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

Archive for the ‘Cancer Awareness’ Category

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

Screen your skin from the sun! (And from harmful chemicals!)

Last week’s sweltering temperatures and the fresh burn on my pale skin painfully remind me it’s time to find some sunscreen.  I can only fool myself so many times into believing that if I just wait the extra hour to slather on the SPF-60, I’ll manage a sun-kissed glow…this year I’m determined to avoid lobster-toned August—and to fully shield my skin from skin cancer. 

Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in humans, and rates in the U.S. are rising.  Our generation is lucky to have so many preventive options, but unfortunately not every option we have is safe, healthy, and effective.  In fact, the Federal Drug Administration has been deliberating for 33 years to regulate the chemicals in sunscreen for safety, and has only just released a statement outlining the restrictions.  According to the Environmental Working Group, these FDA approved rules fall far short of adequate. 

As you know, choosing the right sunscreen products can be difficult.  We’re here to help you in the process, as is the EWG’s list of approved products.  Here are some helpful hints:

  • Look for products labeled UVA/UVB or broad spectrum. My beloved SPF-60, for instance, only protected my skin from UVB rays—leaving me susceptible to harmful UVA rays responsible for skin cancer, wrinkling, and skin aging.
  • Stay away from products that include retinyl palmitate. (While oxybenzone has been listed as harmful and potentially cancer-causing by the EWG, a recent article in The New York Times sheds light on an apparent lack of evidence.  We suggest erring on the side of caution, however, and choosing alternative products if possible.
  • Avoid fragrance when possible.
  • Look for products with zinc and titanium dioxideBoth active ingredients shield your skin from UVA and UVB radiation and continue to be regarded by the EWG as the safest sunscreen products available.   

You can feel confident in utilizing EWG’s list of approved products, and keeping these simple guidelines in mind when searching for your product preference, that your skin is protected from the sun and from harmful chemicals.

Posted by on July 27th, 2011 No Comments

The Truth About Tampons & Pads

There’s no denying how bad tampons are for the environment. The facts are staggering:

  • A menstruating woman uses on average 11,000 tampons in her lifetime.
  • 7 billion tampons are dumped into landfills each year (plus another 13 billion sanitary pads!)

In short, feminine hygiene products are polluting our rivers, lakes, streams, and world.  

What many people don’t realize is that conventional feminine hygiene products are also harming our bodies. Conventional tampons and pads contain chemicals, toxins, additives, and synthetic materials. They are often made from chlorine-bleached and pesticide-grown cotton blends. These chemicals are known carcinogens (substances directly involved in causing cancer) and are being directly absorbed by our vaginal walls.  

To really “go green,” you gotta start with your monthly visitor. Last summer, we posted some information about these hidden dangers and offered some safe, smart alternatives. Here’s to celebrating those alternatives again.

Although getting your period may be a nuisance to some women, it should never be life threatening. Thankfully, there are companies making products you can buy and feel good about, like Seventh Generation, Natracare, and the Diva Cup: They all have the health of women on their minds. 

Research on the dangers of conventional tampons is ongoing. But we have enough information and alternative options now to make conscious and safe choices for our bodies and our environment. Empower yourself, your friends, and your family, and tell them about alternative, affordable, organic, and sustainable feminine hygiene products.

Posted by on June 15th, 2011 No Comments

Ana Soto to Speak at UVM (2011)

Update: This event occurred in 2011. For more information about Ana Soto, please visit the Tufts website


Ana Soto to Speak at UVM
Thursday March, 31st,  2011 @ 4pm
Carpenter Auditorium, UVM Campus
Given Building E131

We’ve been sharing a lot of information with you on environmental health recently. Well here is your opportunity to hear it FIRST hand, from one of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Ana Soto, an amazing woman and a pioneer in the field.

Ana Soto, M.D., is Professor of Cell Biology at Tufts University School of Medicine and Professor of Cancer Development at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, U.K. Dr. Soto was one of the earliest investigators of endocrine disruption and its role in the development of cancer, and was one of twenty scientists at the 1991 Wingspread Conference who developed the term "endocrine disruptors.” Her research interests include the mechanisms of steroid hormone action, control of cell proliferation, breast and prostate neoplasias, and endocrine disruptors, including Bisphenol-A (BPA). She is now using animal models, 3D tissue cultures, and mathematical modeling to study the role of stroma-epithelium interactions in carcinogenesis and in tumor regression


Posted by on March 30th, 2011 No Comments

New Year’s 2011

Green Up Your Health in 2011
This new year, make a resolution to “green up” your health.  Below are some ideas for healthy New Year’s resolutions that can help you eliminate some toxins from your life and get a fresh start in 2011!

Use triclosan-free Products
We’ve previously discussed the dangers of using the chemical triclosan, which can disrupt the endocrine system.  It is a common ingredient in hand sanitizers and liquid soap.  However, you can’t stop washing your hands, especially during cold and flu season!  Instead, switch to triclosan-free products.  The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database has a list of triclosan-free liquid soap and hand sanitizers.

Be mindful of your fruits and vegetables
Recently, the Environmental Working Group released a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that have the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides:

The 12 Dirtiest: Peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce, and potatoes.

The 12 Cleanest: Onions, avocado, sweet corn (frozen), pineapples, mango, asparagus, sweet peas (frozen), kiwi fruit, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papaya.

Fret not, if your favorite produce made the dirty list—you can always buy organic.  Be sure to wash and scrub all of your produce, and consider planting a garden or getting involved with a community-supported agriculture program this summer.

(Almost) spring cleaning
Sometimes, I make a resolution to give my house a thorough cleaning.  Before you finally scrub down the shower or organize your closet, check out our reference page on cleaning products for tips on making your own non-toxic cleaners and avoiding harmful chemicals.  Be sure to regularly vacuum, wash and dust surfaces, and remove your shoes before entering your home.  Dust is filled with everything from residues given off by electronics to oil you might have walked through in a parking lot.  You don’t want to be breathing that all winter, do you?

Quit smoking
It’s not news that smoking is a leading cause of death in the United States.  If you smoke, resolve to quit this year—you will be protecting not only your health, but the health of those around you.  Some local resources to help you quit include The Vermont Quit Network, The Main Tobacco HelpLine, Tobacco-Free Maine, and Try To STOP TOBACCO New Hampshire.

Have a healthy and happy New Year!

* Photos by luigi diamanti, Bill Longshaw, graur razvan ionut, Paul, Suat Eman, obtained from

Posted by on January 3rd, 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:

Posted by on December 15th, 2010 1 Comment

Recipe for BPA: Cigarettes + Canned Vegetables + Cashier Job

As a broke college student, and an avid-canned bean eater, I found a recent article on BPA especially troubling. The study revealed the recipe for high BPA exposure is cigarettes, a job as a cashier, and you guessed it, canned vegetables.

According to the article by Environmental Health News, more than 90 percent of pregnant women had detectable levels of BPA in their bodies. Pregnant women who ate canned vegetables, exposed themselves to tobacco smoke, or worked as cashiers also had above-average concentrations. BPA can be found in cash-register receipts, so it’s no wonder women working behind a counter had higher levels in their bodies.

BPA is a nasty chemical that has been linked to heart disease and diabetes in humans, cancer of the prostate and mammary glands, obesity and reproductive problems in lab animals exposed in the womb.

Not long ago pregnant women pressured retailers and manufacturers to offer BPA-free baby bottles. While this is a step in the right direction, women are still unknowingly exposing their infants during fetal development and babies are being born pre-polluted.  

The study also showed that those who eat canned vegetables once a day had 44 percent more BPA in their urine than those who didn’t. Once I read that, I decided to make my beans the old-fashioned way—by soaking and cooking them. Although this process did take roughly 24 hours, I can rest peacefully knowing my BPA intake decreased sufficiently.

Posted by on November 16th, 2010 No Comments

Pink Washing

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it seems as of late every product around us contains the famous pink ribbon. Buying these products makes us feel like we’re doing something to fight the disease affecting more than 207,000 women each year. What most people don’t realize though, is a large majority of these pink items actually perpetuate breast cancer.

Is this pink ribbon helping to fight breast cancer, or actually causing it?

It’s a phenomenon known as “pink washing,” and it means “companies purport to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribboned product, but in reality manufacture products that are linked to the disease.” Examples of pink washing include plastic water bottles, which leach BPA; Nail polish, which contains formaldehyde, phthalates, and other carcinogens; and lipsticks, which contain lead.  

While this is disheartening, there's something you can do about it. Check out Breast Cancer Action's Think Before You Pink website to help make informed decisions when purchasing a pink product. They offer these five easy questions to ask yourself:

   1. How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer? Is the amount clearly stated on the package?

   2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?

   3. How are the funds being raised?

   4. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?

   5. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

 You can also visit this site to download and print handy tip cards for you and your friends.

Posted by on October 7th, 2010 No 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

The Great Microwave Debate

We’ve all grown up with that one friend whose parents refused to own a microwave, right? Well, after reading this new article by Dr. Joseph Mercola, let’s hope we all spent a significant amount of time in said friend’s home.

MicrowaveBy exploring many different studies, Dr. Mercola proves our kooky friend’s parents right—ditch that microwave. Evidence shows they can leak radiation, deplete nutrients from your food, and cause a whole host of health problems, including something called “Microwave Sickness.”

Don’t be discouraged; think of Mercola’s conclusion as another excuse to eat more fresh, fruits and vegetables and to cut down on processed foods. Concerned about time? Check out these tips for healthier, microwave-free eating, for those of us who lead extremely busy lives.

Posted by on September 2nd, 2010 No Comments