In our house over the past two years or so, we’ve been carefully examining every personal care product we buy. If you’re a long-time reader of Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL), you already know that we are huge fans of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. Today, we received a bulletin from EWG’s Action Fund president, Ken Cook, asking for support in telling the US Congress that it’s essential to support the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010.
Why should you care? Because, like most Americans, EWG suggests, you probably use “about 10” personal care products each day (e.g., soap, shaving cream, after-shave, shampoo, cream rinse, toothpaste, lotion, deodorant, styling gel, acne creams, sunscreen, base makeup, powder, lipstick, eyeshadow, mascara, eye liner, lip liner, blush…). Of course, that number varies widely, but we all use some products each day.
“And,” Cook writes, “those products aren’t required to be tested for safety before going onto shelves. That’s almost 126 unique ingredients you use everyday that the government can’t guarantee are safe.”
If you’ve seen Annie Leonard’s latest animated film, The Story of Cosmetics, you know that these ingredients can be highly dangerous to us.
Perhaps you’re as concerned as we are at BPGL. We don’t want the burden of choosing safe products to be on the shoulders of the consumer. There are far too many factors for any of us to keep track of when purchasing from the vast selection of products on our store shelves. Let’s put the burden on the manufacturers, where it belongs. Make them give us safe products from the beginning.
Cook goes on to write:
Congress introduced a bill last week, The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 (H.R. 5786)… It would expand the regulation of ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, like allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the use of dangerous ingredients.
Congress needs to know that you think this legislation is important. EWG is the leader in researching personal care product safety. Will you stand with us and pledge your support today?
I hope you sign the petition. But we all know that Congress won’t pay attention to a petition unless they believe their own constituents back it.
Is personal care safety important to you? Is it important enough to take a few minutes to call your Senators and Representative? Each phone call makes far more of an impact than signing a petition (though please take a few seconds to do that, too?) And if you really want to make a point, write a letter (the old-fashioned kind or an email) telling why this issue matters to you.
If you decide to put in the effort to write to your Congresspersons — about this issue or any other — make sure that you do it effectively. Ask.com has a helpful article with tips that can make your letter get noticed in the way you’d like it to be.
Still wondering whether you need to spend the time to weigh your opinion? Here’s more from Ken Cook:
Manufacturers may use almost any ingredient or raw material in your soap, shampoo or makeup without government review or approval. According to EWG’s research, 22 percent of all personal care products, including children’s products, may contain a cancer-causing ingredient, 1,4-Dioxane, and 60 percent of sunscreens contain oxybenzone, a potential hormone disruptor. Other studies have raised alarms about lead in lipstick, secret chemicals in fragrance and preservatives in personal care products.
It’s time that the FDA has the authority to regulate ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. From prohibiting the use of certain ingredients, including carcinogens and reproductive and developmental toxins, to recalling products that fail to meet safety standards and requiring product labels to name each ingredient, the FDA will be better able to ensure that what you’re buying is safe for you and your family.
You have the right to know what you are putting on your face, hair, and skin. And you should feel safe buying any product allowed on store shelves. Tell Congress we need action on the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010.
Will you know what products are safe for you and your family to use the next time you go to the store or order on line? Right now, the only way is to check each, individual product using EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. But if Congress passes the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, eventually all of the choices available to you will be safer choices.
Please. Take action today. Let’s get the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 passed for our safety and the safety of future generations. Thank you.
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Hungry? How about a juicy peach? Imported grapes are sooo delicious. Apples are yummy. And cherries are a snack straight from Paradise.
Watch Out for the Dirty Dozen
Fact is, every one of those conventionally raised, scrumptious food choices is laden with pesticides — dozens of different pesticide chemicals. According to an article on About.com, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiled information about pesticides “from approximately 96,000 studies by the USDA and FDA of the 49 fruits and vegetables listed between 2000 and 2008.” EWG then created a handy Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, which lists the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.”
When I first read EWG‘s list last year, I was more than a little chagrined to see many of my favorite foods listed in the Dirty Dozen. I truly love 11 of the 12 foods: “peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cherries, potatoes, grapes.” (I’m not so crazy about celery.) These are many of the foods I most enjoy. And being almost-entirely a vegetarian, they’re foods I depend on for their nutrient value — especially kale.
If, like me, you love eating foods from the Dirty Dozen list, there’s a solution: Eat organic. Foods raised using organic methods don’t have pesticide residues to worry about. Yes, there’s the occasional bug. (I’m very selective when choosing kale at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Bugs are hard to see without pulling back each leaf and taking a good, long look.) But I’d rather work around a bug or two that I can see than try to fight against invisible pesticide residues. Wouldn’t you?
You can download the EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, print it, and take it shopping with you. Or, you can insist on organic produce. It’s an easy choice for our family most of the time, though our selection can be somewhat limited at the grocery store. Farmers’ markets and CSAs are more likely to provide more organic options.
If avoiding pesticides in your foods is important to you, too, then ask for organic selections. Consumers won’t get more options if we don’t create a demand for them. Farmers have to make a living, too, and there’s more work and more spoilage when raising organic produce. Our willingness to pay a little more and to purchase organic foods helps support farmers in their efforts to bring us more healthy choices.
Wash Your Fruits and Veggies
When I started writing this post, I had intended to focus on Earth Friendly Products’ Fruit & Vegetable Wash as way to clean produce of “soil, dirt, and wax” (their words). That’s all good. And it’s important to clean produce before you eat it. But then I started wondering if this product could wash away the biggest problem of all: pesticides.
According to the Earth Friendly Products website, their Fruit & Vegetable Spray is “especially ideal for cleaning off oily pesticides, waxes and chemicals that are designed to be water resistant.” Wow. I didn’t expect that.
And, as for cleaning produce — organic or conventionally grown — it seems to do the job as well as similar products I’ve tried. But what I like best about Earth Friendly Products’ Fruit & Vegetable Wash is that it’s made from all natural ingredients — no artificial chemicals that I can’t pronounce, let alone comprehend.
What’s in it? “Purified water, 100% natural amphoteric coconut based surfactant, citric acid.” No sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which some other products contain. (SLS is a skin irritant for many people.)
Using it is simple. Spray it on every exterior surface of the fruit or vegetable. Then wash it off with warm water. Frankly, I expected the directions to include scrubbing or waiting for the spray to take effect. In fact, when I washed grapes just before writing this post, I waited a couple of minutes before washing it off. When I’ve used the Earth Friendly Products spray to clean apples and oranges, I’ve rubbed it on the skin of the fruit, rather than just giving it a quick spritz. (I’m apparently a creature of habit.)
Once the Earth Friendly Products’ Fruit & Vegetable Wash has been washed off, there’s no aftertaste or residue left behind. Does it completely clean the fruits or vegetables? I don’t honestly know, but they look and feel clean. Does it do better than using distilled water, which is preferred by the Extension Office at the University of Maine over other fruit and vegetable sprays? I don’t know that, either; I haven’t done any scientific tests. But distilled water doesn’t contain any surfactants, and this product does. The plant-derived surfactant in Earth Friendly Products’ Fruit & Vegetable Wash should loosen anything attached to the skin of the produce.
You might be interested in the features of the product, according to the Earth Friendly Products website:
- pH 3.0-3.5, but gentle on hands and skin
- Non-polluting/100% biodegradable/non-toxic/natural.
- Made of replenishable/sustainable ingredients
- Plant-based surfactants we use do not harm the item being cleaned, your body or the environment
- Helps remove pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals, dirt, wax and bacteria.
- 100% tasteless
- Rinses away completely; leaves no residue or aftertaste
- No lengthy cleaning process required: sprays on and rinses off; works quickly and easily; no need to scrub or soak; no waiting period
- Free of alcohol, bleach, DEA or hydrogen peroxide.
- Easy to recycle: #1 PETE HDPE plastic container
Did you notice the words, “Helps remove pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals, dirt, wax and bacteria”? They give me confidence that Earth Friendly Products’ Fruit & Vegetable Wash is much more powerful than distilled water.
And then they list the benefits:
- Doesn’t irritate skin.
- Fruit and vegetables grown inorganically can be cleansed of surface pesticides, chemicals and waxes without depositing other harmful chemicals or adversely effecting taste.
- It really works
- Safe for you and the environment
One thing I do know is that Earth Friendly Products has a long-standing reputation as an environmental company making eco-friendly products that live up to their advertising. With each Earth Friendly Products item I’ve tried so far, I’ve been pleased with the results and confident in their safety. But check out the company for yourself. I think you’ll like what you learn.
You can purchase Earth Friendly Products Fruit & Vegetable Wash from the company’s website (though I’m having trouble getting it to work on my Mac as I write this). You can also find local retailers by entering your zip code into their store finder. Or, you can purchase the product through Amazon, though Amazon doesn’t seem to offer individual bottles. Current offerings on Amazon range from $18.00 for a 6-pack of 17-oz. bottles to $32 for a 6-pack of 32-oz. bottles to $49.57 for a 12-pack of 22-oz. bottles. As always, please try your local stores first.
The Small Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a free sample of the product described in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to only review those products we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a product, we do not review it. We are not influenced by complimentary products and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this product or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we gratefully use to sustain this website.
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Sprout Baby sells organic and natural products for babies and moms. When Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed founder Jody Sherman by phone, we learned about the process the company uses to vet products for sale on their site. We also learned that the story behind this baby products company has an unusual — and heart-tugging — twist.
We think you’ll love Sprout Baby’s products — as well as its generous referral program. This is Part Two of two parts. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: Do any of the staff at Sprout Baby have babies of their own?
SHERMAN: One of my partners is a mom named Emily. Emily used to be a teacher, but after she had a baby, she decided she wanted to spend more time with her daughter. Emily basically looked like our customer base. She was 26 years old at the time, really focused on having a healthy environment for her baby.
She opened a store in Venice, California, that just sold eco-conscious products and slightly used recycled products. She got involved with Sprout Baby, and she does deep research on products. She represents the customer really well because she is the customer.
My other partners either had a baby or were trying, and since then, in the year we’ve been in business, we’ve had three newborns.
BPGL: So you have a lot of market research capability right in your own staff. Having their own little ones using the organic baby products must be a great motivator for working at Sprout Baby. Is that what gets all of you going to work each morning?
SHERMAN: I don’t have any kids, but I have two young nephews — five and six. I’ve known them, obviously, since they were born. And I think they’re the reason why we’re doing this — for me, anyway. The rest of my team will tell you they’re doing it for their own kids.
There was one other thing that influenced me getting involved in this business that I’ve only talked about recently. In 1988, somebody left a brand-new baby on my front porch. An eight-minute-old infant. Torn umbilical cord. On my porch. Wrapped in a sweatshirt. It was the weirdest experience I’ve ever had in my life.
At the time, it kind of put the hooks in me. I did what you’re supposed to do. I called the paramedics, and I did what the paramedics said, and the baby’s fine. But it really affected me, because I thought, Wow, this kid started out life being dealt the worst deck ever. He was dropped off on the porch of a bachelor who was never home — and just happened to be home on that day. Had I not been home, that baby would have died.
BPGL: That is an amazing story. I’ve never actually heard of that happening to anyone in real life. How did it affect your thinking about starting Sprout Baby?
SHERMAN: I just found myself thinking, My parents did such a good job raising me and my brother, even though, if you were to use the same information they had then to make many consumer choices now, you really wouldn’t be a great parent. The information they had then was state of the art, and now that information has been updated by better and more relevant information, in many cases.
For example, you don’t want to leave the kid in the car with the air conditioner running because it’s cooler than bringing them in the store; it’s unsafe for the baby and bad for the environment. You don’t want to feed them white carbs all the time. And you don’t want to put lotions on their skin that contain harmful or extraneous chemicals. You don’t want to paint your house with VOC-laden paints.
They didn’t know these things, but we do. And I feel like, if my company can help move the needle even a little, in teaching people to be conscious consumers — that right choices don’t have to be more expensive, harder choices — we can really have a long-lasting impact.
BPGL: You have an ad for the Sprout Baby Referral Program prominently displayed on your website. Is it connected with finding an adoptive home for your baby, if you don’t want to raise it?
SHERMAN: Absolutely not. No. Our referral program is about word of mouth, or “Word of Mom,” as we like to call it. It’s the reason I got into this business, when I learned how parents were making decisions based on the advice of other parents.
Early on, when we would get a new customer, I would oftentimes get an email from someone saying, “I just was told about this by customer XYZ, and I have a couple questions.” So we did some testing. I went out and started talking to customers. — I still call ten customers every single day, by the way, just to ask them how they’re doing with us as a company if there’s anything they’d like. — And it gave me an opportunity to pick their brains.
I asked them if they would be comfortable sharing what they know about us with other people, if we’d done a good job for them. And overwhelmingly, the answer was, “Yes!” So, I started talking with them about what would incentivize them to do that. Because, as much as I’d like them to be advocating for me, they’ve got other things to do, like raising a family and paying the bills and working at their job. We created this referral program based on those discussions.
When you become a customer, as soon as you get your first order, you get a card that has your referral code on it. You also get an email with your referral code. You can give that code to any of your friends, or anyone you know, and they will get 15 percent off their first order. And if it’s a new customer for us, we send you $10. There’s no limit to the number of customers you can refer to us.
We’re still running that program, and it’s been quite successful. Our customer acquisition cost has not gone up. What we’re paying as a referral fee is in line with allowing us to build our company in a way where we can responsibly grow and be around long term. Most moms know 10 people. If you tell 10 people, you can make $100, and you can do that fairly often. We send checks every week.
BPGL: What are some of the other products that you sell, besides baby food?
SHERMAN: We just launched diapers, and we did very extensive research on a lot of different diapering companies in order to pick a variety of diapers that met with our standards and our promise to Sprout Baby customers.
One of the brands we offer, Nature Baby Care, is even disposable — a choice a lot of parents make for convenience.
After doing massive amounts of research on every brand of disposable that was out there, including all of the “eco brands,” we liked Nature BabyCare because there is no polyurethane anywhere near this product. Urethane is one of the chemicals that we’ve sworn off.
Another thing is that it completely biodegrades. You can take this diaper when it’s done and throw it in the garbage. And when it goes into a landfill, it completely breaks down, back into nothing. And that’s the only diaper we’ve found that does that. Diapers take 500 years to disintegrate if they have plastic in them. It could be even be longer than that. Just think about that for a minute.
For cloth diapers, we’ve brought in Kissaluvs, Baby Bee Hinds and Play All Day. They’re wool, hemp, and cotton blends. The reason we went with them was that they are made of all-natural fibers from renewable resources.
We really like wool because not only is it a water repellent, but it stays dry, and it’s naturally cleaning. For example, when it gets wet, you can air dry it, and wool cleans itself. Every once in a while, you just re-lanolize it by putting lanolizing formula on it, and the wool diaper cover cleans itself again. It’s much, much lower impact on the environment.
BPGL: Have you noticed any issues with children being allergic to the wool in the diaper coverings?
SHERMAN: The wool is an outer cover for these diapers. We haven’t had any issues with that at all so far. The inner parts of the diapers are all either organic cotton or cotton hemp.
BPGL: What are some of the products you have for moms?
SHERMAN: We’ve just brought on a bunch of great lines of skincare products. There’s one in particular that we just introduced. It’s the line by Episencial. It’s a spinoff from Epicuren, which is an amazing high-end skincare line. Epicuren is an extremely well-regarded, boutique-only line that is super, super high quality. No bad ingredients. Everything is natural.
Kim Walls, the woman whose family started Epicuren, worked there for 15 years before starting her own company. Episencial is an all-new skincare line: sunscreens, lotions, etc., that are fruit-based, all-natural, and very reasonably priced.
BPGL: Have you vetted those skincare products on Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database?
SHERMAN: Yes we do. We check every single product that we evaluate. We also have a partnership with Healthy Child Healthy World — in fact, we give 1 percent of all of our sales to Healthy Child Healthy World to help support their organization. Anything anybody buys from us helps support them. When we look at products, one of the first things we do is look at it against their criteria. That is our minimum screen for how we would consider whether or not a product works for us.
If it meets Healthy Child’s criteria, we then look at all of the ingredients and everything else on our own. We look at the product’s ingredients against the ingredient list Healthy Child says to avoid, and then we go a step deeper and use Skin Deep to check the toxicity in the ingredients.
Once a product passes those criteria, whether it’s a skin product or a feeding item, or whatever, we then start looking at it from the perspective of usability, practicality, and cost. Because, for us, that balance has got to be there. If a product costs the same as its non-eco counterpart, but it’s hard to live with, that’s not a good product.
We want to bring products to the market that are effective in doing what they’re supposed to, that don’t have any harmful ingredients of any kind, that are comparable in cost to their non-eco counterpart, and that are easy to use. We use them all ourselves. We’ve got enough babies and toddlers around the company where we can test everything.
BPGL: Do you typically warehouse everything and send it out yourselves?
SHERMAN: I sit in a room full of baby food and other products every day.
BPGL: So, if you get hungry, you have something good to snack on.
SHERMAN: I actually do. [He laughs.] In fact, yesterday, I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch, so I opened a package of roasted bananas and brown rice. It’s like dessert!
BPGL: I assume you avoid ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.
SHERMAN: There’s nothing like that in Sprout Foods. In fact, if you were to look at the ingredients in something like Summer Squash, Yukon Gold Potatoes, and Parmesan, the ingredients in it are summer squash, Yukon gold potatoes, and parmesan. They don’t put anything that doesn’t belong in the food in it.
Sprout Foods is an amazing line of food. It tastes really good. When you open the package, the smell that you get from this food versus the smell that you get from other brands that are popular — it’s like night and day. The texture is better. It doesn’t have any of that watery consistency that you see with most bottled brands.
And besides being convenient, the pouches are shelf stable, so you don’t have to refrigerate them before opening. You tear off the top, and if you don’t use the whole package, you can reseal it with the built-in zip lock. And if you’re away from home, you can just throw the packages in your diaper bag or purse.
Basically, we’ve taken the same approach with our entire product assortment. Every product is easy to live with. Also, for every single product we sell, you’ll see a manufacturer’s description and our own description of why we like it, which is the real-world reasons why we chose this product.
BPGL: I wish Sprout Baby had been around when my children were born.
SHERMAN: When I was doing the initial research with moms, that was what I heard over and over again: Where were you a year ago? Where were you five years ago? I wish I’d had you when I had my babies.
End of Part Two
Sprout Baby has provided Blue Planet Green Living readers the following discount code for 15% off your first order: BPGL15 The code is good through JANUARY 15, 2010.
Follow Sprout Baby
Part One: Sprout Baby – Spreading by “Word of Mom”
Part Two: Sprout Baby – Love Your Baby, Love the Planet (Top of Page)
We’ve all heard rumors over the years that cell phones cause brain cancer. But no one could ever point to conclusive research that it was true. So, most of us have pretty much dismissed that theory and forgotten about it. We walk, drive, sit, stand, and even (shhh!) use the bathroom with a cell to our ear. And if it’s not at our ear, it’s in a pocket or purse, or charging on the nightstand near our pillow.
Cell phones are our constant companions. But perhaps they shouldn’t be.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which is dedicated to arming consumers with information that can protect us and our families, has this to say about the health risks of cell phone use:
Recent studies find significantly higher risks for brain and salivary gland tumors among people using cell phones for 10 years or longer. The state of the science is provocative and troubling, and much more research is essential.
With some four billion people using cell phones worldwide, the potential for harm from cell phone-related cancer is huge. While the EWG is quick to say that not all studies show the same results, they also encourage consumers to play it safe.
Brain Tumor Risk
Last year, Dr. Vini Khurana, an award-winning neurosurgeon who trained at the Mayo Clinic, released a report in which he discussed his review of more than 100 studies of cell phone use, as well as reports from the press and the Internet. His conclusion issues a clear word of warning about cancer risks:
[T]here is a growing body of statistically significant evidence for a relationship between the overall length of use of a mobile phone and the delayed occurrence of a brain tumour on the same side of the head as the “preferred side” for mobile phone usage. The elevated risk (increased odds) appears to be in the order of 2 – 4 fold. It is postulated that some individuals may be more susceptible to developing a malignant brain tumour when compared to others exposed to similar durations and strengths of electromagnetic radiation. This susceptibility may be genetically predetermined. The effects of this kind of radiation are likely to be cumulative and long-term.” …
It is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking, and directly concerns all of us, particularly the younger generation, including very young children.
Check It Out
Khurana is obviously not a fan of cell phones’ effects on human health. But cell phones have become ubiquitous in modern life. So what should we consumers do? Give up the cell entirely? Fat chance.
Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group has, as usual, taken steps to inform and protect us. They’ve published a “Guide to Safe Cell Phone Use” on their website. You can use the guide to find which cell phones emit relatively low radiation — and which are the big emitters. EWG has rated more than 1,000 cell phone models to date.
According to EWG, the ten best phones (and the companies that carry them) are as follows:
You can search the EWG website in several ways. Look for your cell phone carrier, your phone manufacturer, or the specific model of phone you want to purchase. EWG uses an icon to readily show how much radiation each phone emits, so you can do a quick comparison of the various models you may be considering — or compare your existing phone to others available from your provider.
Raise Your Voice
If you don’t see your cell carrier listed in the top ten, you might want to apply a bit of consumer pressure to let your provider know that you are paying attention. Consumer pressure is one of the few effective ways consumers can exert power. It takes more than one person to make a huge impact, but even individual consumer letters and phone calls do get noticed.
After making your opinion known, then vote with your dollars by purchasing a phone that has less likelihood of causing cancer.
Keep Your Distance
What if you’ve already purchased a phone, and it turns out to be one of the bad ones, sending a massive dose of electromagnetic radiation to your brain with every call? The solution is simple: buy a headset. Keeping the phone away from your head should considerably cut your chances of brain and salivary cancer. And, in many states it’s mandatory driving equipment for cell users anyway. Khurana does not suggest using a wireless device, which communicates via radio waves to your cell phone.
Better yet, he recommends using a regular land line. Many consumers (maybe you?) have ditched their land lines in favor of their cell phones. If that describes you, you might want to reconsider whether limiting your exposure to electromagnetic radiation from a cell phone is worth a bit of extra expense each month.
Another thing to do is keep your phone off your body when not in use — or at least keep it out of your pocket and in a holster. If you still have the product information that came with your cell phone, search it till you find the warning about how far from your body you are supposed to keep it. I can guarantee you — sight unseen — that it won’t recommend wearing your cell in your pocket near your reproductive organs. Yet that’s where many of us wear our phones.
I found a couple of interesting sites that quote the manufacturers of various phones on the issue of distance from the body. For example, here is the info I found on a Squidoo lens by NotePromote about cell-phone danger:
Apple iPhone – “For body-worn operation, iPhone’s SAR measurement may exceed the FCC exposure guidelines if positioned less than 15 mm (5/8th inch) from the body. For body-worn operation, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8th inch) away from the body.”
ATT Samsung SGH–a737 – “For body-worn operation, this phone has been tested and meets FCC RF exposure guidelines when used with an accessory that contains no metal and that positions the handset a minimum of 1.5 cm from the body.”
Verizon Motorola E815– “If you wear the mobile device on your body, always place the mobile device in a Motorola-supplied or approved clip, holder, holster, case or body harness. If you do not use a body-worn accessory supplied or approved by Motorola, keep the mobile device and its antenna at least 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) from your body when transmitting.”
What does all this mean? Wear a holster. Do NOT put your cell in your pocket. It will probably cost a bit more, but the extra protection is worth the risk to your internal organs.
More Tips from EWG
The Environmental Working Group provides a list of eight tips in their “Guide to Reduce Cell Phone Radiation Exposure.” Here’s a summary. Check out their website for full details.
1. Buy a phone that emits low radiation. You can find this at the EWG site.
2. Use the speaker phone when possible, and a headset when it’s not. EWG doesn’t take the same hard-line stand against wireless headsets as Dr. Khurana does. But it does recommend that you don’t wear it when you’re not using your phone.
3. Listen more than you talk. Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying about having two ears and only one mouth, and using them in that proportion. As it turns out, you get less radiation when listening than when speaking.
4. Keep your phone at a distance when you talk. Once again, this is about the radiation that enters your body from your phone. Your soft tissues are especially at risk.
5. Text rather than talk. I find this one especially difficult, as I haven’t managed to master the art of texting. But many people find it quite convenient. Turns out it’s actually better because it emits less electromagnetic radiation. Guess I’ll have to learn.
6. Don’t keep trying when your signal fails. If your signal is weak, your phone is working even harder, and that means more radiation coming your way.
7. Keep cells away from kids. Their brains will absorb more radiation than yours — twice as much, in fact. EWG is not so hard line as to prohibit use in case of emergency, but that should be the only time.
8. Don’t use a radiation shield. What? That sounds counter-intuitive, if anything is. But EWG warns that the use of a radiation shield causes your phone to work harder and send out more radiation. You can save your money on that one.
Show Your Support
You can find out a lot more on the EWG website. And if you like what you see, be sure to support their work by donating to the Environmental Working Group.
The good folks at EWG are the ones who provide the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, the Sunscreen Safety Guide, the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in fruits and vegetables, the Ten Americans video about prenatal chemical exposure, and a whole lot more.
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The cooler weather we had early this week reminded me that I hadn’t baked bread in a while. Okay, I’ll fess up. I don’t make it from scratch anymore. Now I use frozen loaves that I thaw for a few hours in a warm oven before baking. They’re convenient, and they taste almost as good as the real thing. Of course, they have ingredients that I would never put into real bread — high fructose corn syrup, for example. But that’s a different story. (I didn’t say I was perfect.)
The loaf pans I use are coated with something (but what?) that makes them nonstick. And, if I also spray a light coating of oil (oh, no — I’m beginning to recognize all sorts of flaws in my bread-baking system), the loaves slide out easily. I’ve fought with sticking bread in aluminum and glass pans in the past, but these coated pans have been so easy to use. As a busy person, I appreciate that.
Well, I used to appreciate that.
When I pulled the metal loaf pans out of the cabinet, I noticed that they had some scratches I hadn’t seen before. I was going to cut pieces of waxed paper to fit the pan and protect the dough, but I was in a hurry. (There’s a pattern emerging.) I figured this would be the last time I used the pans; I’d replace them before I bought more frozen loaves. So I sprayed the pans well, placed the frozen dough in them, and set them in a warm oven so the bread could rise while I worked.
After they finished baking, and had cooled for a while, I popped the loaves out of the pans and began to slice into one of the two. What a heavenly aroma! I carried a slice down to share with Joe. A dab of butter on warm bread — mmmm. Delicious!
A little later, Joe went upstairs to put away the cooled bread. “Look at this!” he said, bringing me a small piece of the browned crust. It was oddly shiny with silver flecks embedded into it.
“What in the world is it?” I asked. (You already have it figured out, of course, but I was clueless.)
“It’s part of the pan. Pan flakes,” he said, grimacing. The coating had come off of the pan and was baked right into the crust. And we both had eaten some of the bread. A disgusting and scary thought for sure.
I started doing some research.
Surprisingly, several sites claimed that there’s nothing toxic about ingesting a few flakes from a nonstick pan. (Oh, really? Are those sites supported by DuPont?)
Then I went to Dr. Mercola, whose medical advice generally makes sense to me. I was actually surprised that he had a page devoted to cookware. Here’s a bit of what he says:
Teflon is the most popular cookware in America. So what’s wrong with it?
Well, for starters, teflon-coated aluminum contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a synthetic chemical used in production that creates a soap-like slipperiness and non-stick finish.
Once heated, Teflon and other non-stick pans will quickly reach temperatures at which toxic fumes release into the air. And it doesn’t take much heat to do this — the coating begins to break down and release toxins at a temperature of only 446° F.
I do buy that Teflon releases toxins, as I’ve heard it and read it elsewhere for years. But Mercola also wants me to buy something else. It seems the good doctor is selling his own brand of cookware. With a vested interest in what kind of cookware readers buy, can I believe him?
My next step is to go to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This is a site whose word I really trust. Their scientists do independent research that is not supported by corporate donors — and they aren’t hawking any products. Here’s part of what EWG has to say about nonstick coatings:
There seems to be more evidence mounting in the ongoing Perflurooctanoic Acid (PFOA) debate. PFOA is used in the production of Teflon and other non-stick surfaces and is found in the packaging of candy bars, microwave popcorn, fast food packaging like french fry and pizza boxes, bakery items, drinks, paper plates, and a host of “stain resistant” products such as carpets. Other well-known brand names containing PFOA include Stainmaster, Scotchgard, SilverStone, Fluron, Supra, Excalibur, Greblon, Xylon, Duracote, Resistal, Autograph and T-Fal.
Although the DuPont Corporation has stated that PFOA is only used in the manufacturing process and should not be found in the final products, it must be noted that the chemical is found in the bloodstream of 95% of American men, women, and children. It seems that no one is quite certain how the chemical residue has made it into the bloodstream of such a large number of people if it is not located in the final product. Research has shown that PFOA was still present in the blood for approximately four years after exposure and levels were only reduced by half. It has been implicated by some research to cause increased instances of cancer in the pancreas, liver, testicles, and mammary glands. Also increased were instances of miscarriage, weight loss, thyroid problems, weaker immune systems, and low organ weights.
That’s good enough evidence for me. My nonstick pans are slated to be replaced with the first sign of wear. But what will I replace them with? Aluminum? Stainless steel? Glass? Cast iron?
If I’m to believe Dr. Mercola, only his brand of ceramic cookware is safe. It “resists leaching” in a test conducted by letting “4% glacial acetic acid” stand for 24 hours in the cookware. His ad claims to use “STANDARD METHODS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF WATER AND WASTEWATER, 18th EDITION APHA-AWWA-WPCF.” (Whatever.) But does it make sense that anyone would leave acid in their cookware for 24 hours? How much would the same cookware leach in the time it takes to cook spaghetti sauce? And is leaching iron (from cast iron and from glass cookware) really bad?
I don’t have the answers. But I will keep asking the questions until I do. Maybe I’ll even buy Dr. Mercola’s cookware someday but, today, I just don’t know.
Oh, and about that bread. We cut the bottom and sides off and ate the middle. Like I said, I’m not perfect.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Ken Cook, president and founder of the Environmental Working Group, two questions we like to ask all our interviewees. Following are our questions and his responses. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
5 Ways to Save the Planet
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet? (You can answer as the head of Environmental Working Group or as a parent, if you prefer.)
COOK: Those two things — my job as a parent and my job as the head of Environmental Working Group — have come together in lots of things. It’s a blessing to be able to do this work now, and have both of those sets of objectives in mind, because they do merge pretty well.
- One of the first things we need to do, obviously, is deal with climate change. We need to reduce our carbon footprint — and our environmental footprint, generally. That means in our everyday life as well as at the government level.
- Second, we think one of the most important environmental campaigns in history is to protect our health from toxic chemicals. So, again, we need to take steps in our everyday life. We can do a lot of things as individuals to protect ourselves and our families from toxic chemical exposures, but we also need laws at the state level and at the federal level, the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the enactment of something that looks like the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. That would be number two for me.
- Third, I think we really do need to focus strongly on diet and nutrition in this country. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the food that’s available to us and the price it’s available. We need to do a better job of paying attention to which foods, individually, we can eat and which foods we have available, not just for those of us who can live in a big city and can afford to shop anywhere, but for the disadvantaged in this country and around the world. We need to be smarter about providing adequate nutrition, healthy nutrition that leads to a nice, productive life.
- Fourth, I would say, we need to take care of the creatures in the world. We really do need to focus on the incredible threat that we are posing, as a species, to all the other species on the planet. We need to protect biological diversity, including the rainforest, with the native people living there and the incredible resources that still remain. We need to conserve those, as well as our ocean resources.
- Then, the final thing I think is really important is, generally speaking, we need to have high expectations and engagement with our government. I don’t care what end of the political spectrum you’re on, this is not a time, and there never will be a time again, to step back and assume that we can let the government run along by its own power, influenced by the various special interests that come to influence it, and expect we’re going to have a good outcome.As a citizen, you need to be engaged with your government at the federal level, the state level, the local level. It doesn’t mean a full-time job; but it does mean, pay attention, get involved, get engaged, find organizations that you can work with, and, if you need it, organizations that can provide some access to information, ideas, and actions you might take. The EWG wants to believe it is, and tries to be, an organization that provides that for citizens. But being a citizen is one of the most important challenges all of us face, rather than just retreating into our own lives, our own homes, without paying attention to the bigger world around us.
2 Minutes with the President
BPGL: If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him?
COOK: I would say, “Hang in there. You’re trying to do a lot of the right things, and you’re trying to lead the country from a broad base; that hasn’t always worked out, but we salute you for trying.” I would say, in particular, “These environmental issues can really unite people. We have seen, in the case of our work on toxic chemicals, that across the spectrum — whether it’s the spectrum of religious beliefs or from conservative to liberal [politics] — people want to take care of the next generation and its health. And if, by providing additional protection for toxic chemicals, we can do that, that’s something we ought to do. I’d encourage you to do that.” And I’d say, “Thank you, Mr. President. ”
Ken Cook, President and Founder
Environmental Working Group
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Recently, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) wrote in praise of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and encouraged readers to consider supporting the important work of this nonprofit organization. Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking with Ken Cook, who heads EWG. We wanted to know about EWG’s history, its major areas of focus, and what he sees as the most critical issue on the group’s docket today. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
COOK: I started the Environmental Working Group in the early 1990s, with my colleague Richard Wiles, whom I consider to be a co-founder of the organization. He brought to us a lot of talent — in particular, a great deal of information, knowledge, and experience on toxic chemicals, specifically pesticides.
BPGL: You publish an impressive amount of research at EWG. Who are your researchers?
COOK: They’re all on the staff. We have chemists, engineers, a lot of public health experts and so forth. Over the years, we have built up a program that is heavy on original research and computer analysis. We were one of the first groups in the public interest community, and certainly in Washington, to have a full-time database programmer (who is still with us, by the way).
We started churning out major studies based on government data that hardly anyone had ever seen except the government bureaucrats who were paid to collect it and store it. We started using that information to help make the case for all kinds of policy reforms within the areas of toxic chemicals and pesticides, but also agricultural subsidies.
We’ve done research on the use and destruction of public lands out west by oil and gas exploration and hard-rock mining. The damage that’s been done out there has been tremendous.
And, we’ve put the names of all farm subsidy recipients in the country on line. That has gotten us some notoriety, but it has also had a big influence on the farm subsidy debate.
BPGL: What is the most pressing issue you are working on at EWG today?
COOK: The issue that’s coming to a boil in Washington right now is a debate over reform of the decades-old law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which covers industrial chemicals in this country. This is the group of chemicals that is used in consumer products and automobiles, building materials, and so forth. Not pesticides, but just about every other category of chemical.
This is central to the Environmental Working Group today. We’ve been mounting this campaign, hoping that we’d get momentum for a reform of this federal law for almost ten years. And now we’re right on the cusp of it.
Just today [Tuesday], in fact, there was a big step forward by the American Chemistry Council, which is the trade association of the chemical industry here in Washington. They have announced a set of ten principles to modernize the 1976 law. And we’re encouraged.
I’m sure we’ll probably disagree on more of the fine points than we agree on, but they have stepped up and said, “We need a standard that protects human health. We don’t have that now. We need much more data on chemicals than we have now, in terms of their health and environmental effects, and so forth.” The debate is really starting to unfold, and we’re smack in the middle of it.
BPGL: What actions would you recommend for the average consumer? How can we help support a change in this legislation — besides the obvious action of contacting our legislators?
COOK: First of all, we’re in favor of people getting informed and getting engaged with the debate. The best thing to do, in our opinion, is to go to our website, find the page marked “Kid-Safe Chemicals,” and learn about the legislation.
We feel that this is going to be the basis for the conversation, just like the Cap and Trade concept is in the climate change debate. The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act is going to be the foundation around which the debate is built over the next couple of years.
It’s our opinion that consumers can do two things. You can protect your family and take smart, sensible steps to substantially reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals, such as reducing your exposure to pesticides by shopping from our list (Shoppers Guide to Pesticides) on fruits and vegetables. If you can find them organically grown, you should shop that way. But if you can’t, there are other fruits and vegetables that are pretty low in pesticides, and our list shows you which ones they are. And, you can take steps to reduce exposures in personal care products and furniture items. All those tips are on our website.
But we also know at this stage that we can’t just shop our way out of this. We’re going to have to require some change in government policy that can provide some smarter, more up-to-date rules of the road, if you will, about what kinds of chemicals can be used in what products. And the thing that’s driven the message home for us is the research we conducted looking at chemicals in people, because, if you’re finding chemicals showing up in the blood of people, there’s no question that exposure has happened. So then, the question is, Is the exposure serious enough to be concerned about? How do we cut down on it? Is that something we can, or should, be expected to do as a consumer? Or is that something we should expect companies to do by reformulation, shifting to chemicals that don’t get in people, aren’t as hazardous, and so forth?
And, of course, the ultimate concern is raised when you find chemicals in umbilical cord blood — which we did in a study a few years ago, where, for the first time, we looked at a wide range of toxic chemicals in umbilical cord blood. In just ten babies, we found 280+ chemicals — and that’s when we spent $10,000 in chemical labs for the analysis. If we’d spent $15-, or $20-, or $30,000, for example, who knows how many chemicals we might have found? Maybe 600 or 800 or 1,000 or more. We have another study forthcoming.
BPGL: What will be the difference in the new study? Or will it be a repeat of the original?
COOK: We’ll be screening for some new chemicals and some that we’ve already looked at. And we’ll have an unusual group of babies. I don’t want to reveal who they are just yet. We’ll be releasing that in September. But we did look at some new chemicals that we hadn’t looked for in the previous study.
Most of the chemicals we studied are in everyday consumer products. And we did detect those chemicals in most or all of the ten babies in the second set that we tested.
BPGL: Are these results also from prenatal tests?
COOK: Yes. These are prenatal, umbilical cord blood tests.
We’ve already documented that babies are born with chemicals that were banned in this country 30 years ago. It’s shocking to people, but the umbilical cords of babies born in 2004 — the babies we tested through the American Red Cross research program — contained PCBs and DDT and other chemicals that were banned in the 1970s.
The lesson there is that you don’t want to wait too long. If you know a chemical is dangerous, and it lasts, you definitely want to take steps to ban it, because it will be around for a long time.
BPGL: Did you test for BPA in the second study?
COOK: I’d rather not say yet, but we’re looking for a wide range of chemicals.
BPGL: Your wife gave birth not long after the results of the first study came out. How did the results of the study change your life and your wife’s?
COOK: It had a big effect. The whole point of what we experienced, my wife and I, was that we realized that, as much as we would be careful in what we bought, what we put in the baby’s room, what we fed the baby, all those steps — we were just as careful as we could possibly be — we know that that’s not enough.
I came to resent having to go to my own website [for product safety information], because I came to the conclusion — as she did, and I think a lot of other parents do — that with all the things on the mind of an expectant family, the last thing you feel like you really ought to have to do is what the government ought to be doing, which is standing behind the safety of everyday products, and making sure that, if babies are exposed to them, they’re going to be okay.
When I give our “10 Americans” talk, one of the first things I look for in the audience ahead of time, if I can, is any pregnant women. I want to tell them a little bit about the talk in advance, and say, “Just stick with me. We’ve all been through this. Instead of getting angry, let’s get even. Instead of getting paralyzed, let’s get feisty here.”
BPGL: I’ve wondered about the diversity of topics that you focus on at EWG. How did you get started working in the different major areas you address?
COOK: We started off working mostly on agricultural subsidies. After that, we got involved in pesticides when Richard Wiles came on board, and we developed that area into the broader issues of toxic chemicals.
In the case of public lands, we had a number of prospective supporters come to us and basically say, “Look, we saw what you did on a range of other topics, can you take on the damage being done to our public lands by oil and gas exploration and hard-rock mining?” So, in some ways, the ability to do this kind of research has attracted support.
And now we’ve added a new dimension, which we’re very excited about. It’s very relevant to your work [at Blue Planet Green Living], which is, our online presence has just sort of exploded. We are developing a very large list, approaching 600,000 people who are online supporters. It’s a very active group, and we get suggestions from them, all the time, on topics to look into.
We can’t always look into all of them, or even most of them, but they say things like, “Tell us about toxic chemicals under the sink. We’d like to know what’s in those products.” We get that question all the time. We’re doing research in California now that should begin to shed some light on it, and begin to get us working more in that area. We get questions about nutrition, as another dimension of food safety. We’re starting to do some research on that.
[Our work] has evolved from the basic skill set we put together in forming the Environmental Working Group — the ability to analyze large sets of data; commission original laboratory work; do good, smart writing; and, at the same time, do quantitative analysis — that, in combination, has really helped us make the case to supporters to take on this range of issues.
BPGL: Who are EWG’s major supporters?
COOK: Almost all of our support comes from major donors and foundations, with a growing list of online supporters — we’re very encouraged that we’re able to add more and more of those every day. We’ve been fortunate to put together the kind of content that people want, and more of them are writing and giving us even a small contribution. As you know, on the worldwide web, you can reach a lot of people very quickly and, if they value what you’re doing — as many people do our Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database website and our food news website — even small amounts of money make a big difference.
EWG TOOLS FOR CONSUMERS
Environmental Working Group has a long list of helpful guides to protect your family and pets from environmental toxins. A few of the resource links are included here. For a full list, go to the “Health Tips” section of the EWG website.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Any number of nonprofit groups are doing good work for the environment, but, to me, one of the most impressive is the Environmental Working Group (EWG). We’ve written in the past about their Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database and posted (twice) the ever-sobering EWG video 10 Americans. But those are just two of the many projects this group has sponsored.
In today’s email, I found a letter from EWG president, Ken Cook, listing several other group activities and projects that are making a real difference to the planet and to the health of the people who live here. Cook wrote to supporters to publicize the group’s activities.
Over the last several months, EWG has drawn a lot of attention to the topics you and I care about. They’ve provided critically important information to consumers and influenced the passage of legislation on issues that affect our well-being. It’s a lengthy list. The following excerpts from Cook’s letter give just a few of the highlights. To learn more, please visit the EWG website.
Here’s some of what Cook had to say:
“We’ve told decision makers what you want. . . and they’re listening.
- We caught food industry giants plotting to mislead mothers and minority parents about the hazards of bisphenol-A (BPA) and spurred grassroots pressure to find a safe alternative…
- The California State Senate passed the Toxics-Free Babies & Toddlers Act, which we sponsored, to ban BPA in children’s food products. If the State Assembly approves the bill, the largest market in the country will join Connecticut and Minnesota whose state legislatures enacted partial BPA Bans earlier this year…
- Five environmental justice leaders joined us for an extensive two-year study that tested them for 75 chemical contaminants. They took their results directly to Congress as a compelling argument for reform of the failed federal toxics law…
“We researched, reported and testified for better public policies.
- We released our third annual sunscreen report to help consumers identify safe, effective products and better understand the ingredients in sunscreen. We found that sunscreen companies are reformulating many products to be safer and more effective as a result of our three-year campaign…
“We created and shared important, useful information.
If you’re able to contribute charitable dollars this year, please consider donating to the Environmental Working Group. Your support of EWG will help make the world safer and healthier for the ones you love. And that’s the best return on investment you could ask for.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)