New Report Highlights Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products
By Anna Reade
A new report by the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) details findings from product testing they performed on beauty, personal care and cleaning products, with an emphasis on products often marketed to vulnerable populations, such as children and women of color. The report focuses on the identification of chemicals used for fragrance in these products because, currently, chemicals used for fragrance do not have to be disclosed. The simple term "fragrance" on your shampoo or lotion label could represent several (if not many unknown, and potentially harmful, chemicals.
Although BCPP was only able to test a small fraction of the market (32 products), BCPP's main findings raise concern and confirm the need for transparency of ingredients in products used in our homes. Almost 100 of the over 300 fragrance chemicals identified were linked to adverse health effects. Of the products tested by BCPP, the product that contained the most fragrance chemicals linked to health concerns was Just for Me Shampoo, a shampoo aimed at children of color, with popular perfumes following closely behind.
And it's not just fragrance ingredients. BCPP found a total of 24 chemicals of concern, 14 of which were fragrance chemicals, in Just for Me Shampoo—including four carcinogens, 19 hormone disruptors, six developmental toxicants and three chemicals that can trigger, or worsen, respiratory problems, like asthma.
Due to a loophole, fragrance ingredients are not required to be disclosed in personal care products or cleaning products; and until recently, there were no requirements for disclosure of ingredients in cosmetics used in professional setting or in cleaning products in general. This year California became the first state in the U.S. to extend retail cosmetic ingredient disclosure requirements to products used by salon workers. And last year, with the passage of the NRDC co-sponsored Cleaning Products Right to Know Act of 2017 n California, manufacturers of cleaning products will have to disclose the majority of the ingredients in their products on labels and online. The Act's disclosure requirements include fragrance ingredients, the first and only product category with fragrance disclosure requirements.
The BCPP report confirms the importance of California's ground-breaking legislation, and the need for expanded transparency and ingredient disclosure for all consumer product categories. The "right-to-know" what is in the products we use and what is being released into our environment is essential to protecting public health and the environment.
The lack of fragrance ingredient disclosure, in combination with a largely unregulated fragrance industry, leaves consumers, health agencies and advocates in the dark about what chemicals people are being exposed to. The research and testing that has been done suggests that many of the chemicals used in fragrance are associated with health hazards such as reproductive and developmental harm, hormone disruption, cancer, neurotoxicity, and respiratory and skin irritation and sensitization.
BCPP Product Testing Report
To shed some light on the "fragrance" black box, BCPP tested 25 personal care and 7 cleaning products and compared chemicals identified to the International Fragrance Association ingredient transparency list. BCPP then used the Chemical Hazards Data Commons developed by the Healthy Building Network to determine which identified chemicals were linked to adverse effects such as cancer, asthma, reproductive harm, hormone disruption and aquatic toxicity.
BCPP concluded that more than a quarter of the 338 fragrance ingredients they identified were linked to adverse health effects; and of the total chemicals linked to adverse health effects in each product, a high percentage of them were fragrance chemicals. And it's not just fragrance ingredients; cosmetics and cleaning products also contain other chemicals that can be really harmful as well.
Examples of chemicals of concern found in tested products include:
- Toluene – used as a solvent in industry and in consumer products such as paint thinners and nail polish; linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental harm, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation
- Parabens – antimicrobials used in food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics; associated with hormone disruption, cancer, and reproductive harm
- Phthalates – used to in fragrances and to soften plastics; associated with neurotoxicity, reproductive harm, hormone disruption and obesity
- Benzophenones – prevent damage from light to scents and colors in fragrances and personal care products; linked to cancer and hormone disruption
While this report does not quantify the concentration of each chemical, the presence of unlabeled chemicals linked to such a broad array of health effects should raise concerns for consumers and the public health community, especially given how often an average person is exposed to personal care and cleaning products in their daily lives. For example, a NGO-led survey found that the average woman uses 12 personal care products a day.
The Most Vulnerable
Some populations are more sensitive and/or vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals that are often found in personal care and cleaning products. Children and adolescents are still developing and are especially vulnerable to the effects of hormone disruptors and developmental toxicants. Additionally, research suggests that when pregnant women are exposed to environmental toxicants, even at extremely low levels, fetal development can be disrupted. Advertising that promotes mainstream beauty norms may influence and increase the use by women of color of products such as skin lighteners and hair straighteners, many of which contain chemicals of concern. Finally, workers such as custodians, cleaners and cosmetologist are disproportionally exposed to these products and any toxic ingredients they contain.
While BCPP's testing represents a limited sample, it is worth noting that many of the products BCPP tested are often marketed to and used by vulnerable populations.
This report illustrates the need for full ingredient disclosure in all consumer products, because:
- Consumers need this information to make safer, more informed purchases for themselves and their families;
- Workers need this information take the necessary steps to protect themselves from unsafe chemical exposures in the workplace;
- Regulators need this information to effectively regulate consumer products to better protect public health and the environment; and
- Companies could also benefit from lower reputational risk.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
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Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
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