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

Posts Tagged ‘environmental toxins’

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 As products become outdated they find a resting place (often a landfill) and the environmental implications are harmful.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

Environmental Health and Choice

We occasionally get dazed and confused looks when we mention Planned Parenthood is involved in environmental health.  People associate us with many things--abortion, birth control, condoms, annual exams, even cervical cancer screenings--but this environmental piece has really thrown some for a loop.

Our brilliant colleagues at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, bridged this gap with a great little video on the relationship between environmental health and choice. Enjoy!

Posted by on May 5th, 2010 No Comments

Happy Earth Day!

Sometimes it takes a little trash-talk to spark a revelation. This morning I dutifully snapped a new garbage bag, put in the garbage can, and then bent over to pick up the  sippy cup that had rolled across the floor.  Moments later, I noticed a really strong scent and a white powder floating in the air above the garbage can.  I realized the garbage bag is scented and my two year old and I were inhaling the powdery substance.  The crazy-neurotic-mommy in me wondered if the powder is hazardous to my son’s health.  Then I looked at the sippy cup with the chewed straw, and I wondered what unknown chemicals were lurking in the plastic.  All this worry on Earth Day, nonetheless – how’s that for irony.  Then came the revelation.  I should not have to worry about the chemical make-up of garbage bags and plastic cups  - especially before I’ve had a chance to finish my morning coffee.  I should not have to worry if my everyday products contain toxic chemicals that have been linked to infertility, early puberty, low sperm counts, miscarriage and cancer.  My family and I deserve better.  We deserve legislators who protect our health and the health of other families.  We deserve the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010.

Today is Earth Day and what better way to celebrate by writing a letter to the editor urging Congress to pass Safe Chemicals Act of 2010?  Last week, members of Congress introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, a necessary first step towards protecting our families and our communities from harmful and untested chemicals found in our homes and workplaces.

Here’s a quick summary of the Safe Chemicals Act:

  • Provides EPA with sufficient information to judge a chemical’s safety.
  • Requires manufacturers to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce, while also preventing duplicative or unnecessary testing. EPA will have full authority to request additional information needed to determine the safety of a chemical.
  • Prioritizes chemicals based on risk. Calls on the EPA to categorize chemicals based on risk, and focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm.
  • Ensures safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market and places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their chemicals. All uses must be identified and determined safe for the chemical to enter the market or continue to be used.
  • Takes fast action to address highest risk chemicals and requires EPA to take fast action to reduce risk from chemicals that have already been proven dangerous. In addition, the EPA Administrator is given authority to act quickly if any chemical poses an imminent hazard.
  • Creates open access to reliable chemical information and establishes a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations. The EPA will impose requirements to ensure the information collected is reliable.
  • Promotes innovation and development of green chemistry and establishes grant programs and research centers to foster the development of safe chemical alternatives, and brings some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

So on this Earth Day, let’s ask – no, let’s demand -- that our legislators protect our health and the health of our families by writing a letter to the editor!

Posted by on April 22nd, 2010 No Comments

Energizing the Chemical Reform Debate

CB002069The more we learn about the 80,000-100,000 unregulated chemicals out there, the more we realize how dangerous some are to our health.  There is growing evidence linking chemical exposure to infertility, pregnancy loss, adverse birth outcomes, various cancers and other health issues. Can you believe that the steepest rise in infertility in past 13 years—an increase of 41%—has been for women 25 and under? It’s time to clean up these chemicals.

State by state, environmental health advocates are pushing for chemical reform and now Vermont has joined that effort. Representative Willem Jewett is sponsoring bill H.484, an act relating to the regulation of toxic substances.  This bill is a common-sense first step to removing toxic chemicals from everyday products, getting important chemical information into the hands of consumers and retailers, and engaging market forces to encourage innovation and safer technology.

PPNNE’s Senior Public Affairs Director, Chris Quint, testified in support of this bill today.  Here’s an excerpt from his testimony:

“It is becoming increasingly clear to those of us who work for reproductive justice — who have long fought for a woman’s right to control her reproductive destiny — that we must begin to turn our attention to the environmental toxins that are affecting the ability of couples to become pregnant, have a healthy pregnancy, and give birth to a healthy child.  PPNNE believes that it is our responsibility as a health care organization to help our patients make the link between human health and the products we put in our bodies, on our bodies, and in our homes.  We also believe that it is appropriate and responsible for our government to do its part as well by working to prioritize the worst of the worst chemicals and require manufacturers to disclose the use of those chemicals in the products that Vermont women and families use every day.  For these reasons, PPNNE is proud to support H.484 and would urge the committee to join us.
This bill establishes a common-sense framework based on credible scientific evidence for promoting safer alternatives to known harmful chemicals that place kids’ health at risk from contact with everyday products.  The bill takes a first step toward fixing our broken chemical safety system.  It establishes a workable process, market incentives and new state policy tools.  Implementation of the bill can begin with existing state resources.  Vermont has already cost-effectively replaced toxics like mercury, arsenic and deca with safer alternatives.”
In order to pass this critical legislation though, we all need to voice our concern. I bet you are going to ask what you can do to help, right?  Call your local represenative and let them know you support Representative Jewett’s bill for comprehensive chemical reform and they should, too! You can also follow our live tweets from the testimony.

Posted by on January 27th, 2010 1 Comment

Organic Chocolate Makes Treats More Palatable

Cacao tree with fruit pods

Cacao tree with fruit pods

Ah, chocolate! The nectar of the gods. It’s decadent, delicious, and, in some cases, full of ingredients you don’t want in your body. I’m not just talking about fat and sugar, which can be detrimental to your health (and waistline), but more insidious stuff such as pesticide residues or even lead.

While high-quality, conventional chocolate is unquestionably tasty—and has been shown to offer powerful antioxidants and other health benefits—there can be pesticide residues present in the cocoa powder used to manufacture it, which can have harmful effects on the body.

The best way to satisfy your sweet tooth and minimize your risk of ingesting dangerous ingredients is to go organic. Organic chocolate is made from organic cocoa beans, therefore minimizing the use of pesticides. Plus, when eaten in moderation, it can contribute to heart health, suppress chronic coughs, add much-needed magnesium to the diet, help control blood sugar, and improve your mood. Not to mention all the ways it’s better for our environment.

Photo: Gary Coffey

Photos: Gary Coffey

Thank goodness there are now lots of places to buy organic chocolate, including Whole Foods, Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets, and Vermont’s own Lake Champlain Chocolates. (In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that my husband, Gary Coffey, works there.) Better still, with so many options to choose from , there’s no need to compromise on flavor!

 So go ahead and indulge—just remember to eat responsibly!

Posted by on January 5th, 2010 1 Comment

Curbside Leaves—Leaf Them Where They Lay

Ah, "stick season." We're nearly there. The leaves have almost finished falling from the trees. While getting my exercise raking the leaves in the back yard, I also got my exercise learning about the toxins in leaves. Even though those autumn leaves look beautiful, they have some not so pretty secrets.


It turns out that leaves that grow and fall along urban streets have tested positive for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, or other organic substances, such as tobacco and charbroiled meat. PAHs can either be synthetic or occur naturally. The exhaust fumes from cars raise the level of PAHs, which makes the leaves in front of your home exposed and a bad choice for composting.

PAHs can affect your health in many serious ways; they can cause cancer and fertility issues. There is a lot of research on PAHs, many new studies are finding that they can be development and reproductive toxicants, interfering with the development of a fetus and causing harm to your reproductive system. Even more, a recent study cited men with high PAH exposure as having a 53% higher risk of infertility than men with low PHA exposure.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh? As a general rule, don't compost your roadside leaves.  Remember to check with your local solid waste and composting sites about your leaves. And by all means, don't burn them! Does anyone have any further suggestions about leaves?

Posted by on November 2nd, 2009 No Comments

Kicking the Bottle…Again

SIGG is offering a free Bottle exchange before October 31st.

SIGG is offering a free bottle exchange, before October 31st.

You know those shiny metal water bottles you replaced your old NalgeneTM ones with? (Yeah, the ones you practically maxed out your credit cards to buy…) Well, it turns out that some of them – most notably those made by so-called eco-friendly manufacturers SIGG and Gaiam – may be lined with a material that leaches bisphenol A (a.k.a. BPA), the nasty endocrine-disrupting, cancer-causing chemical you were trying to avoid in the first place! (Scroll down to read one of our older blog posts or visit to learn more about BPA and how you can reduce your exposures.)

The “good” news is that SIGG is offering a voluntary exchange program if you have a SIGG bottle that was made prior to August 2008. (Here’s how to tell whether or not you have one of the bottles in question.) You may also be able to return your bottle to any major retailer, such as EMS, in exchange for a new BPA-free version. Either way, make sure you act fast! The program ends on October 31st.

If, like me, all this information makes your head swim and leaves you thirsty for some unbiased suggestions about what kind of bottle you should (or shouldn’t) buy, The ZRecs 2009 BPA-Free Water Bottle Showdown” includes reviews for nearly 40 alternatives.

Posted by on October 16th, 2009 No Comments

Bagging a Bad Habit


I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to single-use plastic bags…


I’ve tried to quit. I’ve tried substituting paper for plastic. And of course I own a bunch of Chicobags and a plethora of other reuseable shopping bags. But as a busy working mom who lives 30-minutes from the nearest supermarket, I often shop when I can. Which means I don’t always have bags with me when I head to the store. I know, it’s shameful. But awareness is the first step toward making change, right?


Perhaps because of my pervasive plastic habit, I was struck by a recent news story about Yvonne Benedict, a so-called “bag lady” in northern, VT, whom the reporter described as “an unlikely environmental superhero.” Hey, if an 86-year-old woman can find a way to help the environment, I can too. Have a look at what Yvonne is doing to keep plastic bags out of local landfills. 


Still wondering about that age-old question: Paper or plastic?
In addition to contributing to environmental devastation, studies show that the inks and colorants used on some plastic bags contain  lead, proven to damage the brain, kidneys, and reproductive system, and cause birth defects, slow growth, and  hearing problems. 


They say admitting your addition is the first step in kicking the habit. Now that my secret is, well, no longer secret, I'm committed to redoubling my efforts to bagging my bag habit. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by on August 20th, 2009 No Comments

Go to the Head of the Class With Smart School Supplies

Aaahhh…September is right around the corner.  September signals summer slowly winding to an end, and for many adults, signals a renewed sense of purpose.  I think many of us “grown-ups” regard September as a kind of “New Year” as we are so used to associating this month with the start of a new school year.  So, in the spirit of my pseudo holiday, I have decided to take on a September New Year’s Resolution - I hereby resolve to send my sons back to school with PVC-free school supplies.


PVC, polyvinyl chloride, has been notoriously deemed the “poison plastic” for good reason.  Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is unique among plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives used to soften or stabilize it. These harmful chemicals include phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins. One could argue that no other plastic contributes to the release of as many reproductive health toxicants than PVC.  PVC’s lifecycle is one of the largest sources of dioxins in our environment.  Exposure to dioxin has been linked with birth defects, decreased fertility, inability to carry pregnancies to term, lowered testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, and decreased testis size.  Furthermore, several studies have detected measureable amounts of dioxin in women's breastmilk.

Additionally, PVC is responsible for the consumption of over 90% of all phthalates worldwide.  Phthalates must be added to PVC in large quantities – and can make up to 60% of the final product by weight.  Over 5 million tons of phthalates are used in vinyl every year, and more than 80 million tons of phthalates are estimated to be contained in the stock of PVC products now in use in buildings and other applications.  Exposure to phthalates has been linked to reproductive problems including shorter pregnancy duration, premature breast development in females and sperm damage and impaired reproductive development in males.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Yes, PVC is bad, but what on earth does PVC have to do with school supplies?”  Parents across the country are getting ready to stock up on binders and lunchboxes, and while it’s easy to know the healthiest foods to pack in those lunchboxes, many parents are not aware of the toxic plastic used to make them.  In fact, the average child’s character-themed backpack is filled with supplies and materials made from toxic PVC. Lunchboxes, binders, vinyl backpacks, and even art supplies are frequently made out of PVC.  (more…)

Posted by on August 5th, 2009 1 Comment