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

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Reform our broken federal chemical safety laws!

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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

Styrofoam Show Down

Congressman Peter Welch recently offered an amendment to a legislative appropriations bill which seemed like a no-brainer: to ban the House cafeterias and buildings from using Styrofoam.

Believe it or not, when the House leadership changed hands, so did the food containers and utensils…to Styrofoam. I remember stopping by the cafeteria just a year ago and being so impressed by the compostable and recyclable food containers and utensils, a program then Speaker Pelosi started. And now they’re back to Styrofoam. These cafeterias not only serve Congressmen and women, they also serve their staff and visitors.

“Congress should be leading the way in making environmentally sound business decisions,” Welch said in a statement. “The decision to replace environmentally-friendly utensils with Styrofoam is a major step backwards. Using Styrofoam is outdated, environmentally harmful and hazardous to people’s health. McDonald's saw the light 20 years ago and stopped using Styrofoam.”

Welch’s office explains the harmful effects of Styrofoam are well documented: cancer-causing chemicals are used during its manufacture, it is difficult to recycle and most Styrofoam containers end up in landfills or incinerators where toxic byproducts are released. A 1986 EPA report on solid waste identified the Styrofoam manufacturing process as the 5th largest creator of hazardous waste. Additionally, toxic chemicals can leak from Styrofoam containers into the food and beverages they hold.

We give Congressman Welch and his staff props for standing up on this issue! Unfortunately, the House voted 179 to 234 against Welch’s amendment.

Watch Welch encourage his colleagues to be leaders in resource stewardship:

Posted by on September 1st, 2011 No Comments

2010 Environmental Action Conference in Randolph, VT – Part 2

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

Aziza’s Perspective 

I had the privilege of attending the Environmental Action Conference in Randolph, VT.  I learned about the toxic chemicals in our products, how to protect ourselves, and what we can do to encourage comprehensive chemical reform.  This information is from a workshop presented by Charity Carbine of VPIRG, and Dave Rapaport of Seventh Generation.

Americans are getting sicker
Public health trends have shown that cancer, developmental disorders, birth defects, and reproductive disorders are on the rise.  1 in 3 women in the USA will develop cancer in her life time; 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer.  1 in 2 men will develop cancer as well, and the rates are going up.

The culprits: consumer products and failed policy
It turns out your cosmetics, canned food, cleaning products, and even soap may cause health problems by exposing us to toxic chemicals.  Lead has been found in lipstick; Comet has been found to release chloroform and formaldehyde when used.  In fact, the Environmental Working Group, which studies the levels of chemicals in people, has found 252 cancer causing chemicals and 242 chemicals that cause damage to the nervous system in some people.

How did these chemicals come to be in our everyday products, and why are they still there?  It turns out that this is a problem of policy: current legislation in the United States fails to protect consumers from these chemicals.  There are between 80,000 and 100,000 chemicals in commerce, with 1,000 being added each year.  These chemicals are not required to undergo safety testing before sale.  Current regulations only allow the EPA to test a chemical for safety is there is already proof that the chemical causes harm… a catch-22 that prevents many chemicals from being tested.  Though the Toxic Substance Control Act was enacted in 1976, 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered in under the law and do not require testing for safety, and less than 200 chemicals have been tested.  No chemical has been banned in 18 years, and since the law was enacted, only 5 chemicals have had their use restricted.  Essentially, current legislation does not protect us from the tens of thousands of chemicals in our products.

Consumer tips
Because of failed government regulations, it is up to us to protect ourselves from these toxic substances.  Fortunately, there are many ways you can actively reduce your exposure: 

  1. Question whether you need it in the first place.  Instead of buying a bottle of water at the grocery store, why not invest in a reusable, stainless steel or glass water bottle?  In less than a month, the bottle will pay for itself!
  2. Avoiding using plastic containers to hold food and beverages.  Especially avoiding heating these containers, which can cause chemicals in the plastic to leech out.  Glass food storage containers are a safer option.
  3. Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) at all costs.  It is found in some plastic shower curtains and other products such as toys.  PVC contains phthalates and may release dioxin, two chemicals that are known to cause cancer.
  4. Buy organic food.  This will help reduce your exposure to pesticides and some preservatives which contain harmful chemicals.
  5. Avoid fragrances, which contain many unsafe chemicals.
  6. Beware of “green-washing” and “pink-washing.”  Green washing occurs when a product is advertised as environmentally friendly, and pink-washing occurs when products are advertised as benefiting breast-cancer research.  However, many of these products might cause health problems.  Would you really go green by using a water bottle that contains BPA?  Would you really be helping end cancer by using cosmetics that contain harmful chemicals?  Be an informed consumer!

To check out the safety of some of your products, look them up in the cosmetics database at: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/.

Posted by on December 15th, 2010 No Comments

Vermont’s Environmental Action Conference

There’s nothing better than spending a cold and rainy Saturday inside a warm and cozy conference learning how we can make a difference! On Saturday, November 13th, Toxics Action Center is hosting their annual Environmental Action Conference.  This year's conference is taking place in Randolph, Vermont. 

The conference provides an excellent opportunity for environmentalists, community leaders, and local activists to come together, learn from experts, and network with one another. There will be 26 workshops offered on a wide range of environmental issues--everything from Free Internet Tools for Online Organizing to How to Bring Solar to Your Community

PPNNE is co-sponsoring and attending this conference to help educate people about environmental contaminants and their adverse effects on women’s reproductive health. We are also excited to learn about what others are doing. We’d love for you to come and join us-- register now for Saturday!

Saturday, November 13th
8:30 - 5:30
Vermont Technical College
Randolph, Vermont

Posted by on November 8th, 2010 No Comments

Class in session: Pesticides 101

Today at the New Hampshire Statehouse, a committee is discussing the health effects of children’s exposure to pesticides.  Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is a part of the conversation, urging legislators and opinion leaders to stop using pesticides at public play spaces such as school play grounds, and to use safer alternatives.  Let’s take a minute to answer some questions (pay attention, there might be a quiz):

What exactly are pesticides?
Pesticides are used to control or kill weeds, bacteria, rodents, fleas and ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects or pests. They are made up of more than 1,000 active chemical ingredients and come in different forms: liquids, aerosols, baits, powders, concentrates, and fumigants.

Who makes sure pesticides are safe? 
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for regulating pesticide use, but their regulations have weaknesses that allow hazardous chemicals on the market. These exposures are often sufficient enough to cause illness.

How do I become exposed to pesticides?
You can encounter pesticides in your everyday activities: residue in water, food, dust, homes, schools, commercial buildings, parks, and other recreation areas. Chemicals may be eaten, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. You can also be exposed at work especially if you are an agriculture worker (farmer), landscaper, exterminator, or livestock breeder. (more...)

Posted by on June 15th, 2010 1 Comment

The Purse Promise

What do the stores H&M, Coldwater Creek, and Saks Fifth Avenue have in common?  They have all agreed to a new set of industry-wide standards that will end the sale of lead-filled purses and other fashion accessories. This is GREAT NEWS, people! Not only is it a strong statement for retailers to take action and recognize that these chemicals are dangerous, but it’s also a relief knowing that I don’t have to research which bags are safe and which aren't.  Wahoo!

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) recently made the announcement about agreement with more than 40 major retailers and vendors, including Macy’s, Sears/Kmart, Target, Kohl’s, JC Penney, Guess, Victoria’s Secret, Saks and others, about handbags, purses, wallets and other accessories sold in stores nationwide. The agreement follows CEH findings released last year that hundreds of purses and other accessories contain high levels of lead that can pose a health threat, especially to pregnant women and women of child-bearing age.

Lead is a highly toxic metal and there is no known safe level of lead in the human body. Low levels of lead can increase blood pressure, decrease brain function, decrease kidney function, and increase a women’s risk of miscarriage. Higher amounts of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and other major organs.

The CEH discovered three items at Wal-Mart with very high levels of lead, one of which included a Miley Cyrus-brand wallet with 30 times more lead than the limit other companies have agreed to.  Check out the full list of stores participating in the purse promise (well, that’s what I like to call it anyway) here.  The CEH also provides these helpful tips to avoid lead in handbags and wallets: 

• If you’re purchasing a wallet or handbag, buy one that is made of natural materials rather than faux leather;

• If you already own a faux leather handbag, don't let your children play with it. Also, wash your hands after touching it;

• Ask your favorite accessory store to carry lead-free products.

Happy shopping!

Posted by on June 7th, 2010 1 Comment

VT BPA Update: Bill Passes Senate, Headed for House Human Services Committee

Great news! Last week the Vermont Senate passed S.247, An Act Relating to Bisphenol A (BPA)--a  bill that would phase out BPA in reusable food and beverage containers and in infant formula or baby food that is stored in a plastic container, jar or can in favor of safer alternatives.

S.247 is an important step in providing much needed information about which products contain the harmful chemical BPA, so that all men and women have the ability to plan a safe and healthy pregnancy and family.

Chamber of the Vermont Senate. Photographed by Jim Hood, August 2007.

Chamber of the Vermont Senate. Photographed by Jim Hood, August 2007.

An amendment that would have weakened S.247 was proposed, but luckily it was defeated by a bipartisan vote of 16-14.  Here’s the list of Senators who voted against weakening the bill: Ashe of Chittenden, Ayer of Addison, Brock of Franklin, Carris of Rutland, Choate of Caledonia, Cummings of Washington, Doyle of Washington, Flanagan of Chittenden, Giard of Addison, Illuzzi of Essex-Orleans, Kitchel of Caledonia, Lyons of Chittenden, MacDonald of Orange, McCormack of Windsor, Racine of Chittenden, and Snelling of Chittenden. Special shout out to Senator Ginny Lyons who is the lead sponsor of this bill and has been working really hard to keep the momentum going.

The next stop for the S.247 is the House Human Services Committee.  PPNNE will be working hard to keep this bill moving along with our coalition partner the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont. If you want to learn more or get involved, email grassrootsvt@ppnne.org.

Posted by on April 12th, 2010 No Comments

UPDATE: Bisphenol A (BPA) Bill in VT Legislature

The Vermont Senate Health and Welfare Committee is currently hearing testimony on S.247, a bill that bans the manufacture, sale, and distribution of reusable food or beverage containers, and infant formula or baby food, that is stored in a plastic container, jar, or can that contains Bisphenol A (BPA).

PPNNE’s Medical Director, Dr. Cheryl Gibson, testified in support of this legislation, strongly urging the committee to vote in support of the bill. 

Statehouse in the winterDr. Gibson’s testimony really dove into the science and health implications of BPA.  Here’s an excerpt of her testimony:

"BPA is found in the lining of metal food cans and in some plastic food containers, including some baby bottles, water bottles, microwave ovenware and eating utensils.  Because BPA is an unstable polymer and is fat-seeking, it can leach into infant formula and other food products, especially when heated.  Once in food, BPA can move quickly into people - a real concern for women of childbearing age and for young children."

"At PPNNE’s fall conference on women’s environmental health, Janet Gray, editor of the Breast Cancer Fund's State of the Evidence, illustrated how BPA in food containers can affect our health. Please take a moment and picture three petri dishes in a laboratory.  When estrogen was added to breast cancer tumor cells in a petri dish, the tumor cells divided and grew.  When BPA was added to breast cancer tumor cells in a petri dish, the tumor cells divided and grew.  When liquid from a BPA-lined can of string beans was added to breast cancer tumor cells in a petri dish, the tumor cells divided and grew." To read all of Dr. Gibson’s testimony, click here.

The real answer to eliminating BPA lies in chemical reform and policy change. That is why it's so important to contact your elected officials and ask them to support this bill.

In the meantime, here are a few ways to reduce your exposure to BPA.

Posted by on March 12th, 2010 No Comments

Body Burden Study: Toxic chemicals found in the bodies of Vermonters

chartThe Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont, an organization in which Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) is a member of, released the first Body Burden study to be done in Vermont.  Body Burden studies test to find what chemicals we have in our bodies.

The report, Toxic Exposures in the Green Mountain State, tested the bodies of six Vermonters for a variety of common chemicals found in the environment and consumer products.  These chemicals - including bisphenol A (BPA), mercury, organochlorine pesticides, and flame retardants known as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – have all been linked to harmful health impacts ranging from cancer to neurological damage to birth defects.

The amount of each chemical found in the bodies of participants varied widely.  According to the study:

  • BPA was found in every participant and levels of the chemical in three of the participants exceeded the national norm;
  • Levels of mercury were found in four participants, each time equaling or exceeding the national norm;
  • Seven types of organochlorine pesticides were found in the blood of all participants, and DDT – banned in 1972 – was found in the bodies of five of the six Vermonters; and
  • Twenty different types of flame retardants were present in all of the participants, and Deca was found in all but one of the Vermonters.

“We participated in this study because as one of the largest providers of reproductive health care in our region, we believe it’s our responsibility to help our patients and communities understand the link between their health and the products they put in and on their bodies.   It is part of our role as health care providers to educate our patients about how to reduce their exposure to harmful contaminants,” said Ellen Starr, V.P. of PPNNE Health Center Operations. (more...)

Posted by on February 11th, 2010 No Comments

Energizing the Chemical Reform Debate

CB002069The more we learn about the 80,000-100,000 unregulated chemicals out there, the more we realize how dangerous some are to our health.  There is growing evidence linking chemical exposure to infertility, pregnancy loss, adverse birth outcomes, various cancers and other health issues. Can you believe that the steepest rise in infertility in past 13 years—an increase of 41%—has been for women 25 and under? It’s time to clean up these chemicals.

State by state, environmental health advocates are pushing for chemical reform and now Vermont has joined that effort. Representative Willem Jewett is sponsoring bill H.484, an act relating to the regulation of toxic substances.  This bill is a common-sense first step to removing toxic chemicals from everyday products, getting important chemical information into the hands of consumers and retailers, and engaging market forces to encourage innovation and safer technology.

PPNNE’s Senior Public Affairs Director, Chris Quint, testified in support of this bill today.  Here’s an excerpt from his testimony:

“It is becoming increasingly clear to those of us who work for reproductive justice — who have long fought for a woman’s right to control her reproductive destiny — that we must begin to turn our attention to the environmental toxins that are affecting the ability of couples to become pregnant, have a healthy pregnancy, and give birth to a healthy child.  PPNNE believes that it is our responsibility as a health care organization to help our patients make the link between human health and the products we put in our bodies, on our bodies, and in our homes.  We also believe that it is appropriate and responsible for our government to do its part as well by working to prioritize the worst of the worst chemicals and require manufacturers to disclose the use of those chemicals in the products that Vermont women and families use every day.  For these reasons, PPNNE is proud to support H.484 and would urge the committee to join us.
 
This bill establishes a common-sense framework based on credible scientific evidence for promoting safer alternatives to known harmful chemicals that place kids’ health at risk from contact with everyday products.  The bill takes a first step toward fixing our broken chemical safety system.  It establishes a workable process, market incentives and new state policy tools.  Implementation of the bill can begin with existing state resources.  Vermont has already cost-effectively replaced toxics like mercury, arsenic and deca with safer alternatives.”
 
In order to pass this critical legislation though, we all need to voice our concern. I bet you are going to ask what you can do to help, right?  Call your local represenative and let them know you support Representative Jewett’s bill for comprehensive chemical reform and they should, too! You can also follow our live tweets from the testimony.

Posted by on January 27th, 2010 1 Comment