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

Posts Tagged ‘pesticides’

Safe Alternatives For Treating Head Lice

The first time I ran across head lice, my little sister brought them back from summer camp. Everyone in her cabin got them and everyone was sent home. Before Dad would let her in the house he asked her if she wanted to stay outside while he picked up the lice shampoo or if she wanted to shave her head. She was 14; it was the 90’s; she shaved her head.  She got an eyebrow, too before we could stop her.

My daughter brought back the same souvenirs her last day of school. A whole bunch of them.  It’s gross to see bugs on your baby’s scalp; but what’s even scarier is thinking about deliberately putting pesticides directly on her skin and rubbing it in.

Pesticides are poisons. They kill bugs and other living creatures. They also stop bugs from reproducing by disrupting their hormones. My little one hasn’t developed all her hormones yet; and I really don’t want to disrupt them. I’m also pregnant and don’t want mine or the new baby’s hormones disrupted either. So what did I do? A lot of research.

Neem oil and tea tree oil are a good one-two punch for breaking lice shells and killing the developing nits. Olive oil helps as a medium for both oils and eases the proteins that glue the nits to the hair. It also helps the lice comb glide through the hair. I recommend a ratio of about 3:1:1 – olive oil, neem oil, tea tree oil—and you only need about an ounce.   You just have to remember to do it at least twice with seven to ten days between treatments (just like the commercial stuff).

There are also commercial items on the market that are safer than others and you can find them through the EWG’s Skin Deep database. I hope you never need to use them.

Posted by on July 13th, 2012 No Comments

Organic Apple Orchards

Apple picking is undoubtedly one of New England’s most anticipated fall activities. Unfortunately, apples tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides. One study found evidence of 42 different pesticide residues on apples!

Luckily, New England is home to a growing number of certified organic apple orchards. The following orchards use organic growing practices or are certified organic, which means that they have been produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals (Organic Foods Production Act of 1990).


Raven Hill Orchard
225 Ossipee Hill Road, East Waterboro, Maine 04030 - 207-247-4455
In addition to more than 30 varieties of organic apples, this orchard also boasts a bakery and café filled with homemade, organic coffee and pastries. Their website invites the visitor to come “walk the orchard or sit by the fire,” making this an extremely inviting place to pick your own.

Sewall Organic Orchard
259 Masalin Road, Lincolnville, Maine 04849 - 207-763-3956
Sewall’s orchard is the “oldest organically certified orchard in Maine” and is located on the south side of Levensellar Mountain, making it also one of the most scenic apple picking spots in Maine.


Shelburne Orchards
216 Orchard Road, Shelburne, Vermont 05482 – 802-985-2753
Located on 80 acres overlooking Lake Champlain, Shelburne Orchards is another scenic apple picking spot that offers a 10 acre section of organically grown apples. This orchard also won the first ever “Sustainable Farm of the Year Award” in 1997.

Dwight Miller Orchards
511 Miller Road, East Dummerston, Vermont 05346 – 802-254-9635
This farm has been certified organic since 1996, and in addition to pick your own apples, the farm has pumpkins and squash. Definitely worth the trip, as the website claims that the Miller family has been cultivating the same land since before Vermont was a state!

New Hampshire

Alyson’s Orchard
615 Wentworth Road, Walpole, New Hampshire 03608 – 603-756-9800
Alyson’s follows organic growing practices and boasts 50 varieties of apples, including heirlooms.

Lost Nation Orchard, located in Groveton, New Hampshire, will unfortunately not be offering pick your own this year, but is a great resource for growing your own organic apples!

Know of other organic orchards? Let us know about them by leaving a comment!

Posted by on September 29th, 2010 4 Comments

Class in session: Pesticides 101

Today at the New Hampshire Statehouse, a committee is discussing the health effects of children’s exposure to pesticides.  Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is a part of the conversation, urging legislators and opinion leaders to stop using pesticides at public play spaces such as school play grounds, and to use safer alternatives.  Let’s take a minute to answer some questions (pay attention, there might be a quiz):

What exactly are pesticides?
Pesticides are used to control or kill weeds, bacteria, rodents, fleas and ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects or pests. They are made up of more than 1,000 active chemical ingredients and come in different forms: liquids, aerosols, baits, powders, concentrates, and fumigants.

Who makes sure pesticides are safe? 
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for regulating pesticide use, but their regulations have weaknesses that allow hazardous chemicals on the market. These exposures are often sufficient enough to cause illness.

How do I become exposed to pesticides?
You can encounter pesticides in your everyday activities: residue in water, food, dust, homes, schools, commercial buildings, parks, and other recreation areas. Chemicals may be eaten, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. You can also be exposed at work especially if you are an agriculture worker (farmer), landscaper, exterminator, or livestock breeder. (more…)

Posted by on June 15th, 2010 1 Comment

Bug-Sex Each Day Will Keep the Pesticides Away

Plant Crusher Culprit #1-Buddy the Cat

Plant Crusher#1-Buddy the Cat, a.k.a. Dr. Destructo

Spring has sprung in northern New England, and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. Among the many things I look forward to, starting a vegetable garden is on the top of my list. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as raising your own food against the odds. What odds do I face? The weather, my cats who think it’s their job to lie on top of my seedlings, and the biggest obstacle of all—the Very Hungry Caterpillar who tries to eat his way through everything I plant!

Since I can’t bring myself to use pesticides, I am delighted to hear of a new way of keeping crops pest-free! The answer? Over-sexed male bugs, or a “stud bug."

Researchers have come up with a plan to introduce “super-sexed” sterilized male bugs into the world, whose sole purpose in life is to get it on with females. These sterile males copulate with wild females, who are then unable to lay fertile eggs, thus reducing their population.

grasshopperWhile this may seem like a mean joke to those unsuspecting grasshoppers and fruit flies…Trust me when I say that this sex solution is a much kinder alternative to the traditional Death By Pesticide Asphyxiation. It’s also a win-win for humans, as it reduces the number of chemically-doused fruits and vegetables we consume each day.

Until these over-sexed males show up in my backyard, I guess I’ll just have to put up with my hungry friends. But if anyone has organic suggestions, please let me know.

Posted by on April 26th, 2010 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

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Environmental Justice

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s take a brief walk down memory lane and reflect on the close relationship between toxic environmental exposure and the disenfranchised populations in America.

It wasn’t long ago that hazardous and polluting industries were predominantly located in Black, Latino, and indigenous communities. I’d like to say this is a problem of the past, but unfortunately it is still an issue. More than 4.5 million people reside within 1.8 miles of the country’s hazardous waste facilities.

The groundwater in these communities is polluted with hazardous chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and pesticides like DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane).  These toxins are inhaled on a daily basis by the populations living there, triggering such irreversible illnesses discussed in this article and also here.

In the 1980’s, after hundreds of years of oppression in so many poverty-stricken populations, the environmental justice movement took root. Today, community and environmental activists, including Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, continue to work towards legislation that will protect not only our environment, but the people living in it.

PPNNE believes that all people, regardless of race or income level, have the right to receive non-toxic health care. With that end in mind, we are working toward the goal of “doing no harm” with our practices by doing everything we can to minimize reproductive contaminants (such as mercury, latex, and vinyl) in our health centers. And, because we feel that it is appropriate and responsible for our government to do its part, we’re also working to eliminate harmful chemicals in our air, water, and food by advocating for better public policy.

We hope you will take some time today to reflect on how far we have come in this social, racial and environmental justice movement. Please also remember that the fight for a green world for all is not yet over.

Posted by on January 18th, 2010 No Comments

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

Summer Reading

Do you want in depth information on the links between human health & the environment? Are you  just looking for a good book to read on the beach?  Do you doubt the existence of one book that fits both of these criteria? Please, allow Dr. Sandra Steingraber to prove you wrong!

Steingraber is a scientist and a storyteller. She weaves biographical information, history, and scientific data into a coherent picture of how “Lifestyle and environment are not independent categories that can be untwisted from each other: to talk about one is to talk about the other” (Steingraber, 1997).


Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment examines the link between chemicals and cancer, challenging the heavy emphasis we place on genetics and lifestyle as causes for cancer.  Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood discusses the ecology of pregnancy. Both books are a strong argument for the precautionary principle: that chemicals should not be released into the environment until we know they are “almost certainly not going to hurt anyone” and that least toxic alternatives should always be used (Steingraber, 1997).

Dr. Steingraber is the key note speaker at PPNNE’s upcoming Critical Link conference. She is as compelling a speaker as she is a writer. We hope you will come see her in person.

Read any good environmental health books lately? Let me know. I am looking for more summer reading.

Posted by on June 15th, 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