Healthy Legacy: Healthy people, a clean environment, a thriving economy.


A germ-free Mississippi? Antibacterial products and our water

By Kim LaBo, Healthy Legacy Organizer at Clean Water Fund Minnesota.

Mississippi River_Mpls_WebEvidently the Mississippi River is now germ free thanks to thousands of Minnesotans washing antibacterial soaps, toothpaste and cleaners down the drain.

At least that is the result you would expect given the level of chemicals in the river from antibacterial products has increased more than 200% since the 1960’s.

Instead, we have carcinogenic dioxins being formed when antibacterial chemicals like triclosan break down in our water. When exposed to chlorine and sunlight during the wastewater treatment process triclosan turns into several dioxins (DCDD, TriCDD and TCDD) that threaten the health of our water and the fish, frogs and other aquatic life in the Mississippi.

For decades, marketing companies have successfully convinced the American public we must use antibacterial hand soap and cleaners to kill harmful germs or our households will be besieged by illness. More recently the antibacterial craze has spread to deodorant, toothpaste and even clothing.

As a result of this marketing the sale of antibacterial products has skyrocketed and more Americans are using antibacterial products than ever before. Walk down the aisle of your local drugstore and you will find at least half of the hand soaps contain the antibacterial chemical triclosan.

Unfortunately the triclosan craze is just craziness. Proper hand washing is more effective in preventing illnesses and infections than antibacterial soap

Our families are not safer because they use antibacterial products.  Instead we are exposing our children and family members to a chemical that can harm our health and we are polluting our water.

So the next time you are walking down the drugstore aisle, read the label on your soap and other products. Look for products that don’t contain Triclosan for the sake of our health and water.

Photo courtesy of kla4067 via flickr


Toxic phthalates in back-to-school supplies

Last week the Center for Healthy, Environment and Justice and the Empire State Consumer Project released findings from a report that found elevated levels of phthalates in common back to school products like backpacks, lunchboxes, three-ring binders and more. Many of the products contained high levels of phthalates that are not allowed in children's toys.

Are you headed to the store for some last-minute shopping? Be sure to take a look at this coverage from KARE 11 on what to look for at the store--and check out CHEJ's helpful PVC-free back to school guide for more helpful tips.


Hold the estrogen—leave your receipt

By David Wallinga, Senior Advisor on Science, Food and Health at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

IStock_000008207144XSmallYou’ve probably heard about the hormone-disrupting chemical, BPA, put into food can liners. Eden Foods, a maker of canned beans, tomatoes and other products, gave BPA the boot long ago.

Campbell’s Soup, among other companies, has announced it will phase BPA out of cans, but without disclosing when, or what alternative(s) will replace it.

In fact, food is a major route of exposure to all sorts of chemicals like BPA. Just not the only route. It turns out BPA also is part of that that filmy coating on ATM and other receipts. Known as thermal receipt paper, it’s widely used in cash registers, for airline tickets, even in adhesive labels on grocery deli foods.

An estrogen-coated receipt in your purse? Big yuck. Even worse, new science suggests BPA can be absorbed through the skin. As usual, we know there are alternatives. The EPA’s Design for the Environment Program just released a draft report on 19 chemical alternatives to BPA for use in developing thermal paper.

EPA is welcoming comments through October 12, 2012



What you need to know about “BPA-Free”

By Kathleen Schuler, Senior Policy Analyst at IATP and Healthy Legacy Co-Director

Water bottleEven after many plastic manufacturers have phased out the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in their products, the possibility of other hormone-disrupting chemicals in plastic continues to be a concern. NPR recently reported on a dispute between Eastman Chemical, which makes Tritan, a BPA-free chemical used to make some water bottles, and two companies that test for plastic safety

By now most people are familiar with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical component of polycarbonate plastic. BPA is a problem because it leaches out of the plastic and into the food or beverage contained within. The chemical is also linked to numerous health problems.  BPA is a hormone disrupter, which means that it interferes with the delicate hormone balance in the human body. Exposure to BPA is associated with increased risk of cancer, reproductive problems and even diabetes.

But BPA is not the only chemical that can be released from plastics under the right conditions and it’s also not the only chemical in plastics that is hormonally active. The study at issue here was authored by Dr. Chun Yang and colleagues (Dr. George Bittner is a co-author on the study and was quoted in the NPR story) and found chemicals with estrogenic activity in a wide variety of plastic products they tested.  

Their study found that hundreds of plastic food and beverage containers (including baby bottles, water bottles, deli containers, food wrap and more) leached detectable amounts of chemicals having estrogenic activity (EA), including products labeled “BPA-free,” when exposed to sunlight, boiling water or microwaving. EA means that the chemical can interact with estrogen receptors in the human body. Like BPA, other EAs are associated with an array of health problems, such as early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, obesity, altered behaviors and reproductive cancers.  

Eastman-Tritan now labels their water bottles as not only “BPA-free,” but “EA free” as well.

Comprehensive, independent, third-party laboratories using well-recognized methods have confirmed that Tritan does not contain estrogenic activity (EA) and androgenic activity (AA). Eastman is confident in these test results despite recent false and misleading statements about Tritan made by PlastiPure, Inc. and its sister company CertiChem, Inc. These companies rely on the results from a screening test (called the MCF-7 test), which is known in the scientific community to be a non-definitive, non-final test for EA.

I’m not in a position to question the credibility of Tritan’s claims or of the testing methods used in the Yang study, but the controversy brings to light some important take home messages for consumers, citizens and policymakers.


While it might be hard to interpret what’s behind the labels, whether it’s “BPA free” or “EA free,” you can follow a few precautionary guidelines for safe use of plastics, including:

  1. At minimum purchase BPA-free plastics or consider alternatives to plastic such as stainless steel or glass.
  2. Don’t microwave anything in plastic.
  3. Avoid using plastic containers for hot food and beverages. If you do, cool the contents first. 
  4. Keep plastic containers away from sunlight. If you plan to be in the sun, consider using a stainless steel or glass water bottle.
  5. Discard old and scratched plastic containers that can experience increased chemical leaching. 

For more helpful tips on how to avoid problem plastics, check out our Smart Plastics Guide.

Policymakers and citizens:  

We must ensure that all consumer plastic products are free of all chemicals that disrupt hormones. Please support policies that protect public health from hormone disrupting chemicals, for example:

  1. Restrict uses of BPA in food can linings, an important source of BPA exposure especially affecting pregnant women and young children.
  2. Ask the U.S. Senate to pass the Safe Chemicals Act to reform our outdated chemical regulatory system and require safety testing for all chemicals before they are used in products.

Sign up to hear from Healthy Legacy and Healthy Food Action on how to advocate for policies that protect our products and our food system from EAs and other harmful chemicals. 

Photo courtesy of sielju on flickr


Selling Pesticides to Kids: Unthinkable? Think Again!

By Kathleen Schuler, Healthy Legacy Co-Director and Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

image from farm7.staticflickr.comRecently, Lynn Peeples at the Huffington post reported on how the pesticide industry is expanding its marketing to kids. The Mosquito Squad is a child-focused marketing scheme to sell kids on the need to spray dangerous pesticides to control those horrible monsters - mosquitoes! The free coloring books the Mosquito Squad offers to kids feature Dread Skeeter, poised to rescue you with his backpack-mounted pesticide spray gun. The solution, they claim, is to get your parents to have the Mosquito Squad spray your backyard so you don’t have to deal with those pesky mosquitoes.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time companies have tried to market products containing harmful chemicals to children. In 1929 Dutch Boy had an extensive campaign geared to sell kids on the benefits of white lead paint. They distributed Dutch Boy puppets and paint books to sell their 91% pure lead paint. One paint book was titled “A Magical Trip to Paint Land” and another was called “Dutch Boy Conquers Old Man Gloom.” Now we know that lead is a potent brain toxin and exposure to lead increases the risk for learning disabilities, reduced IQ and behavior problems. Lead in paint was not banned until 1978, in spite of the fact that the paint industry had known about the toxic effects of lead for sixty years. The resulting legacy is tens of thousands of children exposed to the neurotoxic effects of lead and significant financial burdens to society and individuals that we are still paying for, as we deal with lead poisoning and remediating houses and schools that contain lead paint.  

Fast forward to 2012. It’s outrageous that companies are still using children to sell toxic chemicals. With lead we made the mistake of exposing kids with a presumption of safety and are still dealing with the toxic legacy that lead paint has left us.  We need to learn from that experience: the legacy of potentially thousands of kids exposed to pesticides linked with developmental and reproductive effects, asthma and hormone disruption is yet unknown, but there is good reason to believe that we don’t escape unharmed from run-ins with pesticides. Whether spraying to control mosquitoes is even effective is debatable. The Mosquito Squad is scaring kids with the threat of mosquitos, while putting them at risk for potentially serious adverse health effects. Whether to use pesticides or not (I hope not) is a decision for grown-ups. Tell the Mosquito Squad to “grow up” and stop marketing to kids.    

Photo courtesy of trekbody on flickr


Talk to Candidates about Toxic Chemicals

By Kim LaBo, Healthy Legacy Organizer, Clean Water Action Minnesota

Blue_window_signThis summer when there is an unexpected knock at your door, rather than giving into the temptation of pretending you’re not home (we’ve all done it), answer it.  Odds are it will be one of the many candidates running for state office. Believe me, there will be a lot – ALL of the state senate and house seats are up this year. 

Click on the image at right to open a full size (8.5 x 11) window sign that you can print and hang up at home!

The election season, which will start in full swing this summer, is a great opportunity for you to talk to talk to candidates about protecting our health and environment from toxic chemicals.  It is the only time of year candidates will be knocking on your door, asking for your vote.  Tell candidates you want to know their position on getting toxic chemicals out of consumer products. What they hear from you and your neighbors will influence what issues they talk about during their campaign and what issues they will support once elected. You can even use this handy guide for some talking points on toxic chemicals

But you don’t have to wait for them to knock on your door. There will be many opportunities to talk to candidates at community forums or other meet and greet events.  Don’t know where to find these events? Just visit your political party’s website for a list of candidates and events. Or visit the campaign web site of the candidates in your district.

So get out there and talk to your candidates. We know the chemical lobbyists will…


Honesty is the best policy: BPA-free doesn’t always = toxic-free

Canned food_flickr_istorijaJust a few short years ago BPA, a chemical relatively unknown to the general public, was used in a plethora of consumer products: from baby bottles to receipt paper to food can linings and more. As we’ve worked to educate the public about the health concerns related to BPA: breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity and reproductive harm, to name a few, the call to phase this harmful chemical out of everyday products has grown to a roar.

We’re proud of that success! Thanks to consumer pressure, several state laws have been enacted to ban BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups and many companies have taken action of their own accord. Some canned food manufacturers, like Campbell’s, are transitioning away from using BPA in can linings. Unfortunately phasing out this one problem chemical isn’t enough, since the laws that are meant to regulate toxics in the United States are woefully inadequate. This is especially true for the chemicals in our food packaging. Because the FDA’s system for evaluating and approving chemicals in food packaging is so out of date, toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and phthalates are perfectly legal to use in food.

The campaign to get BPA out of canned food is not just about BPA (though of course it’s a chemical we’re very concerned about). While we need to focus on harmful individual chemicals, we also need to start asking more of our manufacturers. We need to ensure that the foods and products all of us come into contact with on a daily basis are truly safe. To reach that goal, companies like Campbell’s need be open and honest about their timeline to phase BPA out of cans. They also need to disclose what alternative chemical they will use in its place and the process they used to determine that chemical was safe.

Eden Foods is a great example of a company that has led the way in not only phasing BPA out of food cans, but also in being transparent with consumers about what they use in its place. Their website has in-depth information both about the alternatives they use and why they made the decision to go BPA-free. This is the high bar of honesty that consumers want and expect from the brands they trust.

Soon, we’ll be sharing an opportunity for you to get involved with this issue—so please stay tuned! In the meantime, learn more about how to avoid BPA and other toxic chemicals in canned food.

Photo from istorija on flickr.



Flame retardant peanut butter?

PB sandwichA new study just published online ahead of print in Environmental Health Perspectives has found a toxic flame retardant, HBCD, in many common grocery store foods including peanut butter, cold cut meats, fish and more.

HBCD is a chemical used in polysterene foam insulation, some textiles and electrical applications. Exposure to the chemical often occurs through dust. Because of concerns about it's toxicity (including reproductive harm and endocrine disruption) and its presence in the environment, the Minnesota Department of Health named HBCD to the priority chemicals list in 2011

The findings in the new study are of concern because HBCD had not previously been found in food. While eating one peanut butter sandwich may not lead to a specific health problem, it is yet another source of daily exposure to a mixture of problem chemicals we experience on an ongoing basis. Because HBCD is a fat-loving chemical, researchers tested foods like peanut butter with higher fat content. Once in the body, HBCD may also bind to fat there, allowing it to stick around for a long period of time.

HBCD is under the microscope at the international level, too, where it is under review for designation as a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP). Alternatives to HBCD are often already available on the European market.

Ultimately this study points to a larger problem of harmful chemicals that are ending up in unexpected places. And even if one harmful flame retardant is banned, another chemical, often just as toxic, can be substituted in its place. That happens because the current law meant to regulate chemicals in the U.S., the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is completely ineffective. There are currently more than 80,000 chemicals on the market, but the EPA has only required safety testing on about 200, with only five ever being restricted under the law.

That's why we support passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (and co-sposnored by Minnesota Senators Franken and Klobuchar, among others) that would overhaul TSCA. In the meantime, you can use our Quick Tips to Avoid Priority Chemicals fact sheet to help reduce your exposure to the nine chemicals on the Minnesota priority chemicals list.

Photo from anthro_aya on flickr.


Bringing the Stroller Brigade Home

By Martha Moriarty, LDA Minnesota

I'm a "Minnesota Mom" and glad to be one.

Frankens officeThis week I had the honor of being a part of the National Stroller Brigade, a march to support the Safe Chemicals Act in Washington, D.C. Prior to leaving for the event, I saw the trip as part of my job.  You see, I work at LDA Minnesota, a nonprofit helping children, youth, adults, and families with learning and attention difficulties, including learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.  LDA Minnesota advocates for toxic chemical reform because many of these chemicals are neurotoxins and can lead to learning and developmental disabilities in our children.  The children and families we help face a lifetime of challenges including learning to read, managing relationships, and holding a job.  I was traveling to the Stroller Brigade on behalf of over 3,000 children and families we help each year who struggle with learning and ADHD.

Micaela of Mindful Momma and Martha get ready to head in to their meeting with Senator Franken's staff.

However, after being a part of the Stroller Brigade and spending two days with a group of moms (and a few dads) who are all concerned about toxic chemicals in everyday products, especially children's products, I've embraced my role as a proud "Minnesota Mom" and see that this issue extends beyond my professional life.  It's an issue close to home, too. It touches my life as a mom of two young children that I hope will live healthy, long lives, and as a daughter of a parent who is battling cancer.

LDA affiliate reps
Martha with representatives of LDA from all across the country.

I'm lucky to live in a state that has passed laws to protect our children from toxic chemicals in everyday products, like the BPA-ban in sippy cups and baby bottles.  I feel lucky to have Senators who both have signed on as co-sponsors of the Safe Chemicals Act, a proposed law that would ensure that chemicals are safe and tested before they end up in consumer products.  And, I feel lucky to have the Healthy Legacy coalition and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families working on my behalf to pass these laws to protect our children now and into the future.

But much work still lies ahead.  The Minnesota Department of Health has released a list of nine priority chemicals that are harmful to our health and continue to be a source of exposure for kids. As a mom and an advocate, I want all Minnesota kids to be safe from exposure to these and other harmful chemicals.  And more than that, I want to live in a country where our health is valued and protected.  That's why we urgently need action on the Safe Chemicals Act, too.

Senators Lautenberg and Durbin speak to the media about the need for chemical policy reform. 

As I boarded the plane to head home to our beautiful state, full of natural resources and above-average citizens, I put my "mom hat" back on and began thinking about what to cook for dinner, what time I had to pick up the kids from school and daycare, and when I was going to fit in grocery shopping before the holiday weekend arrives.  But I stopped for a moment and recognized that all of the moms I met in D.C. must not put away our Stroller Brigade work for too long.  This work of protecting our families needs to happen.  The time is now to pass the Safe Chemicals Act and we can't let the momentum slow, we must continue to raise our voices and demand the change that is so urgently needed to protect our families.



Fight back against chemical industry deception!

Furniture on fireLast week, the Chicago Tribune set the (presumably flame retardant) collective pants of the chemical industry on fire by exposing their deceptive tactics to the public.

At issue? The millions of dollars invested by the chemical industry into passing legislation that would essentially require the use of harmful chemicals in furniture, electronics, foam baby products and more (they also actively worked against bills to ban toxic flame retardants). We’re concerned about flame retardants because they are often linked with harmful health effects like cancer, neurotoxicity, reduced fertility and thyroid hormone disruption.

And as if that weren’t enough, the series went on to highlight how Big Tobacco actively worked with the chemical industry to promote the use of harmful flame retardants in furniture, all so they wouldn’t have to produce a self-extinguishing cigarette (the cause of many-a-house fire in the 1980s).

How did they do it? They established an industry front group to advocate their cause, misrepresented the science on flame retardants, and paid a burn doctor to testify about infant burn victims, whose lives might have been saved by the use of chemical flame retardants (his story has been thoroughly discredited).

Clearly, American families are up against corporate giants when it comes to protecting out health from toxic chemicals. We need to act now to do something about it! Consumer education isn’t enough. We need to demand that our products be safe and tested before they hit store shelves.

Today, hundreds of moms, cancer survivors and advocates are in DC to demand passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, which would make corporations responsible for the safety of the chemicals they create and use in their products. It’s about time!

Send a message to our Minnesota Senators Klobuchar (Facebook and Twitter: @amyklobuchar) and Franken (Facebook and Twitter: @AlFranken) to thank them for their support of this legislation and urge them to continue to be leaders in protecting our health!

  1. Sample Facebook message: @Amy Klobuchar, thank you for co-authoring the Safe Chemicals Act! We need to protect Minnesota families by making sure chemicals are safe and tested before they end up in our products. I hope you’ll continue to be a leader in protecting our health!
  2. Sample Twitter message: @AlFranken thx for your support of the #SafeChemicalsAct! 120k+ signatures delivered 2 the senate in support of the bill #StrollerBrigade

Until Congress steps up and passes the Safe Chemicals Act, here’s a tip to help you reduce your exposure to flame retardants:

Tip: Avoid furniture that has a label stating it meets CA flame retardant TB 117, an outdated standard that requires excessive amounts of flame retardants be added to furniture foam. You can also reduce exposure to flame retardants that end up in household dust by mopping floors frequently and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

 Photo from John Niedermeyer on flickr.

Healthy Legacy