At Thursday’s hearing before the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP), I had the honor of speaking on behalf of parents who want to keep harmful chemicals out of kid’s products. I’m a proud mom of an eight-year-old girl, and love kids in general, so I was happy to speak up for protecting them from toxic harm. I spoke to the board about the proposed designation of Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) and Nonylphenols as a priority class of chemical to be phased out of children’s products in the state of Maine.
Even though I work for an environmental health non-profit, I didn’t know much about NPEs when the BEP proposed them as a priority class of chemical. So, I set out to try and learn more. I found out that NPEs are used in some detergents (as surfactants), in pesticides, in some food packaging, in personal care products and are even used in the spermicide Nonoxyl-9. I learned that these chemicals are endocrine disruptors which can act as a synthetic estrogen in the body of my daughter. I learned that this class of chemical has been linked to the feminization of fish. I learned that as early as 2005, the European Union classified Nonylphenols as a reproductive hazard. I also know that many large companies like SC Johnson have already voluntarily phased out NPEs from their products, and that safer, effective and affordable alternatives to NPEs are readily available. Mostly, I learned that NPEs are the kinds of chemicals I definitely want to keep away from my little girl.
As part of my research, I contacted my daughter’s school to find out whether the cleansers used there contained NPEs. I met with Mr. Neal Bangs, the Custodial Supervisor for the Portland Public Schools. He was great. He supplied me with MSDS for most of the products used in Portland schools. While most of the products were what he called “green” and were NPE-free – there was at least one detergent that is still used in the school system which contains NPEs, and there were two which listed a non-specified “surfactant” and “non-ionic surfactant” - either one of which could be NPE.
Mr. Bangs assured me that he tries to use non-toxic products whenever possible. He uses mostly SC Johnson company products, and trusts that these are NPE free. I would like to stress that Mr. Bangs looks for “green” products because of his own concerns about the health and safety of children and workers in the schools – he, like just SC Johnson, is acting voluntarily.
So after learning what I could, this is what I told the BEP: There is still a lot that I don’t know. I don’t know what other companies are doing with nonylphenols . I don’t know what choices Custodial Supervisors in other school districts in Maine are making about cleansers in their schools. Are they using the safest possible products in order to protect our children’s health? I don’t know. As parents, we always want to know that our children are safe. As long as nonylphenol phase-outs remain voluntary, we may never know for sure which products are safe.
If you want to send a message of support to the BEP for phasing out the “toxic detergent” NPE, you can send your comment c/o Andrea Lani at: