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Proud to be a Maine mom in Washington DC

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend  a Lobby Day in Washington, DC with Maine moms and other activists to raise awareness and pressure Congress to regulate harmful chemicals in support of The Safe Chemicals Act. As a mom, this was a chance for me to advocate on behalf of the safety of my three children, and all children, who should be kept safe from harmful toxic chemicals in our products.

Our trip to DC was an incredible experience.  24 amazing moms, grandmas, healthcare professionals and activists packed into a bus and left our families, professional responsibilities and other commitments hoping to make a difference.  For twelve hours we sang songs, shared information with one another and prepared powerful statements for our meetings with our members of Congress.

The next day we joined other moms, dads, children, grandparents, health care professionals and activists from all over the country for a press conference and “National Stroller Brigade” all in support for toxic chemical reform.  Maine had the largest, and loudest group represented at the rally!

It was an emotional and powerful experience listening to Senators Lautenburg, Senator Durbin, former Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree and a mom who shared her devastating story from effects of toxic chemicals.  After parading down the streets in DC, we had very positive meetings with the staff of Pingree and Michaud.  We also met with Senator Collins also listened to our stories and expressed that TSCA was outdate and needed to be amended.

Our meeting with Senator Snowe was incredible – the highlight of the trip.  In what was supposed to be a 20 minute meeting that turned into 45 minutes, she engaged fully with each of us, listened to our stories and showed concern and agreement.  Senator Snowe strongly agreed that TSCA was in need up reform and expressed its importance. She urged us to encourage the Environment and Public Works Committee to get the bill to the Senate floor so that she could work with other Senators to find an agreement. We left the meeting feeling renewed energy and hope.

It was such a privilege to take part in the amazing process of government with a dedicated group of activists.   However, there is much more crucial work to be done.  It is unacceptable to have toxic chemicals lingering in our household products – furniture, clothing, food, car seats, receipts and more.  We all need to urge our both Senator Collins and Senator Snowe to lead the way towards national chemical safety reform. Let’s be proactive in order to secure the safety of all our children, the environment, and ourselves.

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A Pediatrician’s Perspective on EHSC’s work

Dr. Syd Sewall

“Better living through chemistry” was how I was brought up.  A future lubricated by Teflon, wrapped in Saran Wrap and preserved by Tupperware made the future bright.  No reason to put up with those nasty ants or weeds — spray them away!

That was before I became a pediatrician and became interested in epidemiology — the study of the CAUSES of disease.  Lead in paint was the first toxin I faced in my professional life…screening little kids in an inner city in the midwest as a med student.   At that point, lead had been recognized as a cause of brain swelling in high levels, but NOT as an inhibitor of development at lower levels.   It took decades of research to “prove” that lead could knock off IQ points at low “asymptomatic” blood levels.   Then the lead industry fought back  hard.

The lessons of lead are still relevant today.   The body of evidence supporting a causal relationship between toxic exposures and health problems is ever increasing.   Industry lobbyists attempt to discredit the science.   Legislative attempts to address the issue are delayed by misinformation.

We need strong science to get society to act.  The toxicology of the substances at the top of the Environmental Health Strategy Center’s radar screen is fascinating and complex.  Phrases like “endocrine disrupter”  and “obesogen” were unknown 10 years ago.  New concepts like “epigenetics” and “non membrane-bound receptors”  describe mechanisms of action that reflect the complexity of biologic systems.  No group in Maine has a better handle on the science than the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

I believe the Environmental Health Strategy Center does important work in a challenging field. Prevention of toxics exposures is a public health issue.  I can’t do a whole lot in my office to  protect my patients — our government, informed by science, needs to act.   The Environmental Health Strategy Center is the group to make that happen.

Dr. Syd Sewall is a pediatrician in Hallowell and a long-time Advisory Board member for the Environmental Health Strategy Center

avatar Mike Belliveau, Executive Director

Stop Playing with Fire

Several years ago I had a front row seat to the deceptions and distorted science of the bromine chemical industry, which the Chicago Tribune documented so well this past week.

Then, former Maine Speaker of House Hannah Pingree proposed legislation to ban all brominated flame retardants. The PBDEs in our couches and TVs had turned our homes into virtual Superfund toxic waste sites, contaminating everything from breast-feeding babies to harbor seals with brain damaging chemicals.

The chemical industry followed the tobacco industry playbook, buying the national fire marshals’ loyalty and running TV, radio and print ads claiming that babies would burn up if the bill passed. Their heavy-handed tactics backfired. The Maine fire services united with health advocates, and the Maine Legislature banned PBDEs, the most notorious flame retardants, by an overwhelming margin.

It turns out that Rep. Pingree’s original call for a more sweeping phase-out was right. The PBDE replacements aren’t safe either. Chemtura replaced the Penta mix of PBDEs in couch cushions with a different mix of new and old brominated flame retardants under the brand name Firemaster 550.

The final Tribune investigative report today exposes the badly broken chemical safety system that plagues public health in the United States:

“At a time when consumers clamor for more information about their exposure to toxic substances, the chemical safety law allows manufacturers to sell products without proving they are safe and to treat the formulas as trade secrets. Once health effects are documented, the law makes it almost impossible for the EPA to ban chemicals.”

Under EPA’s flawed new chemicals program, the agency gave secret approval to TBB, now known to be a key chemical ingredient to Firemaster 550, despite red flags about its safety raised by its own scientists. Now, TBB is routinely found in household dust and the environment, and scientific concerns about its toxicity are growing stronger.

When the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) was passed, 62,000 existing chemicals were grandfathered in, including the brominated phthalate TBPH used in Firemaster 550. That means no mandatory health and safety testing or safety decisions are required. The agency must demonstrate harm and justify costs. While the chemical industry gets a free ride, we get preventable disease and disabilities.

No wonder the chemical industry has lobbied so hard to maintain the status quo in opposition to the Safe Chemicals Act and meaningful TSCA reform.

The toxic flame retardant scandal should be a wake up call for Congress. Similar toxic disasters in the past – like thalidomide in the 1960s, PCBs in the 1970s and Bhopal in the 1980s – spurred badly needed chemical reforms in their day.

It’s time to stop playing with fire and fix our broken chemical safety system.

This blog is re-posted from the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Campaign blog. Mike Belliveau is a Senior Advisor to the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Campaign &
Executive Director of EHSC

avatar Amanda

Rachel Was Right!

This month I was honored to be asked to participate in events at USM and Maine Audubon commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

Carson is often referred to as the mother of the modern environmental movement and is credited with raising an alarm that resulted in (among other things) a ban on the pesticide DDT and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In re-reading Silent Spring to prepare for my presentations I was struck by the sense that it is as fresh today as it was then. Unfortunately we haven’t yet truly heeded her call.

A few months after my college graduation I first learned about the fact that there are no safeguards ensuring household products are free from toxic chemicals and I found that hard to believe. I wrongly assumed that if something was on the shelf someone must have approved it.

Carson wrote about this false assumption I grew up with in Silent Spring, more than a decade before I was born.

“I think until very recently the average citizen assumed someone was looking after these matters. That some little understood but carefully relied upon safeguards stood like shields between his person and harm. We’re experiencing a rather rude shattering of those ideals.”

Somehow 50 years later the average citizen still (wrongly) assumes someone is looking after these matters (they aren’t) and safeguards exist (they don’t).

She felt the public was being asked to take a risk that they didn’t understand, and we still are today.

So, what do we do?

We demand that we have a right to know what’s in products and that a process is created to ensure that unsafe chemicals don’t end up in the stuff we use everyday. In recent years some momentum has begun to build up again- 50 years after Rachel Carson first got the ball rolling.

When parents found out that plastic baby bottles were made with BPA we passed laws and put manufacturers on notice that we wouldn’t accept it- so in the four short years since my daughter was born the entire baby bottle market has phased out of the use of BPA. Yay!

One small example, among many, that when we realize the risks we’re being asked to take and reject them our laws will improve and the market will move. Let’s keep it up!

So in honor of Earth Day and Rachel Carson and Mother’s Day too do something more than you planned on doing to heed the call of the mother of the modern environmental movement- join us on a bus trip to D.C. to support the Safe Chemicals Act, write a letter to the editor supporting BPA free food cans, make a donation to support our work. Don’t wait for someone else to do it or another 50 years may pass before we see the change we need.

If you’ve hesitated until now to get involved take heart, so did Rachel Carson. She looked for two years for someone else to write the book that became Silent Spring. After it’s publication she said she didn’t want to write it because “a book about pesticides would be a book about poison and death, and I wanted to write about life”.

As the mother of two young children I understand that sentiment. I want to be caught up in life all the time not thinking about poisons, but to protect the life we love there is a need for many more of us to embrace the role of mothers of the modern environmental movement by joining Rachel to demand safer chemical policies.

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Congratulations to the Environmental Health Strategy Center on their 10th Anniversary!

I have had the privilege to serve on EHSC’s Advisory Board and work with EHSC over the course of the past 10 years as a volunteer representing the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine (LDA-ME) in the coalition, the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.

As a parent of an adult child with learning disabilities and as a long time volunteer board member with LDA-ME I know the struggles families face advocating for their children. The numbers of children identified with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism and other developmental disabilities are rising.

As awareness grows more researchers are looking at the link between these developmental disabilities and exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday products.  Much is already known about the bad actors, lead and mercury, and their impact on brain development. Now we are learning that other toxicants like Brominated Flame Retardants and Bisphenol-A (BPA) can also impact neurodevelopment.

One of the high points of my volunteer work was helping to lead the effort to pass the Kid Safe Products Act in 2008, which will help protect the neurodevelopmental health of Maine children for generations to come.

by Sandy Cort

avatar Catrina Damrell- EHSC volunteer

Speak Out for Our Kids: Ban BPA from Can Linings!

Several years ago, we were shocked to find out that our beloved Nalgene bottles were in fact poisoning us. Today, many companies boast that their products are made without BPA. However, there still remains a major pathway by which BPA enters our bodies and more importantly, our children’s bodies: baby & toddler food containers, like cans and jars.

You may be wondering, can we really do anything to stop such a common chemical from being used in all our food packaging? Yes, we CAN (pun intended)!

Love ME Rally

Moms and kids get together for the Love ME Rally

Last Tuesday, EHSC joined the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine and Mainely Moms and Dads for a Valentines Day celebration at the State House known as the Love ME Rally. The event kicked off a new campaign to remove the toxic chemical BPA from our food supply – starting with baby and toddler food containers.

Under Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act, The Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to put forward this kind of rule for consideration. But we don’t have to wait for them. By starting a citizen’s initiated rulemaking, we can ensure a public hearing on a rule to remove BPA from baby and toddler foods – just by collecting a few hundred signatures from Maine voters.

Here’s how you can help:

1. Help us get enough signatures before the end of March. By gathering 20 from family and friends, you’ll be bringing us closer to our goal! Contact ehalasoc@preventharm.org for more information.

2. Write a letter to the editor highlighting the need for Maine’s DEP to support our efforts to pass this important rule.

Toddler foods

Our proposed rule would get BPA out of foods marketed to toddlers

Help us protect Maine families!

BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, affecting the way vital reproductive and developmental hormones are distributed in our bodies, leading to early onset of puberty, brain development and immune function (1). BPA has also been linked to increased risk of heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, metabolic disorders and diabetes, and neurological and behavioral disorders (2). This is not a chemical we want anywhere near us. Let’s ban BPA from baby and toddler food can linings!

References:

1. BPA Update: what you need to know 1/12. Greener Choices. 2012. http://www.greenerchoices.org/products.cfm?product=bpapress&pcat=food.

2. Bisphenol A (BPA). The Breast Cancer Fund. 2011. http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/chemicals-glossary/bisphenol-a.html.

avatar Catrina Damrell- EHSC volunteer

A New Years Resolution for a Bigger Change

I was talking to my friend the other day, and I confessed, as annoying as the incessant news segments are about “abiding your New Year’s Resolutions”, I really do enjoy the sense of starting fresh. Wiping off the board, with a fresh slate. New Year’s provides the perfect diving board, from which we can take our inspiration and personal motivation and soar into a new moment of our lives.

In my eyes, any New Years resolution is a great resolution, so long as it is beneficial to you, and hopefully to others. There are common ones that pop up, such as weight loss, exercise, improving financial habits, buying local, and so on. Each resolution has an effect on your personal health, both mental and physical. My personal New Years Resolutions are quite varied, from expanding on my knitting skills to starting up my own personal blog and photography website.

This year in particular, however, I have one that has a new focus to it, thanks to what I have been learning from the EHSC. I have made a resolution to limit the pollution and poison that would otherwise enter my body, unknowingly.

My inspiration for this resolution began when I read the Breast Cancer Fund’s report on BPA in can linings. I know I hold my standards for food I put on my plate, but after reading the paper, I realized that even if I was purchasing organic tomato paste, it also might be organic tomato paste laced with BPA. My resolution for canned food? Minimize my purchases whenever I can, and be creative and adventurous. Make baked beans at home – hey, if I’m living in Maine, I should make my state proud. Similarly, there are recipes for preserving and canning just about everything online, so I hope to start canning my own with the help of my mom. And when I do find myself crunched for time, which is inevitable, then I’ll try to opt for Tetra Pak products. These, as I mentioned in my post on November 21, 2011, are made with sustainable paper products and are BPA free. A win win!

toddler foods

Monitoring what I eat is an obvious step to avoiding every day poisions, but I have made resolutions pertaining to other daily interactions as well. For one, I’ve decided to purchase beauty care products that explicitly list Paraben Free on their labels. What exactly is the harm in parabens? According to the Livestrong Foundation, they may increase the risk of developing cancerous cells and traces of them have been found in tumors. Parabens are synthetic preservatives in cosmetics, extending the shelf life of the products. Over time, the chemicals can become absorbed into our blood stream, and have been known to be endocrine disruptors. Thankfully, there has been enough press about this one stream of chemicals that now producers have started marketing themselves as Paraben Free. Keep your eye out for that label next time you find yourself buying another bottle of lotion or mascara!

It’s time for a call to arms. It is a call to stand up as citizens and demand that the funding finally be put into researching what exactly is entering our bodies. There is a bill before the US Senate right now called the Safe Chemicals Act, and if passed it can be our ticket to a poison-free society.  Instead of having to worry about whether the can of tomatoes in your hand is or isn’t BPA-free, you would have the reassurance of knowing the legislation passed in favor of your family’s health. Chemicals would have to be tested for safety before they are allowed in can linings, not years after the fact.

Our Maine senators, Senator Snowe and Senator Collins, have already made strides by publicly acknowledging that our current law, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, has been failing to protect our health and safety for 35 years. We need to encourage them, however, to make their own resolution for health and wellness by co-sponsoring the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, to help grown bi-partisan support for the bill in 2012.

Meanwhile, Environmental Health Strategy Center and advocates in Maine will spend 2012 pushing to get BPA out of canned foods sold here in Maine – making our state slogan “I lead” ring true.

I look forward to 2012 as a year of change, of hope, and of progress. I recognize the value of knowing what chemicals I expose myself to on a daily basis, and realize how that might affect my overall health and me as a future mother. However, what I have come to realize is that these chemicals will continue on unchecked unless there is a higher interference. That monitoring must come not only from our state government, but also from our federal government, whose duty is to protect its citizens.

One of my most important resolutions this year is to be an active citizen, to fight for safer laws on toxic chemicals here in Maine and the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, and to educate my peers on how they can become the change they want to see as well. WE CAN DO IT!

avatar Reeve Chase- EHSC volunteer

For the first time, thanks to the Maine 2008 Kids Safe Products Act, companies have reported to the State of Maine that we can find two chemicals of high concern, BPAs and NPEs, in common household products like paint, plastic toys, and personal care products. This public disclosure revealed that more than 650 brand name products contain one of these two chemicals. The full report is available here.

One of the hardest things about being a parent today is figuring out what type of gear, out of the myriad possibilities that exist, we need for our babies and children. You have to think about cost, color, materials, usefulness, and a hundred other things. You need a pacifier? What color? What size? What’s it made of? The choices are endless.

Then you have to launch an online investigation into all the chemicals used in the manufacture of the product?

Yeah, right. No parent I know has the time to do that level of research, and I’m sure even fewer have the inclination. That’s why Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act is so important, and such a needed safety net for the next generation. With the public disclosure required by the Kid Safe Products Act, consumers can simply check out databases like the one at HealthyStuff.org and know right away if the item they own or might acquire contains any chemicals of concerns.

Without the Kid Safe Product Act here in Maine, this information would not be available. Anywhere. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t know what’s in these products, because there is no federal law requiring companies to disclose that information. But with more state legislation like this, here in Maine and elsewhere, addressing more chemicals of concern, corporations will finally be held accountable for what they put into their products.

Think about it: If companies know they will have to admit to using BPA or NPEs or other chemicals of concern in their products, you can bet they will start looking harder for an alternative.

I envision a day when every product on the market is free from any chemical of concern, and the only decision we’ll have left to make is a simple one: Do we want the blue, or the pink? For that to happen, we need reforms to our broken federal safety laws. But for now, one state has managed to improve the health and well being of our kids.

avatar Catrina Damrell- EHSC volunteer

BPA-free Food for the Holidays

My girlfriends and I host a fortnightly potluck, mainly so we can use the term fortnightly, and it has become the highlight of every two weeks for me. At the most recent gathering, I decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch (all but the pie crust, which I bought an all natural frozen pie crust). Little did I know, I was saving my friends and myself from an alarming dosage of BPA.

Last week the Breast Cancer Fund released a report focusing on the widespread reach of BPA in the linings of canned food. This comes at a time when a lot of us are reaching for the can of creamed corn or pumpkin purée, partaking in the nationwide culinary extravaganza known as Thanksgiving.

So what’s all the fuss about BPA? BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, mimicking estrogen in our bodies. This reaction can lead to increase risk of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early onset of puberty in females, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and ADHD.1 If this has been proven in the lab, why is BPA still used in the linings of cans? It is a component of the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans and glass jar lids, creating a seal that prevents the food from bacterial contamination.2 Unfortunately, the use of BPA is a catch 22, preventing one food problem and creating another.

As conscious Maine consumers and family members, what sort of options remain for avoiding a chemical that seems to have infiltrated its way into nearly every food container? Despite the ongoing annual transition to the frozen tundra called the Maine Winter, the farmers markets across the state boast fresh, local, BPA-free produce. I called up Alewive’s Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth to ask about what produce they were bringing to the markets and the list seemed endless, from potatoes, carrots, onions, to kale, lettuce, and brussel sprouts. They informed me that they set up at Portland’s farmers market at Monument Square on Wednesdays, and also South Portland’s winter farmers market at the new city planning & development building. These days it is also possible to use your SNAP (food stamps) or WIC dollars to purchase fresh foods at farmer’s market. The Lewiston Farmer’s Market even offers a deal that doubles the value of WIC or SNAP dollars when they are used to buy local nutritional food.

If going to the farmer’s market won’t fit into your schedule (it generally doesn’t in mine), but you still would like to support local farmers and protect your family from BPA — consider joining a CSA or cooperative where food is packaged and either delivered to your house or a pick up location weekly. The Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative is one of the largest cooperatives in Maine, sourcing farmers and people across the state. There are numerous ways to get involved in the local food scene across the state, and it’s a great way to meet more people concerned about similar issues.

I don’t mean to disregard already packaged pumpkin purées or gravy, in fact – it’s a heck of a lot easier than making it yourself. TetraPak is a company that’s renovating the packaging industry with its sustainably-sourced paper. Nearly every Thanksgiving staple can be found ready to go in TetraPak and other BPA-free containers. Here’s a great guide of products to look out for from the folks at Safer Choices.

All in all, knowledge is power and ensuring a healthy, non-toxic Thanksgiving begins with informed decisions. And while you’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table, you can also discuss other ways we could get chemicals like BPA out of our food packaging — like passing laws that prevent those chemicals from being added in the first place.

Have a great holiday!

References:
1. Breast Cancer Fund (2011). BPA in Thanksgiving Canned Food.

avatar Blog Admin

A helpful guide to safer sleeping

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A new report just out from Clean and Healthy New York finds that only 20% of all crib mattresses on the market are free from toxic chemicals. At the same time, misleading labels may not give consumers the full story on what goes into the making of their baby’s mattress.

At an event at The Clean Bedroom in Kittery, Maine, where concerned consumers discussed the new report, Chris Chamberlain, co-founder of the store, said “my husband and I started this company because we believe every mother in the world should know what they are putting their child on at night.” Her store carries some of the few (only 8%) of mattress brands on the market that avoid chemicals of concern and all allergens.

As a mom, this is the kind of consumer guide I wish existed for all my kid’s products. The report gives a complete breakdown of the pros and cons of various mattress materials. When it comes to toxicity, it seemed to me that flame retardants were really the thing to look out for. The two most commonly used in mattresses, antimony and HFRS, can cause pretty serious health problems. But wool, when woven or packed tightly, is naturally fire-resistant. So when choosing a crib mattress, look for wool or hydrated silica used as flame retardants, neither of which are toxic.

When it comes to the mattress cover, even cotton and wool may be treated with waterproofing, antibacterial and flame-retardant chemicals, none of which are necessary and may be harmful. To be safest, look for organic cotton or wool covers. A full 40% of the mattresses studied use vinyl coverings, which I would avoid at all costs. Even when covered in organic cotton sheets, the vinyl coating can off-gas and potentially harm your baby’s health.

Read the full report here to learn how you — and your baby — can rest easier.

EHSC joins moms and representatives of The Clean Bedroom store for Thursday's release of Mattress Matters - a new report from Clean and Healthy New York