Wishing You a Green Valentine’s Day

Steer Clear of Toxic Jewelry this Valentine’s Day


By Caroline Cox

When I think about Valentine traditions, I think about all the years I spent perfecting my ability to spoon heart-shaped pancakes onto the griddle. I was usually pretty good at it by the end of our Valentines Day breakfast, but by the next year I’d have to start all over again.

And I think about the year that I decided we were going to forego the commercial side of Valentine’s Day and make our own valentines. Three daughters equals three classrooms full of students and more than 100 valentines! So I rounded up red and pink paper, doilies, ribbons etc and we got to work. By the end of the evening (Valentines eve, of course) we had a couple of dozen gorgeous valentines, but not nearly enough. Al (my husband and a contractor who excels at project management) had to come to the rescue with an assembly line and a large stapler. It was still a very late night.

What I don’t think about when I think of Valentine’s Day is buying jewelry. It’s just something I’ve never done. But I know that it’s an important part of many of your celebrations. At CEH, we’ve done a lot of jewelry testing over the last few years and have a few suggestions if you’re buying jewelry:

  • Toxic metals in jewelry are much less of a problem than they used to be. CEH’s litigation with jewelry companies about five years ago was remarkably successful, and we’re finding that over 95 percent of the jewelry in big box stores is free of lead hazards.
  • Local artists or craft fairs are a great way to buy jewelry that uses lots of natural materials.
  • Stay clear of a few of pieces of jewelry that we’ve tested recently that have way too much lead or cadmium in them. These pieces came from Kmart, The Buckle, and Icing.

What’s Your Greenwash of the Month?

This month, we’re launching our new “Greenwash of the Month” series. Each month, we’ll highlight a different product that poses as “environmentally”, “eco” (or other green-leaning terms)-friendly. Our first post highlights the “Earth Shoe” which CEH found contains high levels of lead—despite the “100% lead-free” label. What?! We also found another culprit of dubious label claims—Kellogg’s Pop Tart Mini Crisps—just in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s a case of Valentine’s phony-fruity label claims, and we’re here to expose it so you, as a consumer, can make more informed choices next time you’re at the grocery store.

Now, to keep our Greenwashing series going strong, we want to hear from YOU! Send us a photo of the worst greenwashing product you’ve seen, and we might feature it on Generation Green! Please include a photo of the product and the offending label with a brief description of how it qualifies as “greenwashing,” and email to alison@ceh.org. Don’t have a digital camera? You can send it by snail mail to:

CEH (c/o Ali Geering-Kline)

2201 Broadway, Suite 302

Oakland, CA 94612

We will contact you if we select your item for a “Greenwash of the Month” post. We’re looking forward to seeing what you send us!


For Lead Testing, Corporate Front-Group is in the Bag

altIn January, CEH found that certain Disney-character reusable plastic bags purchased at Safeway stores contain high levels of lead. Our concern is that lead from the bags may expose people if lead comes off onto food in the bags and when they handle the bags.

But another group making news about lead in reusable bags has another agenda. Following our announcement, the dubiously named “Center for Consumer Freedom” released their findings of lead in some reusable bags. Although the levels they found were much lower than those that CEH found in the Disney bags, this industry-front group claimed that their findings showed that attempts to ban single-use plastic bags (bans that are being considered by dozens of local and state governments) are misguided.

Huh? If a few reusable plastic bags contain lead, how does it follow that wasteful, polluting disposable plastic bags are better?

It doesn’t, but logic has nothing to do with CCF’s campaign. The group, which in reality is nothing more than an industry-backed public relations company, specializes in media blitzes designed to confuse the public about sensible health and environmental policies (witness their long-time pro-tobacco, pro-drunkenness, pro-sweatshop agendas).

Don’t be fooled. Support proposals to ban single-use bags, and when you go shopping, take along a reusable cloth bag (there are still a few CEH organic cloth bags left, available for a $30 donation).


The Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS) Project of CEH

altThe MOMS Project, in partnership with the Collaborative on Health and Environment will hold its first environmental health science training for mothers March 2-4, in Bolinas, CA. We had a wonderful pool of applicants from all parts of the United States (we even had one applicant from Cameroon!). The training—led by an expert team of environmental health leaders—w ill provide a basic scientific understanding of science surrounding today’s pressing environmental health issues so that mothers can be more effective advocates for a healthier world.

In early spring, MOMS will launch its new website, which will serve as a gathering place for moms concerned about environmental health issues, provide resources for getting up to speed on the latest issues, and connect grassroots groups with concerned parents whose participation can help bring much-needed attention to critical campaigns. Be among the first 500 members to log in and use the new site (create a blog post, upload a video, or tool) and you will be entered in a drawing for a Flip UltraHD Video Camera. Sign-up for MOMS alerts today to stay posted on the launch of the website and full contest rules.

Ever wonder how many colors it takes to make brown? Well, according to the ingredients for Very Chocolate Brownie listed in the IATP food coloring database, quite a few: R40 (Lake) – Allura Red,
Y5 (Lake) – Tartrazine, Y6 (Lake) – Sunset Yellow, B1 (Lake) – Brilliant Blue, B2 (Lake) – Indigotine
R3 – Erythrosine, R40 – Allura Red, Y5 – Tartrazine, Y6 – Sunset Yellow, B1 – Brilliant Blue, B2 – Indigotine, G3 – Fast Green FCF.

Luckily, the company reformulated this product and its brown color now is derived from, well, something brown. The bad news, though, is that many foods, from cereals and snacks, to soups and beverages contain synthetic food colors linked to allergies, ADHD, and cancer. The MOMS Project is working to hold food producers accountable by asking them to replace these harmful dyes with safer, plant-based ones.


Greening Electronics

altHave you ever wondered how your electronic product stacks up against others in terms of its environmental performance?

CEH is working to help you answer that very question. Over the last two years CEH has been involved with developing an international Eco-Label for electronics, known as EPEAT. Until now, EPEAT has primarily rated business computing products, but new standards are being developed for TVs and Imaging Equipment (such as printers, copiers, multifunction devices) that will rate consumer-level products as well.

This is a huge step for consumers who will have a way to compare products across a uniform set of environmental criteria. In concept, EPEAT holds a lot of promise to create a one-stop shop for eco-conscious purchasers, but we’ll have to wait to see how the final product turns out. EPEAT is developed under a multi-stakeholder process and unfortunately chemical suppliers and others with financially vested interests are attempting to weaken the standard. But CEH is investing significant time in this work, because we know that strong EPEAT standards will shape the way that electronics are made for years to come, influencing billions of purchasing dollars. (Since its inception in 2006, more than $65 billion worth of EPEAT computers have already been purchased). We don’t expect the new EPEAT standards to be released until the end of this year (at the earliest), but in the interim, CEH has pulled together useful resources on our website (www.ceh.org/electronics) to help you identify greener electronics and make informed purchasing decisions.


Bouncehouse Update

You may remember that in our last few newsletters we’ve talked about problems with lead-containing vinyl in bounce houses (also known as jumpies). If you’ve watched kids having fun at a bounce house party, it’s hard to imagine a worse place for lead to be.

We’re pleased to announce that in collaboration with the California attorney general, we are close to finalizing legal agreements with two major manufacturers of bounce houses. One of them is Ninja Jump, a large manufacturer that is also the only company that makes bounce houses with the licensed characters that your kids love (from Disney, Pixar, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros.). The other is another large manufacturer, e-inflatables.

Both companies have agreed to stop using vinyl with hazardous levels of lead and to help bounce house rental companies replace lead-containing bounce houses that they are currently renting.

I’m delighted that birthday parties across California will soon be not only fun, but also free of lead hazards. Thanks for your support that makes this work possible.


CHANGE Leads Green Chemistry Success

2010 ended on a note of empowerment for CHANGE and the future of California’s toxic chemical regulations. Last month, CEH and CHANGE supporters led the charge to force the state to withdraw its impotent “Green Chemistry” rules.

The road to this victory was not easy. For two years, CHANGE advocated for many key elements in the regulation that would have made important information about chemicals in the marketplace available for the first time. We worked with government staff, legislators and the media to widen the breadth of support and build a movement of concerned communities, including workers, scientists and public health advocates.

But, in the 11th hour of the Schwarzenegger Administration, the latest draft regulations that we cautiously supported were brazenly rewritten to protect the chemical industry, at the expense of public health and the environment. CHANGE members and allies publicly opposed the new rules, highlighting the administration’s deception and the violation of its promise to protect Californians and encourage innovation through green chemistry. CEH and CHANGE educated the public and state leaders about the severe flaws in the new proposal, and worked with other advocates to provide comments and sign-on letters opposing the new rules.

Our efforts paid off: thanks to the support of members like you, and relentless pressure from scientists, environmental advocates, health organizations, and other public interest groups, the state tabled those outrageous regulations.

This is an important defensive victory for California’s health!

Now the fate of the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI) lies in the hands of our new, Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature. CEH and CHANGE will be there to make sure that the rewrite of these Green Chemistry regulations truly commits to protecting public health and the environment.