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

Archive for the ‘Chemical Reform & Legislation’ 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

Chlorinated Tris: Sleeping with the Enemy

Before curling up for a cozy winter’s nap, consider this: for the next 30 minutes, your breath will be laced with a neurotoxin chemically bound to the foam in your couch.

Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP) is a flame retardant, added to soft and rigid polyurethane foams, plastics, resins, and fabric backings, regularly used in common household furniture and children’s products. Also known as Froyl FR2 or Antiblaze 195, this organophosphate is considered a threat to human health by the Consumer Protection & Safety Commission, the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Research Commission.

Because of furniture flammability standard requirements laid out by the California Technical Bulletin 117, Chlorinated Tris remains unlabeled in commonplace products nationwide. TDCPP escapes into household dust and air, easily ingested and inhaled by the whole family.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is proud to be working with the Alliance for a Clean & Healthy Vermont in banning Chlorinated Tris from the manufacture, distribution, sale, and use of certain consumer products containing octaBDE, pentaBDE, decaBDE, and forms of the flame retardant known as Tris, which are harmful to human health.

Children, frequently playing on the ground and putting toys in their mouths, are especially vulnerable to the this dangerous chemical. TDCPP has even been found in the placenta, entering a child’s system before they are born. It’s been linked to an increase in cancerous tumor growth; infertility in men, affecting hormone levels and semen quality; and has been found to be equally, if not more, toxic than some insecticides.

With the introduction of Senate Bill (S.0081) and House (H.0241) bill, Vermont is one of 26 states pushing for policy changes and legislation to ban toxic flame retardants and force companies to identify and disclose harmful chemicals in their products. While big industries remain resilient and Congress remains passive on a national level, state governments are taking proactive measures to maintain healthy home environments in 2013.

To learn how you can get more involved in this issue, please contact:

Posted by on February 22nd, 2013 No Comments

Johnson & Johnson to Stop Using Harmful Chemical – Victory or Not?

As a mom (who was once a kid), I’m kind of rejoicing; as an American woman, I’m kind of ticked off.

Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo. Now they're pledging to eliminate it (at least some of the time) from their products

Johnson & Johnson has promised to stop using harmful – possibly carcinogenic – ingredients in all their lines by 2015. Yay! That means that they’ve been paying attention to the threats from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and their allies. It means that J&J is waking up to the fact that American women really don’t want to slather themselves in toxic chemicals, nor do we want those chemicals anywhere near our kids.  It almost feels like a victory.

But is it?

 Johnson & Johnson has been carcinogen-free in countries all over the world for years. And according to their press release, they will still use chemicals that release formaldehyde "when no safe alternative will work .” But there must already be safer alternatives to these chemicals  if Johnson & Johnson products are on the shelves in places with stricter rules like the Europen Union and Japan.  

Their promises seem reassuring, though and this news make me want to support them. They are one of the few big companies actually changing policy and formulas because of consumer demand. A lot of that has to do with their huge line of baby products (moms are a very vocal group) and the problems they’ve had with public image in the wake of recalls on their pharmaceuticals – but it’s a step in the right direction that should be applauded.

What we really need to do is shake up the other cosmetic companies! Just because we aren’t the diaper and crayon set doesn’t mean we deserve toxic, carcinogenic, or hormone disrupting chemicals in our products: personal or beauty. L’Oreal (Maybelline, Garnier, Kiehl’s, The Body Shop, Softsheen-Carson), Procter & Gamble (CoverGirl, Pantene, Secret, Old Spice), Estee Lauder (Clinique, MAC, Prescriptives), Avon, and Unilever (Dove, Ponds, St. Ives, Axe) all need to be held to higher standards than the ones the FDA holds them to.  

I urge you to check out Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Get Involved page. Sign a petition, send an email, make your own lip gloss – Do something healthy and pretty!

Posted by on August 23rd, 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

Urge Senator Snowe and Senator Collins to Co-Sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011

Mainers, we need your help. Senator Snowe and Senator Collins have the opportunity to make real progress in the field of chemical reform. As you probably already know, there are more than 80,000 chemicals in the United States -- but only about 200 of them have ever been tested for safety. This lack of government regulation has let things like lead in lipstick, formaldehyde in baby shampoo, and BPA in our canned goods just slip by. And our health is suffering.

Sign your name below and ask Senator Snowe and Senator Collins to co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 -- an act that would repair our broken chemical system, so that chemicals are proven safe before being added to our homes, schools, and places of work.
Senators Snowe and Collins - Please build on Maine's progress toward safer chemicals, healthy families, and a stronger economy by co-sponsoring the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 and helping advance it through Congress.
(* Required)


Posted by on October 25th, 2011 1 Comment

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

Ask your Maine Senators to support The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011

Maine heroes have stepped up to the plate to defend our kids from toxic chemicals linked to serious health problems, from cancer and learning disabilities to diabetes and asthma.  In 2008, Mainers came together to pass the common-sense Kid Safe Products Act to help phase-out toxic chemicals that pose a danger to our children.  But all over Maine, too many parents still worry about buying products that are safe for their kids.  Too many families suffer from health problems linked to chemical exposure.  And too many businesses are plagued by high healthcare costs. 

Maine can't go it alone!

80,000 chemicals are currently in use--and only 200 of them have been tested for safety. It's time for reform!

We need a hero in Congress who can build on Maine's common-sense laws by fixing our national chemical safety policies, which are badly broken.  For 35 years the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)of 1976 has not protected the health and safety of our kids, allowing thousands of untested chemicals onto shelves and into our homes.  Out of 80,000 chemicals in our products, barely 200 have been tested under TSCA – clearly, it’s time for reform. 

We have a unique opportunity to fix this broken system.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S. 847), introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, will immediately phase out chemicals that we already know are dangerous.  It will also require safety testing for chemicals before they end up in our products, and provide a lot more information to consumers.  Plus, this law would also reward innovative companies who are creating safer technologies. 

We just learned that the Safe Chemicals Act is on-track for a Committee vote this fall!

We need the Senators' support now - TAKE ACTION!

It could be a matter of weeks before the Safe Chemicals Act makes its way out of committee.  Now is the time for Senators Snowe and Collins to be our heroes by co-sponsoring the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011.  Maine has already led the way passing state laws to phase out toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, and BPA from every-day products.  Now we need Maine's Senators lead the way to sensible chemical safety reform.  Urge your Senators to act now!

Posted by on October 10th, 2011 2 Comments

Styrofoam Show Down

Congressman Peter Welch recently offered an amendment to a legislative appropriations bill which seemed like a no-brainer: to ban the House cafeterias and buildings from using Styrofoam.

Believe it or not, when the House leadership changed hands, so did the food containers and utensils…to Styrofoam. I remember stopping by the cafeteria just a year ago and being so impressed by the compostable and recyclable food containers and utensils, a program then Speaker Pelosi started. And now they’re back to Styrofoam. These cafeterias not only serve Congressmen and women, they also serve their staff and visitors.

“Congress should be leading the way in making environmentally sound business decisions,” Welch said in a statement. “The decision to replace environmentally-friendly utensils with Styrofoam is a major step backwards. Using Styrofoam is outdated, environmentally harmful and hazardous to people’s health. McDonald's saw the light 20 years ago and stopped using Styrofoam.”

Welch’s office explains the harmful effects of Styrofoam are well documented: cancer-causing chemicals are used during its manufacture, it is difficult to recycle and most Styrofoam containers end up in landfills or incinerators where toxic byproducts are released. A 1986 EPA report on solid waste identified the Styrofoam manufacturing process as the 5th largest creator of hazardous waste. Additionally, toxic chemicals can leak from Styrofoam containers into the food and beverages they hold.

We give Congressman Welch and his staff props for standing up on this issue! Unfortunately, the House voted 179 to 234 against Welch’s amendment.

Watch Welch encourage his colleagues to be leaders in resource stewardship:

Posted by on September 1st, 2011 No Comments

You & The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Think about all the personal care products you use in the course of a day.  Shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothpaste, make-up, baby powder, after-shave… The average American uses about 10 of these products a day.  I, for one, am generally half-asleep when applying, and not always thinking of the more than 100 unique chemicals and toxins I am exposing myself to.

Thankfully, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is thinking about it. They’ve introduced the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 to ensure personal care products we all use are free of harmful ingredients, and that the ingredients are fully disclosed to consumers.  Legislation won’t just benefit us—the consumer—but also small business and innovation in green chemistry.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been providing us with the truth behind our once-favorite brands and helping us navigate the unsafe terrain of the cosmetics and personal care aisle for years. They’ve taught us all about the well-advertised, highly toxic, unregulated products that sit on store shelves and in our homes. And now it’s our turn to support the Safe Cosmetics Act by making our voices heard. 

TAKE ACTION! Make sure your legislators understand the importance of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. Already, Congressman Mike Michaud of Maine has signed on as a co-sponsor. Stand up for your health and your right to know what’s in your products!

 Tell your friends and family to SPEAK UP to your legislators; don’t let them disregard the products that affect all of us—men, women, children, and the environment.  You can also check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic’s list of other creative ways to get involved.

 After you contact your legislator, remember to check out Skin Deep—the database that reveals what’s in your products and ranks their toxicity.

Posted by on August 2nd, 2011 No Comments