A First Look at What the New Safe Chemicals Act May Mean for Parents: It Won’t Be an Immediate Panacea

April 15th, 2010

This morning, the Safe Chemicals Act,  long awaited legislation to reform the nation’s outdated chemicals law, The Toxic Substances Control Act, was introduced in Congress. This came in response to years of lobbying by environmental health watchdogs like the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Coalition; Healthy Child, Healthy World , The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and The Environmental Working Group; physicians like Dr. Alan Greene; authors like Stacy Malkin of “Not Just a Pretty Face,”  Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse, Jennifer Taggert of The Smart Mama’s Green Guide, and Nena Baker of “The Body Toxic,” and yes, activists like Moms Rising and bloggers like my Green Moms Carnival friends.

It was just a year ago this month that the Green Moms Carnival bloggers were  taken to task by the chemical lobby and others for our “hysterical” reaction to finding out that our favorite baby bath products contained probable human carcinogens.  Some of us, like Sommer of Green and Clean Mom, who hosted the Toxic Tub Carnival, were even attacked by other Mom bloggers for being so rude as to question those companies that market baby products with 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde.

But in the end, all of our probing, phone calling, and blogging contributed to the consumer outrage that led retailers to pull BPA-tainted products and state legislators to restrict the use of harmful chemicals in common everyday items. Now,  with today’s introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act, we are a huge step closer to an even safer marketplace.

But don’t celebrate just yet – this bill’s not a panacea. I still foresee the most diligent among us dutifully consulting databases to figure out which products are safe to buy. Incredible, isn’t it?  That’s because the bill regulates the EPA, not the FDA – which regulates 1,4 dioxane, as J&J explains on their website.   And because the bill doesn’t mandate that the EPA look at multiple exposures, as the esteemed National Academy of Sciences has recommended. It just “allows” it to do so.

But for those of us who are still waiting for our simple questions about chemical reform to be answered? Well, today we got some answers. Here’s what I asked and here is the response from Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Stanford School of Medicine, author, Raising Baby Green (and every green Mom’s favorite twitter buddy):

OrganicMania: “My readers are particularly interested in probable carcinogenic  compounds like 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde which are commonly used in infant and childrens  baths. Given that there are  80,000 chemicals in the market today – and some of them – like asbestos – are very directly linked to deaths, how likely do you think it is that specific action will be taken against the use of 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde in terms of being classified as most dangerous?”

Dr. Greene “1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde  would meet a a number of the criteria for prioritization. A safety determination will be made early in the process relative to 1,4 dioxane.  Formaldehyde might also get expedited action.”

At that point, Dr. Richard Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, noted that the FDA has jurisdication over formaldehyde, not the EPA. (But I knew this, thanks to  The Smart Mama.)     As Dr. Denison put it,  “EPA must have authority and the  mandate to look at all uses of chemicals under another agency’s jurisdiction.”

I then went on to ask about multiple, cumulative exposures. Because how are those little babies being exposed to neurotoxins? Its likely through the chemical-laden creams, lotions and potions that the average American woman slathers over her body every day. And as The Smart Mama has blogged, the industry would like us to believe that “just a little bit of carcinogen is okay.

How to tackle that issue? It’s far trickier.  As Maureen Swanson of the  Learning Disabilities Association of America, said, “We would like to see strengthened language that would direct the EPA to go by the National Academy of Science’s   recommendation on looking more closely at cumulative exposures. It is mentioned in the bill, but they are not directed to adopt those recommendations.  How do we enact real reform to make a real difference in our products and in our health risks?..I totally agree..there are a lot of different chemicals which can interfere with the thyroid, and the thyroid gland impacts brain development. It is essential to work on the science, to get stronger language directing EPA to use those recommendations, and to make clear that both versions of the bill define the safety standard and to require they at least take into account aggregate and cumulative exposures. “

Dr. Greene then jumped in to explain, “It’s left to the EPA to flesh out, and there’s no immediate change on that because there’s not science to deal with it {multiple cumulative exposures}. But by requiring the EPA to take those factors into account, we have a structure that moves us forward far beyond where we are now.”

So what can you do?

First, support this bill. It’s the best we’ve got, and it’s the best we’ll get.  Pay attention to the debate raging in the mainstream media and at action sites like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, the Environmental Working Group’s Kid-Safe Blog, and Healthy Child, Healthy World.

And remember, as you start talking up the Safe Chemicals Act, don’t let anyone accuse you of being a hysterical mom. Or you’ll have to answer to:

Tiffany of Nature Moms Jennifer of The Green Parent, Beth of Fake Plastic Fish Katy from Non-Toxic Kids, Micaela from Mindfull Momma, Alicia from The Soft LandingAnna from Green Talk , Christine Gardner of moregreenmomsAlline of Passion for Green Business , Diane from Big Green Purse and one of Glamour Magazine’s 70 Eco Heros,  Jess from The Green Phone Booth,   MaryAnne   at EcoChild’s Play and Not Quite Crunchy Parent, Karen from Best of Mother Earth, Katherine from the Safe Mama, Sommer of Green and Clean Mom, Jennifer aka The Smart Mama, and of course, me, Lynn from OrganicMania.

Oh, J&J? No need to answer those questions now. I got my answers today.

— Lynn

Copyright 2010 OrganicMania

The Toxic Tub Report: An Update

May 26th, 2009


In case you missed the news over the Memorial Day weekend, take a look at this excellent reporting from the Associated Press on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics continued efforts to get 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde out of baby products. Late last week the Campaign delivered a letter to Johnson & Johnson’s CEO asking that J&J reformulate its personal care products to ensure they are free of 1,4-dioxane, phase out phthalates from its products,  reformulate its products to avoid the use of Quaternium-15 and other formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and to switch to safer preservatives. (The last one shouldn’t be too hard since J&J is already selling formaldehyde-free versions of its products in Japan, where formaldehyde is banned in personal care products).

Click here to view the letter.

Back in April, the Green Moms Carnival blogged about this very issue – probable human carcinogens in children’s products. After that carnival, the industry spokespeople who somehow couldn’t find the time to directly answer our questions – even when we called and emailed – found the time to leave snarky comments on our blogs. You can read all about this here and here.

What’s happened since then?
– In late April, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Safe Baby Products Act, which directs the FDA to investigate and regulate hazardous contaminants in personal care products marketed to or used by children.
– A National Cancer Institute study reinforcing the link between cancer and formaldehyde was published in late May. Read more here.

No sooner was I done reading the great press coverage than I received an email from the Campaign, which reads in part:

“Normally a letter like this wouldn’t raise much interest, but clearly people are outraged that such a trusted product as Johnson’s Baby Shampoo could contain carcinogens. I think the Green Moms Carnival was really helpful in tipping parents off to this problem when we released the “Toxic Tub” report in March – thank you. We’re hopeful that the company will reconsider its position that “a little bit” of a carcinogen is nothing to worry about.

Thanks for your good work.”

Marisa Walker

Communications manager

Breast Cancer Fund


Campaign for Safe Cosmetics


I was so thrilled to receive this note that I called Marisa to speak to her about the Campaign, and to thank her for taking the time to send this note to us. I’m very proud of the great work done by my friends at The Green Moms Carnival. Thanks again to all of you who participated in the Toxic Tub Carnival, which was hosted by Sommer at Green and Clean Mom. Thanks to: Jennifer our Smart Mama, Beth of Fake Plastic Fish, Jess from The Green Phone Booth, MaryAnne Conlin (aka @mcmilker) from EcoChild’s Play, Jennifer of The Green Parent, Katherine from the Safe Mama, Anna from Green Talk, Alicia from The Soft Landing, Karen from Best of Mother Earth, Micaela from Mindful Momma, Katy from Non-Toxic Kids, Diane from Big Green Purse, Alline of Passion for Green Business, Christine Gardner of moregreenmoms, Tiffany of Nature Moms, and of course, Sommer of Green and Clean Mom.

We’re not there yet, but what progress!

And that picture of J&J Baby Shampoo? How ironic that as I pulled up a stool at a neighbor’s home this afternoon, my view was of …well, what’s in that stuff anyway?

— Lynn

Copyright 2009 OrganicMania