July 2013 Newsletter
This month, CEH released a report that clarifies how fracking can affect the health of mothers and children.
Our release coincided with the close of New York State’s 2013 legislative session, an important moment to remind legislators why they must continue the current moratorium on fracking: because fracking endangers mothers, children, families, and communities.
By Caroline Cox
For years my husband has secretly (or sometimes not so secretly) wanted to buy a recliner. Correction. Make that a recliner, a big screen TV, and cable with ESPN. Our daughters and I tease him endlessly about this, so there’s still no recliner in our house. But I understand why he talks about it. It’s a place to lean back, relax, forget problems, indulge in a little cat wrestling, and nap!
What’s wrong with this picture?
Well, more than likely that recliner is full of toxic chemicals. What’s wrong with the picture is that, when you lean back in that recliner, you’re probably breathing in cancer causing chemicals.Firefighters also have huge exposure risks from toxic flame-retardant ridden fires. That’s why we worked with firefighter Janette Neves Rivera, who was diagnosed with an agressive form of breast cancer, on a change.org petition calling for toxic-free fire safety. You can sign the petition here!
Most upholstered furniture is cushioned with polyurethane foam, and an outdated California regulation makes it almost impossible to sell furniture made with polyurethane foam unless the foam is treated with chemical flame retardants. One of the most commonly used flame retardant chemicals is chlorinated Tris, a chemical known to cause cancer.
To end this problem, CEH started a project last fall to get chlorinated Tris out of furniture and other foam products. We’ve tested hundreds of products and identified many that contain Tris. Our testing identified 64 companies, including Toys R Us, Bed Bath and Beyond, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and Laz-Y-Boy, that are selling Tris containing furniture and baby products in violation of California’s consumer protection law. We are currently negotiating with the companies and are proud to announce that one company (a manufacturer of toddler nap mats used in daycares nationwide) has agreed to remove all of the chemical flame retardants from its products. We expect to reach a similar agreement soon with a company selling furniture at a national chain. Soon, you should be able to really enjoy your favorite recliner.
Last year, CEH joined with the Center for Food Safety (CFS) on a lawsuit arguing that the Food and Drug Administration had failed to meet deadlines Congress set when it passed a broad new federal food safety law in January 2011. This spring, a federal court ruled ion our favor and ordered the agency to meet with CFS and CEH to set new deadlines for action. About 3,000 deaths are caused by food-borne illnesses and about 48 million people, or one in six Americans, gets sick from food contamination every year, so it is critical that FDA take immediate action to address food safety gaps.
CEH has also joined two more recent lawsuits spearheaded by CFS: in early May, we joined their suit against FDA for the agency’s lax policy on arsenic-containing poultry feed additives. While these growth-enhancing feed supplements are banned in Europe, many farmers here continue to use them, and FDA has no rules to bar the practice. Shortly after filing the lawsuit, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future reported a new study providing “strong evidence” that arsenic use in poultry production results in increased arsenic concentrations in chicken meat, a factor that could cause an increase in cancer rates.
We also joined CFS and a coalition of beekeepers from across the country who are concerned about a class of pesticides that have been linked to bee colony deaths worldwide. The USDA allowed these pesticides, called neonicotinoids, on the market through a fast-tracked “conditional registration” process that the agency all too routinely uses to circumvent true safety testing. The suit calls on USDA to withdraw the registrations and challenges EPA’s ongoing process for registering pesticides. Stay tuned for updates on our legal work.
CEH has joined the podcast revolution! Our podcast, Before You Leap, will cover issues relating to health, parenting, food, environmental health science, activism, worker’s rights, and more. Our first episode, a Father’s Day conversation with CEH Executive Director Michael Green, progressive activist Ludovic Blain, and A is for Activist author Innosanto Nagara is available on iTunes (or you can listen online at www.b4uleap.org). Upcoming shows will feature discussions about biological research lab safety and synthetic biology, the science around hormone-disrupting chemicals, interviews with CEH staff and more. Listen, subscribe and send story ideas to email@example.com
Jessica Iclisoy is a Southern California native who started California Baby, one of the first companies to make non-toxic baby care products. A seasoned CEH supporter, Jessica chats with us about her company and how it aligns with CEH’s mission and vision of a healthier world.
Q: How did you become interested in environmental health and toxics issues?
A: Actually it coincided with development of my company, California Baby. When I was preparing for my first pregnancy, looking to clean up my diet, I found that there were hormones in diary, formaldehyde in sheets, sulfates in skincare products. I essentially found out just how toxic our world is. I read a few books about the subject, and I’ve been a believer in trying to make change in our world ever since. For me, it’s not just about skincare—it’s really a lifestyle.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the history of your company, California Baby? What inspired you to start it?
A: Starting a family was really my inspiration. After my son was born, I was breastfeeding him, and researching about looking at books in library about how to create the healthiest life for him.
When I realized there were toxics in most of the products out there, especially chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate, I realized that I had to find something safer for my children and my family.
So, I started researching some more, wanting to see if I could create something that didn’t use sulfates or other harsh chemicals. I came up with the first product, Calming Shampoo & Bodywash, which uses no sulfates. Instead of being based on salt, this cleanser was based on sugar. Derived from corn, these cleansers are called glucasides, or decyl glucaside, laurel glucaside. Then we only used pure essential oils to fragrance our products, so we could create a wholly toxic-free alternative.
I worked with chemists to guide and mentor me—back then it was almost a radical idea that someone wouldn’t use a sulfate. I had to do a lot of blending on my own. Back then the larger skincare companies dominated the market, and there wasn’t much access to smaller labs that would do this kind of work. So I started cold calling chemists and asking if I could use their in-house labs to try these new blends out.
I always work on the formulations, I always create the blends. Not being a chemist, I don’t always know when I can’t do something at the outset, so I often just try new ideas and come up with formulations that no one has tried before, that are outside the norm.
Q: You’ve worked with CEH on packaging materials for your products. Why is packaging important as well as the product inside?
My belief is: I don’t want to stop at just the product. We have a manufacturing facility nearby in Culver City. As manufacturers, we have the responsibility to turn out products that are not only safe, but are also reusable and sustainable when they are done being used.
Ideally we want a cradle to cradle concept—we want something that will be really recyclable from start to finish, not just conceptually recyclable.
4. How did you become involved with the Center for Environmental Health? What is your favorite thing about (or accomplishment of) CEH?
I was introduced to Michael through friends of mine, Blake Lindsley and Steven Nemeth, at an event at their house. I knew of CEH, but did not know about all the issues they worked on as intimately, like lead in toys and all sorts of baby products.
I don’t work with a lot of environmental organizations, because often times, they are good at bringing up the problems but not good at providing steps for the solutions. I am solution-driven, so I appreciate that CEH is really good at providing solutions too.
I think manufacturers are part of the solution, and CEH can help companies and manufacturers like mine get to there. CEH is great at solutions, because on the one hand they are happy to sue companies that are threatening people’s health, but on the other hand that they are willing to reach out and help support the companies who want to do better and make the safest products possible.
5. What projects are you focusing on right now? What are the next steps for California Baby?
At California Baby, we’re always adding products to the product line. We’re going to be putting out a hyper chapstick hydration stick soon. We’ve also purchased certified organic land in Santa Barbara County, to grow our own herbs and ingredients, like calendula, organic flowers to extract and use in our products. We’re very excited about this next step!
Last week, CEH hosted a panel at Netroots Nation, called “What the Frack?! The Impact of Fracking on our Health and What We Can Do About It”. Panelists Lance Simmens, of Gasland II, Mark Schlosberg of Food & Water Watch, joined CEH Eastern States Director Ansje Miller in discussing the health and environmental impacts of fracking across the country. See more here.
Next on the calendar? South by Southwest Eco! In October, CEH will host another panel on the health impacts of fracking with CEH’s Michael Green, and panelists Dr. M.K Dorsey, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, DJ Spooky, and Lauren Gifford. More information coming soon!