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

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Organic Coffee Options

Roasted_coffee_beansThe sign at my local coffee shop reads, “Coffee first, questions later.” My sentiments exactly, which is one of the many reasons I go to Café on the Corner.  Other reasons it’s my favorite place include their delicious jalapeño cream cheese, Chelsea Clinton’s shining face hanging on the wall; and, most importantly, they have organic shade grown, fair trade coffee choices.

Shade grown coffee is pretty much what it sounds like—coffee grown in the shade. The coffee plant by nature loves shade and the best quality beans come from coffee plants that grow slowly under the rainforest canopy. But because of the high demand for java (501 billion cups consumed every year), rainforest trees are being chopped down and are being replaced by a quicker growing, sun-tolerant variety. These coffee bushes are doused in chemicals and fertilizers to make them grow faster and to keep up with the demand (Mmm…There’s nothing like a cup of warm pesticide residue in the morning…).

shade-grown-coffeeIn addition to the many health risks of this practice, the natural habitat for songbirds—and many other species, including howler monkeys, iguanas, ocelots, peccaries, pumas, and tree frogs—is greatly reduced when their homes are chopped down and replaced with coffee.

My other, more noble reason for purchasing organic coffee—the fair trade label. Simply put, when a product is fair trade certified the label guarantees consumers that strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of an agricultural product. In this case, fair trade coffee ensures that the vast majority of the world's coffee farmers get a fair price for their harvests in order to achieve a decent living wage.

If you would like to learn more about this cause, and also find out where to buy organic shade grown fair trade coffee in your area check out this site.

Posted by on February 23rd, 2010 3 Comments

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Environmental Justice

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s take a brief walk down memory lane and reflect on the close relationship between toxic environmental exposure and the disenfranchised populations in America.

It wasn’t long ago that hazardous and polluting industries were predominantly located in Black, Latino, and indigenous communities. I’d like to say this is a problem of the past, but unfortunately it is still an issue. More than 4.5 million people reside within 1.8 miles of the country’s hazardous waste facilities.

The groundwater in these communities is polluted with hazardous chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and pesticides like DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane).  These toxins are inhaled on a daily basis by the populations living there, triggering such irreversible illnesses discussed in this article and also here.

In the 1980’s, after hundreds of years of oppression in so many poverty-stricken populations, the environmental justice movement took root. Today, community and environmental activists, including Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, continue to work towards legislation that will protect not only our environment, but the people living in it.

PPNNE believes that all people, regardless of race or income level, have the right to receive non-toxic health care. With that end in mind, we are working toward the goal of “doing no harm” with our practices by doing everything we can to minimize reproductive contaminants (such as mercury, latex, and vinyl) in our health centers. And, because we feel that it is appropriate and responsible for our government to do its part, we’re also working to eliminate harmful chemicals in our air, water, and food by advocating for better public policy.

We hope you will take some time today to reflect on how far we have come in this social, racial and environmental justice movement. Please also remember that the fight for a green world for all is not yet over.

Posted by on January 18th, 2010 No Comments

Eco-Friendly Tattoo Removal Method

tattoo removalAfter my recent break-up with my long term boyfriend, I decided that instead of feeling bad for myself I would reflect on the things I was thankful for. Number one: I didn’t get that tattoo of a heart with his name in it.

Not all of us are this lucky.  If a wild night in Las Vegas has left you with a winking smiley face on your backside…Or if you’ve recently learned of the toxins in tattoo ink, and want to safely remove yours—I have some good news—there are now eco-friendly means to get rid of that unwanted tattoo.  

Typically, doctors use laser surgery to remove a tattoo. To avoid scarring, they must keep your skin 70 degrees or cooler.  They previously used a chemical called tetrafluoroethane to keep skin temperature down. Unfortunately, tetrafluoroethane is very toxic, greenhouse gas which has a lasting impact on the environment.

A carbon dioxide spray has been introduced as an alternative. Unlike the tetrafluoroethane, CO2 is dry ice spray that cools the skin before turning into gas, making it much better for the ozone layer.

So while we all make mistakes, at least we now have eco-friendly means of righting those wrongs.

Posted by on January 12th, 2010 5 Comments

Fragrances Stink–Especially While Pregnant

The birth of a child is a highly anticipated moment.  It’s the culmination of months of preparation, patience, and dare I say it, resisting temptation. Everything from coloring your hair, to eating sushi, to drinking alcohol is put on hold the moment you find out you’re pregnant. Here’s another “no-no” to add to your list: artificial fragrances.

Synthetic chemicals found in umbilical cord blood of American newborns.A study by the Environmental Working Group revealed 232 contaminants in the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn American babies. Synthetic musks, common components of fragrance, were found in 7 of the blood samples.

These results are significant because artificial fragrances are toxic and have been linked to developmental illness, infertility, even birth defects and cancer.

What’s even more disturbing is due to labeling laws, the ingredients in fragrance products are considered “trade secrets,”  and do not need to be disclosed.

If you’re pregnant –or planning on it—here are some precautionary measures you can take:

  • Choose products free of synthetic fragrance.
  • Make your own cosmetics.  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has great recipes.
  • Be proactive. Contact the manufactures of your favorite lotions, perfumes, and lip balms, and encourage them to use non-toxic ingredients and to fully disclose this information on labels.

As wonderful as it is to look and smell nice, consider the risks of the products you’re using and their effect on your newborn.  By forgoing those toxic perfumes, you’ll be able to enjoy that new baby smell even more.

Posted by on December 29th, 2009 3 Comments

Holiday Decorating, Small(er) Footprint-Style

guy on ladderThe holiday season has arrived!  We are way behind, and there is still much to be done: shopping, baking, and my personal favorite—decorating and wrapping! According to estimates from the California Integrated Waste Management Board, almost 25 million tons more waste is created during the holidays.

Instead of using the typical non-recyclable plastic and latex decorations this year, why not go green? There are a number of things you can do to make your home look beautiful without having to worry about how to dispose of your decorations later.

  1. Check out web sites that sell eco-friendly decorations, like and Arcadia Home Inc.
  2. Make your own! There are some great sites with different ideas/instructions for this; this site provides instructions on how to decorate with egg cartons and other fun products.Keeps the kids busy, too.
  3. Read the labels—choose ornaments or wreaths that are that are made from recycled glass, metal, paper or plastic.

All of these alternatives to buying non-eco friendly products will pay off in the end—they can be recycled or used again year after year. As you celebrate this holiday season, be safe, be joyous, be thankful, be nice to your environment.

Posted by on December 20th, 2009 No Comments

A Case for Organic Wine

If anything could kill the joy of a good glass of wine, I’d have to say it’s the thought of pesticides, sulfurous acids, and other chemicals in my favorite drink. This being said, with the holidays just around the corner, many people will be consuming these three lovely additives without even realizing it—in their glass of wine.


Have no fear.  As a wine lover and someone who values what I ingest in my body, I have found an alternative to the traditional celebratory toasting beverage: organic wine.

Organic wine is made with organic grapes, which are held to strict criteria.  Organic foods must be certified before they can be labeled “organic”--this means they are not allowed to be sprayed with harmful pesticides and chemicals. In your search for wines made with organic grapes, be sure to read the labels carefully. Some wines, while claiming to be “made with organic grapes,” may not be made with 100% organic grapes.

Another bonus to seeking a conventional wine alternative is that organic wines contain less sulfites than the conventional alternatives. “Sulfites are salts or sulfurous acids which occur naturally in many wines. It is very rare to find a wine without sulfites. Added sulfites are generally used for preservation of wines.”

Organic wine makers do not add the additional sulfites.

And the final reason to drink organic wine (and you better believe I use this one often!) is that wine contains antioxidants, which makes it beneficial to the heart. Studies show that “a moderate amount of red wine (one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men) lowers the risk of heart attack for people in middle age by 30 to 50 percent.” While the traditional glass of wine is still good for the heart, organic wine has the added bonus of being good for the heart, minus the toxins.

But don’t take my word for it, check out some different brands of organic wine.  My personal favorite is Frey wine, a domestic from California.  Do some of your own, "hands on" research (*tasting*).

Posted by on November 26th, 2009 3 Comments

Boxed Wine: Think Outside of the Bottle

I can’t think of anything I love more than a fine glass of wine. Its one of those things I can justify on every occasion: “I worked really hard today, I earned this.” “I had the worst day ever, I deserve the pick me up.” “I got the promotion! Let’s celebrate...” You get my point.

But I also consider myself a responsible drinker. I drink wine in moderation, I never drive after more than one glass, and I purchase the ever-so-classy, but more importantly, eco-friendly boxed wine.

photo credit: George Marks / Getty Images / Photo Illustration Gloria Dawson

photo credit: George Marks / Getty Images / Photo Illustration Gloria Dawson

I know what you are thinking—“Gross! There’s a reason why Box O’ Wine is cheap.” Not so quick, my friends. As a responsible and environmentally savvy wine lover, I’m here to tell you the times are changing.

One reason to go boxed has to do with cork. Fine wine used to be a long process, but with modern technology, wine production is being accelerated all over the world. This has created a greater demand for cork. “In years past, cork was harvested from trees eight to ten years old. Now corks are made from four year old trees grown in forests which are too large due to increasing demand,” reports Steve Swan of Bay Crossing.

These younger corks have a tendency to contain a “dead spot" little pocket of bad cork, which reacts with the wine as it rests in the bottle creating a compound known as 246 Trichloricanisol. This compound causes the wine to be tainted, aka, “corked wine.”

Another reason try to boxed wine is because there are now many more brands to choose from (meaning you don’t have to resort to Almaden-- ew).

French rabbit Chardonnay tastes great and its packaging is made of 70% paperboard, a renewable resource. They also plant one tree for every 4 wines sold!

Three Thieves Bandit Pinot Grigio is another fav, whose wine comes in “lightweight, portable and eco-smart containers.”

And anything from Boho Vineyards is delicious, whose 3L Premium Cask package outer cardboard shell is made from 95% recycled material with soy-based printing inks and results in 85% less landfill waste. 

Still not convinced about boxed wine? Check out these reviews

Cheers, to earning that glass of wine and protecting the environment!

Posted by on November 12th, 2009 1 Comment


A little romance; a flute of champagne, bubble bath, some candle light, perhaps—*not so fast*.


One of these key ingredients for an enjoyable evening could be toxic to your health. Think propane, methane, that kind of "stuff". Now consider inhaling it. Not so romantic, is it? Candles made with paraffin give off a variety of nasty chemcials.  Among these, is an ingredient called toluene. Toluene and has side effects that include: brain, liver, and kidney damage as well as hearing loss, drowsiness, reduced ability to concentrate, slowed reaction time, distorted perception of time and distance, confusion, weakness, fatigue, memory loss, delusions, and hallucinations—and these are just a few of the common symptoms.

Researchers are currently working on alternatives to toluene, by comparing other kinds of candle ingredients like beeswax or soybeans. But until then, the next time you’re looking for an enjoyable evening at home, read the ingredients on the candle before using, consider opening a window or using a fan, or better yet, just dim the lights!

For more information, we recommend an excellent piece by NPR.

Posted by on September 9th, 2009 No Comments



Three out of five women admit to changing their color--highlights, complete color changes or "roots".

If hair dying is on the list of “do NOT do’s” during pregnancy for a woman, what is the affect on the body when not pregnant?

According to Planet Green, dyed hair is not pretty:

"... 22 potentially carcinogenic hair-dye chemicals that have been banned in the European Union are still used in some U.S. formulations, including Acid Orange 24 and 2,3-Naphthalenediol. (If you use a home dye-kit, check the back of the box to avoid these ingredients; if you go to the salons for treatment, you may be at the mercy of your stylist.) Other common chemicals in hair dyes include coal tar colors, which can be identified by the ingredients "F,D,&C," "D&C,"  and "P-phenylenediamine" on labels. All are considered carcinogenic."

Permanent hair dyes have been proven to contain petrochemicals like coal and tar. The Independent recently reported on some research:

Researchers at the University of Southern California, who studied 1,500 people with bladder cancer, found women who had used permanent hair dyes at least once a month were at two to three times greater risk of developing the cancer.”

Studies state dark hair dyes contain the strongest chemicals, decreasing the risk with lighter colors. Natural hair dyes contain non-harmful ingredients like cranberry juice, henna and cinnamon—these dyes are more common now than ever before.

For alternatives, we recommend this excellent article from Treehugger on natural hair dyes.

Posted by on August 13th, 2009 No Comments

How do you take your tea? Cream? Sugar? PVC?

As an avid tea drinker (3 or 4 cups a day!), I was greatly disturbed when I was recently told that tea bags are often glued with PVC or other thermoplastics.  These can leach out when heated.  Add to that, many tea bags are bleached, as well, which can lead to dioxin leaching.

I'm an addict, so rather than give up the tea, I researched. It turns out, the toxic teabag tidbit was in fact true—at one time. Consumers were outraged when they learned about what was really holding tea bags together and about the bleaching processes of the tea paper.  Following the uproar, many companies spent their resources on rectifying the problem by finding new, innovative ways to keep the taste of a teabag neutral without bleaching.


Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that not all companies are being responsible. It is important to pay attention: tea companies felt the pressure to change because consumers made noise. With a wide range of resources now available to us, such a consumer reports, blogs, and online reviews, it is easier than ever to access more information on everyday products. Unless we consumers read product labels, and speak up when something does not add up with a product, there will never be anyone to make the changes that should be made.

We always have choices; there are plenty of alternatives to teabags on the market: tea balls, strainers, infusers ... find out what suits you best, and use the product that fits with your lifestyle.

Posted by on August 7th, 2009 No Comments