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

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Reform our broken federal chemical safety laws!

ACHM Plane Picture


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

Chemicals below Le Roy High School?

Environmental star Erin Brockovich has another issue on her hands, and Julia Roberts is nowhere in sight. Erin was contacted by parents of students who attend Le Roy High School in Western New York and the story goes much like the script did: solving a chemical cover up.

The students at Le Roy High School were experiencing symptoms indicative of “conversion disorder” which effects neurological skills and basic motor functions. Many of these students that have been mysteriously afflicted have been girls, with only one boy coming forward with the symptoms. A UVM psychologist has commented on these symptoms, and many other medical professionals have grown more aware of the strange cases and site the environment as the main culprit. While some people are saying that this is purely a psychological issue that has been perpetuated by the media frenzy, other parents and students aren't too convinced.

Although tests were done within the school, and they were found to be inconclusive, Brockovich has ventured outside-and has found scary results. Her research has uncovered that the school was built close to a train accident that spilled both cyanide and trichloroethene, which has seeped into the ground and possibly into surrounding water sources. These chemicals can produce similar effects seen in the students, and the EPA has full documentation showing chemicals were spilled there in the 1970s. After testing the soil around the school, Brockovich’s representatives were escorted off the premises, and the local legislature refuses to make more comments on the developing case.

Brockovich intends to get to the bottom of this, and many concerned parents hope she does. These chemicals are seriously harmful, and the effects are already being seen in a few young girls, many other students may also be accumulating the toxins without any physical manifestations. Some psychologists say that this is an "emotional" disorder, but for many students the effects are real and degenerative. Brockovich cites the toxic spill as the main culprit, and aims to debunk the idea that this is anything but an environmental, toxin-inducing disease.  While more research is needed, this is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly, efficiently, and with experience.

Posted by on February 13th, 2012 No Comments

Let Thy Food be Thy Medicine and Thy Make Up


I am currently in a class at UVM entitled Women’s Health and the Environment. One of the most recent topic we've explored is the crazy and dangerous world of cosmetics.

We've been reading Not Just a Pretty Face by Stacy Malkan, which explores the highly unregulated, highly toxic cosmetic industry. Many hazardous chemicals are found in popular consumer cosmetics and beauty care products. Look no further than the Skin Deep Database to see what is hiding in your favorite foundation, shampoo, lotion and more.

As a part of the class, and also as a personal challenge, I am attempting to alter my beauty regime for the better. Recognizing that price can be an obstacle to some of the safer, natural alternatives, a group of classmates and myself are seeking solutions in the kitchen. That’s right; we’re using food as personal care products. Affordable, effective, easy, safe and fun; These are the guiding principles of our quest. We also vow not to put anything on our bodies that we wouldn't personally eat. Check out this article on the new  trend. of turning food into cosmetics. 

To break myself in easily I’m starting with the basics: shampoo, conditioner and lotion. These are daily musts. Here are some recipes I've tried:


1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 cup warm water: mix together and rinse through hair.


1 tablespoon Apple-cider vinegar to 1 cup warm water: mix together and rinse through hair.

Lotion: Coconut Oil.

That’s it? That’s all? Seems too simple, right? I was doubtful as well, but I had committed and I’m seeing it through. It has been two weeks on the regime and I'm okay! My hair feels the same amount of clean, and the apple cider vinegar is very softening.  I’m even using the coconut oil on my face and there is no excessive oily residue. I’m kicking myself thinking of the money I could have saved over the years.

For those who enjoy a good experiment there are many recipes out there to make your own home beauty products that are safe, fun and edible. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics lists some DIY recipes on their website as well as many other sites like this blog, Pink of Perfection. Take an afternoon or an hour, grab a friend and try out a recipe.

My next task is making the best face wash (we made one up with almond milk, oats and salt, not bad!). Think of it as an investment in your health, beauty and bank account.

Posted by on May 16th, 2011 1 Comment

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

Living Downstream Screening in Winooski

Living Downstream Screening in Winooski

You’re invited to a screening of the documentary Living Downstream at Community College of Vermont in Winooski. The film takes the personal story of ecologist and cancer survivor Dr. Sandra Steingraber and creates a compelling look at toxins in our environment and the implications for the health of individuals, families and communities. This is an issue of increasing importance in Vermont. Just recently the Burlington Free Press published an article on the chemical body burden of six Vermonters. Read the article here. The screening will be followed by a panel and discussion. Panelists include:

Heather Fitzgerald, CCV Winooski faculty
Jill Krowinski, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s Public Affairs Director
Dr. Patti O’Brien, UVM faculty, physician, cancer researcher and breast cancer survivor.
Dave Rappaport, Seventh Generation's Senior Director of Corporate Consciousness
Rep. Suzi Wizowaty, Burlington Rep, co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Chemical Reform Bill.

When: Friday, March 25th from 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Where: CCV Winooski Sadie White room (108)

RSVP to our FB page

Posted by on March 21st, 2011 No Comments

An Environmental Health Night @ UVM

With growing awareness of the tightly woven connections between our environment and our health, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is making a commitment to protecting both. With a desire to share this important information with our communities we will be showing the documentary Living Downstream, an adaptation of the book by Dr. Sandra Steingraber. The movie follows Dr Steingraber and her work around the country promoting awareness of the dangers of toxic chemicals as they contaminate our world and eventually our bodies. Though the film is not set in Vermont, the issues raised are relevant in our state. Despite best intentions Vermonters, too, are exposed to dangerous chemicals via consumer products and our environment.

Please join us Wednesday, January 26th at 7pm for an evening of action as we screen the documentary Living Downstream, an adaptation of the book by Dr. Sandra Steingraber.  Watch the Trailer Here

A conversation will follow the film as we talk about the relevance of this critical link in our communities and the need for comprehensive chemical reform in Vermont.  Our hope is that you’ll agree with us that toxic exposure is unnecessary and voice your concern to your legislators here in Vermont.

Environmental Health Night: Documentary and Discussion
Wednesday, January 26th at 7pm
Sugarmaple Ballroom 4th Floor Davis Center, University of Vermont

This is a FREE Event!

Hosted by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, a member of The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont & the Environmental Studies Department.

For questions e-mail

Posted by on January 24th, 2011 No Comments

A New Year, New Law – E-Waste Collection sites in VT

Ever thought about what happens to your cell phone when you upgrade to a smart phone? Or where our big ol’ computer monitors go to with the influx of flat-screens and laptops? These and other electronics are all examples of a waste termed “E-waste” or electronic waste. As products become outdated they find a resting place (often a landfill) and the environmental implications are harmful. Electronics contain several dangerous chemicals including mercury and lead, which can seep into land and water overtime. Sadly, those bearing the burden of our electronic waste are often those in other countries. This documentary is an example of what e-waste disposal can look like abroad.

Recognizing this threat to both the environment and health, Vermont has banned E-waste as of January 1st, 2011. The law calls for the removal of electronic waste from the general waste stream and diverts it into a separate collection system. The law also includes the creation of new sites to collect E-Waste for free in every county throughout Vermont by July, 2011

Conscious consumerism includes conscious disposal, and this E-Waste regulation is a big step forward in keeping VT clean and green. This law will have multiple benefits for people and the planet. For more information, check out this full article from the Bennington Banner. So the next time you purchase a new electronic, I would invite you to take a moment to dispose of your old one properly.

Posted by on January 5th, 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

How Harmful is Birth Control to the Environment?

We are often asked this question in light of our work to educate people on the impact of environmental toxins on reproductive health. Are we part of the problem?

Pharmaceuticals enter our water through our urine.  You eat a pill.  You pee.  It ends up in the water.

There are countless drugs people consume regularly:  anti-depressants, pain killers, blood pressure meds, chemotherapy, etc.  Additionally, we feed our livestock anti-biotics and hormones regularly. All of these enter our environment eventually.  Birth control is just one of many drugs in our water.

Now there is a conclusive study on just how much estrogen in drinking water can be blamed on birth control.  Unsurprisingly, the small amounts actually coming from birth control, coupled with advances in drug delivery systems point at only 1% of estrogen in drinking water being traced to birth control.  Our livestock contributes the majority of estrogen.

Purchasing  hormone/anti-biotic free animal products can certainly give a boost to environmentally friendlier agriculture, as well as to your health.

Now, if only we could address all the other "stuff" in our H2O!

Posted by on December 21st, 2010 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