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4 posts from June 2012


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.

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