March 2013: Fightin’ Fires, Takin’ Names
If you ever look at the many tags on your furniture, you may have seen a tag indicating that your furniture is made to conform to a California flammability standard. Because California is such a large market, for more than thirty years most furniture makers have created products to meet a California flammability standard that promotes the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals.
But according to fire safety experts and recent studies, flame retardant chemicals are not effective as used in furniture and many other products. In other words, we are all exposed to these harmful chemicals in our homes, schools and workplaces for no reason—other than chemical industry profits.
The good news: thanks to years of hard work by CEH and many of our allies, California has now proposed a new flammability standard that would provide better fire safety without harmful chemicals. The state is accepting comments on the proposal right now, and it’s crucial that we all support this modern, scientific approach! The chemical industry will do everything they can to oppose this regulation, so please take action before March 26th if you haven’t already!
CEH exposed the urgent need for reform of the California standard with our recent report, Naptime Nightmares, looking at flame retardant chemicals in nap mats used in daycares nationwide. Our report found flame retardant chemical in 22 of the 24 nap mats tested, with 19 nap mats containing 2 or more flame retardant chemicals. The report received widespread media attention and was cited in a letter by Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ) and 22 colleagues urging the EPA to investigate the health risks of flame retardant chemicals.
You can stay updated on our flame retardants work and upcoming actions at our new site, www.killercouch.org.
As we assess our energy future, we must ensure that we are making environmentally clean as well as safe and healthy energy choices. This is why advocates have asked CEH to bring its successful environmental health frame to work on energy issues. In particular, we’ve been focusing on the issue of the natural gas industrial process known as hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking). Fracking is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas, and other substances for extraction. Many of the chemicals used in fracking have been linked to negative health effects like cancer, developmental delays, and reproductive disorders. Many other chemicals remain undisclosed, hidden by trade secret protections, despite the lack of information about their health and environmental effects. Companies are playing what we call a “Toxic Shell Game” by denying the impact of chemicals used in fracking and promoting natural gas as a clean, environmentally-friendly alternative to coal without sufficient testing of the chemicals and processes used.
CEH is playing a key role in highlighting the health impacts of fracking and working with partner organizations to improve state and federal standards to protect our children’s and families’ health.
Now, our efforts appear to be paying off.
Just last week the New York State Assembly passed a bill calling for a two-year moratorium on fracking in the state. The two-year moratorium would allow for more time to investigate possible health and environmental consequences associated with hydraulic fracturing. CEH supporters in New York can now call on your State Senators to support the Senate version of the bill.
Over the past year, CEH has been researching the toxic and environmental health impacts of energy. Our forthcoming report will outline the pros and cons of different energy sources and solutions from an environmental health perspective throughout each lifecycle. We examine both fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) as well as non-fossil fuel alternatives (hydroelectric, geothermal, nuclear, solar, wind, biofuels, and biomass) and compare the health issues related to the different sources as applied to electricity, transportation, cooking, heating, and food production. Stay tuned!
As many CEH supporters know, many companies that make baby bottles, sippy cups and other food and beverage items for young children have removed the hormone-altering chemical bisphenol A (BPA) from their products. But hundreds of chemicals are known or suspected to have similar hormone-altering properties, and CEH is concerned about that the untested chemicals used to replace BPA may have similar risks.
News reports and regulatory action by some local and state governments gave BPA such a bad name that the sippy cup companies switched to other plastics. The situation for BPA got so bad that even the chemical industry asked the government to prohibit use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups.
Now, a joint 10-year research report by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program has found that chemicals that can interfere with and alter our natural hormones are a global health threat. CEH Executive Director Michael Green summarized some of the report’s findings and recommendations in his latest piece for the Huffington Post. Check it out!
Van Jones is a Yale-educated attorney, a former green jobs advisor to the Obama White House, and the President and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, a nonprofit dedicated to innovative solutions to fix the U.S. economy. Van Jones spoke with Executive Director Michael Green at the end of 2012 about his work and how work, wealth and health–the ‘Holy Trinity’ for most people- tie in so well with CEH’s work.
MICHAEL GREEN: I know that you discovered CEH when you were on the board of [We Interrupt This Message], and we were sharing office space with them. What about our work moves you? What about our work at the intersection between public health and environment? Why have you stayed connected with CEH all these years?
VAN JONES: Well, I just know that for most people they’re primarily concerned with work, wealth, and health. That’s the Holy Trinity for the average person. … Well I think the average person who’s just trying to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head is primarily focused on three things; work, wealth, and health. And I focus a lot on green jobs and the opportunities for people to have work and also focus on things that hopefully save people money so they can build their wealth. Whether that’s better food options or energy-efficient houses, by the end of the day, that health-leg is so critical to people, and it’s so critical to the future of the people and the planet. And that’s what CEH has been about. And I think CEH has done just exemplary work, world-class work, punches way above its weight, gets more positive change out of a penny than unfortunately many organizations get out of a hundred dollar bills. And I just respect the work a lot. Also, I’m a father. I have two little boys. Who knows what this sort of chemical cocktail they’re living in is going to produce, and then my grandchildren? Someone’s got to ask tough questions and fight tough fights, and CEH does that. So I appreciate it.
MICHAEL GREEN: Thank you. The last question I wanted to ask you for the supporters spotlight is: What’s your experience of what works when you’re trying to collaborate with folks who are “from the other side?”
VAN JONES: The first thing is we’ve got to recognize that there just aren’t enough people who think exactly like we do to get anything done. And, if you can’t start with a fact-based assessment of the overall kind of psycho-graphics of the country, the demographics of the country, just where are people coming from, if we limit ourselves to only the very tiny handful of people who agree with us, we’ll be righteous, but we’ll be dead because there’s not enough of us. And so developing the ability to seek out common ground is just a part of the job. I think we need a green-growth alliance. I wrote about that in the green-collar economy. That’s still my basic operating framework. We want to grow the parts of the economy that are healthy, that we’re going to need no matter what the back-end of the century looks like. You’re going to need less-toxic alternatives for making products; you’re going to need cleaner energy sources; you’re going to need smarter, wiser food systems. Those parts of the economy that are green, we should be trying to grow. We should be trying to sink the parts of the economy that are gray and poisonous. If you just keep it that simple, you can find a lot of great allies. I think, you know, in the last century, the leadership model was sort of the Martin Luther King model – great speakers. And that’s very important. But I think the new leadership model is going to be the great listener. I mean who can really hear in all the chaos the underlying harmonies and opportunities for people to work together. Even on stuff that’s more in my ballpark, talking about clean energy and climate. Let’s get massive investment in clean energy so the people who are out there with those big cows also have big wind turbines on that same land. The blue states that are thinking up cool stuff in their universities or building cool stuff in their factories have someone to sell to. That’s how I try to look at the country. I’ll tell you what, our opponents make it hard to maintain that view because they’re very good at dividing people and pushing our buttons. At the end of the day, at the end of the century, we’re going be rewarded and judged based on how successful our coalitions were, not how pure they were.
MICHAEL GREEN: Alright, I mean, the only other thing I want to say is I’ve been such a huge fan of yours for so long, I’m really honored to have you share your time with us, and to share your thoughts for our audience. Thank you.
- See the NBC Nightly News report prompted by CEH’s findings of cancer-causing flame retardants in baby products. More news reports on our findings are on the CEH website.
- Hear CEH East Coast Director Ansje Miller on NPR, describing our findings of flame retardant chemicals in nap mats used in daycares nationwide on NPR.
- Links to more media on our nap mats report are on our website.
- CEH’s Pollution Prevention Co-directors Judy Levin (with dog Lulu) and Sue Chiang (with children Gabriel and Elena) have been featured in recent news stories on flame retardant chemical dangers in the San Francisco Chronicle.
- For more recent news reports featuring CEH, see our website.
Watch out New York! CEH is returning to the Green Festival in New York City on April 19th & 20th at Javits Center North.Don’t miss CEH speakers, and be sure to stop by our booth!
Plus: Do you know a stellar grassroots organization working on environmental justice issues? Encourage them to apply for CEH’s 2013 Justice Fund Cycle! This annual grant cycle awards small grants to organizations wtih annual budgets of less than $500,000 working in pursuit of environmental justice and community empowerment in California. See how to apply for a Justice Fund Grant here!