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

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Happy Earth Day!

Sometimes it takes a little trash-talk to spark a revelation. This morning I dutifully snapped a new garbage bag, put in the garbage can, and then bent over to pick up the  sippy cup that had rolled across the floor.  Moments later, I noticed a really strong scent and a white powder floating in the air above the garbage can.  I realized the garbage bag is scented and my two year old and I were inhaling the powdery substance.  The crazy-neurotic-mommy in me wondered if the powder is hazardous to my son’s health.  Then I looked at the sippy cup with the chewed straw, and I wondered what unknown chemicals were lurking in the plastic.  All this worry on Earth Day, nonetheless – how’s that for irony.  Then came the revelation.  I should not have to worry about the chemical make-up of garbage bags and plastic cups  - especially before I’ve had a chance to finish my morning coffee.  I should not have to worry if my everyday products contain toxic chemicals that have been linked to infertility, early puberty, low sperm counts, miscarriage and cancer.  My family and I deserve better.  We deserve legislators who protect our health and the health of other families.  We deserve the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010.

Today is Earth Day and what better way to celebrate by writing a letter to the editor urging Congress to pass Safe Chemicals Act of 2010?  Last week, members of Congress introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, a necessary first step towards protecting our families and our communities from harmful and untested chemicals found in our homes and workplaces.

Here’s a quick summary of the Safe Chemicals Act:

  • Provides EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety.
  • Requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing. EPA will have full authority to request additional information needed to determine the safety of a chemical.
  • Prioritizes chemicals based on risk. Calls on the EPA to categorize chemicals based on risk, and focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm.
  • Ensures safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market and places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals. All uses must be identified and determined safe for the chemical to enter the market or continue to be used.
  • Takes fast action to address highest risk chemicals and requires EPA to take fast action to reduce risk from chemicals that have already been proven dangerous. In addition, the EPA Administrator is given authority to act quickly if any chemical poses an imminent hazard.
  • Creates open access to reliable chemical information and establishes a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations. The EPA will impose requirements to ensure the information collected is reliable.
  • Promotes innovation and development of green chemistry and establishes grant programs and research centers to foster the development of safe chemical alternatives, and brings some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

So on this Earth Day, let’s ask – no, let’s demand -- that our legislators protect our health and the health of our families by writing a letter to the editor!

Posted by on April 22nd, 2010 No Comments

Horrific! Heavy Metals Found in Face Paint

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I love Halloween and last year I was incredibly excited to be invited to a costume party. I had the perfect geisha outfit and matching wig; all I needed to complete the look was white face paint. Last fall was when I really started to learn about contaminants in products we use on our bodies and in our homes, so when I set out to find my geisha make-up, I laboriously read all of the face paint labels in Party City. I eventually selected the only brand which claimed to be “toxic free”. I will tell you what is truly scary – my “toxic free” face paint may not have been toxic-free at all.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of nonprofit health and environmental groups, sent 10 children’s face paints to an independent lab to test for heavy metals, and also reviewed ingredient labels of Halloween products sold at a seasonal holiday store. The findings, compiled in the new report, Pretty Scary, include:

•Ten out of 10 children’s face paints contained lead at levels ranging from 0.05 to 0.65 parts per million
(ppm).

•Six out of 10 children’s face paints contained the potent skin allergens nickel, cobalt and/or chromium at
levels ranging from 1.6 to 120 ppm – far exceeding industry safety recommendations of 1 ppm.

•Snazaroo Face Paint, labeled as “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic,” contained some of the highest levels
of lead, nickel and cobalt found in the study.

“Lead is dangerous to the developing brains of children at any level. It is now widely accepted in the scientific community that there is no threshold level below which lead is safe,” said Phil Landrigan, M.D., Director, Children's Environmental Health Center Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that parents avoid using cosmetics on their children that could be contaminated with lead.

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Posted by on October 27th, 2009 No Comments

Go to the Head of the Class With Smart School Supplies

Aaahhh…September is right around the corner.  September signals summer slowly winding to an end, and for many adults, signals a renewed sense of purpose.  I think many of us “grown-ups” regard September as a kind of “New Year” as we are so used to associating this month with the start of a new school year.  So, in the spirit of my pseudo holiday, I have decided to take on a September New Year’s Resolution - I hereby resolve to send my sons back to school with PVC-free school supplies.

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PVC, polyvinyl chloride, has been notoriously deemed the “poison plastic” for good reason.  Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is unique among plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives used to soften or stabilize it. These harmful chemicals include phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins. One could argue that no other plastic contributes to the release of as many reproductive health toxicants than PVC.  PVC’s lifecycle is one of the largest sources of dioxins in our environment.  Exposure to dioxin has been linked with birth defects, decreased fertility, inability to carry pregnancies to term, lowered testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, and decreased testis size.  Furthermore, several studies have detected measureable amounts of dioxin in women's breastmilk.

Additionally, PVC is responsible for the consumption of over 90% of all phthalates worldwide.  Phthalates must be added to PVC in large quantities – and can make up to 60% of the final product by weight.  Over 5 million tons of phthalates are used in vinyl every year, and more than 80 million tons of phthalates are estimated to be contained in the stock of PVC products now in use in buildings and other applications.  Exposure to phthalates has been linked to reproductive problems including shorter pregnancy duration, premature breast development in females and sperm damage and impaired reproductive development in males.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Yes, PVC is bad, but what on earth does PVC have to do with school supplies?”  Parents across the country are getting ready to stock up on binders and lunchboxes, and while it’s easy to know the healthiest foods to pack in those lunchboxes, many parents are not aware of the toxic plastic used to make them.  In fact, the average child’s character-themed backpack is filled with supplies and materials made from toxic PVC. Lunchboxes, binders, vinyl backpacks, and even art supplies are frequently made out of PVC.  (more...)

Posted by on August 5th, 2009 1 Comment

Better to Be Safe than Sorry

Why do we wear seatbelts? Why do we bring a surplus of diapers and multiple changes of clothes when we take our babies on a single outing?  Why do we wear helmets while biking and skiing? Why – because by golly, we’re smart kids and we have learned to intrinsically employ the precautionary principle…now if only our law and policy makers could do the same.

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According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, “there are 82,000 chemicals available for use in the U.S. yet only about 200 chemicals have been assessed for safety.  Only 5 chemicals have been removed from use based on health and safety concerns.”  Currently, in the United Sates, law makers require strong, and in many cases, conclusive evidence that a contaminant has adverse human health effects before preventative actions are taken.  In other words, the burden is on people to prove a chemical is unsafe before lawmakers will take action. The problem with this policy, however, is “serous, evident effects such as endocrine disruption, climate change, [and] cancer…can seldom be linked to a single cause.  Scientific standards of certainty may be impossible to attain when causes and outcomes are multiple; latent periods are long; timing of exposure is crucial; unexposed, “control” populations do not exist; or cofounding factors are unidentified (www.sehn.org ). 

So, if definitively linking specific contaminants to specific adverse health outcomes is sometimes a nearly impossible task, how could our government better protect us?  The U.S. should borrow a page from the European Union’s playbook and begin to adopt the Precautionary Principle – that’s how.  (more...)

Posted by on July 11th, 2009 No Comments

Savvy Sunscreen Selection

I have been committed to slathering on suntan lotion for some time now.  In my 20s I foolishly sought a sun-kissed glow to add to my appeal, but I usually ended up looking like a giant red-lobster. Now, in my 30s, I am trying to “make-up” for all of my blistering burns, so I have been applying copious amounts of high SPF sunscreen.  My husband tells me I am the easiest person to spot on a beach – he simply looks around for the palest (we’re talking white) body and there I am.  While the ingredients in the sunscreen have been working to block out the UV rays that cause my skin to burn red, the ingredients have not necessarily been working to shield my health.

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UVA and UVB rays both contribute to skin cancer, wrinkling, and skin aging.  I was always under the belief that a higher SPF meant greater protection from UV rays.  However, according to Environmental Working Group, SPF, Sun Protection Factor, “is only a measurement of the how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn.”  SPF does not measure a product’s protection from UVA rays.  Look for products labeled UVA/UVB or broad spectrum for protection against both types of UV radiation.

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Posted by on June 28th, 2009 3 Comments

Pondering Parabens

I’ll admit it – I’m a compulsive label reader. Lately I've noticed plenty of shampoos, cosmetics and personal care products boasting labels stating they are "Paraben Free." Why are some companies going out of there way to get rid of these parabens? There are many parabens: methyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben and ethyl paraben. Should we care when a product is Paraben Free?

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According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “parabens are widely used synthetic preservatives found in most of the 25,000 cosmetics and personal care products in the Skin Deep” database. Parabens extend the shelf life of moisturizers and your shampoos and other products.

Parabens have chemicals that mimic estrogen in female bodies-- they mimic women's hormones and disrupt women's endocrine system. When the endocrine system is disrupted, the body’s ability to communicate with itself is thrown off. Some endocrine disruptors, such as parabens, have been linked to breast cancer. EWG reports “parabens were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied." According to the Breast Cancer Fund , “measurable concentrations of six different parabens have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors.”

So, should we care if a product is Paraben Free? At the expense of quoting a certain someone, I’m going to answer with an enthusiastic “You Betcha’!” If possible, choose a Paraben Free product.

To learn more about estrogenic chemicals in cosmetics and how they can affect a woman’s body, check out this video made by Cornell University. MAKE-UP: Breast Cancer and the Estrogen Connection

Posted by on May 1st, 2009 No Comments