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

Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Working Group’

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

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

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

Body Burden Study: Toxic chemicals found in the bodies of Vermonters

chartThe Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont, an organization in which Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) is a member of, released the first Body Burden study to be done in Vermont.  Body Burden studies test to find what chemicals we have in our bodies.

The report, Toxic Exposures in the Green Mountain State, tested the bodies of six Vermonters for a variety of common chemicals found in the environment and consumer products.  These chemicals - including bisphenol A (BPA), mercury, organochlorine pesticides, and flame retardants known as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – have all been linked to harmful health impacts ranging from cancer to neurological damage to birth defects.

The amount of each chemical found in the bodies of participants varied widely.  According to the study:

  • BPA was found in every participant and levels of the chemical in three of the participants exceeded the national norm;
  • Levels of mercury were found in four participants, each time equaling or exceeding the national norm;
  • Seven types of organochlorine pesticides were found in the blood of all participants, and DDT – banned in 1972 – was found in the bodies of five of the six Vermonters; and
  • Twenty different types of flame retardants were present in all of the participants, and Deca was found in all but one of the Vermonters.

“We participated in this study because as one of the largest providers of reproductive health care in our region, we believe it’s our responsibility to help our patients and communities understand the link between their health and the products they put in and on their bodies.   It is part of our role as health care providers to educate our patients about how to reduce their exposure to harmful contaminants,” said Ellen Starr, V.P. of PPNNE Health Center Operations. (more…)

Posted by on February 11th, 2010 No Comments

Fragrances Stink–Especially While Pregnant

The birth of a child is a highly anticipated moment.  It’s the culmination of months of preparation, patience, and dare I say it, resisting temptation. Everything from coloring your hair, to eating sushi, to drinking alcohol is put on hold the moment you find out you’re pregnant. Here’s another “no-no” to add to your list: artificial fragrances.

Synthetic chemicals found in umbilical cord blood of American newborns.A study by the Environmental Working Group revealed 232 contaminants in the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn American babies. Synthetic musks, common components of fragrance, were found in 7 of the blood samples.

These results are significant because artificial fragrances are toxic and have been linked to developmental illness, infertility, even birth defects and cancer.

What’s even more disturbing is due to labeling laws, the ingredients in fragrance products are considered “trade secrets,”  and do not need to be disclosed.

If you’re pregnant –or planning on it—here are some precautionary measures you can take:

  • Choose products free of synthetic fragrance.
  • Make your own cosmetics.  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has great recipes.
  • Be proactive. Contact the manufactures of your favorite lotions, perfumes, and lip balms, and encourage them to use non-toxic ingredients and to fully disclose this information on labels.

As wonderful as it is to look and smell nice, consider the risks of the products you’re using and their effect on your newborn.  By forgoing those toxic perfumes, you’ll be able to enjoy that new baby smell even more.

Posted by on December 29th, 2009 3 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

Save Face

Despite my sensitive skin, I used to think buying a new face wash was a quick easy task. Until I had a particularly traumatic experience with a store-bought facial masque, that is: it resulted in a low-level chemical burn.


After that scare, standing amidst the sea of product ingredient labels became overwhelming. I realized I had no idea which ingredients were safe, or which could trigger such a severe reaction. What's a girl to do when there is no computer around to quickly check Skin Deep, the online cosmetics safety guide?

I did some research and found my answer with Smart Skin Care, a website that provides valuable instructions for reading skin care product labels. It also provides valuable information about what ingredients can be hazardous and should be avoided. According to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, all ingredients must be listed on the label. Generally, the ingredients are listed in descending order based on concentration. Smart Skin Care provides some valuable information to this, by explaining there are exceptions to this rule. For example, colors and fragrances are typically listed last, regardless of concentration. This is unsettling because, while some synthetic fragrances and colors may be safe, others may pose serious health risks to women. Synthetic fragrances have been linked to a wide spectrum of health complications, ranging in severity from cancer to slight skin irritation.

Scrutinizing labels can be tedious and time-consuming. I have decided to make a list of "absolutely not" ingredients to make faster decisions I don't second guess.  Any tricks you want to share?

Posted by on July 2nd, 2009 No Comments

Clean Up in Aisle 5!


Some people hate grocery shopping. I like it. If I'm not in a rush to get somewhere, pick up my kids, etc., I'll stroll up and down the aisles looking for fresh produce, sale items, and culinary inspiration.

Now that I know a little more about the ubiquitous nature of environmental contaminants (they're practically EVERYWHERE), food shopping is a little more stressful, however. (So much for retail therapy!) Fortunately, there are resources like the Environmental Working Group a non-profit whose mission is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. They offer all sorts of facts about human health and toxins, consumer tools and tips for reducing your exposure to nasty chemicals, and their recently published "Shoppers Guide to Pesticides" that you can download to your home computer or iPhone. This free guide will help you decide which produce to buy organic, and which conventionally grown fruits and veggies are okay if organic isn't available (or is too expensive).

If you're not sure what to do once you get past the produce section, PPNNE just created a series of fridge-friendly brochures that will give you insight into which fish are safest to eat (such as tilapia and pollack) , what cosmetics and personal care products to avoid, how to identify "poison plastics" (mentioned by Val in an earlier post), and even how to make your own cleaning products. Let us know if you'd like us to send you a set. There are also lots of great websites and other resources listed on this site. Check them out!

Posted by on May 22nd, 2009 No Comments