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

Author Archive

“Sweet Misery”

After I read that we consume an average of 61 lbs. of high fructose corn syrup per year, I went on a HFCS witch hunt, which led me down an unexpected path. It seems the vast majority of sweetened, prepared foods include either high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.

I've been aware of the dangers of artificial sweeteners, but I let my guard done. They have snuck  into foods I didn't expect:  frozen fruits, some frozen veggies, breads and other things we blindly throw in the cart when we are trying to rush through the market.  I used to just think "diet soda."

What astounded me is how artificial sweeteners have become the cornerstone of the diet industry, despite their very well documented risks. It seems nearly every food offers an artificially sweetened option: reputable yogurt brands, bread products, fruit drinks, salad dressings, marinades, not to mention "desserts", whipped cream, etc.  The story of how sweeteners came (and remain) in our food is an astounding one, and mostly has to do with our lack of regulations and a strong diet food lobby.

Artificial sweeteners were a $1 billion industry a decade ago,  and have since grown.  I came across a film released in 2004 by Sound and Fury, called "Sweet Misery," which links the dramatic rise in brain cancers to the release of aspartame into our foods in 1983.  The correlating data is shocking.

Good-bye occasional diet soda. (Twice a week, maximum. Really.) Hello agave syrup, honey, maple syrup and, well, high fructose corn syrup. I have to triage my battles. Once I recover from this research, I will take on high fructose corn syrup, though.

Here is a 10 minute snippet from "Sweet Misery". The full movie can be found here.

Posted by on December 24th, 2009 1 Comment


I brush my teeth 2-3 times a day.  That is nearly 1000 times per year. I also blackmail bribe ensure that my three children brush at least twice a day (with varying degrees of success).  I am clearly a busy woman, so I don't want to have to think about toothpaste every time this event happens in my house.  Dental health needs to be a no brainer.

Until recently, my dental care was focused, naively, on teeth.


Toothpaste, though developed for use in the mouth, is full of "stuff" we have no business ingesting. Even if you are not swallowing dental products, the mucus membranes in the mouth are a fast delivery system into the bloodstream.  This begs the question: what exactly is in toothpaste?

Inactive ingredients, which bestow a product with taste, texture and color, top the list of toxicity.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are common foaming agents in shampoo, soap and toothpaste.  A little research, and it turns out they are also used "as surfactants in engine degreaser and in car wash soaps."

This does not begin to cover the food dyes that give toothpaste the fancy racer stripes or pretty aqua colors, or the artificial flavors that make us feel all minty fresh.  Children's toothpaste does not fare any better.

Fortunately, there are many alternatives.  A perusal of the Skindeep database revealed some reasonably priced options readily available in most co-ops or high-end grocery stores:  Jason, Peelu, and Tom's of Maine all offer a wide range of products that don't rank above a "2" on the Skindeep scoring system (10 being horrific).

With my family of 5 brushing nearly 4000 times per year (some of us more than others), I am grateful for the peace of mind that a "good" toothpaste offers.

Posted by on December 1st, 2009 2 Comments


It is unneighborly to ship toxic e-waste to developing nations, to say the least. Used electronics contain lead, mercury, barium, arsenic...none of it good. Our waste impacts the poorest of the poor, in the of ugliest ways. See this quick synopsis:

The good news is that there are ways to convert some of our e-waste into humanitarian outreach. A wonderful company, named HopePhones
makes our converts our used phones into tools for medical outreach in impoverished and remote areas.

When a cell phone is sent to the HopePhones recycling center (detailed information is offered on their site), a value is assigned to the recycled phone, which is put toward purchase of a HopePhone.  These phones are distributed to community health workers at medical clinics in developing nations to connect them to distant patients.

"a $10 cell phone will give 50 families access to emergency medical care, health information, transportation services and clinic resources."

The average recycled phone enables the purchase of 2-3 HopePhones. According the their site, 1700 phones have been donated to date.

Should other opportunities present themselves to spin gold from straw, or to turn e-waste into life-changing technology, we will let you know.

Should you have any resources on this, please contact us so we can help spread the word.

Posted by on October 30th, 2009 No Comments

It is NO Impact Week

The Huffington Post has instituted "No Impact Week".

Click HERE for a handy guide on simple steps to cut your carbon footprint, make smarter choices in your daily life and learn some fun facts that make you think twice (food on your table travels an average of 1500 miles.  Did you travel that far for your vacation?).


Posted by on October 20th, 2009 No Comments

Scrutinizing Tampons


Several weeks ago, we answered a sexual health question on our Consensual Text blog: a college-age woman had inquired about the risks of scented tampons.

This prompted a bumpy ride on the web that included all shades of scary:  tampon processing and manufacturing are rumored to include everything from dioxin to asbestos.  Much of this information is false or unproven, but Estronaut summed up the main concerns:

"Most tampons are made of rayon. Rayon is made of cellulose and fibers of wood.  The processing includes chlorine bleaching, which is known to produce dioxin.  The makers say they wash it all away.  Critics say they don't."

There is some suspicion that organochlorines, like dioxin, mimic sex hormones, therefore causing sex-related health issues, cancer and decreased fertility. A tampon serves as an immediate delivery system to your reproductive organs, as vaginal walls easily absorb substances.

While there is an immense amount of research being done, many questions remain unanswered. Until there is conclusive data, it may be wise to minimize exposure to unnecessary contaminants, especially with many alternatives available. As we mentioned in a previous post, the Diva Cup is a viable option, as are tampons manufactured by Seventh Generation and other companies.

Seventh Generation is also encouraging good reproductive health by donating $1 per sign up at Let's Talk Period to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund today.  Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women.

Something that is actually inserted into your body, probably deserves the highest level scrutiny.

Posted by on September 1st, 2009 1 Comment

Pedicure Season

As a working mom, I have few indulgences...aside from a couple of pedicures during the summer months, that is.  As someone who is always catering to others' needs, having my feet rubbed and generally being treated like a queen for 1/2 hour is hard to resist.  Not to mention the allure of red toe nails.

Cute, but is it worth putting other women at risk?

Cute, but is it worth putting other women at risk?

This bubble has burst.  Around the PPNNE office, I had been hearing water cooler conversations about nail workers (most of whom are in their childbearing years) and their increased exposure to formaldehyde and other toxins.  I conveniently buried my head in the sand, as pedicure season was upon me.

When I finally got in the chair for my first pedi of the season, ready to let pampering rain upon me,  I couldn't enjoy it.  I started to feel like my eyeballs were throbbing and I couldn't wait to breathe fresh air.  This sent me to internet, where I learned astonishing things.

Most nail workers have a common profile. They tend to earn less than $17,000 a year and are usually recent immigrants without health insurance. Throughout their work day, commonly in poorly ventilated spaces, they are continuously exposed to solvents, glues, and countless chemicals linked to cancers, respiratory and skin problems, and reproductive harm. (Ingredients in cosmetics are not regulated by the FDA!!!) According to the California Breast Cancer Research Program, breast cancer is the number one cancer in Vietnamese women, who make up the majority of the nail worker force.

Some cities and non-profit organizations have begun to address this issue, and there is a pdf named "Phasing Out the Toxic Trio" available.

I have a few weeks before I am due for my next pedicure, and I intend to research what the less toxic and cruel alternatives are.  Should you know of any, kindly post a comment.

Posted by on June 3rd, 2009 1 Comment

Site Highlight: Chelsea Green

Chelsea Green has been publishing books on sustainable living since long before green became the new black.  They also have a comprehensive site featuring articles and blogs about everything from composting, swine flu, grassroots raw milk movement, wind turbines...

In this day and age, when we are becoming increasingly aware of so many scary environmental factors in our homes and environment waiting to pounce on us, Chelsea Green reminds us there is much positive being done.  Check 'em out!


Posted by on May 6th, 2009 No Comments

Plastics on My Brain

At work, we recently developed some beautiful materials educating people about various toxins hiding in everyday items. The card about plastic keeps me up at night.

Plastics are labeled with numbers surrounded by triangles (stamped underneath the item).  For years, I thought it had to do with recycling. Turns out, these numbers signify my exposure to toxins: 09-plastic-spectrum-image1

Some yucky plastic facts:

  • #7 is the plastic we highlighted in a recent post. (Bisphenol A-known as BPA.) I won't repeat the gory details here, but will say that all Nalgene has left the building at my house.
  • #3 is PVC (vinyl).  This is lovingly referred to as "the poison plastic" because it contains mercury (linked to cancer), dioxin (carcinogen linked to birth defects, sperm damage and asthma) and phthalates (increased estrogen).

After a thorough inspection of my house, I found #7 = baby bottles, sippy cups and the 5 gallon water cooler commonly found in offices. #3 was my shower curtain, some of my son's toys, plastic food wrap (!!!) and some food storage containers. It was the take-out soup container for my favorite restaurant!

Take a look around your house.  Choose safer plastics like #1, #2, #4 or #5.

There are some great resources available for smarter choices around food and plastics, a plastic container buying guide, and a little bedside reading about the harmful effects of plastics on kids and your reproductive health that will keep you up at night.

Posted by on April 28th, 2009 2 Comments

Good Chemistry at Greendrinks

VP Bev Shadley Speaks about Good Chemistry at GreendrinksBev Shadley Speaks at Green Drinks

Good times were had last night at Portland's Greendrinks!  PPNNE VP Bev Shadley spoke to a crowd of 350 people about environmental toxins and the adverse affects they have on the health of women, men, and children.

Don't forget about our Mercury Thermometer Exchange and Plastic Nalgene Bottle Drop on Saturday (April 18) from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at our Planned Parenthood Health Center on 970 Forest Ave in Portland! For more info, email Hilary at

Posted by on April 15th, 2009 No Comments

What’s with the Nalgene?


Treehugger ran an article last year about Nalgene dropping Bisphenol A.

They also wrote this:

"Many Nalgene water bottles and other hard plastic sport water bottles are made of polycarbonate (#7 on the bottom) , which may leach Bisphenol A, an estrogen-like chemical. Canada is considering a ban of products containing Bisphenol A (BPA) and a new American study links it to breast cancer and early puberty, and is particularly concerned about the effect on babies. Others have raised concerns about the effect of feminizing hormones on men, such as breast enlargement or dropping semen counts. At the same time, sport water bottles are ubiquitous and we don't want people going back to buying bottled water. What should you do? Time to nix the Nalgene? " (For the full article, go here.)

So what to do with that collection of old Nalgene bottles? How about giving them to us, getting $3 off a "righteous" 80s dance party, and enjoying the 80s classics at Bubba's Sulky Lounge in Portland, Maine?


Posted by on March 30th, 2009 No Comments