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

Archive for the ‘Chemicals’ Category

Vermont moves comprehensive chemical reform forward: Big win for public health


June 2014 - Joined by environmental groups, health care advocates, firefighters, sustainable business leaders and key legislators, Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law Act 239, a bill aimed at protecting children and families from toxic chemicals.

In partnership with the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont, VPIRG, the Vermont State Firefighters AssociationVBSR, and Seventh Generation, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England worked diligently to move this important legislation forward.  Act 239  is a necessary step toward ensuring that all Vermont families have piece of mind and adequate protection from harmful chemicals in the environment. Other states, including Maine, Washington and California,  have already adopted similar programs and Vermont's program will utilize the progress made in these other states.

The link between toxic chemicals and reproductive health

As a trusted provider of health care to thousands of Vermonters every year, we’ve joined with other environmental and public health advocates in calling for comprehensive chemical reform because we see a clear and immediate risk to pregnant women, children and all Vermonters from unnecessary exposure. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine have recently issued a joint statement urging health care professionals to advocate for government policy changes to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents.

The statement, issued in September of 2013,  stresses how  "the scientific evidence over the last 15 years shows that exposure to toxic environmental agents before conception and during pregnancy can have significant and long-lasting effects on reproductive health" and calls on health care providers to support public policy that identifies and ultimately reduces exposure to toxic chemicals.

Attention has rightly been given to the effects of these toxic chemicals on infants and children. Exposure to the chemicals found in many kinds of consumer products has a critical impact on pregnant women and developing fetuses and babies  Increased evidence over the last fifteen years has linked exposure to certain toxins to miscarriages and stillbirths, impaired fetal growth, pre-term births and birth defects. Ultimately, all people at any age are at risk and we will be voicing our concern to the advisory group that next steps need to take into account the broader population.

Our health care professionals routinely see patients with some of the health issues that we know have been linked to toxic chemical exposure and it is our duty as Northern New England's largest reproductive health care provider to do all that we can to protect our patients and their families.

Federal reform going nowhere

TSCA, the Toxic Substances Control Act, was passed in 1976 under President Ford.  Though opponents of Act.239 would like you to think otherwise, federal efforts at updating the nation's primary law for regulating chemicals used in everyday products have not made much progress. Though TSCA does provide some basic protections in states with little to no regulation, it is desperately in need of an update with several outstanding inadequacies including:
- Puts the burden of proof on the consumers and government rather than manufacturers.- Allows manufacturers to keep secret the ingredients in certain chemicals
- Makes it difficult for consumers and businesses to identify which products have harmful chemicals
- Fails to motivate the chemical industry to steer towards safer chemical and product design
- Does not include chemicals introduced after 1976 when TSCA was enacted. Over 80,000 have been on the market and available since then.

There is broad consensus in Congress and even on the part of the chemical industry for federal reform but getting there is another story.  In testimony to the VT House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, representatives from the offices of Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator David Vitter and Senator Boxer made it quite clear that nothing positive from Congress was likely to come out anytime soon in regards to federal law regulating toxic chemicals.

Though champions like the late Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator  Barbara Boxer as well as the EPA have stressed the need for meaningful legislation, anti-regulatory groups like the American Chemistry Council have tried to steer TSCA reform into a regressive direction that has the potential to roll-back progress made in certain states. The timeline or feasibility of meaningful federal reform is unclear and to push off legislation any longer on the state level would be a disservice to Vermonters.

What Act 239 does

S.239 ultimately holds manufacturers of products with harmful chemicals accountable and provides piece of mind to Vermont consumers. Eventually, it will lead to the discontinued use of known toxins in consumer products. Initially introduced in the VT Senate, the bill's aim was  to bring a comprehensive approach to toxic chemical regulation rather than having to individually legislate on particular chemicals (see Tris bill from 2013).  Implementation of a more comprehensive approach will ensure efficiency and science prevail in the regulating of toxic chemicals and that protections go into effect sooner rather than later.

Though the bill was limited in scope from  all consumer products to just children's products, it does maintain the authority for the Vermont Department of Health to regulate known toxins and will essentially do the following:

  • Establish a list of dangerous toxins still used in products (beginning with the list of chemicals of high concern to children currently in use in Washington State),
  • Require manufacturers that sell children’s products containing one or more of those chemicals to report to the state and pay a small fee, and
  • Give experts at the Vermont Department of Health the authority to regulate the toxins on the list that are used in children’s products

Special thanks & next steps

This bill wouldn't have been possible without the steadfast support and leadership from key legislators; namely Senator Ginny Lyons, Senator Claire Ayer, Senator Kevin Mullin and Senator Chris Bray, Representative Willem Jewett,  Representative David Deen, Representative Jim McCullough, Representative Kate WebbRepresentative Ann Pugh, Representative Dave Sharpe and Speaker Shap Smith. These individuals stood by the bill in the face of serious opposition and made sure action was not delayed in protecting vulnerable Vermonters. Additionally, the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Natural Resources played a key role in shaping this legislation moving it forward.

Over the next couple of years, stakeholders like Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Seventh Generation, the League of Conservation Voters and VPIRG  will be working with the Department of Health in educating Vermonters about the program and working to spread the word about the important link between toxins and environmental health. Be sure to check out the PPNNE Good Chemistry Blog for news you can use on how to protect you and your family from unnecessary exposure and for updates on the roll-out of the toxic exposure prevention program in Vermont.

All Vermonters should be guaranteed that their own efforts to stay healthy aren't undermined by exposure to toxins they aren't even aware of. This bill is a necessary step forward because it addresses toxic chemical exposure in an efficient manner and allows for adequate stakeholder input. A safe environment, free of harmful chemicals, is critical to the health and welfare of all Vermonters.


Posted by on June 23rd, 2014 No Comments

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

Vermont’s New Green Cleaning Bill

Governor Shumlin recently signed S.92, a green-cleaning bill that has made it mandatory that the cleaning products used in schools around Vermont be environmentally friendly and safe. With so many cleaning products affecting the physical, and reproductive health, of students and faculty alike, this bill is a giant step in the right direction. It protects people and the environment with equal commitment and fervor.

The bill extends to many different types of cleaners, some of which are more obvious than others. Air fresheners and pesticides are banned, as well as “cleaning products” and all the chemicals that typical products entail within their composition.

The state places an emphasis on green cleaning products that are preferred to the typical products the schools use, and the EPA guidelines for preferred products are to be outlined, implemented, regulated, and researched by the state. Staff will be trained to understand the importance of these products as well, and schools will have to report their progress with adherence to the guidelines. A website will outline potential risks of non-safe cleaning products, and will explain the benefits of using safer products, and how to integrate them into schools and beyond.

Vermont is at the forefront of many green movements, and this bill is not exception. It makes Vermont the one of the first states to pass a mandate for schools to maintain better and safer cleaning practices. There are only 5 other states in the U.S. that have similar mandates.  

Along with keeping students, teachers, and faculty safe and more eco-friendly, safer cleaning products also means better reproductive health. The most harmful ingredients in these products are the carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors. For women, these can cause different types of cancers, harmful birth defects, and can also affect reproductive and hormone health. For mothers and fathers, the threat is even worse-as their children are exposed to these chemicals, they accumulate in the body and often affect them at a greater rate because children are smaller, and have weaker immune systems. Many parents have questions about green cleaning, but the emerging research and answers outline that it is effective and a better alternative to toxic chemicals in schools.

This bill is a paramount success for Vermont. It has ensured the safety of our environment, and the health of the people that go to and work within Vermont state schools every day. It will lessen issues with reproductive health for many of the young girls and boys in Vermont schools, and will give mothers and fathers the satisfaction that they are sending their kids to an environmentally friendly, non-toxic place to learn and absorb knowledge-not chemicals.


Posted by on January 30th, 2012 No Comments

Decoding Labels

Is there a difference between products labeled “natural,” “non-toxic,” or “eco-safe”?  Is one better for our health? Or worse? Beth Greer at the Huffington Post tackled this label confusion in a recent article about cosmetics and personal care products

Greenwashing, a trick used by many manufactures, is the act of using labels which are misleading, vague, or even present false claims about the eco/health benefits of a product.  Below is list of greenwashed words Greer says to be wary of the next time you’re shopping.

Top 10 Greenwashing Watchwords

10. “Environmentally friendly” and “eco-safe.”

9. “Dermatologist tested,” “sensitivity tested,” and/or “hypoallergenic”

8. “Allergy-friendly fragrance” and “fragrance-free”

7. “Nontoxic”

6. “Derived from…” (For example, “derived from coconut oil”)

5. “Free of…”

4. “Certified Green”

3. “Natural”

2. “Organic”

1. “Made with…” (For example, “made with real lemon”)

For more information about each of the 10 Greenwashing Watchwords, go to the article, “10 ways to tell if a product is (or isn’t) really ‘natural’”

Posted by on November 14th, 2011 No Comments

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

Marketing BPA to Kids

My nephew absolutely adores the movie Toy Story, and is particularly infatuated with the character Woody. He owns the Woody doll, loves to scream out “Howdy, Partner!,” and would probably watch Toy Story on repeat for HOURS if we let him.

I also know if my nephew saw some canned Campbell’s soup with his buddy Woody on the cover, he would beg his mom to purchase it. She most likely would, thinking, “It’s soup. It’s gotta be better for him than most of the other junk food out there, right?”


As Seventh Generation pointed out in a recent blog post, BPA is showing up in many canned products, specifically targeted to kids. The endocrine disrupting chemical was found in soups, juices, and veggies at disturbing levels. Campbell's Toy Story Fun Shapes was no exception.

Posted by on September 24th, 2011 1 Comment

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

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