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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

Shameless Shout Out for Breast Cancer Fund

When we scour the web for you, seeking great resources for women's reproductive health, we occasionally bump up against a real gem.  We are newly converted (and HUGE!) fans of the Breast Cancer Fund.

On their home page, they offer a little widget that let's you explore your living spaces.  You choose an area in your house or outdoors, then scroll over the little icons, which inform you of the dangers that lurk.  Cupboards, canned food, anti-bacterial soap...they cover it all

But the Breast Cancer Fund goes far beyond creating cool widgets for their site.  They are educating about breast cancer prevention are strong advocates to remove BPA from our environment, greening the chemical industry and demanding safe cosmetics.  Their site is also full of resources, like the video below:

Check 'em out!

Posted by on October 24th, 2011 No Comments

BPA Phase-Out Becomes Maine Law

We are excited to share the Maine Bisphenol A (BPA) bill has become law! The new law will phase out BPA in baby bottles and reusable food and beverage containers to further protect Mainers from the harmful chemical.

The bill became law without Governor LePage’s signature, who said the worst BPA could do is give some women “little beards.”  BPA exposure has been linked to a significant number of health problems, including learning disabilities, behavior problems, breast and prostate cancer, reproductive damage, diabetes, and obesity. The BPA phase out is a common-sense approach to protecting the health and safety of Maine families.

Maine bans BPA from baby bottles and other resusable food containers

Statement from the Environmental Health Strategy Center, April 22, 2011

BPA Phase-Out to Become New Maine Law Today

Governor LePage Decides Not to Sign or Veto Bill Enacted by the Legislature 

Use of the chemical BPA (bisphenol A) in baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and beverage containers will no longer be legal in Maine effective January 1, 2012.  The Maine Legislature approved the BPA bill April 12th and the measure was sent to Governor LePage for his signature.  The Governor had ten days to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without signature.  The deadline for the Governor’s action is the end of the day today and, according to a spokesperson for the Governor, he has decided neither to sign nor veto it so it will become law at the end of the day.

Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Maine-based public health organization that has spearheaded a campaign in support of the BPA phase-out law issued the following statement regarding enactment of the new law:

"It's great for Maine kids and families that the BPA phase-out has been finalized. It's also sad that the Governor didn't listen to the overwhelming scientific, Legislative and public support and actually sign the phase-out himself.

This phase-out of BPA was the common sense thing to do. The scientific evidence of harm from BPA and the availability of safer alternatives was overwhelming. It's a fight that was really over before the Governor ever picked it.

The major source of BPA exposure for babies and children right now is infant formula and baby food packaging. The Governor may get another chance to decide if he stands with Maine families or with the chemical industry if a phase out of BPA for those sources comes to his desk in the next few years."

BPA was identified as Maine’s first priority chemical under the Kid-Safe Products Act. State and federal scientists have linked BPA exposure to harmful effects on brain development, behavior and the prostate gland among other health concerns. Governor LePage identified overturning the BPA rule as part of his environmental rollback proposal released in January and made national news when he wrongly stated that the worst BPA could do is give some women “little beards”.  The new law received overwhelming bipartisan support with a vote of 35-0 in the Senate and 145-3 in the House of Representatives.

Posted by on April 25th, 2011 No Comments

Living Downstream Screening in Winooski

Living Downstream Screening in Winooski

You’re invited to a screening of the documentary Living Downstream at Community College of Vermont in Winooski. The film takes the personal story of ecologist and cancer survivor Dr. Sandra Steingraber and creates a compelling look at toxins in our environment and the implications for the health of individuals, families and communities. This is an issue of increasing importance in Vermont. Just recently the Burlington Free Press published an article on the chemical body burden of six Vermonters. Read the article here. The screening will be followed by a panel and discussion. Panelists include:

Heather Fitzgerald, CCV Winooski faculty
Jill Krowinski, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s Public Affairs Director
Dr. Patti O’Brien, UVM faculty, physician, cancer researcher and breast cancer survivor.
Dave Rappaport, Seventh Generation's Senior Director of Corporate Consciousness
Rep. Suzi Wizowaty, Burlington Rep, co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Chemical Reform Bill.

When: Friday, March 25th from 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Where: CCV Winooski Sadie White room (108)

RSVP to our FB page

Posted by on March 21st, 2011 No Comments

How Harmful is Birth Control to the Environment?

We are often asked this question in light of our work to educate people on the impact of environmental toxins on reproductive health. Are we part of the problem?

Pharmaceuticals enter our water through our urine.  You eat a pill.  You pee.  It ends up in the water.

There are countless drugs people consume regularly:  anti-depressants, pain killers, blood pressure meds, chemotherapy, etc.  Additionally, we feed our livestock anti-biotics and hormones regularly. All of these enter our environment eventually.  Birth control is just one of many drugs in our water.

Now there is a conclusive study on just how much estrogen in drinking water can be blamed on birth control.  Unsurprisingly, the small amounts actually coming from birth control, coupled with advances in drug delivery systems point at only 1% of estrogen in drinking water being traced to birth control.  Our livestock contributes the majority of estrogen.

Purchasing  hormone/anti-biotic free animal products can certainly give a boost to environmentally friendlier agriculture, as well as to your health.

Now, if only we could address all the other "stuff" in our H2O!

Posted by on December 21st, 2010 No Comments

Blogging from the 2010 Environmental Action Conference in Randolph, VT

PPNNE Public Affairs’ Intern’s Casey and Aziza blog about what they learned at the conference and what you might find interesting, too.

Casey’s Perspective 

Well, I did it. I made it though my first environmental conference and despite knowing next to nothing about solar panels, carbon and green nuclear energy.  I was able to discover some pretty interesting, relevant information.  I attended a workshop about the amount of toxins children in schools were being exposed to and it was truly eye-opening. It never occurred to me how many toxins people are exposed to everyday and to think that children are literally surrounded by these products with known health repercussions is shocking. 

I learned that Triclosan is a common ingredient in many hand sanitizers and has been linked to the disruption of the human endocrine system. Hormone imbalances can lead to a variety of consequences including the premature start of puberty, (e.g. girls as young as seven beginning their periods). There is a strong movement to remove these products from school classrooms and some companies have come out with sanitizers without Triclosan, but there is always more progress to be made.

Posted by on December 13th, 2010 No Comments

Organic Apple Orchards

Apple picking is undoubtedly one of New England’s most anticipated fall activities. Unfortunately, apples tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides. One study found evidence of 42 different pesticide residues on apples!

Luckily, New England is home to a growing number of certified organic apple orchards. The following orchards use organic growing practices or are certified organic, which means that they have been produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals (Organic Foods Production Act of 1990).


Raven Hill Orchard
225 Ossipee Hill Road, East Waterboro, Maine 04030 - 207-247-4455
In addition to more than 30 varieties of organic apples, this orchard also boasts a bakery and café filled with homemade, organic coffee and pastries. Their website invites the visitor to come “walk the orchard or sit by the fire,” making this an extremely inviting place to pick your own.

Sewall Organic Orchard
259 Masalin Road, Lincolnville, Maine 04849 - 207-763-3956
Sewall’s orchard is the “oldest organically certified orchard in Maine” and is located on the south side of Levensellar Mountain, making it also one of the most scenic apple picking spots in Maine.


Shelburne Orchards
216 Orchard Road, Shelburne, Vermont 05482 – 802-985-2753
Located on 80 acres overlooking Lake Champlain, Shelburne Orchards is another scenic apple picking spot that offers a 10 acre section of organically grown apples. This orchard also won the first ever “Sustainable Farm of the Year Award” in 1997.

Dwight Miller Orchards
511 Miller Road, East Dummerston, Vermont 05346 – 802-254-9635
This farm has been certified organic since 1996, and in addition to pick your own apples, the farm has pumpkins and squash. Definitely worth the trip, as the website claims that the Miller family has been cultivating the same land since before Vermont was a state!

New Hampshire

Alyson’s Orchard
615 Wentworth Road, Walpole, New Hampshire 03608 – 603-756-9800
Alyson’s follows organic growing practices and boasts 50 varieties of apples, including heirlooms.

Lost Nation Orchard, located in Groveton, New Hampshire, will unfortunately not be offering pick your own this year, but is a great resource for growing your own organic apples!

Know of other organic orchards? Let us know about them by leaving a comment!

Posted by on September 29th, 2010 4 Comments

Feminine Hygiene Info Now on Healthy Living Section of Site

In our Healthy Living section, we’ve given you tips on how to avoid chemicals in your cosmetics, food, and in many other facets of daily life.  But what about your period?

The vagina is a mucus membrane. It absorbs. If you’re using conventional tampons and pads, your vagina is absorbing pesticide residue and dioxins, both common in conventional feminine hygiene product manufacture, and which have been linked to reproductive health problems.

Check out our new addition to the healthy living section for alternatives to conventional tampons and pads, and a more complete explanation of what exactly is in conventional feminine hygiene products.

To learn more about organic cotton tampons, check out this great video from Seventh Generation.

Posted by on September 23rd, 2010 5 Comments

Oil, oil, oil, Part 2

A while back we promised to keep you posted as news of the oil spill's effect on reproductive health emerged.

Well, here we are.

oilThere was a terrific piece published by Kimberly Ines McGuire of RH Reality Check that doesn't speak specifically to the oil spill (though it is mentioned), but gives a cumulative and frightening history of oil refinery and chemical industry in the Gulf Region, and its effects on the health of residents.

One snippet in particular is rather haunting:

"Residents have tested positive for exposure to some of the worst reproductive toxicants—chemicals that have been linked to infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight, low sperm count, and developmental and respiratory disorders for children exposed in utero. This contamination of the air, water, and soil is so severe, and its effects so widespread, that the 100-mile stretch of Louisiana communities between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is known by residents as 'Cancer Alley.'"

You can read the entire piece here. 

Posted by on July 7th, 2010 No Comments

Old-School Cleaning

After my usual spring-cleaning meltdown about the toxic ingredients in various cleaning supplies, I decided to research the "old school" methods.  I know there are wonderful products by companies like Seventh Generation and Ecover, but what did people do before they had these options?


Some interesting things I learned from Re-nest, an insightful website about green living:

  • Add half a lemon to the dishwasher and your dishes will emerge sparkling and spot-free. (Instead of the mysterious blue stuff that gets sprayed all over our dishes now.)
  • Cucumber slices will remove tarnish from stainless steel.
  • Lime scale and soap residue can be removed by rubbing lemon on them-faucets or porcelain.

I certainly can't employ all of the 27 Household Uses for Citrus or fully wallow in the Secret Super Cleaning Powers of the Mighty Cucumber, but it is a start, and certainly preferable over the usual toxic culprits.

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly cleaning techniques?

Posted by on June 30th, 2010 No Comments