Now With Less Toxic Chemicals (Eventually)! UNEP Adds to “Dirty Dozen” List

Recently the United Nations Environment Program added nine new chemicals to it’s original “dirty dozen” list of toxic chemicals that have been banned or restricted. The chemicals on this list are known as POPs, or Persistent Organic Pollutants, which not only accumulate in the tissues of living beings and can cause significant health and environmental problems, but they also tend to stick around for…oh, about forever, once released into the environment.

The UNEP first banned/restricted what became known as the “dirty dozen” POPs in 1995; the list includes chemicals such as aldrin, chlordane, DDT, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenols.

Although DDT has been in use in some countries, for battling malaria, enough alternative methods have been created that the UNEP has decided to phase out the use of DDT by 2020.

Dan Shapley at The Daily Green did a great job of outlining the list, so I’m just going to post his:

  1. Pentabromodiphenyl ether
    This PBDE congener, sometimes referred to as “penta,” was used as a flame-retardant in foam upholstery and furnishing. It was first banned in Germany, Norway and Sweden in the 1980s and 1990s, then in the Europe Union in 2003. The last U.S. manufacturer stopped producing the chemical in 2005, and the Environmental Protection Agency subsequently banned its production in the U.S. It is still manufactured elsewhere, primarily in China, and can be imported to the U.S. Maine and Washington have banned it and nine other states have proposed bans.

    The chemical may cause a range of health problems, including liver disease and reproductive and developmental problems. It has been found in human breast milk.

  2. Octabromodiphenyl ether
    Like its sister “penta” this polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PBDE, has been linked to health issues and has largely been phased out in developed nations.
  3. Chlordecone
    This insecticide, also known as Kepone, was used until 1978 in the United States on tobacco, ornamental shrubs, bananas and citrus trees, and in ant and roach traps. It is chemically almost identical to Mirex, which was one of the original “Dirty Dozen” banned by the treaty.

    Workers using chlordecone suffered damage to the nervous system, skin, liver and male reproductive system. It may still be in use in developing nations, despite its being banned in the industrialized world.

  4. Lindane
    An agricultural insecticide also used to treat head lice and scabies in people, lindane has been banned in 50 nations because the organochlorine pesticide can attack the nervous system. In the United States, it was used until 2007 on farms, and it is still used as a “second-line” treatment for head lice when other treatments fail.

    Additionally, because Lindane is the only useful product in a family of chemicals generated to produce the pesticide, there is persistent chemical waste created by the process. For every ton of Lindane produced, six to 10 tons of waste are produced.

  5. Alpha-hexachlorocyclohexane
    One of the persistent chemical waste products produced by making Lindane, alpha-hexachlorocyclohexane may cause cancer and liver or kidney problems.
  6. Beta-hexachlorocyclohexane
    Another of the persistent chemical waste products produced by making Lindane, beta-hexachlorocyclohexane may cause cancer and reproductive problems.
  7. PFOS
    The company 3M used PFOS to make Scotchgard fabric and other stain-resistant products until 2002. The chemical is also used in a number of industrial processes. It is found in the bodies of people around the world, and in relatively high concentrations in Arctic wildlife — reflecting the global transport of persistent chemicals like these. Unlike the other chemicals on the “nasty nine” list, PFOS will have its use restricted, not banned.
  8. Hexabromobiphenyl
    A polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB, hexabromobiphenyl is a flame retardant that has been linked to a range of health problems, including weight loss, skin disorders, nervous and immune systems effects, and effects on the liver, kidneys, and thyroid gland. While it is no longer used in developed nations, it may still be in use in developing nations.
  9. Pentachlorobenzene
    Used in the manufacture of an insecticide, and as a flame retardant, Pentachlorobenzene may damage the nervous and reproductive systems, as well as the liver and kidneys. It is also used as a head lice treatment and can be found in the waste streams of some paper mills, petroleum refineries, sewage treatment plants and incinerators.

~ Marsha

New EWG Healthy Home Tips for Parents a Great Tool; But It Could (and Should) Be Even Greater

latinofamilyoutsideThe Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that has been at the forefront of helping protect public health and the environment. Part of their focus is to help parents protect their kids from environmental toxins, contaminants and other nasties, and to provide information and resources so that parents can make healthier choices for their little ones. Their pages for parents include tips, resources, research reports, calculators and other useful tools, and EWG also works to promote legislation (such as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act) and to encourage citizen activism (such as insisting that the EPA reduce Americans’ exposure to rocket fuel in their water). I find them to be a valuable resource, and I often refer people to their cosmetics safety database.

Recently they’ve come out with a 1-sheet “Healthy Home Tips for Parents,” (PDF) a downloadable guide to “the most important steps you can take at home to promote your family’s environmental health.”

The list includes suggestions such as:

  • Choose better body care products.
  • Go organic & eat fresh foods.
  • Pick plastics carefully.
  • Use greener cleaners & avoid pesticides.

And you can sign up for their e-newsletter to receive more detailed tips about each item on the list.

I’m glad that EWG is promoting the positive steps for parents that they are, and they have some great suggestions, but I’m saddened and disappointed that they’re not going further. I know that change can be scary and inconvenient and confusing for some people, but when we’re talking about our children’s health and the health of our planet, I would think that EWG would offer larger measures, too. For example, in their tips, they suggest that parents “choose milk and meat without added growth hormones.” How about suggesting to parents that they not feed animals and their products to kids at all? Awareness about the environmental and health impacts of eating animals only continues to grow and evidence of the benefits of choosing a plant-based diet rather than eating animal foods only continues to strengthen.

One of their tips is to “Eat good fats.” Instead of recommending plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds or flax seed oil, or certain types of seaweeds, (although they do mention that you can get omega-3s from “nuts, oils and produce”), they recommend choosing “low-mercury fish.” Low-mercury still has mercury in it.

They recommend using a HEPA-filter vacuum, but don’t suggest preventative strategies such as getting rid of carpets, which can be full of toxins and hold in all kinds of pollutants and allergens. They suggest that parents choose “snug-fitting cotton pajamas” for their kids, but don’t mention the enormous environmental impact of cotton production (such as the pesticide and water use). How about suggesting an alternative for parents such as shopping at thrift stores, so that they can find used pajamas for less cost and less environmental impact?

I realize that they’ll be providing more in-depth suggestions regarding each tip in their e-newsletters, but since many parents may only look at the single sheet tips, it’s important to include such essential information there.

EWG does some very valuable and credible work, and I’m glad they’re providing such important information to parents. I just wish that they – and many of the other non-profit groups working to make the world a better place – wouldn’t stop shy of suggesting broader and deeper actions that parents and citizens can take. Let’s offer parents and citizens a range of suggestions that shows them the ideal choices, as well as some easier stepping stones, so that they can make the best and most informed choices based on their current circumstances and willingness to enact change.

~ Marsha

MOGO Blogroll: Fake Plastic Fish

Do you find yourself haunted by the amount of plastic in your life? Has it become a nemesis? Perhaps it’s the addiction you can’t shake, promising yourself that this is the last piece of Tupperware, that next time you’ll remember to bring your reusable bags to the store, that you’re really going to switch to refillable pens….

Recently I discovered a cool blog called Fake Plastic Fish.  The founder, Beth Terry, uses her blog to chronicle her efforts to stop buying new plastic and to educate and inspire others to reduce their own plastics use. In addition to plastics-related news stories and an ongoing tally and analysis of her plastics use, Terry also has a great list of the plastic-free changes she’s made. Last year she also led the “Take Back the Filter” campaign to convince Clorox (which owns Brita in the U.S.) to start recycling some of its water filter cartridges.

FPF also has a plethora of useful websites and other resources, and Terry uses really clear categories for tagging her posts. I also like that Terry shows an awareness of the impacts of plastics not just on people and the planet, but on animals, too.

The Big Green Purse blog recently did an interesting interview with Terry about her blog and about plastics.

I felt pretty proud of my plastics use…until I looked around FPF. It’s definitely a good tool to help me remember that I can always to more to do less with plastics.

~ Marsha