvious, your dog adores smells like shit and week old garbage and rotting flesh and he probably thinks that smells like fabric softener and Glade air freshener are utterly revolting.

It’s easy to find scents where dogs and humans disagree. I wanted to see where the dogs and I agreed. So I collected a dozen or so vials of essential oils and four dogs (the number I had on hand) and conducted an informal experiment. I put a drop of each oil on a small piece of paper then held the sample out toward each dog in turn and let each one decide whether they wanted to explore it more intimately or not.

The results were interesting.

Being courteous beasts, the dogs politely and carefully sniffed each sample offered. They seemed to react neutrally to most of the scents, generally taking a quick, cautious sniff or two then looking at me inquisitively. All four turned up their noses at eucalyptus and avoided it. Three expressed similar distaste for tea tree and two for violet. Wintergreen made one dog sneeze; the other three refused to sniff it. I didn’t force the issue. They showed a somewhat marked interest in sandalwood, patchouli and ylang-ylang, taking a few extra sniffs and pausing thoughtfully between them.

All the dogs were mesmerized by three scents – vetiver, frankincense and oak moss. Vetiver was the clear winner. All four were entranced by it. They didn’t just take a few polite whiff of the sample – they inhaled slowly and deeply, and then paused to process the aroma between each sniff. Charlie even tried to follow the bottle into the cabinet.

While an interesting little experiment, I didn’t intend to follow it up. That is, until last week, as I browsed the beauty products while waiting for my stylist.

A row of fragrances in the Aveda aisle caught my eye. I sniffed each one cautiously. Most were a lot sweeter and more citrusy than the scents I prefer, but one hit the jackpot. Chakra 1 is a blend of vetiver, frankincense (olibanum) and patchouli, strong and woody but not overpowering. Although it wasn’t something I’d ordinarily buy, it was relatively inexpensive and, given the results of my recent experiment, I suspected that the dogs might enjoy it. So I brought a sample home.

I’m glad I did. Chakra 1 has been a big hit with the beasties. When I apply it they sniff me like a freshly decorated hydrant. And if I spritz a little on one of the dog beds, the boys will roll on it in evident ecstasy.

Because the dogs and I seem to share a preference for grassy and woodsy fragrances, I decided to test their reactions to my perfume collection. While distinctly unimpressed by most of the products, Muschio di Quercia was the paws down favorite and young Charlie displays a clear and consistent interest in Privet Bloom (lemon, bergamot and verbena on top; white hyacinth in the middle, and base notes sea grass and cucumber).

It appears that I’m not the only one checking my critters' reaction to fragrance, or even the first. Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal has the details:

Zoos have long spritzed perfumes and colognes on rocks, trees and toys in an effort to keep confined animals curious.

In 2003, Pat Thomas, general curator for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo in New York, decided to get scientific about it. Working with 24 fragrances and two cheetahs, he recorded how long it took the big cats to notice the scent and how much time they spent interacting with it.

The results left barely a whiff of a doubt. Estée Lauder’s Beautiful occupied the cheetahs an average of just two seconds. Revlon’s Charlie managed 15.5 seconds. Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps took it up to 10.4 minutes. But the musky Obsession for Men triumphed: 11.1 minutes. That’s longer than the cats usually take to savor a meal.

Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create Obsession, believes that a a number of factors in the fragrance might render it irresistible.

“It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note—it creates tension,” she says. The cologne also has synthetic animal notes like civet, a musky substance secreted by the cat of the same name, giving it particular sex appeal, she adds. “It sparks curiosity in humans and, apparently, animals.”

According to, “Obsession for Men” includes topnotes of mandarin and bergamot; heart notes of lavender, myrrh, sage, clove, nutmeg and coriander and amber, musk, sandalwood, vetiver and patchouli as base notes.

Combining Obsession’s formulation data with the results of my informal research on my dogs, I’ll say that if I was interested in animal attraction I would experiment with scents featuring simple sweet heart notes like vanilla, orange and lemon combined with strong animal and woody basenotes, like topnotes lemon, bergamot, verbena; white hyacinth as a middle note and base notes sea grass and cucumberMuschio di Quercia – a deep, woodsy scent that my dogs adore.