@GreenMoms Take On Cosmetics: Safe or Unsafe? And Should We Support the Safe Cosmetics Act?: It’s the Green Moms Carnival!

July 31st, 2010

We’ve got a wonderful round-up of posts from members of the Green Moms Carnival, women who have been following the debate about cosmetics ingredients for years, and have interesting stories to share.

Let’s start off with Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse. Diane blogs “evidence is emerging that the cumulative use of these products may be contributing to asthma, the onset of puberty in girls as young as three years old, and even the feminization of baby boys. Because cosmetics, soaps and shampoos are washed down the drain, they get into our water system, where they’re wreaking havoc on wildlife. And what about their relationship to breast cancer?”

But Diane doesn’t leave us hanging – she gives three common-sense ways we can reduce our exposure to the potential risks of cumulative exposure to low doses of chemicals.

Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish tells the story of why she tried to get away from a cute seat mate on a recent flight. “His Axe cologne, or whatever heinous product he was wearing, made my eyes water, nose itch, throat close up, and left me with a throbbing headache.”

That’s something I’ve experienced as well. Once you stop using synthetic fragrances, it’s hard to even be around them. A walk down a grocery store aisle – or a whiff of last year’s BlogHer room drops – can leave you feeling miserable.

Lisa from Condo Blues recounts an interesting discussion with a research scientist from a personal care company.

“One of the biggest secrets about what chemicals (or not) is in a product is what makes up the product’s fragrance,” she notes.  “Last summer, I had the chance to talk to a representative from a large personal care company. She claimed that even her company didn’t know what was in the fragrances of their products because they buy the fragrance from a special fragrance house that has a super secret formula and ironclad nondisclosure agreement that says the fragrance house won’t tell the company what’s in the signature scent of their brand of shampoo.”

Katy at Non-Toxic Kids makes a case for showing The Story of Cosmetics to friends who may be unfamiliar with the battle for safer cosmetics. As she puts it, “Why should you care?  There is a growing body of research showing links between many of the chemicals in our personal care products and serious diseases and conditions.  Chemicals like triclosan, phthalates, parabens are in most cosmetics.   Phthalates are often labeled as “fragrance”.  Triclosan is labeled as an “antibacterial.”

And no one is looking at their synergistic effect on our bodies, especially those who are developing and growing at rapid rates:  our children.   The companies who make these products are using many chemicals that have never been independently tested for safety.  That’s right, never.”

Linda from Citizen Green presents a well researched post that follows-up on Katy’s assertion. As Linda blogs, “Only 11 percent of the 10,500 ingredients in personal care products have been assessed for safety by the cosmetics industry.”

And that’s the reason Deanna of Crunchy Chicken blogs “Make sure you start checking your product labels!” 

Karen of Best of Mother Earth pulls no punches when she asks, “How can cosmetic companies like Estee Lauder raise funds for cancer research and produce products with carcinogens in them? Shouldn’t they start in their own back yard and produce a safe cosmetic in the first place?”

I always especially enjoy the contributions of our Carnival members from outside the United States. In Amber’s post at Strocel.com, Story of Cosmetics:  Canadian Edition,  she blogs about the situation in Canada – how in some ways it parallels the situation in the US, and yet how there are subtle differences. For example, Canadian cosmetic makers are required to list ingredients – “but not all of them.” Huh? So what good does that do? But Amber’s main message is one that is universal:

“But we must recognize that the beauty industry is trying to sell us stuff, just like any other industry that markets consumer goods. They want us to believe that we are flawed and need their stuff. If we aren’t concerned about the state of our skin or the shininess of our hair, we’re not going to shell out for products to fix them. Even initiatives like the Dove Movement are marketing campaigns aimed to make us feel favourable towards a certain brand.

My daughter Hannah is 5 years old. I don’t want her to feel that she needs to coat herself with stuff to be OK, and I especially don’t want the stuff she coats herself with to contain toxins. That’s why I want to see change in the cosmetics industry.”

I always see  myself in Micaela’s (aka Mindful Momma’s) posts.  Maybe it’s because we have kids around the same age, and while we are passionately committed to living sustainably, too often our lives intersect with the real world of Toys R Us and Pokemon.

In her post, “Maybe I Just Bought the Wrong Stuff,” Micaela blogs,  “In The Story of Cosmetics, Annie Leonard comes out and says what a lot of us might be thinking when it comes to buying cosmetics and personal care products:  “maybe it’s my fault…maybe I just bought the wrong thing”…meaning it’s our own damn fault for buying personal care products loaded with toxins and petroleum products…because we didn’t take the time to research the hell out of them before we went to the store.

I’m telling you – that is often how I feel.  And it’s very frustrating.”

Frustrating? Lisa from Retro Housewife Goes Green goes even farther when she blogs, “I don’t know about you but I’m pissed off at the amount of work I have to do to keep myself and my family safe from cancer causing chemicals. We need to change the whole system and work together to demand safer cosmetics.”

I’m with Lisa  – the whole system needs to change, and in my opinion, that includes regulation. But I’m not so sure the Safe Cosmetics Act is the answer. Check my post out here, where I blog about what I’ve learned in two years of following these issues – the things people inside the industry have told me – and my surprise and concern about the backlash opposition to the Safe Cosmetics Act that is being led by small, independent cosmetics makers.

Jennifer Taggert of The Smart Mama (and an attorney)  voices her concern that the Safe Cosmetics Act may mean for small businesses. Jennifer has a unique take on this, and her full post is worth a close read. Here’s an excerpt:

“I bring the CPSIA up after watching The Story of Cosmetics because well intentioned legislation can go badly wrong.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t urge you to understand what it is you are buying. To adopt the precautionary principle in your purchasing decisions.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should advocate for sensible legislation and regulations.

But that’s it – the legislation and/or regulations must be sensible. And that is hard to do. The devil is in the details. Overbroad legislation has unintended consequences and collateral damage.

As said by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

What do you think?

Leave a comment and let us know!

And did you know you can get ALL of our posts pushed out to you via Twitter? Just follow us here:  http://www.twitter.com/GreenMoms

— Lynn

Copyright 2010 OrganicMania

NO, Of Course I Didn’t Buy That “Organic” Shampoo & Then Tell The New York Times About It!

July 14th, 2010

Well, it is true that I did tell a New York Times reporter that I was “furious” about a so-called “organic” shampoo that was anything but organic – or even natural. I even sent him the blog post I wrote about it, which you can read here.  In the post, I wrote about how I picked up the “organic” lice shampoo and then realized it was anything BUT organic.


“But skeptic that I am, the first two things I do when I see anything labeled “natural” or “organic” is to check the ingredients list and to look for a USDA organic certification label. Despite the “organic” claims, I didn’t see a USDA label on the Fairy Tales bottles, but I did see a long list of non-organic ingredients including major no-nos like parabens and fragrance.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “parabens can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system, and were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied.” And the EWG reports that fragrance should be avoided in children’s products because of allergens that may contain neurotoxic or hormone-disrupting chemicals. (You can learn more about fragrance through this informative EWG video clip).”

So yes, it’s kind of a thrill to see myself quoted in The New York Times. But honestly, anyone who reads my blog posts or tweets knows that I would NEVER buy an “organic” product that does not have the USDA Organic Seal or the new NSF/ANSI 305  seal. (My original post pre-dated the introduction of the NSF seal).

That’s also why I wrote, “So dear readers, please look for the USDA Organic seal and READ LABELS on personal care products, especially those marketed to children or used by women during childbearing years.”


You may wonder why I was “furious” if I didn’t buy the product.  I’m still furious. I’m furious that companies greenwash and prey on mothers’ fears, urging them to buy products that are not what they are promoted to be – organic.  Mothers look for organic products because they (correctly) believe them to be purer and safer for their kids than products that are not organic. As I told the reporter, I’ve been saddened to see organics pioneers (many of them women) work long and hard to bring truly organic products to market – only to have  their USDA certified organic products shelved next to fakers – products with organic on the label but synthetic ingredients inside. Of course they’re cheaper! They’re easier to make!

I’m glad that Whole Foods is cracking down on this, but I’m not entirely optimistic that things will change without a major education campaign from the Organic Trade Association. Surveys have shown that consumers believe “natural” is better than organic – even though there are no standards governing the use of the word “natural.”

So – looking to go organic? Look for the USDA Organic label or the NSF/ANSI305 label.

Anything else? Well, it’s just Greenwashing at the Kiddie Hair Salon (not the supermarket, as quoted!)

— Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2010

10 Things I Learned (Or Was Reminded Of) at TedXOilSpill

June 29th, 2010

Yesterday I attended an amazing series of lectures by some of the world’s foremost experts on marine biology, alternative fuels, and more….People from California, New York, Boston, and elsewhere converged on the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC for TedxOilSpill. Running from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (and with a cocktail party still going strong when I begged off just before 9 p.m.), TedxOilSpill was a revelation. You can watch the videos as they’re uploaded here, read the #TedXOilSpill tweetstream or just check out my list below of  the top 10 Things I learned (or was reminded of) at TedXOilSpill.

1. Women are brave. It was a female scientist – Dr. Susan Shaw – who said she was told she was crazy to swim in the Gulf. She wanted to know the impact of the oil on marine life. The impact on her? She got sick. Her throat felt like it was “on fire.” After a few days, she was fine. Unfortunately, the fish don’t get a chance to climb out of the Gulf’s waters. They won’t recover so easily. Instead, Dr. Shaw predicts a dire future for marine mammals exposed to so much oil:  “chemical pneumonia,” liver and brain disease, tumors, lesions, and other horrible afflictions. If you want to watch one TedxOilSpill talk, I suggest you watch Dr. Shaw. (She speaks at 56:30).

2. Truly, no one has any idea of the impact of the dispersants used in the Gulf. Dr. Shaw said the toxicologists are going crazy trying to figure it out. Part of the problem is that industry is not required to disclose what is IN the dispersants. She showed the ingredients list the scientists finally obtained: full of “derivatives” and “distellants” – meaningless terms designed to protect trade secrets. Dr. Carl Safina demonstrated what happens when you mix a dispersant with oil and water: everything became a cloudy soup.  The implication was clear:  putting dispersants in the Gulf is only making things worse. No longer floating on top of the water, the oil is mixed throughout, along with chemicals of unknown origin, with unfathomable impact on marine life.

3.  The environmental field is a broad one.  I was surprised that with all the focus on chemicals, not one speaker mentioned that NOW is the time we can do something about the over-use of untested and unregulated chemicals  by supporting overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Learn more here. The non-profits advocates fighting for TSCA reform – Healthy Child, Healthy World; Moms Rising; Environmental Working Group, and the broad-based Safer Chemicals Coalition -have been focusing on outreach to Moms, but the overuse of chemicals impacts us all. It’s time to call your Congressional representative. NOW.

4.  Bad news about the environment and its impact on animals  is usually underestimated. A chart showing the fall-out estimated from the Exxon Valdez was superimposed on a chart showing what actually happened. Suffice to say: not a pretty picture. (Some species, like the killer whales, never recovered.)

5.  Did you know that 30% of all species of wildlife are expected to be extinct in the next 30 years? And that estimate was made BEFORE the oil spill.

6. I was reminded that the oil platform exploded on Earth Day.  Talk about irony.

7. Not all biofuels are created equal. Remember the furor over corn-based biofuels? Algae provides another option for biofuel, and it doesn’t require the use of arable land or potable water.

8. I keep hearing that electric vehicles will only be good for short trips. Not true. The Tesla can go 244 miles on a single charge. Sure, most of us can’t afford it, but Tesla Motors is using Tesla Technology to develop other, less expensive models such as a  sedan, the S Model.

9. We all know it’s not just about the animals. It’s not just about the fish. It’s not just about the fishermen, or their way of life. Or the culture in the Gulf. But did you ever think of the history that lies at the ocean floor? I heard an AU professor tell us, with a catch in his voice, about the shipwrecks that will be decimated by the oil.

10. Christen Lien has composed (or more accurately) is composing an instrumental piece inspired by her visit to the Gulf. Listening to it, you can almost hear the animals crying for help and the oil rushing in. Viola, harmonica, synthesizer….it is  incredible music.  Her performance capped the end to the conference.

And do you know what? I really learned MORE than just these ten things…but that’s a post for a different night!

I’d love to know what you learned…or what you think about all this…please leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

Copyright 2010 OrganicMania

BPA Scandal: Now What? Here’s What.

June 4th, 2009

In my last post, I thanked the anonymous leaker who let us into the behind the scenes machinations at the Cosmos Club meeting of the BPA lobby.

Then I asked – Now What?

Well, Here’s What:

–    Congress is not amused. Check out this link to a letter from Congressman  Henry Waxman, demanding that NAMPA supply to Congress a complete list of background materials pertaining to the meetings held by the BPA Joint Trade Association in April and May, as well as a list of attendees at the meetings and the names of the members of the BPA Joint Trade Association;

– The FDA announced it will be conducting a full review of BPA’s safety, and will have its results “within weeks, not months” (as is typical);

–    Surprise, surprise, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, NAMPA has hired a crisis communications specialist. Let’s hope this “specialist” doesn’t leave annoying comments on green blogs, like the crisis people hired by the formaldehyde lobby when we blogged about toxins in baby products; and

– NAMPA announced on its home page and in a press statement that   ” a blatantly inaccurate and fabricated memo purportedly reporting on the discussion in that meeting is now being waved as evidence that the industry is colluding to cover up the facts. The Journal’s attempt to pass off this illegitimate
memo from an unidentified source as proof that industry is trying to manipulate the process is
shoddy journalism at best and a breach of journalistic ethics at worst. The fact is, despite the best efforts of the Journal to portray the meeting as something sinister, it was nothing more than an effort by industry to
find a way to portray correctly the science about BPA that has been repeatedly ignored by the media.”

(Note:  The Washington Post reported that a NAMPA lobbyist confirmed the accuracy of the memo, although she did point out that it was a “brainstorming session.”)

Check out these great posts for more info:
–    Enviroblog has a  terrific  round-up of all the news here at “The Week from Hell for BPA;”
–    The Smart Mama has her usual great take on the issue here with her post “Fall-out from Industry Memo Seeking Pregnant Women to Promote Bisphenol A.” Jennifer Taggert, aka The Smart Mama, has been covering this issue – along with a host of other environmental toxin issues for years –  and she’s got great insights into what’s going on;
–    Clementine W takes a practical stance with 10 Ways to Avoid BPA;  and

– The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this “Chemical Fallout” breaking news feed you can subscribe to for breaking news on this issue as it unfolds.

Just hours ago, the Environmental Working Group released this link as part of an action alert asking  people to call Coke and Del Monte, two of the companies present at the infamous BPA meeting, to tell them to stop using BPA.

I can’t/won’t keep up with this issue on a near-daily basis – just wanted to pass along the news about how speedily things are being addressed, and direct you to The Smart Mama, Enviroblog, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for breaking news updates.

Progress!  What a nice change from how things have been handled in the past!


Copyright OrganicMania 2009


Thank You, Anonymous Leaker. Now What?

June 2nd, 2009

Thank you to whomever had the gumption to send the now infamous Bisphenol A (BPA)  meeting notes over to The Washington Post.  Notes that exposed discussion about  developing  a  PR plan to restore BPA’s luster and to block  proposed bans on the controversial chemical.  BPA is used in the linings of canned foods and beverages in the US, yet has been linked in numerous independent studies to  myriad health concerns such as endocrine disruption, cancer, diabetes and heart disease (as I’ve previously blogged  here.)  (You can read the meeting  notes from the Cosmos Club discussions with  Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Del Monte, Crown, the American Chemistry Council, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc. and the Grocery Manufacturers Associations here at the Environmental Working Group’s website.)

There’s nothing unusual about industry insiders sitting down to craft an image campaign to bolster a failing product’s allure.  These steps outlined in the memo are standard marketing tactics:   Fund a consumer perception study. Craft some new messages. Find a marketable spokesperson (in this case a pregnant woman).

But was is unusual is this: for a chemical that is supposed to be so safe,  why do the notes show no discussion about the overlooked benefits of BPA? If the problem truly is “perception,” why didn’t the participants spend their time talking about the key points supporting their position that BPA is safe? And why did someone feel compelled to leak the notes if everything truly was on the up-and-up?

According to the notes, the accuracy of which were verifed by a NAMPA spokesperson in The Post article, the attendees spent their time discussing budget ($500,000 for the campaign) and tactics. Funny thing is, they’ve already had a big PR firm, Stanton Communications, representing them. According to O’Dwyers, Stanton also represents The Formaledehyde Council, coincidentally the same group that left snarky comments on  Mom blogs after we blogged about the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’  Toxic Tub report.

Now, in this recession, in this town, $500,000 is a lot of money for PR work.  NAMPA and its allies can secure the finest communications council  DC has to offer for that princely sum.  But according NAMPA’s  website,  Stanton already reported  in February that “In just the first four weeks of 2009, more than 150 articles have been published in various trade, environmental, health, and consumer media. While the specific content of the articles has varied, the underlying message is the same — BPA found in plastic products and metal cans is harmful to people and should be avoided or eliminated. .. . This underscores the need for swift and consistent response to articles as they appear, to set the record straight on BPA, specifically in relation to its critical usage in metal packaged food and beverage products.”

In NAMPA’s response to The Post story, also posted on their website, they state,  ”The use of BPA-based epoxy liners in metal food and beverage cans serves a critical function by preventing a myriad of contaminants from penetrating into the food, affording longer shelf life and significant nutrition, convenience, and economy. Unfortunately, the one-sided reporting so commonplace in the media has left consumers to conclude that rather than preventing health impacts, the epoxy liner itself causes problems because it contains infinitesimal amounts of BPA.”

So is this their entire defense?   BPA prevents contamination from penetrating into food and it’s approved by the FDA. NAMPA appears to imply that we should ignore advice such as this one issued on May 21st from  Harvard’s School of Public HealthWith increasing evidence of the potential harmful effects of BPA in humans, the authors believe further research is needed on the effect of BPA on infants and on reproductive disorders and on breast cancer in adults.”

Hmmm…how do they sell Coke in Japan? The Japanese, who banned BPA, must have found a suitable alternative that does not contaminate the food supply. And while it’s true that BPA is not banned in Europe, it’s also true that countries around the world are reviewing their laws. From NAMPA’s own May e-newsletter I read “NAMPA has learned that the Danish Parliament has proposed a law to ban BPA in baby bottles and other consumer products.  The proposal acknowledges the European Food Safety Agency’s (EFSA) approval of the use of BPA in 2008, but dismisses this finding and indicates its
unsuccessful efforts to have EFSA apply more severe rules governing BPA.”

Here’s an offer. When NAMPA gets its act together, I’d love to talk to their new high-priced  PR firm to get answers to my questions. I’m sure I could get some other Mom bloggers to join me, those who’ve just posted their own reactions to the specter of a pregnant woman hawking BPA products:   The Smart Mama,    Green and Clean Mom, Nature Moms,     Safe MamaNon Toxic Kids, The Soft Landing, Jenn Savedge of Mother Nature Network and The Green Parent,   Retro Housewife Goes Green , and Leslie aka La Mama Naturale over at Eco Childs Play.  How about a blogger conference call?

To round it out, let’s invite Consumer Reports too – as their blog says, “We have repeatedly called for BPA to be banned from food and beverage containers, and for the government to take immediate action to protect infants and children from BPA exposure. Some manufacturers and retailers have already begun removing BPA from their products. We hope that more will follow that example rather than relying on cynical public relations gimmicks.”

What do you think? Leave a comment and share.


Copyright OrganicMania 2009

SeeJaneDo? Hear Lynn ( OrganicMania), Jennifer ( The Smart Mama), and Lisa (@enviroblog) Talk!

May 29th, 2009


I’m the worst when it comes to posting press interviews. One would think I would have this down by now since it’s part of what I do for a living, but I always wind up feeling awkward about doing so (only when it comes to me, of course, not my clients!)

Anyway, after a month’s delay and with great apologies to Elisa Parker, producer and host of See Jane Do, here is a link to the interview posted about the online green activism practiced by the women at the Green Moms Carnival. Joining me in the interview is Green Moms Carnival Founding Member, author, environmental expert, and XRF-gun wielding lead-toy-tester Jennifer Taggert – also known as The Smart Mama – and Lisa Frack, online parent organizer at The Environmental Working Group. You can click here for a podcast of the interview which was broadcast on community radio station KVMR.

See Jane Do is the newest program program launched by nationally acclaimed community radio station KVMR, which documentary filmmaker Michael Moore calls “the best public radio station in America.” Thanks to a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, See Jane Do is being distributed to a national audience. Their focus is on ”capturing the stories of everyday women doing extraordinary things for the planet.” The producers have already gotten some fabulous interviews archived on line with fellow Green Moms Carnival Founding Member Diane MacEachern, author of The Big Green Purse; Chef Ann (transformed school lunches with Alice Waters), Joan Blades of MomsRising.org and MoveOn.org, Elisa Camahort Page of BlogHer and Anya Fernald, director of Slow Food Nation.

Check it out!


Copyright OrganicMania 2009

Earth Day & Graham Crackers

April 20th, 2009

“Mama, can you fix my graham cracker?”

It was a plaintive question from a small voice in the back of the car. As parents, our instinct is to help our kids whenever we can. But sadly, I had to explain that some things — like broken graham crackers — can’t be fixed.

No sooner had I responded than it hit me. With Earth Day reminders all around us, I couldn’t help but take that question and apply it to the environment. How much of the environmental degradation will we be able to fix? What is reversible, and what is not ?

The answers are not simple.

And as Earth Day continues its metamorphosis into a Buy Green Holiday, it’s important to recognize that we can’t buy our way out of this mess. Sure, investments in certain areas can help, as can replacing toxic products with eco-friendly substitutes.

But what would happen if we all took a close look at our local environmental issues and tried to figure out what we could do to fix things? Here are a few things you do:
– Clean up the litter in a local park or along a river, as these people do in DC’s Rock Creek;
– Plant a tree or take inspiration from this 21-year-old and support a reforestation program;
– Support one of the many fine environmental organizations trying to make a difference in this tough economic environment. Some of my faves: The Nature Conservancy; Environmental Working Group; and Healthy Child, Healthy World. Others? The local groups working hard to make a difference in your own backyard. Here in the DC area that means groups like Friends of Rock Creek, The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Bethesda Green.

What have you fixed recently? Leave a comment and share. Really, I want to hear what you’ve been up to! Haven’t done anything lately? Hmm…quit surfing the ‘Net and get moving!

— Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

It May Be April Fool’s Day, But Toxins in Baby Bath are No Joke

April 1st, 2009

It sounds incredible: probable human carcinogens like formaldehyde in children’s bubble bath. Yes, today is April Fool’s Day, but this is no joke. This is the sad reality of the state of our personal care products industry.

How did we get to this point? It’s a function of our regulatory system (or lack thereof as some might say). According to the non-profit Environmental Working Group, “The nation’s toxic chemical regulatory law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is in drastic need of reform. Passed in 1976 and never amended since, TSCA is widely regarded as the weakest of all major environmental laws on the books today. When passed, the Act declared safe some 62,000 chemicals already on the market, even though there were little or no data to support this policy. Since that time another 20,000 chemicals have been put into commerce in the United States, also with little or no data to support their safety.”

And if this is news to you, you may be asking why you’re learning about this only now. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics just last month released its “No More Toxic Tub” report, which included lab results showing that personal care products are commonly contaminated with formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane – and, in many cases, both. According to the report, “These two chemicals, linked to cancer and skin allergies, are anything but safe and gentle and are completely unregulated in children’s bath products.”

But you know what? This isn’t new news. It may be new to you because perhaps you’re a new parent who is just for the first time paying careful attention to what goes into the bath water with your baby. But the fact is, you can find reports like this one about 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde dating back to 2007 – and I imagine, even earlier. (Updated 4/3: Here’s a link reporting that in 1982, “the industry-funded Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel noted that the cosmetic industry was aware of the problem of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics and was making an effort to reduce or remove the impurity.” )

The makers of these products claim they are completely safe and meet all government requirements. J&J’s products are bearing the bulk of the criticism from today’s Green Moms Carnival because of J&J’s ill-timed “Big Bubblin Stars” video campaign. But the fact is, J&J does meet all US requirements. Levels of formaldehyde in the J&J products are even below EU levels, which is significant because many American consumers try to follow EU standards for personal care products because they believe them to be safer than the US standards.

But the issue is not J&J’s products alone. Why? We are exposed to thousands of personal care products over our lifetimes. If each one of these products leaches trace amounts of potentially toxic chemicals into our bodies – as tests like the EWG’s “Body Burden” test have shown – then the effect is a cumulative one. And when you’re talking about infants, small children, and young people in their reproductive years, the potential effects are really unknown. We do know that chemicals have been linked to cancers. We do know that we’ve seen a marked decrease in fertility in this country and an increasing number of reproductive diseases. Are they connected to repeated chemical exposures from birth on? I agree with Dr. Philip P. Landrigan, Professor and Chair of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He says, “Children are not simply ‘little adults’. They are uniquely vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment. Exposures in early life can affect human health over the entire life span. We need to find definitive answers about the relationship between toxic chemicals and health so we can protect our children now and in the future.”

In response to past criticism, J&J’s spokesperson Iris Grossman has said, “It’s important to stress that all our products are within the FDA limits.” But that’s just the problem. Are the FDA limits appropriate? Unfortunately, one of the legacies left us by the Bush Administration is the public’s fundamental distrust of our regulatory system. The public has just been burned too many times by lax oversight. Look at our financial markets. The SEC claims it wasn’t aware of the extensive use of derivatives in our secondary markets. Heck, I remember learning about derivatives way back in ’97 when I was at Georgetown’s Business School. No, I didn’t understand them, but I still remember scribbling this note: Derivatives: Stay Away!!! Then there’s the sad state of our food safety oversight. How many more people will have to die of salmonella before we get that under control? What about the lead in children’s toys? I shouldn’t have to cart my toys over to The Smart Mama for a thorough lead inspection.

Many will advocate for more regulation, such as the Kid Safe Chemical Act supported by the Environmental Working Group. But regulations don’t always work as intended. The CSPIA, enacted to prevent the sale of items containing lead, has inadvertently caused many small makers of children’s products to go out of business because they couldn’t afford to comply with the testing requirements imposed by the new law. Then there’s the response to the banking crisis. While the government was celebrating the passage of TARP, the bankers were celebrating the fact that the law didn’t require them to start lending again. How do I know that? I first learned about it at a Washington Christmas party, well before that scandal had finally hit the press. And now that spring is here? The credit markets still remain frozen.

So is The Kid Safe Chemical Act the answer? Will it cause more problems than it purports to solve? Will it inadvertently cause harm to the natural and organic purveyors, by causing them to comply with burdensome regulation, just like what happened when the USDA Organic regulation and the CSPIA was passed? I don’t know. I don’t claim to be a regulatory expert. But I do know something about marketing. And I know that the profit margins on personal care products – beauty products in particular – are incredibly high. It is a very lucrative business, and in most cases the biggest expense is not producing the product, it’s marketing. It’s paying for all the free samples and glossy magazine ads that personal care products companies routinely hand out.

Of course, it’s a different matter in the natural and organics market. There, the cost of all natural alternatives to synthetic chemical ingredients is high. And consequently, on a percentage basis, they spend less on marketing than companies like P&G or J&J.

As an MBA and a New Jersey native, I have very dear friends who have worked at leading personal care companies like J&J, Bristol Myers Squibb, and P&G. Of course they believe their products are safe and comply with US law. But that’s not the whole issue. Someone – either the personal care industry as a whole – or the US government – needs to take a closer look at the 82,000 chemicals used in our personal care products to assess the likelihood that they are contributing to our sky high cancer rates and the increasing incidence of reproductive abnormalities.

And as a former newspaper reporter, I know that there are two sides to every story. So I called J&J before publishing this blog post. I wanted to understand their stance on the Kid Safe Chemical Act and the possible adverse affects of long term exposure to the multitude of chemicals in our personal care products. Their spokesperson, Iris Grossman, could not respond to these questions, although she did offer to put me in touch with their “Mommy blogger” person. I pointed out to her that if she couldn’t answer my question, I didn’t think a “Mommy blogger” specialist could either. Then the shock set in. As a marketing and communications professional, I know that every company has a set of standard Q&As used to respond to the media. I asked her if this meant that NO ONE had ever asked these questions before:
– What is J&J’s stance on the Kid Safe Chemical Act?
– What does J&J think about the adverse affects of long term exposure to the thousands of chemicals used in personal care products?
– Is this issue even being discussed at the industry level, through groups like the Personal Products Council?

So what can you do? Here are a few choices:

1. Sign this petition in support of the Kid Safe Chemical Act.
2. Fill out this web form to contact J&J and tell them you want them to lead an industry-wide effort to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act. Or, leave a comment on the J&J blog.
3. Contact the Personal Care Products Council here and tell them you expect a better response to the EWG report than the one that their Chief Scientist gave US News & World Report. “These are issues that have been around for many, many years, so it’s not new news. The thing that impressed me was the low levels of dioxane that were found in these products, which indicates to me that the industry is doing its job in keeping this potential contaminant down to a low level.” (And yes, I’ve called the Personal Care Products Council and am just waiting for a call back).
4. Check the EWG’s Skin Deep data base to find safer alternatives to the products identified in the Campaign’s report.

5. Use fewer personal care products and try to find those with fewer, simpler ingredients.

6. Contact your Congressional representatives to let them know you support Kid Safe. Support is especially critical in Pennyslvania and California.  This press release from Senator Lautenberg’s office includes good background information on the bill.  If you or someone you know lives in PA, check out this link.

If you live in CA, check out this link.

What do you think? Please leave a comment and share. And if you want to talk about the issue, I’ll be on the radio today along with Jennifer Taggert, The Smart Mama, and Lisa Frack of the Environmental Working Group. You can listen to us here and call in with questions at (530) 265-9555.

Thanks for reading this far! This was a longer than usual post, but I felt I needed the space to make these arguments.

— Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

Thanks to the Early BPA Pioneers

April 15th, 2008

This afternoon, the US National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, released a draft report indicating that low dose exposure to BPA in plastics may be linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, early puberty in girls and behavioral changes such as hyperactivity. And it’s rumored that the Canadian government will take an even stronger step on Wednesday, naming BPA a “dangerous substance.”

Many feel that this report is long overdue. The fact is, for years now, early pioneers such as the Environmental Working Group and savvy media outlets like The Wall Street Journal have been warning of the potential risks of BPA. Just last August, a group of 38 medical researchers warned again of the potential risks.

Their cry was taken up by prominent bloggers like Z Recommends, Julie Deardorff of the Chicago Tribune, and Denise and Alan Fields of Baby Bargains.

Moms have been anxiously trading stories about which bottles and sippy cups were BPA-free on blogs and parenting listservs like DCUM.

It’s just the latest example of the Precautionary Principle which Diane MacEachern explained here.

When it comes to health and environmental issues, particularly when our children are involved, you can never play it too safe.

What can you do? Go more natural. Think glass bottles and cups, find wooden toys, and get better acquainted with safer plastics, if you feel you must use plastic.

Here are some links that may be helpful to you:

Washington Post and Wall Street Journal articles

Environmental Working Group Guide to Safe Bottles and Formula

Environmental Working Group Guide to Infant Formula

Z Recommends Report on BPA (Third Edition)

Safe Mama

Non Toxic Tots

Want to say “thank you” to the Environmental Working Group for these helpful guides on how to avoid BPA? Go here to have Stonyfield Farms donate $1 to the EWG when you click and fill in your email address.

Greenwashing at the Kiddie Hair Salon

January 30th, 2008

Today was a milestone day – I finally got Baby Boo his first real haircut, since far too many people were calling him “her.” So by rights, I should be thinking about that happy milestone. But instead, I left the salon steaming mad about one of the most egregious examples of greenwashing I’ve come across – an “all natural, organic hair care for children” line of lice treatment products called Fairy Tales Hair Care for Children.

I happen to really be in the market for an organic lice treatment – in fact I even included it in a post called “Humor Me Not: The Top 10 Organic and Eco-Friendly Products Moms Really Need.”

But skeptic that I am, the first two things I do when I see anything labeled “natural” or “organic” is to check the ingredients list and to look for a USDA organic certification label. Despite the “organic” claims, I didn’t see a USDA label on the Fairy Tales bottles, but I did see a long list of non-organic ingredients including major no-nos like parabens and fragrance.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “parabens can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system, and were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied.” And the EWG reports that fragrance should be avoided in children’s products because of allergens that may contain neurotoxic or hormone-disrupting chemicals. (You can learn more about fragrance through this informative EWG video clip).

Although the FDA allows low levels of many chemicals in personal care products, there is increasing concern about the impact of low doses of chemicals on our bodies. You can read an excellent EWG commentary on this here. And even conservative business publications like The Wall Street Journal – hardly a tool of the environmental lobby – have published research questioning the safety of personal care chemicals. In fact, it was the Wall Street Journal’s multi-part series about this issue that inspired me to reduce my family’s use of household cleaning and personal care products with unnecessary chemical ingredients.

The ten chemicals listed in the Fairy Tale Rosemary Repel® shampoo ingredients make these “organic” marketing claims seem audacious. I checked the ingredient list against the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep database of personal care products and discovered that six of these chemicals are considered moderate risks to health by the EWG. Just click on the links to read the EWG’s reports on cocamidopropyl betaine, lauramide DEA, methylparaben, propylparaben, polyquaternium-10 and quaternium-15, all ingredients in this so-called “organic shampoo.”

In fact, the label doesn’t list any actual organic ingredients. Yes, it’s true the shampoo contains natural ingredients like jojoba seed oil, rosemary leaf oil, anise oil, tea tree oil, and anise oil, but as the Executive Director of the Organic Consumers Association says on the OCA website, “Organic consumers expect their organic personal care to be free of synthetic foaming agents and preservatives, and companies should not just add token organic ingredients on top of such synthetics to make organic product claims. Consumers should look for the “USDA Organic” seal on products if they want to be certain they are truly organic.”

Moreover, the National Institutes of Health announced a year ago that consumers should exercise caution when using personal care products with tea tree oil (and lavender) because they may cause breast growth in boys.

So dear readers, please look for the USDA Organic seal and READ LABELS on personal care products, especially those marketed to children or used by women during childbearing years. Of course, it’s hard to attentively read a label when you have kids in tow at the kiddie hair salon – which is yet another reason I find this particular case of kiddie greenwashing so annoying.

My advice? Take the money you might have spent on this ill-conceived product and donate it instead to the non-profit Environmental Working Group, so they can keep on producing and publicizing this important health research. Click here to donate. And if you’re a Facebook member, go here to donate $10, which will enable the EWG to add another product to the Skindeep database.

— Lynn

Copyright 2008, OrganicMania