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

Posts Tagged ‘family health’

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

The Purse Promise

What do the stores H&M, Coldwater Creek, and Saks Fifth Avenue have in common?  They have all agreed to a new set of industry-wide standards that will end the sale of lead-filled purses and other fashion accessories. This is GREAT NEWS, people! Not only is it a strong statement for retailers to take action and recognize that these chemicals are dangerous, but it’s also a relief knowing that I don’t have to research which bags are safe and which aren't.  Wahoo!

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) recently made the announcement about agreement with more than 40 major retailers and vendors, including Macy’s, Sears/Kmart, Target, Kohl’s, JC Penney, Guess, Victoria’s Secret, Saks and others, about handbags, purses, wallets and other accessories sold in stores nationwide. The agreement follows CEH findings released last year that hundreds of purses and other accessories contain high levels of lead that can pose a health threat, especially to pregnant women and women of child-bearing age.

Lead is a highly toxic metal and there is no known safe level of lead in the human body. Low levels of lead can increase blood pressure, decrease brain function, decrease kidney function, and increase a women’s risk of miscarriage. Higher amounts of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and other major organs.

The CEH discovered three items at Wal-Mart with very high levels of lead, one of which included a Miley Cyrus-brand wallet with 30 times more lead than the limit other companies have agreed to.  Check out the full list of stores participating in the purse promise (well, that’s what I like to call it anyway) here.  The CEH also provides these helpful tips to avoid lead in handbags and wallets: 

• If you’re purchasing a wallet or handbag, buy one that is made of natural materials rather than faux leather;

• If you already own a faux leather handbag, don't let your children play with it. Also, wash your hands after touching it;

• Ask your favorite accessory store to carry lead-free products.

Happy shopping!

Posted by on June 7th, 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

Horrific! Heavy Metals Found in Face Paint


I love Halloween and last year I was incredibly excited to be invited to a costume party. I had the perfect geisha outfit and matching wig; all I needed to complete the look was white face paint. Last fall was when I really started to learn about contaminants in products we use on our bodies and in our homes, so when I set out to find my geisha make-up, I laboriously read all of the face paint labels in Party City. I eventually selected the only brand which claimed to be “toxic free”. I will tell you what is truly scary – my “toxic free” face paint may not have been toxic-free at all.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of nonprofit health and environmental groups, sent 10 children’s face paints to an independent lab to test for heavy metals, and also reviewed ingredient labels of Halloween products sold at a seasonal holiday store. The findings, compiled in the new report, Pretty Scary, include:

•Ten out of 10 children’s face paints contained lead at levels ranging from 0.05 to 0.65 parts per million

•Six out of 10 children’s face paints contained the potent skin allergens nickel, cobalt and/or chromium at
levels ranging from 1.6 to 120 ppm – far exceeding industry safety recommendations of 1 ppm.

•Snazaroo Face Paint, labeled as “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic,” contained some of the highest levels
of lead, nickel and cobalt found in the study.

“Lead is dangerous to the developing brains of children at any level. It is now widely accepted in the scientific community that there is no threshold level below which lead is safe,” said Phil Landrigan, M.D., Director, Children's Environmental Health Center Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that parents avoid using cosmetics on their children that could be contaminated with lead.


Posted by on October 27th, 2009 No Comments

Better to Be Safe than Sorry

Why do we wear seatbelts? Why do we bring a surplus of diapers and multiple changes of clothes when we take our babies on a single outing?  Why do we wear helmets while biking and skiing? Why – because by golly, we’re smart kids and we have learned to intrinsically employ the precautionary principle…now if only our law and policy makers could do the same.


According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, “there are 82,000 chemicals available for use in the U.S. yet only about 200 chemicals have been assessed for safety.  Only 5 chemicals have been removed from use based on health and safety concerns.”  Currently, in the United Sates, law makers require strong, and in many cases, conclusive evidence that a contaminant has adverse human health effects before preventative actions are taken.  In other words, the burden is on people to prove a chemical is unsafe before lawmakers will take action. The problem with this policy, however, is “serous, evident effects such as endocrine disruption, climate change, [and] cancer…can seldom be linked to a single cause.  Scientific standards of certainty may be impossible to attain when causes and outcomes are multiple; latent periods are long; timing of exposure is crucial; unexposed, “control” populations do not exist; or cofounding factors are unidentified ( ). 

So, if definitively linking specific contaminants to specific adverse health outcomes is sometimes a nearly impossible task, how could our government better protect us?  The U.S. should borrow a page from the European Union’s playbook and begin to adopt the Precautionary Principle – that’s how.  (more…)

Posted by on July 11th, 2009 No Comments

Savvy Sunscreen Selection

I have been committed to slathering on suntan lotion for some time now.  In my 20s I foolishly sought a sun-kissed glow to add to my appeal, but I usually ended up looking like a giant red-lobster. Now, in my 30s, I am trying to “make-up” for all of my blistering burns, so I have been applying copious amounts of high SPF sunscreen.  My husband tells me I am the easiest person to spot on a beach – he simply looks around for the palest (we’re talking white) body and there I am.  While the ingredients in the sunscreen have been working to block out the UV rays that cause my skin to burn red, the ingredients have not necessarily been working to shield my health.


UVA and UVB rays both contribute to skin cancer, wrinkling, and skin aging.  I was always under the belief that a higher SPF meant greater protection from UV rays.  However, according to Environmental Working Group, SPF, Sun Protection Factor, “is only a measurement of the how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn.”  SPF does not measure a product’s protection from UVA rays.  Look for products labeled UVA/UVB or broad spectrum for protection against both types of UV radiation.


Posted by on June 28th, 2009 3 Comments

Some Good News about the Environment…For a Change

Ever since Al Gore started promoting his film “An Inconvenient Truth,” much of what we’ve seen or heard about the environment has been bad news. Whether it’s environmental links to cancer, widespread drought, or rising sea levels and melting polar ice caps, all this information can make you feel pretty hopeless. While there is plenty to be aware of -- and concerned about -- there's no need to despair.


On my way home from work the other day, I was lucky enough to catch an NPR story about the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, OH.


For those of you who don’t know, an oil slick and debris in the Cuyahoga River caught fire on June 22, 1969, drawing national attention to environmental problems in that state. Now, forty years later, the river is making a comeback and has gone from “fire to fish-friendly,” proving that when we set our minds to it, we CAN make a difference. 


Want to know more about what YOU can do? Register for PPNNE's “Critical Link” conference on September 10, where a panel of experts will address how all of us can protect ourselves and our families and exercise greater power as consumers and citizens in a discussion titled, “We ARE Part of the Solution.”



Posted by on June 25th, 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

Deca Bill Update

The bill to ban Deca passed the House Thursday as part of the health care bill.  Keeping a toxic chemical linked to developmental and reproductive problems out of our mattresses sounds like  a no-brainer, but the bill was not without controversy.  Citizens for Fire Safety (CFS), a faux grassroots group, bombarded Vermonters with robo-calls falsely implying the end of Deca would be the end of flame retardants.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the bill is on it's way to the Governor's desk.

What does this mean for your mattress? Not much.  As for your future mattresses, it means plenty:  you'll know they don't contain Deca.  After July 1st, 2010 it will be illegal to manufacture or sell mattresses & upholstered furniture containing Deca in Vermont.  After July 1st, 2012 the same will hold true for computers and televisions, though retailers will be able to sell inventory purchased before July 1st 2009.  The bill also includes safeguards against Deca being replaced with equally toxic alternatives.

Kudos to all the legislators who made this possible, including Representative Weston who spoke in favor of the ban.

Thank you also to VPIRG, the Professional Firefighters of Vermont, and the rest of the Alliance For A Clean & Healthy VT for your work on this important effort.


Posted by on May 9th, 2009 No Comments

Pondering Parabens

I’ll admit it – I’m a compulsive label reader. Lately I've noticed plenty of shampoos, cosmetics and personal care products boasting labels stating they are "Paraben Free." Why are some companies going out of there way to get rid of these parabens? There are many parabens: methyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben and ethyl paraben. Should we care when a product is Paraben Free?




According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “parabens are widely used synthetic preservatives found in most of the 25,000 cosmetics and personal care products in the Skin Deep” database. Parabens extend the shelf life of moisturizers and your shampoos and other products.

Parabens have chemicals that mimic estrogen in female bodies-- they mimic women's hormones and disrupt women's endocrine system. When the endocrine system is disrupted, the body’s ability to communicate with itself is thrown off. Some endocrine disruptors, such as parabens, have been linked to breast cancer. EWG reports “parabens were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied." According to the Breast Cancer Fund , “measurable concentrations of six different parabens have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors.”

So, should we care if a product is Paraben Free? At the expense of quoting a certain someone, I’m going to answer with an enthusiastic “You Betcha’!” If possible, choose a Paraben Free product.

To learn more about estrogenic chemicals in cosmetics and how they can affect a woman’s body, check out this video made by Cornell University. MAKE-UP: Breast Cancer and the Estrogen Connection

Posted by on May 1st, 2009 No Comments