Friday, January 21, 2011

Top Nontoxic Products: Cosmetics, Dish & Laundry Soaps, Chocolates, Plastics

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network has filed suit on behalf of endangered species threatened by pesticides worldwide. Endangered humpback and North American Right whales swim in the same waters we do, polluted by toxic pesticides after heavy rains. In addition to supporting non-profit groups like CBD, PAN, Oceana and Environmental Defense Fund, we can help keep toxic chemicals out of the environment and our bodies through simple attention to the products we choose.

Last week, as the author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, I was on a panel discussing this topic at an “eco-salon” sponsored by Whole Living Magazine in the L.E.E.D.-certified green office of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in San Francisco. See the video here! With the help of a very engaged audience, who asked lots of questions and also gave suggestions, we brainstormed what we could do at personal, community and political levels.

1. Buy and Use Nontoxic Alternatives

From a personal health standpoint, all agreed, the fastest way to reduce our chemical “body burden” is to avoid products that contain known toxics, such as water bottles and food containers made with polycarbonate (PC #7) plastic, which releases toxic Bisphenol-A (BPA), and toys, shower curtains and other products made of polyvinyl (PVC #3) plastic, which releases phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to obesity in children as well as adults.

Choosing personal care products that are certified organic, or bear other third-party verified seals, per my truly green cosmetic labels list. Endangered Wildlife Lip Balm is USDA certified organic, and, the company donates 25% of its profits to the Center for Biological Diversity, which is working to protect endangered right whales, jaguars, polar bears, and other wildlife (WFLB also gave lip balms to our eco-salon attendees.

Choosing organically grown food, such as the delectable chocolates and teas that fairly traded Equal Exchange Cooperative donated to our event, keeps toxic pesticides and fertilizers out of the environment as well as our bodies.

Get a fresh start in 2011 with's Top Picks Shopping Guides. Click the links below for best green brands.

Food & Water Containers
Choose what's been proven safe–such as a stainless steel water bottle from this list (which also spells out safer plastics). For safer food containers, click here.

Top Green Dish Soaps

Top Green Lip Balms

Guilt-Free Green Chocolates

Top Green Laundry Detergents

2. Support Actions to Regulate

At the same time and in the long term, we need government regulation, a route pursued by EDF and fellow members of the I Am Not a Guinea Pig coalition , which seeks to ban toxic chemicals such as BPA through legislation. California has led the nation in banning the two most toxic flame retardants, as noted by one of my co-panelists, Debbie Raphael, toxics reduction/ green building program manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment. And, following San Francisco’s and then California’s lead, Congress has banned phthalates in children's products.

3. Ask Companies to Stop Using Toxic Chemicals

Some companies seize the initiative to go green, such as Patagonia did in switching exclusively to certified organic cotton. In addition to using the power of our wallets by selecting green products, we can support the efforts of non-profit organizations such as EDF, which work with companies to stop putting toxic chemicals into products. Panelist Beth Trask, deputy director of EDF’s corporate partnerships program, spoke about working with Wal-mart to encourage its suppliers to eliminate known toxic chemicals. EDF’s successes in the business front include getting McDonald’s to stop using styrofoam, and getting Starbucks to use post-consumer-recycled paper in its cups.

Shoppers are used to asking ourselves if we really need something. Can we afford it? We can apply the same question to risks of toxic chemical exposures. As Debbie Raphael advised, we should ask ourselvesL Is it necessary? Just because a product is for sale doesn’t mean it’s safe, obviously–and up to 80% of the synthetic chemicals on the marketplace have not been tested for safety, Rafael said. For 5 specific steps for avoiding toxic–and often fattening-- chemicals in everyday products, see my recent Whole Living blog.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Latest News on BPA and Tips for Avoiding Toxic (and Fattening) Chemicals

Why is fat related to plastic chemicals? Turns out, BPA and other "obesogens" leach from plastics, cleaning products and cosmetics and find their way into our bodies through our food, water, air--and through our skins. These synthetic chemicals “mimic” the behavior of estrogen and other hormones and have also been linked to cancer and learning problems.

Products Containing BPA
BPA, for example, is found in polycarbonate plastic (PC #7) sports and baby bottles, canned food linings, pizza boxes, cash register receipts and even dollar bills. Plastics and cans are believed to be our most common routes of exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control,which found in the urine of nearly all 2,500 people the Centers tested in 2003-4.

The Bad on BPA: The latest science

Bisphenol-A (BPA),has been connected with higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in humans in a 2008 study. In a 2010 study, mother mice exposed to higher levels of BPA were found to be heavier than those who were not, and to produce offspring who were more likely to be fat and pre-diabetic.

Human fertility also appears to be at risk from BPA exposures. In 2010, a study at University of San Francisco connected BPA with impaired egg quality in women. Researchers found that,as blood levels of BPA in women doubled, the number of eggs that could be fertilized declined by 50%. Other studies have linked BPA to reduced sperm counts other fertility problems in humans.

Perhaps most alarming is BPA’s potential to harm developing fetuses, infants and children. In 2010, BPA was linked to aggressive behavior in baby girls, as Janet Raloff reported in Science Times. Animal studies have shown that BPA can cause brain damage and learning disorders as well as interfere with reproductive systems. Exposure to BPA in the womb has led to development of asthma in animals.

How to Avoid BPA and Other Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products

The good news: While BPA is pretty much everywhere, it can be avoided.

Below are five small but significant steps adapted from my book, Do One Green Thing, for losing your body burden of toxic chemicals.

1. Bypass the BPA:

Eat more fresh and less canned food. Consumers Union tests found pervasive BPA in canned food linings last year; Eden Foods has been using BPA-free can linings for more than a decade.

Phase out sports and baby bottles and kitchenware made with polycarbonate PC #7 plastic. Use my lists of top food storage containers and safest drink bottles.

Never microwave food in any plastic container; perversely, even so-called “safe” plastics have been found to leach BPA when heated .

2. Choose green, botanically-derived household cleaning products, like these dish soaps. Use my list of conventional cleaning ingredients to avoid for the sake of your indoor air and our waterways.

Yes, household air can get a little stale in January, but rather than spraying toxic synthetic “air fresheners,”, crack a window to let real fresh air in. For fragrancing, set out some potpourri or dip diffuser sticks in a vial of plant essential oils, like the pure tropical blends from Alora Ambiance.

3. Don’t buy toys, apparel and home decorating products made with PVC vinyl, often identified by the recycling code #3, which can be contaminated with brain-damaging lead and phthalates, which have been linked to obesity in human adults, asthma in children, and reproductive deformities in infants and wildlife.

4. Eat more organic and locally-grown produce and fewer meats and processed foods. It's good for your waistline and you'll reduce toxic pesticide exposures and unhealthy fats, preservatives and sugars in your diet. You can also choose low-mercury, sustainable fish using EDF’s handy seafood selector cards.

5. Stop buying bottled water. It’s generally not safer than tap, as shown by EWG’s 2011 drinking water report.

Eighty percent of disposable plastic bottles wind up in landfills and oceanic garbage patches, whereas 80% of glass is recycled! And, when heated, these polyethylene (PET #1) bottles can release phthalates and other toxic chemicals in some tests, as this 2010 study finds. Drink tap water, filtered if necessary, and get involved with local and environmental groups that work on protecting watersheds, including Environmental Defense Fund. In California, for instance, here are EDF's efforts to preserve major ecosystems by making water use more sustainable.

We're Not Guinea Pigs! Taking Action for Safe Chemicals Policy

Despite BPA’s lengthy rap sheet, the U.S. has resisted taking protective action, lagging behind Canada and Europe. In late 2010, the EU banned BPA in plastic baby bottles, while a similar law, sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein and calling for further studies by the U.S. FDA, foundered in Congress. Another BPA ban was rejected by the California legislature last fall, after last-minute lobbying by the chemical industry,the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Californialegislators also failed to implement California’s Green Chemistry Initiative. Scheduled to take effect this month, the law would have kept carcinogens out of household cleaners, cosmetics and children’s products, while requiring companies to fully disclose ingredients and materials .

We’re not guinea pigs, but we’re being treated that way “Children’s toys, kitchen productds, cosmetics, fast food containers–countless items that we use on a daily basis are made with chemicals that science is linking to the rising rates of childhood cancers, infertility, learning disabilities and more,” says Richard Denison, Ph.D., senior scientist with EDF, which is part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition working for policy change. Join up! You'll be glad you did.

Until regulations are in place, it’s up to us to protect ourselves and the environment from chemicals hidden in everyday products.

You’re Invited

If you’ll be in the Bay Area today, January 11th, please join me at a toxic chemicals and daily products talk and sustainable cocktail party at EDF's San Francisco office, from 5:30-7:30, sponsored by Whole Living Magazine, where I'm the "Econundrums" columnist online and in every print issue. RSVP at this link.

Got a question? Ask me on my home page at, and sign up for our free monthly email newsletter filled with new studies and green living tips.

Thanks, and Happy Nontoxic New Year!