Good Chemistry: Green Tips for Better Health, from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

Vermont moves comprehensive chemical reform forward: Big win for public health


June 2014 - Joined by environmental groups, health care advocates, firefighters, sustainable business leaders and key legislators, Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law Act 239, a bill aimed at protecting children and families from toxic chemicals.

In partnership with the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont, VPIRG, the Vermont State Firefighters AssociationVBSR, and Seventh Generation, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England worked diligently to move this important legislation forward.  Act 239  is a necessary step toward ensuring that all Vermont families have piece of mind and adequate protection from harmful chemicals in the environment. Other states, including Maine, Washington and California,  have already adopted similar programs and Vermont's program will utilize the progress made in these other states.

The link between toxic chemicals and reproductive health

As a trusted provider of health care to thousands of Vermonters every year, we’ve joined with other environmental and public health advocates in calling for comprehensive chemical reform because we see a clear and immediate risk to pregnant women, children and all Vermonters from unnecessary exposure. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine have recently issued a joint statement urging health care professionals to advocate for government policy changes to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents.

The statement, issued in September of 2013,  stresses how  "the scientific evidence over the last 15 years shows that exposure to toxic environmental agents before conception and during pregnancy can have significant and long-lasting effects on reproductive health" and calls on health care providers to support public policy that identifies and ultimately reduces exposure to toxic chemicals.

Attention has rightly been given to the effects of these toxic chemicals on infants and children. Exposure to the chemicals found in many kinds of consumer products has a critical impact on pregnant women and developing fetuses and babies  Increased evidence over the last fifteen years has linked exposure to certain toxins to miscarriages and stillbirths, impaired fetal growth, pre-term births and birth defects. Ultimately, all people at any age are at risk and we will be voicing our concern to the advisory group that next steps need to take into account the broader population.

Our health care professionals routinely see patients with some of the health issues that we know have been linked to toxic chemical exposure and it is our duty as Northern New England's largest reproductive health care provider to do all that we can to protect our patients and their families.

Federal reform going nowhere

TSCA, the Toxic Substances Control Act, was passed in 1976 under President Ford.  Though opponents of Act.239 would like you to think otherwise, federal efforts at updating the nation's primary law for regulating chemicals used in everyday products have not made much progress. Though TSCA does provide some basic protections in states with little to no regulation, it is desperately in need of an update with several outstanding inadequacies including:
- Puts the burden of proof on the consumers and government rather than manufacturers.- Allows manufacturers to keep secret the ingredients in certain chemicals
- Makes it difficult for consumers and businesses to identify which products have harmful chemicals
- Fails to motivate the chemical industry to steer towards safer chemical and product design
- Does not include chemicals introduced after 1976 when TSCA was enacted. Over 80,000 have been on the market and available since then.

There is broad consensus in Congress and even on the part of the chemical industry for federal reform but getting there is another story.  In testimony to the VT House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, representatives from the offices of Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator David Vitter and Senator Boxer made it quite clear that nothing positive from Congress was likely to come out anytime soon in regards to federal law regulating toxic chemicals.

Though champions like the late Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator  Barbara Boxer as well as the EPA have stressed the need for meaningful legislation, anti-regulatory groups like the American Chemistry Council have tried to steer TSCA reform into a regressive direction that has the potential to roll-back progress made in certain states. The timeline or feasibility of meaningful federal reform is unclear and to push off legislation any longer on the state level would be a disservice to Vermonters.

What Act 239 does

S.239 ultimately holds manufacturers of products with harmful chemicals accountable and provides piece of mind to Vermont consumers. Eventually, it will lead to the discontinued use of known toxins in consumer products. Initially introduced in the VT Senate, the bill's aim was  to bring a comprehensive approach to toxic chemical regulation rather than having to individually legislate on particular chemicals (see Tris bill from 2013).  Implementation of a more comprehensive approach will ensure efficiency and science prevail in the regulating of toxic chemicals and that protections go into effect sooner rather than later.

Though the bill was limited in scope from  all consumer products to just children's products, it does maintain the authority for the Vermont Department of Health to regulate known toxins and will essentially do the following:

  • Establish a list of dangerous toxins still used in products (beginning with the list of chemicals of high concern to children currently in use in Washington State),
  • Require manufacturers that sell children’s products containing one or more of those chemicals to report to the state and pay a small fee, and
  • Give experts at the Vermont Department of Health the authority to regulate the toxins on the list that are used in children’s products

Special thanks & next steps

This bill wouldn't have been possible without the steadfast support and leadership from key legislators; namely Senator Ginny Lyons, Senator Claire Ayer, Senator Kevin Mullin and Senator Chris Bray, Representative Willem Jewett,  Representative David Deen, Representative Jim McCullough, Representative Kate WebbRepresentative Ann Pugh, Representative Dave Sharpe and Speaker Shap Smith. These individuals stood by the bill in the face of serious opposition and made sure action was not delayed in protecting vulnerable Vermonters. Additionally, the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Natural Resources played a key role in shaping this legislation moving it forward.

Over the next couple of years, stakeholders like Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Seventh Generation, the League of Conservation Voters and VPIRG  will be working with the Department of Health in educating Vermonters about the program and working to spread the word about the important link between toxins and environmental health. Be sure to check out the PPNNE Good Chemistry Blog for news you can use on how to protect you and your family from unnecessary exposure and for updates on the roll-out of the toxic exposure prevention program in Vermont.

All Vermonters should be guaranteed that their own efforts to stay healthy aren't undermined by exposure to toxins they aren't even aware of. This bill is a necessary step forward because it addresses toxic chemical exposure in an efficient manner and allows for adequate stakeholder input. A safe environment, free of harmful chemicals, is critical to the health and welfare of all Vermonters.


Posted by on June 23rd, 2014 No Comments

Reform our broken federal chemical safety laws!

ACHM Plane Picture


Help send Mainers to Washington to demand safe toxic-free products! Send your message with them by signing the petition below.

To My Senators and Representatives,

No child should be exposed to chemicals linked to cancer, obesity, or reproductive problems. But children's health is threatened every day by dangerous chemicals in their homes.

Our nation’s chemical safety system is badly broken. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) is a good start but needs to be strengthened. Please help strengthen the CSIA to achieve real reform that protects our families from toxic chemicals.

Posted by on October 14th, 2013 No Comments

Chlorinated Tris: Sleeping with the Enemy

Before curling up for a cozy winter’s nap, consider this: for the next 30 minutes, your breath will be laced with a neurotoxin chemically bound to the foam in your couch.

Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP) is a flame retardant, added to soft and rigid polyurethane foams, plastics, resins, and fabric backings, regularly used in common household furniture and children’s products. Also known as Froyl FR2 or Antiblaze 195, this organophosphate is considered a threat to human health by the Consumer Protection & Safety Commission, the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Research Commission.

Because of furniture flammability standard requirements laid out by the California Technical Bulletin 117, Chlorinated Tris remains unlabeled in commonplace products nationwide. TDCPP escapes into household dust and air, easily ingested and inhaled by the whole family.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is proud to be working with the Alliance for a Clean & Healthy Vermont in banning Chlorinated Tris from the manufacture, distribution, sale, and use of certain consumer products containing octaBDE, pentaBDE, decaBDE, and forms of the flame retardant known as Tris, which are harmful to human health.

Children, frequently playing on the ground and putting toys in their mouths, are especially vulnerable to the this dangerous chemical. TDCPP has even been found in the placenta, entering a child’s system before they are born. It’s been linked to an increase in cancerous tumor growth; infertility in men, affecting hormone levels and semen quality; and has been found to be equally, if not more, toxic than some insecticides.

With the introduction of Senate Bill (S.0081) and House (H.0241) bill, Vermont is one of 26 states pushing for policy changes and legislation to ban toxic flame retardants and force companies to identify and disclose harmful chemicals in their products. While big industries remain resilient and Congress remains passive on a national level, state governments are taking proactive measures to maintain healthy home environments in 2013.

To learn how you can get more involved in this issue, please contact:

Posted by on February 22nd, 2013 No Comments

Dolce & Gabbana’s Baby Perfume

“The Baby Smell.”  Did you just read those three words and immediately smell that one of a kind sweet scent you just can’t help but smile at? To my nose, it’s a blend of baby formula, Johnson & Johnson soap, clean laundry, and that indescribable, undefinable, ‘baby’ ingredient that no one has ever been able to pinpoint or recreate.

Sadly, the perfumers over at Dolce & Gabbana don’t quite see eye-to-eye with me on this one. The fashion house has launched a new fragrance designed for babies.

Upon reading this headline, I was quickly struck with the sad realization that our society’s need to quicken up the growing up process is now trying to rid infants of their natural, innocent smell.  Where will it end?

During pregnancy, expectant mothers go to great lengths to alter their routines in order to ensure their child’s development will not be hindered or negatively impacted by environmental toxins. They stop eating certain foods, drinking certain drinks, partaking in certain activities (even hair dying!) all in the name of their baby’s wellbeing. Way to go, moms.

If new moms go to such great lengths to secure a ‘toxin free’ environment for their child, doesn’t it seem ironic to sell them a spritz-able, scented, chemical cocktail for their newborn’s skin? Months of hard work and strong willpower down the drain with one pump of the nozzle on this aromatic mist.

The reality is, companies like Dolce & Gabbana are banking on a lack of consumer knowledge about their products and about environmental toxins in general.

Here come the facts:

  • 95% of the ‘fragrant’ elements of perfume are petroleum chemicals[i], many of which have been classified as neurotoxins. They cause harmful effects on the brain and nervous systems due to a person’s prolonged exposure[ii]. Some of these have even been labeled ‘toxic waste’ by the EPA.
  • Perfume companies are not, by law, forced to disclose ingredients to their consumers or the public at large, instead calling them ‘trade secrets’.  While they make a profit off of their ‘super secret formula’, we get lung disease, depression, skin rashes, central nervous system disorders, chest tightness, fatigue, asthma, and pollution of our bloodstream[iii][iv].
  • When tested on pregnant rats, the chemicals in perfume have been linked to the future infertility of the mother, and underdevelopment by way of undescended testes in the male children[v].

Sadly enough, however, ‘baby perfumes’ aren’t the only danger new parents should avoid.  Check out Forbes Magazine list of known carcinogens that have been found plaguing our baby products.

There has even been formaldehyde found in Johnson & Johnson baby soap.  

While it seems like the fight for toxin-free baby products may be a tad overwhelming,  please know that we as consumers have the ability to stop even more harmful products from making their way onto the market.

Tell Dolce & Gabbana  you don’t want their synthetic chemicals all over your baby’s skin by signing the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' petition :

Posted by on February 12th, 2013 1 Comment

Flouride: Healthful or Harmful?

I was scanning through a breastfeeding support forum and came across something kind of scary. As you can imagine, most breastfeeding moms who would visit such a forum are pretty down on formula. I started reading an article and then I started reading the comments. I don’t normally do this as they tend to rile me up, but I found an interesting comment from a woman in Ireland.

Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that fluoridates their water.  The mom on the forum was upset about the fact that formula is made even more inferior to breastmilk by mixing it with fluoridated water. She didn’t get into details, so I looked into it myself.

There is an interesting website about fluoride called the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).  I like this website. They cite everything.

Apparently, fluoride is not as harmful when applied topically, like with toothpaste or as a mouth rinse. Drinking it is bad for you. It does nearly nothing to save your teeth as it spends so little time in contact with the surfaces of your teeth. Internally, it decalcifies bones and teeth, causes problems with livers and kidneys, and damages sperm. In nearly all animal trials, it reduced fertility in both male and female subjects.  I guess the warning about swallowing your toothpaste isn’t unwarranted. Actually, it’s more serious than that: if a kid under the age of about 9 ate an entire tube of standard fluoride toothpaste, the fluoride could kill them. Hence the warning, mandated by the FDA, on your toothpaste:  "WARNING: Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, seek professional help or contact a poison control center immediately."

All that said, I’m going to send you the CDC’s website where you can see if your community fluoridates its water. Despite the warnings about consuming fluoride from the FDA and all the studies that FAN cites, the CDC is still down with the fluoride in your drinking water.

The EPA has a webpage on fluoride and it has two recommendations for removing fluoride from your tap water: distillation and reverse-osmosis.

I feel like we’re getting mixed signals from our government. CDC thinks fluoride is neater than sliced bread, but the FDA and the EPA have warnings about it. Personally: when in doubt, leave it out (or in this case, get myself a filter to take it out).

Posted by on October 3rd, 2012 2 Comments

Johnson & Johnson to Stop Using Harmful Chemical – Victory or Not?

As a mom (who was once a kid), I’m kind of rejoicing; as an American woman, I’m kind of ticked off.

Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo. Now they're pledging to eliminate it (at least some of the time) from their products

Johnson & Johnson has promised to stop using harmful – possibly carcinogenic – ingredients in all their lines by 2015. Yay! That means that they’ve been paying attention to the threats from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and their allies. It means that J&J is waking up to the fact that American women really don’t want to slather themselves in toxic chemicals, nor do we want those chemicals anywhere near our kids.  It almost feels like a victory.

But is it?

 Johnson & Johnson has been carcinogen-free in countries all over the world for years. And according to their press release, they will still use chemicals that release formaldehyde "when no safe alternative will work .” But there must already be safer alternatives to these chemicals  if Johnson & Johnson products are on the shelves in places with stricter rules like the Europen Union and Japan.  

Their promises seem reassuring, though and this news make me want to support them. They are one of the few big companies actually changing policy and formulas because of consumer demand. A lot of that has to do with their huge line of baby products (moms are a very vocal group) and the problems they’ve had with public image in the wake of recalls on their pharmaceuticals – but it’s a step in the right direction that should be applauded.

What we really need to do is shake up the other cosmetic companies! Just because we aren’t the diaper and crayon set doesn’t mean we deserve toxic, carcinogenic, or hormone disrupting chemicals in our products: personal or beauty. L’Oreal (Maybelline, Garnier, Kiehl’s, The Body Shop, Softsheen-Carson), Procter & Gamble (CoverGirl, Pantene, Secret, Old Spice), Estee Lauder (Clinique, MAC, Prescriptives), Avon, and Unilever (Dove, Ponds, St. Ives, Axe) all need to be held to higher standards than the ones the FDA holds them to.  

I urge you to check out Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Get Involved page. Sign a petition, send an email, make your own lip gloss – Do something healthy and pretty!

Posted by on August 23rd, 2012 No Comments

Safe Alternatives For Treating Head Lice

The first time I ran across head lice, my little sister brought them back from summer camp. Everyone in her cabin got them and everyone was sent home. Before Dad would let her in the house he asked her if she wanted to stay outside while he picked up the lice shampoo or if she wanted to shave her head. She was 14; it was the 90’s; she shaved her head.  She got an eyebrow, too before we could stop her.

My daughter brought back the same souvenirs her last day of school. A whole bunch of them.  It’s gross to see bugs on your baby’s scalp; but what’s even scarier is thinking about deliberately putting pesticides directly on her skin and rubbing it in.

Pesticides are poisons. They kill bugs and other living creatures. They also stop bugs from reproducing by disrupting their hormones. My little one hasn’t developed all her hormones yet; and I really don’t want to disrupt them. I’m also pregnant and don’t want mine or the new baby’s hormones disrupted either. So what did I do? A lot of research.

Neem oil and tea tree oil are a good one-two punch for breaking lice shells and killing the developing nits. Olive oil helps as a medium for both oils and eases the proteins that glue the nits to the hair. It also helps the lice comb glide through the hair. I recommend a ratio of about 3:1:1 – olive oil, neem oil, tea tree oil—and you only need about an ounce.   You just have to remember to do it at least twice with seven to ten days between treatments (just like the commercial stuff).

There are also commercial items on the market that are safer than others and you can find them through the EWG’s Skin Deep database. I hope you never need to use them.

Posted by on July 13th, 2012 No Comments

Chemicals below Le Roy High School?

Environmental star Erin Brockovich has another issue on her hands, and Julia Roberts is nowhere in sight. Erin was contacted by parents of students who attend Le Roy High School in Western New York and the story goes much like the script did: solving a chemical cover up.

The students at Le Roy High School were experiencing symptoms indicative of “conversion disorder” which effects neurological skills and basic motor functions. Many of these students that have been mysteriously afflicted have been girls, with only one boy coming forward with the symptoms. A UVM psychologist has commented on these symptoms, and many other medical professionals have grown more aware of the strange cases and site the environment as the main culprit. While some people are saying that this is purely a psychological issue that has been perpetuated by the media frenzy, other parents and students aren't too convinced.

Although tests were done within the school, and they were found to be inconclusive, Brockovich has ventured outside-and has found scary results. Her research has uncovered that the school was built close to a train accident that spilled both cyanide and trichloroethene, which has seeped into the ground and possibly into surrounding water sources. These chemicals can produce similar effects seen in the students, and the EPA has full documentation showing chemicals were spilled there in the 1970s. After testing the soil around the school, Brockovich’s representatives were escorted off the premises, and the local legislature refuses to make more comments on the developing case.

Brockovich intends to get to the bottom of this, and many concerned parents hope she does. These chemicals are seriously harmful, and the effects are already being seen in a few young girls, many other students may also be accumulating the toxins without any physical manifestations. Some psychologists say that this is an "emotional" disorder, but for many students the effects are real and degenerative. Brockovich cites the toxic spill as the main culprit, and aims to debunk the idea that this is anything but an environmental, toxin-inducing disease.  While more research is needed, this is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly, efficiently, and with experience.

Posted by on February 13th, 2012 No Comments

Vermont’s New Green Cleaning Bill

Governor Shumlin recently signed S.92, a green-cleaning bill that has made it mandatory that the cleaning products used in schools around Vermont be environmentally friendly and safe. With so many cleaning products affecting the physical, and reproductive health, of students and faculty alike, this bill is a giant step in the right direction. It protects people and the environment with equal commitment and fervor.

The bill extends to many different types of cleaners, some of which are more obvious than others. Air fresheners and pesticides are banned, as well as “cleaning products” and all the chemicals that typical products entail within their composition.

The state places an emphasis on green cleaning products that are preferred to the typical products the schools use, and the EPA guidelines for preferred products are to be outlined, implemented, regulated, and researched by the state. Staff will be trained to understand the importance of these products as well, and schools will have to report their progress with adherence to the guidelines. A website will outline potential risks of non-safe cleaning products, and will explain the benefits of using safer products, and how to integrate them into schools and beyond.

Vermont is at the forefront of many green movements, and this bill is not exception. It makes Vermont the one of the first states to pass a mandate for schools to maintain better and safer cleaning practices. There are only 5 other states in the U.S. that have similar mandates.  

Along with keeping students, teachers, and faculty safe and more eco-friendly, safer cleaning products also means better reproductive health. The most harmful ingredients in these products are the carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors. For women, these can cause different types of cancers, harmful birth defects, and can also affect reproductive and hormone health. For mothers and fathers, the threat is even worse-as their children are exposed to these chemicals, they accumulate in the body and often affect them at a greater rate because children are smaller, and have weaker immune systems. Many parents have questions about green cleaning, but the emerging research and answers outline that it is effective and a better alternative to toxic chemicals in schools.

This bill is a paramount success for Vermont. It has ensured the safety of our environment, and the health of the people that go to and work within Vermont state schools every day. It will lessen issues with reproductive health for many of the young girls and boys in Vermont schools, and will give mothers and fathers the satisfaction that they are sending their kids to an environmentally friendly, non-toxic place to learn and absorb knowledge-not chemicals.


Posted by on January 30th, 2012 No Comments

Gross Green Products

“Going green” has been a rising trend in the United Sates since the 1970’s. An immeasurable number of Americans are trying to live eco-friendly lifestyles. But what we wonder is how open are people’s minds when it comes “gross” green alternatives?

Below is a list of “grimy” but “green” concepts provided by As they point out, “Some inventions on this list may seem weird now, but who knows… maybe fueling boats with our own fat will be the new norm.” Check out this list from Newser:

  • Fertilizer: Instead of using fertilizer from animals, try human waste or human remains.
  • Clothing: Would you wear something as dramatics as clothes made out of cigarette butts?
  • Motor oil: Instead of using biodegradable motor oil, you might turn up your nose at the idea that it’s made from beef tallow.
  • Feminine hygiene: Tired of tampons? Wear the Diva Cup for up to 12 hours instead. Of course you have to empty it afterward...
  • Fur handbags: Not just any fur. Fur taken by grooming your very own pets.
  • Boat: Instead of running on regular fuel, this green boat runs on human fat from liposuction clinics.

The list doesn’t end here.  If you want to read about some more green products that make your stomach and mind turn, here are a few more links:

Weirdest Environmentally Friendly Green Ideas

10 Odd Green Ideas

Top 10 Odd Environmental Ideas

Buying eco-friendly products and having a compost pile in your back yard is great, but who knows what could change if people accepted these gross green product ideas as a natural way of living.

What do you think? Which of these concepts would you be willing to try out? Which would you absolutely refuse to use?


Posted by on January 30th, 2012 2 Comments