Natural Predators and an Emerald Prey

Woodpecker-Emerald Ash Borer

In Missouri’s natural rural forest stands, ash trees only comprise about 3% of total trees. This tree makes up a greater percentage of urban trees – 14% for trees lining residential streets up to 21% in urban parks. Visitors to the state’s parks are reminded not to bring firewood into the state from other states when camping out here and to burn whatever they obtain locally and not take it out of state when they leave. These measures act like a type of quarantine to reduce the likelihood of the insect’s arrival into any state employing similar measures.

Tiny Emerald Ash Borers (they are only 1/2″ long or about the diameter of a penny) have killed millions of ash trees since they were discovered in Michigan in 2002. The beetles in their larval form disrupt the flow of nutrients beneath the bark. Over time, they kill the tree. I believe I first became aware about the threat at our Missouri State Fair in 2012. We encourage and support a high degree of diversity for tree planting in our forest as a hedge against any potential insect infestation. In July 2008, a small Emerald Ash Borer infestation was discovered at a Wappapello Lake campground. That discovery put the potential threat in a nearby county to our own forest. Since then, the beetle has been detected in several other areas in the state.

Because the insect is a serious problem in states where it has been identified, concerned citizens and officials have looked for all the possible methods they might employ to eradicate the Emerald Ash Borer that is killing ash trees. Enter natural enemies of the Emerald Ash Borers. These include predaceous and parasitic insects and insect-pathogenic fungi. With the help of bird-watchers, researchers used information from Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch (for which my late mother in law was a long-time volunteer) and the US Forest Service to identify that the Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers and the White-breasted Nuthatch populations grew in areas of known Emerald Ash Borer infestations. This was not an impact caused by birds migrating into the area but a result of local birds flourishing and successfully rearing families because they had happily discovered an abundant new food source. Fortunately, BOTH bird species are natives here in our Missouri forest and that is reassuring for our own ability to come through the latest threat with our forest still in a good condition.

According to Walter D Koenig from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, the birds “can depredate quite a surprisingly high percentage of Emerald Ash Borer larvae in some forests” but that “It’s unlikely that this would be enough to stop the invasion, but it could certainly slow it down, at least in some areas.” We should not discount the tenacity of the most predaceous species on our planet, human beings, to continue to look for every way possible to turn back the tide of the latest invasive species to drawn our concern.

The arthropod predators of insects and mites include beetles, true bugs, lacewings, flies, midges, spiders, wasps, and predatory mites. Insect predators can be found throughout plants, including the parts below ground, as well as in nearby shrubs and trees. Some predators are specialized in their choice of prey, others are generalists. Some are extremely useful natural enemies of insect pests. Unfortunately, some prey on other beneficial insects as well as pests. Insect predators can be found in almost all agricultural and natural habitats. Each group may have a different life cycle and habits. Although the life history of some common predators is well studied, information on the biology and relative importance of many predatory species is lacking.

While research has found that commercial chemicals can be effective in controlling emerald ash borer infestations, “you just can’t afford to do that in the woods,” said Andrea Diss-Torrance, a forest entomologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And some of us (this blog’s author and her husband definitely included !!) PREFER NOT to use chemicals on our land.

Chinese Stingless Wasp ~ photo credit  U.S. Dept of Agriculture

Chinese Stingless Wasp
~ photo credit
U.S. Dept of Agriculture

Two kinds of wasps are being used that will insert their egg-laying appendage through the bark and lay eggs in tunnels on, or in, emerald ash borer larvae. Once the eggs become larvae, they will eat the larvae of the beetle, Diss-Torrance said. Another species of wasps released at a different point in the seasonal cycle lay their eggs on or inside the eggs of the emerald ash borers when they are laying their eggs on the bark of ash trees. Once the larvae develop, they will eat emerald ash borer eggs.

The process will be invisible. “They are very tiny, and a lot of their work will be done inside or on the bark of a tree,” said Diss-Torrance. Entomologist Ken Raffa of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that “these wasps have undergone intense scrutiny by the USDA to safeguard harm against native species.”

Sometimes, biological controls have interesting consequences. We have experienced the swarming of Asian lady beetles that will crawl into crevices of homes and that look alot like a native ladybug. These are believed to have first arrived in the United States in 1916. Southern farmers reintroduced them in the 1980s to control pecan aphids. We once captured the lady bugs emerging indoors here in Springtime and relocated them to a treasured replanted live Christmas tree that had developed an aphid infestation.

The wasps are reared in a US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service laboratory in Brighton, Mich. To date, 180,000 wasps have been released in nine other states, including Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota under permits granted by the inspection service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first wasps used in a field trial were in Michigan in July 2007. Tiny wasps have been used to control gypsy moth populations.

Traditional Potawatomi Black Ash Basket ~ Nancy Krogmann of Whitepigeon Baskets

Traditional Potawatomi Black Ash Basket
~ Nancy Krogmann of Whitepigeon Baskets

The Potawatomi Indians of Michigan have been on the front lines of the battle against the Emerald Ash Borer. Their native tradition includes making a cultural style of basket from Black Ash trees. For generations the Potawatomi Indians have used wood from Black Ash trees to weave baskets, teaching the skill to their young. For the tribe there is much more at stake than a side source of income. “Baskets made from Black Ash played a huge role in our tribe’s life and history. Back then, the baskets were like money. You traded for it, and got the things your needed to care for your family” says Jamie Brown a part-time basket weaver who is part Potawatomi.

She learned basket making from her parents. Her mother learned the skill from her uncle. So there are at least three generations of her family that have made these baskets. She adds that “It’s part of who we are. It’s cool to carry on the tradition and share it with the next generation.” The USDA Forest Service research team has discovered that the Potawatomi Indian’s traditional method of storing Black Ash logs by submerging them in rivers can effectively preserve the logs for basketmaking while simultaneously KILLING the Emerald Ash Borer larvae lurking under the bark which then prevents the emergence of adult beetles in spring. A study concluded that submerging the logs for 18 weeks during winter or 14 weeks in spring killed the insects and retained the wood’s quality for basketmaking.

Thus the arrival of the insect onto their lands was taken quite seriously by the tribe. While the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi tribe has used insecticide on its trees in the Hartford and Dowagiac regions, they are participating in the introduction of wasps as predators in their battle against the decimation of their ash trees by the Emerald Ash Borer.

Rachel Carson with Silent Spring bookcover

There are many potentially invasive insects listed at the Missouri Dept of Conservation’s page for the Emerald Ash Borer. Interestingly, they are all types of beetles from Asian Longhorn to June Bugs to Lady Beetles and more. A healthy and diverse forest with a healthy and diverse wildlife contingent will help any forest to survive the occasional arrival of undesirable insect guests. As Rachel Carson pointed out repeatedly, graphically and so very well in her 1962 book Silent Spring – natural deterents to such threats are the best approach and chemicals should be used only sparingly or not at all because any lethal chemical will have impacts beyond the intended targets. We have noted that after a large swarming of Lady Beetles here that over the years the quantity has naturally diminished to a point where their presence is less disagreeable. Just like the weather, insects have natural cycles that will seek balance with their environment over time.

Often too, the role of the beneficial predators has not been adequately studied. The use of chemicals is motivated by profits and easy availability. However, surveys of agricultural systems give an indication of the potential number and diversity of predators in a crop. For example, over 600 species of predators in 45 families of insects and 23 families of spiders and mites have been recorded in Arkansas cotton. Eighteen species of predatory insects (not including spiders and mites) have been found in potatoes in the northeastern United States. There may be thousands of predators per acre, in addition to many parasitoids. Although the impact of any one species of natural enemy may be minor, the combined impact of predators, parasitoids, and insect pathogens can be considerable.

It is also worth noting that the efforts of bird-watchers truly make a difference in helping to advance science. According to Koenig, data from Project FeederWatch and similar efforts “play a critical role in almost any attempt to assess the populations of animals at large geographic scales as well as the ecological consequences of an invasion such as that of the Emerald Ash Borer. Given the increasing prominence of such phenomena, citizen science projects such as FeedWatch and eBird are likely to play an even greater role in the future!”

~ Information Resources

“Emerald Ash Borer Management” posted at the Missouri Dept of Conservation website –

“Emerald Ash Borers vs Woodpeckers (And Nuthatches) posted 07/21/14 by Meredith Mann at 10,000 Birds –

“Biological Control – Predators” posted at Cornell University – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences –

“Natural U.S. Predators Discover the Emerald Ash Borer” posted 08/21/13 at Wood Acres Tree Specialists –

“State to send wasp hit squad after emerald ash borers” by Lee Bergquist posted 05/05/11 in the Milwaukee-Wiscondin Journal Sentinel –

“Pokagon Band uses wasps to save its trees, tradition” by Landa Bagley posted 08/28/15 in the South Bend Tribune –

“Basketmakers’ Tradition of Storing Black Ash Logs in Water Effective in Killing EAB” posted 07/18/15 in Native News Online –

“Submergence of black ash logs to control emerald ash borer and preserve wood for American Indian basketmaking” posted 06/27/15 by the USDA Forest Service Research Station in Lansing MI available from Wiley Online Library –;jsessionid=0AADC6B0F5BCE545F153F2306C8EB2DA.f01t02

Information about volunteering to participate in Project FeederWatch is avaialable at The Cornell Lab –

eBird uses global tools to report and make information about birds accessible – learn more at eBird –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Unintended Consequences

Gold King Mine 1899

Gold King Mine 1899

When in the course of human events, intentional actions bring unintended consequences, it may be intelligent to notice that there exists an imbalance that needs adjustment. Therefore I did appreciate an editorial that was posted in the NY Times online Aug 20, 2015 “When a River Runs Orange” by Gwen Lachelt. This article makes the point that mining laws placed on the books back in 1872 are still in effect and having an impact on the circumstances related to abandoned mining operations in the United States.

She notes that “A study by the environmental group Earthworks estimated that approximately 500,000 abandoned and unreclaimed mines litter the country. The E.P.A. says that mining pollutes approximately 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds and that cleaning up these mines may cost American taxpayers more than $50 billion.”

EarthWorks has a lot of information on the General Mining Law of 1872 and the need for reform. They note that it was signed into law by President Ulysses S Grant and that the mining law allows “mining interests to take valuable hardrock minerals including gold, silver, and uranium from public lands without royalty payment to the taxpayer unlike other mining industries that extract coal, oil or natural gas” and “to buy valuable mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre” which was the price set in 1872 and which has never been adjusted for inflation. The fact is that “19th century America wasn’t concerned with environmental protection. So the mining law doesn’t contain environmental protection provisions”.

Animas River Before and After

Animas River
Before and After

It’s just that when rivers run an Orange color it attracts attention . . . “The Mining Law has been historically interpreted to trump all other potential uses of public lands. If you hold a mining claim, that claim is treated as a right-to-mine by the federal government. The federal government is on record as saying that they cannot say no to mining proposals. Even if those proposals threaten some of America’s most special places. Even if those proposals pollute clean water.”

And who are some of the people currently impacted by the EPAs unintended consequences when their contractor was investigating the Gold King Mine near Silverton, CO because it was already seriously polluting the Animas River ? When that big “oops” of accidentally releasing 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the river happened. The “problem” now directly impacts the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The Navajo Farming Authority has had to “shut off public water intakes and irrigation canals”. Hundreds of Navajo farmers and ranchers must now drive long distances to water their crops and livestock. “This contamination brings up memories of other environmental disasters caused by the federal government. One in particular that Navajo people are talking about is uranium mine contamination — a decades-long legacy that still affects people on the reservation today. The EPA has only started in the last seven years to clean up those mines.”

Navajo Sheepherder

Navajo Sheepherder

There have been some small legal patches applied in recent decades as noted in a Bureau of Land Management assessment of the Madison Watershed in Montana which includes information about the impacts of mining and abandoned mine lands there. Federal policy details as outlined in this report are probably pretty consistent in perspective everywhere mining has been a part of any local region – “The Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), and the Natural Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act of 1980 direct that the public lands be managed in a manner that recognizes the nation’s needs for domestic sources of mineral production. Under the Mining Law of 1872, claimants have a statutory right to develop their mineral deposits consistent with applicable environmental laws. The mineralized areas of the watershed have seen extensive mineral development over the past 150 years. The BLM Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program is responsible for cleaning up sites determined to be hazardous to human health, to the environment, or those which present physical safety hazards to the public. Early mining prior to 1981 did not require reclamation or bonding, many of these abandoned mines have legacy features such as eroding dumps, abandoned tailings, or open mine features. Reclamation will be prioritized by the magnitude of the environmental problem, the severity of the safety risk, funding available, and/or the partnerships available to conduct the work.”

North American Lead Co Fredericktown, MO

North American Lead Co
Fredericktown, MO

So why do we at Yemm & Hart care ? – apart from having environmentalist’s hearts in general. It is because we live and work in an area that has been contaminated by mining practices in the past. My region of Missouri was historically and heavily influenced by early lead mining and later on in more recent times cobalt mining as well. Mining here has left large tracts of “wasteland” locally. Lead mining in our region dates back to the very first French settlers before there was even a General Mining Law of 1872. The sad truth is that mining practices in our region resulted in us becoming “known” as a EPA SuperFund Site identified as the Missouri Mines Site. Before the local population knew “better” tailings from the mines were often used on residential yards, in sidewalk construction and on driveways. Children in the area have been widely tested for lead exposure and remediation has been accomplished locally by digging up yards and replacing top soil.

It is interesting to note that my husband comes from a long family line of coal miners beginning in the Gloucestershire area of the UK and immigrating into the coal fields of Illinois and Indiana in the US. Eventually, his family worked their way out of the mines and into other occupations but it is still interesting to note that we ended up on a farm in the Lead Belt mining region of Missouri – although thankfully there were no direct mining activities here on our land or anywhere nearby.

Lachelt notes at the end of her editorial that there is a comprehensive reform of the old law currently being attempted and that “Congress already has a bill before it that will do it: H.R. 963, the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. The new law, currently bottled up in committee, would create a fund to clean up abandoned and inactive mines by establishing an 8 percent royalty on all new hard-rock mines on public lands, a 4 percent royalty on existing mines on public lands and reclamation fees on all hard-rock mines, including those that were ‘purchased’ for low prices under the 1872 Mining Law. A similar system is already in place for abandoned coal mines, so there’s no practical reason it can’t work for hard-rock mining too. The bill would also improve both reclamation standards and requirements that mining companies financially guarantee that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up existing mines.”

~ Information Resources

“When a River Runs Orange” posted Aug 20, 2015 in the NY Times online –

General Mining Law of 1872 posted at –

“Navajo Nation Farmers Feel The Weight Of Colorado Mine Spill” story on NPR by Laurel Morales aired Aug 17, 2015 –

“‘Yellow Dirt’: The Legacy of Navajo Uranium Mines” aired Oct 22, 2010 on NPR and based on the book “Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed” by Judy Pasternak –

Pgs 10 -11 and 58 – 59 – “Mining, Minerals and Abandoned Mine Lands” in the Madison Watershed of Montana, report published at Bureau of Land Management –

“Madison County Mines EPA Superfund Site” –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Who Wouldn’t Want Clean Power ?

Einstein Quote w Tree

Judging by the flurry of articles in our local Democrat-News published on Aug 12, 2015 there are certainly some who don’t want to make the effort to have cleaner sources of powering our electricity in these parts of our country. They include not only our local rural electric co-op and the guiding National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) but our politicians as well. That our politicians are directly supportive of our electric utilities doesn’t surprise me. The monthly Rural Missouri co-operative publication has been carrying editorials against the EPAs initiatives for months, maybe a year or longer. So of course it doesn’t surprise me to see editorial pieces this week in our local newspaper by Congressman Jason Smith (R) or Sen Roy Blunt (R) against the EPA plan as well.

I’ve only seen ONE real argument against making any changes to how we get our electricity from any of these official sources – COST.

Sen Roy Blunt – “Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians . . . ” and “Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, . . .”

Congressman Jason Smith – “. . . under the Clean Air Act . . . emission limits will raise the price of electricity, force the closure of coal plants in Missouri and cost people jobs . . .”

Jo Ann Emerson (former Missouri Congresswoman, now CEO for the NRECA) – “Any increase in the cost of electricity impacts those who can least afford it, . . .” and “While we appreciate the efforts . . . the Clean Air Act . . . will raise electricity rates . . .”

Barry Hart, CEO Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives – “We are focused on the affordability . . . of electricity” and “. . . the final rules make it far more likely electric rates will dramatically increase.”

Maybe we don’t pay enough for electricity here in Missouri. We love our right to pollute in order to keep our costs low. Certainly, the burden will be on the poorer segments of society. I’m certain that there will be no executives volunteering to cut their salary in order to keep the increased cost of electricity lower for the poorer segments of society !! I do worry that “enormously wealthy individuals and vastly powerful corporations are digging in their heels and allowing themselves to be willfully blinded to reality, all in the name of milking the last few dollars out of a dying economy based on fossil fuels”.

Missouri's Callaway Nuclear Generating Station

Missouri’s Callaway
Nuclear Generating Station

Jim Jura, CEO Associated Electric Cooperative notes that “Coal generation has been a significant factor in providing our members with reliable electricity at low rates.” He also complains that the EPAs new rules do not credit electric cooperatives for the 750 megawatts of renewable energy from wind farms nor the millions of dollars spent on energy efficiency measures to reduce demand. Yes, Missouri does have a serious problem with the new EPA regulations.

In 2013, coal supplied 83% of Missouri’s net electricity generation. The state had one nuclear power plant, the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station, which contributes 9% of the state’s net electricity generation. And renewable energy resources accounted for only about 3% of Missouri’s net electricity with most of this coming from conventional hydroelectric power and wind. Honestly, I’ve no idea where the other 5% comes from as that was not identified at the US Energy Information Administration’s website !! So while I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in Sen Claire McCaskill’s (D) lack of a visionary energy perspective as well, I do think she does make an important point – Missouri won’t be able to make such extreme modifications to our energy delivery systems in only 5 years, and maybe not even in 15 years.

I am grateful for our electricity. I miss it when we don’t have it. Our lives are built around access to certain conveniences. I certainly don’t prefer having to use the gas powered generator that we are reduced to when we have an extended power outage usually because of some storm. Thankfully these don’t happen too often. Gas powered generators are noisy and I don’t think gas is the “cleanest” kind of energy.

Electricity Cost

It’s not that I really want my electric bill to cost us more. Currently we pay $372 + each month for our local electricity consumption. No one (including us) really wants to pay more for anything. I’ve been grateful to see gasoline prices falling (yes falling, which seems like a novel idea at the moment) over the last year or two. However, I must admit that my environmentalist heart is in conflict with my frugal heart at the moment on this whole issue. We can’t forever deny the atmospheric challenges that are affecting our weather, will likely affect our food crops and often affect the quality of air that people breathe leading to suffering and diseases.

So I see this Clean Power Plan as something similar to Obamacare – not the perfect solution, not the complete answer to one of the more vexing, complex and difficult to solve problems of our time but it’s a beginning, an attempt to right the balance that sustains life on this planet. I fear sometimes that we are already too late but throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing certainly can’t help. Pretending there isn’t a serious imbalance in our environmental qualities, or being in such a state of denial that we think there really isn’t a “problem” at all, won’t help us arrive at cleaner sources of energy generation.

My partner says we need a new kind of energy. Yes, that is what we really need now !! And that happy circumstance is not in our view finders currently.

Current Energy Choices

In this blog I try to be a voice that is reasonable and practical about the complexity of our environmental choices. As I write this morning, I am gazing at a thorny thicket which is blocking the forward progress of humanity. How do we keep the environmental quality of this planet at the level of human sustainability ? The way is not clear. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” So we need an entirely different perspective on how to supply our energy needs. Not simple resistance, not blind denial, not optimistic sugar plums. I don’t personally have a creative vision of something that will solve this problem for us. But I do hope there are some humans out there who will yet find that opening into a brighter future. I believe there is no issue of more importance in our modern times than the resources we choose to supply our energy requirements and the ways in which our human behaviors affect the planet’s climate. There are so many ways that both of these are going to directly affect the quality of life for humans going into the future.

Even as far back as 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover (a visionary with the gift of great insight and clear thinking) had this to say –

“The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume. In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.”

“Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.”

Unfortunately, current energy strategies are at present based on unsustainable thinking. When it comes to public policies and strategic planning, a complete rethinking must take place in order to step away from self-destructing behavior. While it is understandable for us to focus on novel ways of obtaining energy (wind, solar, geothermal or nuclear power sources), it has long been recognized that simply reducing demand is cost effective and can help sustain us in the short term at least. Realistically there will be inefficiencies in our attempts at converting to alternate energy sources. Our dependence on complex systems means that we will need time to find a way. Using less energy in general, recycling most of the resources we do use (hopefully approaching even as high as 90-95% recycled) will keep enough material in the cycle to also help keep restocking demands from as yet untapped resources low.

Conserve Energy

~ Information Resources
(please note that this week you may not find ALL of the information resources below quoted or used in my blog but these are all good sources of information on this topic which I have located while doing my own research that may help you to form opinions and perspectives for your own self about this important issue. ~ Deborah Hart Yemm)

On New EPA Rule—McCaskill Leads Colleagues in Pursuing Commonsense Adjustments to Protect Consumers – posted on Sen McCaskill’s website Dec 10, 2014 –

How Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually works — a step-by-step guide posted Aug 5, 2015 by Brad Plumer at Vox –

Clean Power Plan puts children ahead of polluters posted July 14, 2015 at Clean Air Missouri from the Columbia Daily Tribune –

Affordable Electricity Rural America’s Economic Lifeline –

Clean Power Plan posted at the EPA website –

6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan posted Aug 3, 2015 by Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator –

Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels “Dumbest Experiment In History” posted Mar 30, 2015 by Steve Hanley at –

Sustainable Cities and Military Installations pg 238 as edited by Igor Linkov and published Nov 12, 2013 is posted at Google Books –

Missouri State Profile and Energy Estimates – posted at the US Energy Information Administration website –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Materials With Some Concerns

YH in FS

We do not live in a “perfect” world but in the best circumstances each of us would be trying to push “what is” a bit more towards “the perfect” each day. When it comes to recycling materials, we often have to remind ourselves that [a] we did not cause the original material to exist and [b] keeping it out of the landfill and locked up in a useful application is the better alternative. Therefore, we continue to offer some materials that we wish were more perfect.

What I hope to do with this blog is simply share some of what we know about two material families with those who care the most about environmental issues and the complexities that should be considered. As with all of the materials that we market – it is the responsibility of the professional specifying our materials to determine the suitability of these materials for a particular application. We willingly do our part by being honest with you to the best of our own understanding about the nature of these materials.


One of these materials that we are involved in getting recycled through our business, Yemm & Hart Ltd, is a PVC based material we call Flexisurf. We have this recycled material installed in our own bathroom where it has functioned for years beautifully and because it was “pre-finished” with a sealer on the production line as it was made – it is a dream to keep clean and looking nice.

As we became aware of growing concerns about PVC in general, we temporarily discontinued actively marketing Flexisurf but we would still fill orders for it with disclosure about our own concerns. As we worked through our personal feelings about being involved with PVC, we realized the point I made above. We did NOT cause it to exist and we do keep it out of the landfill where it could possibly breakdown over time and might affect the environment in some manner.

Why is PVC desirable ? PVC is strong, resistant to oil and chemicals, sunlight, weathering and is also flame resistant. PVC is all around us because it is an incredibly versatile material. Found as bottles, packaging, toys, construction materials, bedding, clothing, piping, wire coatings, imitation leather, furnishings and more places PVC third in both global plastic output and consumption. Because 57% of PVC’s mass is chlorine less petroleum is required for its manufacture than many other polymers.

What are some of the concerns about PVC generally ? Oil and chlorine are NOT what most people could call “green” substances. Their extraction, refining and by-products all pose serious concerns. One such issue of concern in its initial production is the creation of dioxin (and dioxin could also be released if the material is incinerated). Dioxin is one of the deadliest man-made poisons and it is a cumulative toxin. It stays in the body for a long time and can concentrate in food chains at the highest levels.

Another issue that has been identified with PVC is the use phthalates added to make it flexible. It’s often reported that no other plastic presents such a direct environmental and human health threat as PVC does.

FS Jet Coasters

So it really is the manufacture of PVC to begin with that is the issue of most concern. Recycled into the sheet form that we sell it as is NOT the real concern. Why ? It’s highly stable and not likely to biodegrade. Items made from PVC will retain their form for decades and the breakdown that does occur is into smaller and smaller pieces.

Recycling PVC is difficult and dangerous and requires special equipment to make its reprocessing safe for the employees of the facility and to prevent any emissions from entering the atmosphere. That is why only 1% of all the PVC created is ever recycled. It is likely your local recycling center will NOT even accept #3 (PVC) plastics from you.

Tire Veneer 10501 20% Green

Tire Veneer
10501 20% Green

Rubber is another material that we are involved in recycling through our business. We call our recycled rubber material Tire Veneer (for obvious reasons). Recently a few reasons for concern regarding rubber have come to my attention. I already knew from local history that making piles of tires usually culminates in tires burning and sending lots of smoke up into the air. Our Missouri Dept of Natural Resources won’t allow that practice any longer. When we are working at cleaning trash out of waterways for our state Stream Team organization, we are given financial assistance to defray the cost of properly disposing of the numerous tires that many people seem to think nothing of dumping into ditches, on back roads or into our streams and rivers.

Recently, some concerns have been expressed about the use of crumb rubber (tires recycled by grinding them up into crumbs) in applications where children will be playing. On the positive side the resilience and cushioning ability of the material had been the reason it was specified to benefit from its ability to help prevent injuries. The crumb rubber form of the recycled rubber material has been used for athletic fields, as garden mulch and in children’s playgrounds.

Taylor Bird Sculpture

As with PVC, there is more concern related to manufacturing issues than with subsequent use of the reclaimed material. Tire crumbs do contain volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOCs) with carcinogenic potential. Evidence of VOCs in crumb rubber has been extracted under laboratory conditions. Health reports from workers in the rubber fabrication industry and also within the rubber reclamation industry describe the presence of VOCs and some toxic elements that can become airborne. Studies at some tire reclamation sites have reported leaching of similar chemicals into the ground water. Occupational studies document potential health effects ranging from skin, eye, and respiratory irritation to implication in the origination of three forms of cancer.

Studies have been conducted that resulted in some recommendations that the use of reclaimed crumb rubber from tires should be limited when related to human exposure in outdoor applications. The summertime heating of the material could amplify the release of VOCs from crumb rubber installations. And there are advisories against using crumb rubber for mulch when growing nursery food plants.

What about applications for recycled rubber in sheet form flooring ? I sincerely appreciated the response of Cynthia Phakos of Koffka Phakos Design in Los Angeles CA on the US Green Building Council’s website (link in the Information Resources section at the end of this blog). She said –

[1] Recycled rubber flooring is very green as it diverts used products from the landfill, and is a durable, renewable material.

[2] There can be off-gassing of VOCs which could be harmful if one has sensitivities. These odors will dissipate over time into the atmosphere.

Her support for that application did note that various manufacturers’ products can vary in their environmental and health impacts and that some testing of rubber flooring material in a basement installation has proven it to be an acceptable use. She is correct in noting that “colored granules” are there for aesthetic purposes and the that highest recycled content would be in the solid Black variety. It is also noted that recycled rubber flooring has a longer life (approx 20 yrs) than vinyl or carpet products.

We find recycled rubber sheeting useful as a weed barrier and to soften concrete steps. We have also upholstered a hard plastic chair and drum table, both with good results.

Tire Veneer Chair & Drum Table

Tire Veneer
Chair & Drum Table

Life is full of complexities and trade-offs. We feel that both Flexisurf and Tire Veneer are excellent materials for their durability and ease of maintenance. And of course, we are totally committed to bringing you recycled content with ALL of our materials.

~ Information Resources

“PVC plastic’s environmental impact” posted at Green Living Tips on Jan 4, 2010 –

“Artificial Turf: Exposures to Ground Up Rubber Tires – Athletic Fields, Playgrounds, Garden Mulch” posted at Environment and Human Health Inc –

“Is recycled rubber flooring a green and healthy choice? We’re considering it for a basement living space.” at US Green Building Council’s “Green Home Guide” –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Conscious of Stone

Large Natural Stone Boulder Veneer

Large Natural Stone Boulder Veneer

My love affair with stone began at a very young age. I wish I had a photo of my paternal grandparent’s rock house to show you but the image above is very much how the rocks were laid. The walls were very thick and I was always fascinated by the naturalness of its appearance compared to the brick veneer home I grew up in. The house passed out of my family’s possession when my grandparents died and so it may not remain standing now. Certainly, it was durable enough to last centuries but the once rural area surrounded by cotton fields has given way to subdivision development. I suspect that old rock house became a casualty that no longer fit in with someone’s economic development plans.

We are fortunate here to be blessed with many large rock outcroppings. Ours is also a cautionary tale of hope and optimism that once fueled an ambitious building project for our business that would have created a model of sustainable design. The early concept was for an elevated structure to avoid the potential of radon that our little farmhouse is plagued by. The building was to be anchored deep in the bedrock but the excavating company quickly gave up as fracturing rhyolite broke equipment windows and wore down implements faster than could be financially justified. It was suggested that we should blast the stubborn rock.

I’ll never forget that look of having been shattered by that blast that I witnessed on my husband and business partner’s face when he returned from that first day. The company that was hired misjudged and overcharged the site and I will admit that I was emotionally impacted when I saw the result. As time passed and plans quickly changed dramatically it all seemed to have been some kind of mistake. My partner will probably never cease to regret what we did to that hilltop without a full understanding of what could unexpectedly occur. So it is that we are left with a hole that looks rather un-naturally and un-intentionally like a quarry. The building project had to be abandoned after the financial crash of 2008. Our farm however is left with a big hole (at least to us) and the mountains of removed stone to deal with. Some of that rock is being used to stabilize logging haul roads to extend their usefulness as perpetual access to the more remote areas of our farm as we sustainably harvest timber for the health and vitality of our forest.

As a natural product stone is inherently earth-friendly. Natural stone offers many attractive, environmentally friendly attributes when quarries utilize the best practices including an enduring life-cycle due to its durability, ease of care and maintenance and inherent recyclability. Responsible practices indicate that the quarry takes responsibility for preserving, restoring or improving the natural environment they have intruded upon. The Natural Stone Council says on their website – “Conserving resources, preventing pollution, and minimizing waste are some ways the stone industry is working to be eco-friendly” in support of green building strategies. The owners of Yemm & Hart do believe that stone and all natural resources should be valued as precious commodities.

West Papua Grasberg Mine

West Papua Grasberg Mine

We applaud the perspectives of the Natural Stone Council to do their “part to contribute to responsible building by providing materials that have been quarried and processed in an environmentally-conscious manner.” I recently became aware of the Grasberg Pit Mine in West Papua which is partly owned by a US company, Freeport-McMoRan. I can’t feel good about what I have learned about that project from the Free West Papua Campaign. I do realize that any politically oriented organization is going to skew the data to support their cause but this one does cause me deep concern. You can read more about those concerns at the Free West Papua Campaign link below in the Information Resources section.

Of course, mountaintop removal isn’t news. The scale of that mine in West Papua is vast but in the United States the issues of mountaintop removal and the environmental and social implications are well documented in places like West Virginia. You can read more about the impacts of irresponsible mining in Appalachia at the Information Resources link below. Sadly there are irresponsible corporations that sometimes play a shell game to hide the corporations that are liable. That may be what Massey Energy was seeking to do when it became Alpha Appalachian Holdings. We’ve seen mining companies here in Missouri possibly change ownership to shed liabilities. I remember hearing an old miner describe his feeling that was what the old St Joseph Lead Company did regarding their mining liabilities. That location is now the Missouri Mines State Historic Site.

Stephens Cemetery Madison Co Missouri

Stephens Cemetery Madison Co Missouri

The Natural Stone Council seeks to substantiate on a holistic level natural stone as a green building material looking at use and life-cycle impacts given not only its durability but salvage and reuse potentials. We revere our stone. Yemm & Hart donated one of the intact large boulders leftover from our own blasting experience to a local pioneer family’s cemetery road entrance. We are happy to see this stone given a long and useful life that can be deeply appreciated for the natural beauty and environmentally benign material that it represents. The white powder in the photo is residue that remained immediately after the engraving.

Stone truly was one of mankind’s first building materials. Stone requires virtually no manufacturing in the conventional sense and is so durable that stone structures built thousands of years ago are still in use today. These are characteristics few contemporary “green” products can equal. Many stone quarries are old-school mom-and-pop operations that have been quarrying for decades with almost no marketing and little trade-group representation. Stone can be salvaged from one building to be reused or repurposed in another. Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute says “There is no ‘perfect’ material, but stone is as close to perfect as we can get.” McLennan notes that humans have a universal attraction to buildings made from natural materials like stone, wood, and straw. “There is a part of us that understands that these are the building blocks of nature. This is how we build. This is how we have always built.”

Many people don’t discern a difference between quarrying and mining. Jack Geibig—former director at the Center for Clean Products at the University of Tennessee and current president of Ecoform, a company that specializes in life-cycle analysis (LCA) and other environmental metrics—shared that perception, but after visiting more than 20 quarries throughout the U.S. came away convinced the impacts are very different. “In mining,” says Geibig, “you are taking elements from deep in the earth and concentrating them at the surface.” A lot more material is taken out of mines than out of quarries. In mining there is much more waste, the process is more energy-intensive, and tailings and runoff frequently contain toxic byproducts that contaminate air and local ground water.

With most quarries, the rock is at the surface in large concentrations, and the main environmental problems come from noise, occasional runoff of solids, and scrap piles at the surface. These issues are manageable, however, with good practices, and at the end of a quarry’s production (which could be hundreds of years), most can be repurposed, filled in using waste from production to create useable land or, in some cases, made into lakes. There is a state park here in Missouri called Elephant Rocks. It is the remnant of two abandoned reddish or pink granite quarries and there is a small lake in one pit there. Granite has been quarried in this region since 1869.

Jason McLennan noted “If you compare them (quarries) to an even modest forestry operation, the habitat impacts are a fraction of what they are with logging and milling wood.” He acknowledged that there are poorly run facilities in every industry, but he claims the amount of site disturbance and soil and habitat loss from forestry operations far exceeds that of quarrying. I love stone. It’s hard to even choose which I love more – stone or trees. Thankfully, we have an abundance of both and so I don’t have to choose. They are different entities with uniquely different characteristics but both are precious and should be treated as such.

Last May, our family went on an overnight backpacking adventure in Rockpile Wilderness here in Missouri. There are local stories and indications there that ancient people found the rocks at this mountaintop unique and certainly the big glade near the ancient stone circle would lend itself to camping (as my family did), star-gazing and large groups of people gathered together for whatever purpose native people came to such places. It was definitely a rock lovers paradise.

Deborah Yemm at Entrance Rockpile Mountain Wilderness

Deborah Yemm at Entrance
Rockpile Mountain Wilderness

~ Information Resources

Stone and Sustainability –

Free West Papua Campaign regarding the impacts of the Grasberg pit –

Comunity Impacts of Mountaintop Removal posted at Appalachian Voices –

Missouri Mines State Historic Site –

Stone, The Original Green Building Material by Brent Ehrlich at Building Green –

Elephant Rocks State Park –

Rockpile Mountain Wilderness –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Not Without A Fight

Governor Jerry Brown of California recently signed into law the ban of one-time use, disposable thin plastic grocery bags. But that is not the end of it. Yep, the bag people are going to fight it all the way into a public referendum.

The latest salvo I found rather humorous – “What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags ?” I can appreciate this statement because I did come of age at the tail end of the 1960s. Enough said. I don’t believe the analogy is appropriate however.

Marijuana law map - U.S.

Anyone with even the most modest awareness realizes that several states have decriminalized the possession, even the growing and the sale of marijuana even though all of that remains illegal at the federal level. Don Loepp of Plastics News references an article and some comments in the Missourian newspaper from Columbia, MO. It seems that not only was the Columbia City Council deciding on more relaxed laws and policy towards marijuana but they were also presented with a single-use plastic bag ban petition that would encourage the use of paper or reusable bags by a representative of the Sierra Club and a University of Missouri at Columbia biology professor.

One commentor to the Missourian newspaper article shares my perspective and my behavior – “re-usable tote bags …, which are typically neither paper nor plastic (they’re fabric) and are re-usable AND can be laundered. Some such bags carry no cost, because they have ads for grocery stores, wineries and such on them. This method appears to be very ecological when grocery shopping, because you aren’t sending ANY bags to the landfill”. My bags have either been purchased from Whole Foods and given to me by the St Louis Zoo or other non-profit organizations as a kind of perk. I also have an awesomely large and strong bag from LL Bean that I received as a monogrammed gift from my brother and sister-in-law one Christmas.

LL Bean Extra-Large  Boat and Tote Bag,  Open-Top

LL Bean Extra-Large
Boat and Tote Bag,

However, I will also admit to recycling literally thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of PE grocery bags, mostly from WalMart who maintains a fixture for returning them. So, I am aware that these bags are recyclable and I can understand as a business person that they are a very fast and efficient way for the store to check people out. I am also aware of at least one woman’s death when an overloaded plastic bag broke in the parking lot sending a heavy canned good onto her foot resulting in more than one hospitalization, an infection and ultimately her death.

All of this to say that I do personally support bag bans. In California, the law has funds built into it to help manufacturers re-tool their factories to produce a multi-use bag. Even though the new law goes into effect in July 2015 banning single use plastic bags in California that hasn’t stopped an effort to repeal the law. The plastic bag industry has contracted with the American Progressive Bag Alliance to gather enough signatures for a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to repeal Senate Bill 270.

The ban involves excluding petroleum and biobased plastic bags that are light in weight and tend to “take flight” when not disposed of properly, according to Narcisa Untal, senior planner for Integrated Waste Management with Santa Clara county in California.

Establishments such as grocery and convenience stores will place a 10 cent fee on the paper bags or plastic bags that are made up of a high percentage of post consumer content. Shoppers can also bring in their own bag and avoid the fee.

Untal said revenue generated by the fee goes back to the businesses to recoup costs for purchasing the bags, promotion and marketing, and to help with regulatory reporting. The legislation also requires an operator of a store to establish an at-store recycling program that provides to customers the opportunity to return clean plastic carryout bags to that store. Plastic bags that are exempt include those for fruit and vegetables as well as those from the dry cleaners.

This law seems very reasonable to me !! The American Progressive Bag Alliance contends that the new law threatens nearly 2,000 well-paying California jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry and also represents a government-sponsored, billion-dollar transfer of wealth from working families to grocers in the form of fees on paper and thicker plastic bags; no money collected from bag fees will be used for environmental programs or for any public purpose.

It probably isn’t hard to determine – I’m on the side of the Bag Ban being upheld by the public will for the good of all of us !!

Photo by Kate TerHaar

Photo by Kate TerHaar

~ Information Resources

“What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags?” posted by Don Loepp at PlasticsNews on 10/22/14 –

“Columbia City Council says no to marijuana, yes to new buildings” posted on 10/21/14 in The Missourian –

“Group seeks signatures for referendum to repeal California’s plastic bag ban” posted by Melissa Murphy in the San Jose Mercury News –

LL Bean Boat and Tote Bag –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer