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

64 posts categorized "Consumer Education"


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


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.



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.


My mom: my motivation to work for safer chemicals and a healthier future for my family

By Tanwi Prigge, Maple Grove, Minnesota

Mom Me and RainaI am an Indian woman who came to US to study on a scholarship when I was 19 years old. I’m an IT professional and a US citizen, married to an American and a mother of a 3 year-old daughter. Being a mother has opened my eyes to so many dangers our kids face very early on and I cannot help but think of all the traditions and safe housekeeping my mother practiced to keep her family safe.  

When my daughter was born, my mother came to visit from India and in her luggage she carried cotton quilts, wooden and cloth toys, stainless steel utensils (some new and some as old as me!) cotton pillows, a gold necklace and lots of homemade baby items all made from natural materials. She told me that my first and foremost responsibility was to protect my child from all harm and that sentiment stuck with me.

Childhood memories

When I think back on my childhood, I remember my mother always cooking in stainless steel cookware, some of which has lasted for many years and now has been passed down to me. Even though her friends had their “new,” “revolutionary,” “modern,” and expensive non-stick cookware, she trusted her steel cookware more. Now, with what we know about the chemicals in those pans, I am glad she kept using time-tested and safe options.

And it wasn’t just in the kitchen that she avoided products filled with synthetic chemicals. We played with rag dolls and their matching outfits my grandma made of cotton and wool. We had cloth diapers and the changing pads were small quilts that were constantly washed and rotated…no wonder we were all potty trained before our first birthday!

How do we get out of this toxic mess?

Although I live in one of the most powerful and richest countries in the world with all the modern amenities one can imagine, I keep going back to the things that were safe and made with few synthetic chemicals for the sake of my family.

I strongly believe that parents can do a lot to protect their children from chemical hazards by making some simple changes to their lifestyle. I have eliminated unnecessary cleaning products, personal products, garden pesticides, pet care and household insect control. I have become a conscientious purchaser when buying household goods, children’s toys, pet food, clothing and cookware.

But changing our own behavior isn’t enough!

526681_10150796217716744_101152936743_10014513_1707973136_nOur government also plays a role in protecting public health from toxins. Other countries are taking this issue very seriously and are continuously working to regulate these harmful chemicals, especially in children’s products. Just as a mother’s foremost responsibility is to protect her children, our government’s responsibility should be to protect its citizens. I hope you’ll join me in standing by the Federal Safe Chemicals Act S. 847—we need our elected officials to do the right thing!

Tanwi Prigge migrated to the United States from India on a student scholarship at the age of 19. She is an IT professional with lots of energy and a passion to work for the common good through volunteer work and active involvement in the community. 



Lessons from my mom: Honoring toxic-free traditions this mother's day

By Caitlin Seath 

Mother silhouetteI grew up in the Canadian countryside and there my mom always made everything from scratch. She would often use recipes from her mom, my grandma. Even though she was raising the three of us on her own, she always made everything. How she found the energy, I will never know.

She passed that knowledge onto me before I started my own family. My first child came 4 weeks early, and within the first three months of life we knew that something was going on with his skin. We discovered that he had severe eczema; it was something that his dad had also suffered with.  We took that knowledge from my mom and grandmother and changed the way we cleaned, the products we used on our skin, and the food we ate.

Lessons learned

We used a vinegar recipe passed down from my grandma to clean almost everything. We had to special order clothes for our son made from 100% organic cotton. The typical baby products that are in stores may have smelled great, but they wreaked havoc on our baby's skin. The chemicals in these products provoked a burning, rash symptom. I was disgusted that our government even allowed such ingredients to be deemed safe to add to everyday products. We really had to become aware of what ingredients were safe and what to steer clear of.

When our son turned one, he had a birthday cake that he couldn't eat. We discovered the hard way that he was allergic to eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. He started going into shock. Luckily my husband and I had an antihistamine to give him and a quick ride to the hospital. Now we had to be vigilant about food. I don't know what I would've done without my mom, she helped us through all of our ups and downs, and gave us the knowledge to raise a healthy little boy.

I feel very lucky that I always had a fountain of information before we had our son. It could have been a lot harder. Fortunately we were already knowledgeable about foods and ingredients so we didn't have to change our lifestyle too much.

Finding safe products

The hurdle that we always and still do run into is being able to find safe products and food to purchase here in Minnesota. Luckily I could once again count on my mom. She still lives in Canada, so we would have her bring us a lot of the clothing and other products from there. We would also send away for various things from Europe. Their laws are stricter when it comes to having safe ingredients in their products. I see other countries protecting the health of children and I wonder why our government thinks it is acceptable to expose our children to harmful ingredients.

I know that our state is starting to take protective action in the vacuum of federal restrictions. I can only hope that it will get better.

Today, my son's eczema is under control, and my mom and I are creating new recipes for future birthday cakes!

Take Action

We can't shop our way out of this problem--in order to have safe, toxic-free products, we need the government to take action to protect our health. Join with the thousands of people who support chemical policy reform by signing the petition for the Safe Chemicals Act today!



Looking to manage pesky weeds the toxic-free way?

WeedMain copyIt seems that, after an April full of wacky weather in Minnesota, we may be on the track to the warm and sunny (and humid!) days of summer. And with summer, of course, comes yard and garden care. So get your gloves ready—Healthy Legacy has some great tips to start your summer right!

Let’s tackle a common source of frustration first: weeds. For many of us trying to manage green spaces without the use of harmful chemicals, weeds that return and multiply each and every year can be a sore subject (quite literally, too, when you spend the day pulling them by hand!) This tip will help you prevent future weeds in grassy spaces, for those of you that have them:

Tip: Apply corn gluten in the spring and fall to manage weeds. It won’t kill existing weeds, but prevents new ones from sprouting. It will become more effective with each application.

Remember: Corn gluten will prevent ANY seed from sprouting, including grass seeds—so you shouldn’t apply it in an area where you are trying to seed grass effectively.

Our colleagues at also just released testing results that found toxic chemicals in many common garden products (like garden hoses, kneeling pads and more), so before you head to the store, take a look at the findings for tips on how to find the safest products. You can also read the highlights of the findings on the Healthy Legacy website.

Dreading the need to clean the toxic products out of your shed? Sign the petition to congress demanding that they protect our families from toxic chemicals.

You can also download our Natural Lawn and Garden Care factsheet that has more tips for keeping your lawn healthy and non-toxic.


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