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

Posts Tagged ‘lead’

LePage’s Devastating Environmental Proposals

Maine has come a long way to ensure our health and environment is protected for families and children.  In the last thirty years, we’ve cleaned up our heavily polluted rivers, increased protections for inland fisheries and wildlife, and passed protections to ensure the everyday products we buy are safe from toxic harm. 

In January, Governor Paul Le Page sent the Maine Legislature a sweeping package of roll backs of Maine’s environmental protections.  If passed, the changes would increase air pollution, expose Mainers to mercury, lead, and other toxic chemicals, threaten wildlife, weaken policies that hold companies accountable for breaking the law, and abolish the Board of Environmental Protection--a citizen board that gives Maine people a voice in environmental policymaking, among other things. 

In the next couple of weeks, Maine legislators will decide whether they will stand for out-of-state interest or the interests of Maine people.   Send a message to lawmakers saying you are outraged by LePage's proposals. You can also attend the upcoming hearing on Monday, February 14th at the Statehouse to voice your opinion in person.  

Maine women deserve the right to live in a clean environment and know that the products we buy won’t harm our health or our families.  We are committed to ensuring the preservation of Maine’s progress in environmental health. 

Maine is already a national leader for advancing environmental protections in the realm of public health, especially the health of our children through the landmark 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act.  LePage’s proposals would take move Maine backwards.  Take action to preserve Maine’s progress for generations to come.

Posted by on February 11th, 2011 No Comments


My 2-year-old nephew is very excited for Christmas. When I asked him what he would like Santa (aka, me) to bring, he exclaimed, “Toyyyyys!!!!” I should have known. 

Being the fastidious Aunt I am, I started researching presents. I came across what appeared to be common toys: train sets, stuffed animals, fire trucks, building blocks, books, puzzles. Then I came across a startling website that exposed the toxic truth behind many of today’s popular toys.

Toxic Toys R Us is working to inform consumers and investors about the dangerous chemicals lurking in children’s toys at Toys R Us—particularly PVC--the poison plastic. PVC has been linked to chronic diseases in children, birth defects, cancer, endocrine system disruption, reproductive impairment, and immune system suppression. Bottom line: PVC is really bad news.

You may be wondering why they are targeting just Toys R Us when there are numerous toy stores on the market. In 2008, Toys R Us made a promise to reduce PVC plastics, phthalates, and lead in children’s and infant’s toys--a promise they broke. Toys R Us continues to sell products containing PVC without warnings or labels of any kind.

A report from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) points out “in order for PVC to be used in toys, it must be mixed with lead, cadmium or organic chemicals containing tin.” When ingested, these chemicals are extremely toxic, especially for children. I think about my nephew playing with a PVC-laden toy, and imagine him biting it, or sticking it in the mouth of his younger sister. Though toys aren’t meant to be eaten, kids inadvertently ingest chemicals from them all the time.

What can you do to make sure the kids you care about aren’t being exposed to toxic chemicals? Take action and sign a petition urging Congress to eliminate PVC in toys. Share this story with your friends and family to help expose the truth. And most importantly, avoid buying toys containing PVC. Sign up with CHEJ to download a PVC-Free Guide for Your Family & Home.


Here are some companies and makers of non-toxic toys, suggested by our readers:

Posted by on December 2nd, 2010 No Comments

Green Halloween

My friends and I take Halloween very seriously. Each year we have a “group theme,” and work on our costumes for weeks leading up to the big day. 

Although we consider ourselves Halloween experts, we were in the dark about how horrifically toxic this holiday can be. Lead in children’s face paints, phthalates in masks, and costumes made from PVC are just a few of the ghastly truths I unveiled in my research. Luckily, thanks to several informative blogs and websites, there are ways to have a Green Halloween.

Some tips:

  1. Avoid face paint. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetic’s Report Pretty Scary revealed children’s face paints contain lead, nickel, cobalt and/or chromium, among other unidentified ingredients like “fragrance.” If you need to paint your face, check out some of these home-made face paint recipes.
  2. Ditch the Colored Hair Sprays. They contain toxic chemicals and shouldn’t be sprayed around eyes, mouth, nose, and definitely shouldn’t be inhaled! As that is pretty much impossible to avoid, opt for a wig instead.
  3. Buy PVC-Free Masks & Costumes. Community Mama reports many Halloween masks and costumes are made from PVC (the poison plastic) which can leach harmful gender-bending phthalates. If you can’t avoid them, look for ones that are marked “PVC-Free,” or make your own from what you have at home.
  4. Avoid Phthalates in Masks & Teeth. The reason those false teeth and masks are so flexible is because they’re made with endocrine-disrupting phthalates. Try making your own mask instead, or painting your face with homemade face paint.
  5. Steer Clear of Traditional Nail Polish. Most contain formaldehyde, tolulene, and acetone. Get Green Be Well recommends Hopscotch Kids or Piggy Paint as a safer alternative.
  6. Decorate Naturally. Opt for pumpkins, gourds, and cornstalks, instead of plastic decorations. You won’t be harming your guests, and it will look a lot less cheesy.
  7. Light Soy Candles.  Planet Green reports traditional candles are made from petroleum-based paraffin, carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins. Soy candles are safer, renewable, and biodegradable.
  8. Hand out organic, or natural treats. Organic chocolate is pesticide-free and lead-free.  It’s also full of powerful antioxidants. 

Posted by on October 14th, 2010 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

Cosmetics: Beauty and Health are More Than Skin Deep

unsafe cosmeticsSkin is the largest organ of the human body, which is why we should be more thoughtful when we slather, coat, and camouflage it.  People have been using cosmetics for thousands of years, yet the cosmetic industry is one of the least regulated industries in the United States.  Lack of regulation could be why a large number of cosmetic products contain lead, formaldehyde, parabens, and phthalates.  Since our bloodstream absorbs up to 60% of the products we apply to our skin, we should all be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies.

Currently, cosmetics and personal care products are not required to undergo testing in the United States, and their effects on human health are not monitored. An independent study in 2007 by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics revealed that 61% of the 33 lipsticks they tested contained lead—up to 0.65 parts per million.  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics challenged the FDA to conduct its own test. Two year’s later the results were in, revealing lead in 100% of the lipsticks tested by the FDA. The CDC states that there is no safe level of lead exposure, and yet, because of the lack of regulation, the average lipstick wearer will ingest 6 to 10 pounds of lipstick over the course of her lifetime, through regular application and wear.

Nail polish isn’t any better than lipstick. For at least a decade we’ve known that nail polish contains phthalates, which are linked to problems with male reproductive health.  Both diethylhexyl and dibutyl, phthalates commonly found in U.S. cosmetics, have been banned in Europe due to safety concerns but are perfectly legal here.  Nail polish also contains other harmful chemicals including toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate, chemicals all linked to cancer and birth defects.

What can be done to keep these toxic ingredients out of our personal care products? Legislation has been introduced in some states to ensure safe cosmetic legislation, but something needs to be passed at the federal level.  Until that happens, it is essential for us consumers to be conscious of the ingredients and potential health effects in our cosmetics.  Because researching safe cosmetics can be overwhelming we’ve provided a couple of websites to help navigate your way:

To learn more about the campaign for safe cosmetics go to:
To search for a product, ingredient, or company go to:
To see the top 10 cosmetic toxins to avoid go to:

Posted by on June 1st, 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


It is unneighborly to ship toxic e-waste to developing nations, to say the least. Used electronics contain lead, mercury, barium, arsenic...none of it good. Our waste impacts the poorest of the poor, in the of ugliest ways. See this quick synopsis:

The good news is that there are ways to convert some of our e-waste into humanitarian outreach. A wonderful company, named HopePhones
makes our converts our used phones into tools for medical outreach in impoverished and remote areas.

When a cell phone is sent to the HopePhones recycling center (detailed information is offered on their site), a value is assigned to the recycled phone, which is put toward purchase of a HopePhone.  These phones are distributed to community health workers at medical clinics in developing nations to connect them to distant patients.

"a $10 cell phone will give 50 families access to emergency medical care, health information, transportation services and clinic resources."

The average recycled phone enables the purchase of 2-3 HopePhones. According the their site, 1700 phones have been donated to date.

Should other opportunities present themselves to spin gold from straw, or to turn e-waste into life-changing technology, we will let you know.

Should you have any resources on this, please contact us so we can help spread the word.

Posted by on October 30th, 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