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9 posts categorized "New Science"


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


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



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.


Everyday Products contain chemicals linked to hormone disruption and asthma

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

image from

Yet another study has found dangerous chemicals in products we and our children use every day. A peer-reviewed study, published last week in Environmental Health Perspectives, detailed testing by the Silent Spring Institute of 213 consumer products, including cleaning products, cosmetics, sunscreens, air fresheners, shower curtains and more, to detect the presence of harmful chemicals. 

 Previous studies have found a variety of harmful chemicals in household dust. The current study helps to identify some of the potential sources of the chemicals showing up there. Unfortunately, incomplete labeling makes this research more difficult. The study found that many of the chemicals detected were not on the product label. 

Researchers found 55 compounds, including the following and many more:

  1. Phthalates in perfumes, car air fresheners, vinyl pillow protectors and shower curtains, dryer sheets, car wax and interior cleaners, tub and tile cleaner, bar soap, shaving cream and lipstick- all unlabeled!
  2. Bisphenol A in vinyl pillow protectors and shower curtains, dish and laundry detergent, tub and tile cleaner, soaps, lotions, shampoo, conditioner and sunscreen - all unlabeled!
  3. Synthetic fragrances in facial cleansers, floor cleaner, sunscreen, perfume, dryer sheets, home and car air fresheners- in 12 of 34 products unlabeled!

Even if consumers read the label, they can’t avoid these “hidden” chemicals.  Consumers need better labeling so they can make safer product choices. But we also need to take steps to remove these harmful chemicals from every day consumer products.

Take action!

This study found unlabeled phthalates and bisphenol A in a variety of products. Both of these chemicals are on the Minnesota Priority Chemicals list, which identifies harmful chemicals that children are most likely to be exposed to. That’s why we need to pass HF2543/SF1766, which requires manufacturers to report if they have a product containing a “priority chemical.” This information will help us inform parents about which products to avoid.

Write to your state senator and representative today, asking them to support the Priority Chemical Reporting Bill!



What's up with the FDA?

Over the past several days, two big stories about toxics in products have come to light, and both involve the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So you might find yourself asking "What is up with the FDA?"

Here's a brief summary of what's happened:

Lead in lipstick...still

In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics broke a story about most popular lipsticks containing
lead. The FDA did it's own testing and found that there were small amounts of lead (five parts per million [ppm] or less) in many brands.

Now the FDA has updated their tests and found that some brands (Maybelline and L’Oreal) now have more than five ppm. We know that lead is a neurotoxin--it's high time it stop showing up in our cosmetics! The FDA does not have a current limit set for the amount of lead in lipsticks, and we think it's time for that to change! In the meantime, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has started a campaign pushing L'Oreal to get the lead out--take action now!

Arsenic in infant formula and cereal bars

A new peer-reviewed study released yesterday found arsenic in infant formula and cereal bars. Perhaps more surprising to many consumers is that the two brands of organic formula that were tested contained levels of arsenic 20 times higher than the non-organic varieties. This is because the main ingredient in the formula is organic brown rice syrup, which is sometimes substituted for high fructose corn syrup (another problematic sweetener, found to contain mercury—yet another harmful chemical). Unfortunately, there are no current standards under the organic label that prohibit arsenic ending up in certified food.

Arsenic can be found in many foods. Some seafood, for example, has arsenic from the earth’s crust that makes its way up the food chain. But Infant formula contaminated with arsenic is a different kind of problem—a preventable problem. It has more to do with an industrial food system where ingredients are added to processed or manufactured foods with little government oversight, leaving consumers ignorant of the risks to their children and families.

For moms, it’s yet another reason to save money (and worry) by breastfeeding babies whenever possible. We know that breast milk is the best baby food to put her or him on the path to a healthy life. But for those who must use formula, try to avoid products that list organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient (or any sweetener, for that matter).

IATP (a founding member of Healthy Legacy) tested chicken meat in 2006, uncovering the fact that it was contaminated with arsenic, that for 60 years has been needlessly added to poultry feed. This, too, is an avoidable problem. In 2010, we petitioned the FDA and asked that the allowable amount of arsenic in animal feed be reduced. It’s going on two years later, and we’ve received no response.

FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg—a mom and physician herself—could do better. So could formula companies. Give them a call.


Who invited BPA to Thanksgiving Dinner?

Jerad_MCCBy Jerad Morey, Minnesota Council of Churches

Thanksgiving is a time to pause and reflect. What blessings have you received this year? What do you have to be grateful for? Pastors often ask parishioners to think with joy upon what God has done in their lives as they look around a table of gathered generations of friends and family.

While we may be blessed with health, food, friends and family, how are we treating these blessings? We believe that through sharing table and food we are building and strengthening our community and expressing our gratitude for life. But have food manufacturers tainted our thanks?

According to today’s report, "BPA in Thanksgiving Canned Food", those of us who use canned green beans, pumpkin, or other popular canned Thanksgiving products to express gratitude or to celebrate abundance may actually be giving a toxic gift to ourselves and those we love. These canned foods contain high levels of BPA, a hormone disruptor linked to early puberty, obesity and cancer. It is especially dangerous in the bodies of infants, children and pregnant women.

We couldn’t have been expected to know about the accidental chemicals we were feeding the ones we loved most! The groceries tested in this report don’t sit on a shelf next to warning labels saying “Contains BPA.”  We won’t find “hormone disruptors” in the nutrition information label. Thankfully, this report can help us prepare a meal that truly expresses joy for our family and friends without stuffing them full of artificial toxins.

This Thanksgiving, make sure your table centerpiece is a horn-a-plenty filled with blessings, not a cornucopia of carcinogens. Read the report. Shop accordingly. And let canned food manufacturers know that your holiday wish is for BPA-free food. Next year safer food might be one more blessing you can be thankful for.


Editor's note: This blog previously mentioned that canned cranberries may contain BPA. We want to clarify that the testing results in the new Breast Cancer Fund report found that OceanSpray Jellied Cranberry Sauce had non-detectable levels of BPA.


New Study Finds Increased Levels of Toxic Flame Retardant in Fish

A new study recently accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology has found that the concentration of the flame retardant chemical HBCD to have increased in recent years in tested fish in Virginia and North Carolina.

The rise in HBCD levels over this time seems to coincide with the elimination of penta-DBE, another toxic flame retardant that was phased out of use in 2004.

While HBCD has been less studied than other halogenated flame retardants, the science regarding the health effects linked with HBCD (like learning and developmental problems) was enough to land it on Minnesota's Priority Chemicals list, which includes nine toxic chemicals that are harmful to children's health.

You can take a look at the study here. You can also get tips on avoiding HBCD and the other chemicals on the priority chemicals list here.


Toxic Flame Retardants are Hidden and Harmful

By Karen Einisman, Women's Cancer Action

IStock_000005757801MediumParenting. It’s the hardest job I have ever had. From the minute my children were born, I took on the  responsibility of keeping them safe. While I was still pregnant, I painstakingly researched the perfect stroller, the safest car seat, the best high chair. The list went on and on. But, it wasn’t until I started paying attention to the chemical problem in this country that I realized that all of my preparation didn’t truly help me protect my children from serious harm.

Take the new study released today, for example, that found 80 percent of all baby products tested contained chemical flame retardants that are considered toxic…80 percent! The study, published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science & Technology Journal, analyzed 101 children’s products for flame retardants. A wide range of products—from nursing pillows to high chairs and everything in between—were sent in from around the country and tested.

Almost one-third of the tested products contained TDCPP or chlorinated Tris, a possible human carcinogen that was removed from children’s pajamas over health concerns when I was a kid.  Chlorinated Tris has been linked to cancer of the liver, kidney, brain and testis.  And, that’s just one of the chemical flame retardant mentioned in this study. The list of flame retardants found in these popular baby products is an alphabet soup of acronyms that no parent should have to memorize.

According to Arlene Blum, PhD, co-author of this study, flame retardants migrate out of the products and into our homes and our bodies, affecting IQ levels, disrupting hormones and impairing development. In fact, experts say that these chemicals are linked to some of today’s biggest health problems.

That’s why I have been avoiding flame retardants in pajamas (yes, they substituted chlorinated tris for another toxic flame retardant) ever since my pediatrician warned me about them—an easy task since they are labeled. Most products are not.

Until I started paying attention to the issue of toxic chemical reform, I had no idea the extent to which these chemicals were present in the very things I used to keep my kids safe! It’s horrifying to think that my children’s bedrooms and playrooms were and are filled with toxic substances that can seriously harm them. The unfortunate news that this study brings is a blatant reminder of why we need toxic chemical reform in this country. Hopefully, by the time my kids have kids, they won’t have to have a degree in chemistry to go shopping.

What are the concerns about toxic flame retardants?

A new study* found that 80% of baby products tested contained toxic flame retardants. Products tested included nursing pillows, car seats, sleeping wedges, portable crib mattresses, baby carriers, strollers and changing table pads. Toxic flame retardants were prevalent in products that contained polyurethane foam. The chemicals can leak from the foam and get into dust, which gets on to hands and food, exposing children through ingestion and inhalation. Flame retardants found in foam baby products include neurotoxin penta-BDE (already banned in MN and 11 other states) and chlorinated tris, which was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s because it was a suspected carcinogen.

Tips to Reduce Exposure**

  1. Keep dust levels down by wet mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA filter.
  2. Wash your hands and your children’s hands often.
  3. Purchase new and used baby products and furniture filled with cotton, polyester or wool, rather than polyurethane foam.
  4. Avoid products containing polyurethane foam and have a TB117 label (California fire retardant standard), which are likely to contain chemical flame retardants.
  5. Write or call the manufacturer to inquire whether the product contains flame retardants.
  6. Find out more and take action at and
  7. Safe brands include:

•    BabyLuxe organic pads and mattresses
•    BabyBjorn baby carriers
•    OrbitBaby strollers and car seats
•    Boppy nursing pillows

*Stapleton HM, Klosterhaus S, Keller A, Ferguson PL et al. Identification of flame retardants in polyurethane foam collected from baby products. Environmental Science and Technology, online May 18, 2011.

**Adapted from “Flame Retardants in Baby Products: What You Can Do”, Green Science Policy Institute,


Food packaging major exposure route for BPA

A new peer-reviewed study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives has found evidence suggesting that food packaging is a major source of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA).

Breast-cancer-fund The study, conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute, recruited five  families (each with two parents and two children, for a total of 20 people) and tested them for levels of BPA and certain phthalates in their urine while feeding them a diet of freshly prepared foods. 

41791_133587755319_960_nBPA is a known endocrine disrupting chemical and has been linked to numerous health effects, including behavioral changes,  early onset puberty, reproductive harm, diabetes and even cancer. Due to its dubious reputation, it was also recently named on the Minnesota Priority Chemicals list, which includes toxins that are harmful to children and are present in products kids are exposed to. Phthalates are no treat either, having been linked to poor sperm quality, obesity, and cancer.

What did the study do?

On the first two days of the study, participants ate as they normally do. On the following three days they were provided with freshly prepared organic meals--no canned food, and no plastic storage containers. After that they went back to their normal diets.

The levels of BPA and a particular phthalate called DEHP (used in food packaging) dropped substantially (an average of 60% for the BPA, and 50% for DEHP) during the three days when participants were only eating the freshly prepared foods.

Reduce your BPA exposure

Bpa_topten_media These findings suggest that food packaging (canned food, grease resistant wrappers and polycarbonate bottles, for example) is a major exposure route for BPA and that removing it from food packaging would lead to an immediate and significant drop in BPA levels for the general population.

One recommendation from the authors is to cut out consumption of pre-packaged foods and to  cook from fresh as much as possible. They've even created this handy chart which shows the top ten canned foods that leach the most BPA, so start by avoiding those if you can.

BPA and phthalates have both been linked to certain types of cancer. You can act now by asking President Obama to take a strong stand on getting these cancer causing chemicals out of our products!

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