Archive for June, 2014

Demand for Safer Chemicals Gets Broader Acceptance

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Debate continues to rage regarding reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Many industry watchers are guessing that any reform of the national law is becoming less and less likely to happen before the close of 2014.

Legislative reform or not, the topic of safer chemicals in consumer products is capturing public attention, and businesses are noticing. High profile initiatives by retailers Wal-Mart, Target and Whole Foods underscore the burgeoning realization that safer products makes good business sense.

Of course any reform or initiative is only as good as the details within the effort. Simply participating in a “safer chemical” program does not a safer product make. Nonetheless, these initiatives show that concerns have moved out of the insular world of environmentalism and into the broader consumer base. TSCA after all was passed back in 1976, and only ten years ago its existence was largely known only by environmentalists and legislators. Now in 2014 the law now is being discussed by parent, consumer and health organizations and the individuals that make up those groups. Awareness has grown.

In earlier posts we’ve mentioned the American Sustainable Business Council and its Companies for Safer Chemicals Coalition. Here are some of the many other efforts looking to curb toxic chemicals in products.

0 ZCHC logoRoadmap to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) This voluntary initiative for apparel manufacturers and retailers began in 2011, with the goal of moving the industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020.

 

Healthier Hosptials Initiative logo Twelve large health systems joined with Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), the Center for Health Design, and Practice Greenhealth to create the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI). HHI is designed as a guide for hospitals to reduce energy and waste, choose safer and less toxic products, and purchase and serve healthier foods.

 

BizNGO logoA collaborative of businesses and environmental groups working toward safer chemicals. BizNGO.org has pioneered the GreenScreen method for companies to better assess chemical choices.

 

Safer States logoSafer States, part of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, provides discusses efforts  by state, both public and private, working to reduce questionable chemicals. This site offers a variety of information and provides a bill tracker to show the progress of proposed legislation for safer chemicals by state. Additionally, the site provides a good snapshot of efforts occurring nationally.

The above initiatives indicate that the topic of safer chemicals is likely not going away. Further, the ease of sharing information provided by the Internet is bringing the topic mainstream and into the business world, where it needs to be.

After all, safer products benefit everyone, not just environmentalists.

Naturepedic Handmade Mattresses: Real People, Real Quality

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

 

Our mattresses are handmade. Really.

A toy zipping down a conveyor belt, made from wooden pieces cut by a pre-programmed robotic machine then painted by an automated sprayer but in the end assembled with four bolts by hand is not “handmade” in my mind. To me, handmade is something lovingly made by a real person or persons.

Naturepedic mattresses are handmade in the classic sense.686A9499

Our manufacturing plant in Ohio (fully certified to the stringent Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), by the way) doesn’t use an assembly line, for starters.  Instead, you’ll see stations where skilled craftspeople are sewing, cutting, and otherwise building mattresses, each person paying close attention to the job at hand. The process reminds me of watching an heirloom guitar being hand built.

One of the greatest features of this approach is every individual employee in our factory is empowered to stop the process if something isn’t right, and by right, I mean perfect. One of our greatest sources of pride is the pride our employees put into their craft. Of course we use machines and tools, particularly for stitching, but behind every machine or tool is a detail-oriented person obsessively checking for quality.

Coils, made in house, are individually wrapped in organic cotton sleeves and hand attached

My favorite part, and one of the most remarkable processes to watch, is the creation of metal coils, each individually wrapped in organic cotton fabric. Amazing. To do this, we use reconditioned vintage machines from Europe that are in themselves things of beauty. The machinery creates the coiled springs from straight wire, compresses the coil and allows them to be sewn into the cotton pockets. The precision machinery, while old, is exceptionally complicated, with a remarkable number of moving parts. After each coil is wrapped, a craftsman hand attaches the individual coils.

The bottom line is we simply don’t take short cuts. We craft mattresses with real people, skillfully working together to make awesome products. That’s what I call handmade.

To watch some of the handmade process and to catch a glimpse of the machinery I mentioned above that coils the wires, check out our award-winning video.

Regrettable Substitutions

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

 

Questionable chemicals associated with health and developmental issues such as cancer, thyroid disruption and learning disabilities can show up in the most innocuous of consumer products. These chemicals sometimes, although infrequently, garner enough bad press to get them removed, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Unfortunately, removal may not be what it seems.

beakersWhy? Because an offending chemical can be removed simply to be replaced with a similar, possibly worse chemical. Called “regrettable substitution” by the Environmental Defense Fund and other organizations, this strategy may temporarily solve a company’s marketing or PR problem but does little to get an actual safer product to the consumer. And there are virtually no regulations to prevent this.

BPA

Take for example Bisphenol-A, or BPA. Following an outcry from the private and academic sectors on BPA’s links to hormonal disruption and connections to cancer and diabetes, the FDA banned it from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012 (although according to the FDA it was not banned for health reasons but due to industry abandonment). Even before the ban, companies had begun making “BPA-Free” products and parents breathed a sigh of relieve.

The problem, however, is that BPA was commonly replaced with an equally questionable chemical.  Current regulations require no safety testing or even disclosure.  BPA-free does not necessarily equal safe.

Phthalates

Similar responses occurred with the phthalate DEHP (phthalates are plasticizers used to make vinyl plastics softer and more pliable). Following associations with disruption of male reproductive development, products, particularly those marketed to the healthcare industry, began being advertised as “free of DEHP.” While technically truthful, DEHP can be replaced with other phthalates, possibly trading one problem for another.

Curious about what phthalates can be used? Congress banned three types of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, BBP) in any amount greater than 0.1 percent in some children’s toys and select child care articles. Additionally, Congress banned on an interim basis the phthalates DINP, DIDP, DnOP in any amount greater than 0.1 percent, but only for articles that can be placed in a child’s mouth or sucked.

In other words, out of more than a dozen currently used phthalates and phthalate substitutes, six have been banned in very specific product uses for children. For a children’s item that can’t be placed in a baby’s mouth, unless the consumer has access to a chemical testing lab, there is no way to know if phthalates are being used or which ones or whether they are safe.

Lack of Regulation

Lack of regulation and transparency not only puts the consumer at risk, but also makes life difficult for companies legitimately looking to offer safer products. For us at Naturepedic, the answer was to avoid the questionable chemicals altogether.  Rather than attempt to find a safer phthalate (or flame retardant or many other chemicals) we simply don’t use them, period.

While consumers should continue to do their homework regarding product safety, they should also insist on stronger safeguards against harmful chemicals. Discussions have begun on potential reform to the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, but real progress has yet to be made.

For more information on the risks of BPA-free products, read Environmental Defense Fund’s Sarah Vogel’s article “BPA-Free” plastics may pose equal or greater hazard than predecessors. For tips on avoiding BPA and phthalates, read the tip sheet from the Silent Spring Institute.

Making Better Decisions: Consumer Supported Agriculture

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

 

Working for a company committed to using the best organic materials, it’s probably not surprising I am personally committed to eating organic vegetables. Last week I picked up my first shipment of organically grown produce purchased through Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.

Geauga Family Farms in OhioCommunity Supported Agriculture is available throughout the U.S. and allows small farms to pre-sell shares of their crops directly to consumers before the growing season begins. Living in Ohio, I joined the Geauga Family Farms CSA (the term CSA is used to refer to the overall principle as well as the individual farm group), a collective of small, mostly organic farms located around my area. For the particular selection I bought, everything is guaranteed organic with the exception of the blueberries, pears and apples which will appear later in the year; other options allow you to only get organic produce.

Each week, I pick up my shares of vegetables and fruits at a local greenhouse (if you’re ever in Northeast Ohio make sure you stop by Lowe’s Greenhouse who graciously offers their site for produce pickup). The shares vary week to week and reflect whatever is ripe for harvest. Last week included colorful Swiss chard, rutabaga, leaf lettuce, one of the first cucumbers of the season and other produce, all organically grown.

With a CSA I directly support farmers in my community. CSA also means vegetables and fruits that are truly ripe instead of having been picked too early to allow for cross country transport, and if. By getting only what is ready for harvest, I enjoy vegetables grown in season. I also get vegetables I might be hesitant to otherwise purchase, expanding my food range and encouraging me to try out new recipes.

If you don’t grow your own food it’s easy to feel disconnected to the farming process. Like a local farmer’s market, CSA narrows that disconnect by connecting you to the natural growing season and allowing you to interact directly with the people who grow your food.

Plus, there’s a geeky anticipation to see what veggies will grace this week’s basket. I’m working on building up that wonder in my kids. If I can get them excited about vegetables, then I’ve really scored big with CSA!

New Study Looks at Chemicals Linked to Breast Cancer; Flame Retardants, Chemicals in Consumer Products Make Priority List

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

 

On May 12, 2014 the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a new peer-reviewed study identifying seventeen types of chemicals specifically linked to breast cancer. Of the 102 chemicals in the study, many are ones women may be exposed to on a daily basis from everyday products.

Silent Spring Institute logo

Silent Spring Institute logo

The study was conducted by researchers at the Silent Spring Institute (named after Rachel Carson’s influential book) and the Harvard School of Public Health. While it may not come as a surprise that a number of the chemical types can be found in tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust, some of the priority chemicals are found in common consumer products like ink jet and laser jet printers, hair dyes and paint. These are all chemicals legally used and virtually unregulated.

The study also identified flame retardants used in foams found in mattresses and furniture cushions and chemicals found in certain textile dyes as priority threats. Under current laws, manufacturers are not required to disclose the flame retardant chemicals or chemical dyes used in their products.

At Naturepedic we are proud that all of our mattresses for all ages, baby, youth and adult, meet flammability standards without the need for chemical flame retardants or barriers. Because our mattresses meet strict organic guidelines such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), you are guaranteed they do not contain toxic chemical dyes, either.

Our mattresses let us make a positive difference in people’s lives in our area of specialty: mattresses. To learn other ways you can avoid common carcinogenic chemicals, check out easy tips from the Silent Spring Institute published on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families website.

When is a “Green” Truth not Actually a Truth at All?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

 

Given the meteoric increase in the market for green products in virtually every industry, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is increasingly examining eco claims for truthfulness. While browsing online or even down a store aisle shows me “green-washing” is alive and well, some recent settlements between companies and the FTC do demonstrate that companies are gradually being held to a higher level of truth.

One interesting guideline issued by the FTC as part of the commission’s Revised Green Guides is the Overstatement of Environmental Attribute. According to the guideline, “an environmental marketing claim should not overstate, directly or by implication, an environmental attribute or benefit. Marketers should not state or imply environmental benefits if the benefits are negligible.”

While this may seem an obvious guideline, the rule goes beyond technical truth into implied truth. Look at the example the FTC provides on its website:

Example 1: An area rug is labeled “50% more recycled content than before.” The manufacturer increased the recycled content of its rug from 2% recycled fiber to 3%. Although the claim is technically true, it likely conveys the false impression that the manufacturer has increased significantly the use of recycled fiber.

strawberry

The FTC’s Overstatement of Environmental Attribute recognizes there are different ways to exaggerate

The above example shows that the FTC looks at the implication of a claim. By saying “50% more” the claim implies a large increase, and even though the rug would technically use 50% more recycled content, the claim likely would now be considered green-washing by the FTC.

While the FTC is a long way away from calling out the many, many green-washing claims out there, they are nonetheless slowly cracking down and hopefully giving some unscrupulous marketers cause to reconsider before implying environmental benefits that really don’t exist.

State of Vermont Passes Stricter State Law Concerning Chemicals in Children’s Products

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Vermont state flagWhile national efforts to reform the outdated federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) continue, the state of Vermont has pushed forward on its own to create more stringent chemical safety standards than currently afforded.

On Friday, May 9, 2014, Vermont bill S.239 passed the Vermont Senate with a vote of 26 to 3, making the bill law and sending it to the Governor’s desk. The new state law gives power to the Vermont health department to require manufacturers to label or outright ban chemicals from children’s products sold in Vermont that the health department deems harmful.

Currently, the definition of “children’s products” is still being debated. For example, debate is underway if products that children commonly come in contact with, such as carpeting, should be included in the definition.

The Vermont legislature follows The Children’s Safe Products Act  enacted in the state of Washington as well as state laws in California and Maine. As part of the Washington state law, the state has established a Reporting List of Chemicals of High Concern to Children (CHCC) independent of federal law.

Currently, one point of contention in efforts to reform the national Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the rights of states to enact stricter laws than the national level, with some national legislators arguing that a national chemicals law must preempt state rulings.

 

Busting Dust Mites

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
House_Dust_Mite

Not pretty things. Luckily, they can’t see each other. (c) Wikipedia, Creative Commons

I’m glad dust mites are too small to see because honestly, they’re nasty looking. Luckily, even with exceptional eye sight, you’re not going see a creature that measures a fraction of a millimeter (and they aren’t going to see you as they have no eyes).

As allergies go, reactions to dust mites are common, with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) estimating around 20 million Americans suffer from dust mite allergies. Ironically, for a creature that can jump start breathing and asthma problems in people, the little eight-legged creature itself doesn’t have a respiratory system.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says high levels of dust mite exposure is a significant factor in the development of asthma in children, so it makes sense to take precautions, particularly for babies who can’t use words to explain what ails them. Because the crib mattress is the most prominent piece of furniture where babies might spend half of their day sleeping and playing, this is the first best place to begin. While there is disagreement among experts on the overall effectiveness of allergy encasements for mattresses, their usage continues to be recommended by the AAFA and other major asthma foundations.

The waterproof surface of Naturepedic crib mattresses already acts as a dust mite barrier that covers the entire mattress. Seamless models mean no access points for mites or contaminants and also mean an easy wipe-clean surface. Experts recommend washing sheets at least weekly for dust mite control, but you’ll be likely doing that anyway with a baby.

Naturepedic organic crib waterproof mattress with built-in dust mite barrier

Naturepedic organic crib waterproof mattress with built-in dust mite barrier

Our crib mattresses are waterproofed with food grade polyethylene, meaning they do not have phthalates which are found in dust mite covers made with vinyl. We also offer a 2-sided mattress for older children with one side waterproofed, so it has a dust mite barrier on one side.

Dust mites are a part of nature, so you won’t eliminate them, particularly in humid climates, but you can limit their allergenic effects.  Some secondary efforts, according to the AAFA, include avoiding wall-to-wall carpeting in bedrooms and using blinds instead of fabric curtains (or at least washing fabric curtains often).

Additionally, the group recommends avoiding uncovered pillows and down-filled covers, recommendations geared more toward older kids.  For babies, to reduce the risk of SIDS the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends not placing pillows, covers, bumper or stuffed animals in a crib at all.

Learn more about our waterproof crib mattresses with dust mite barriers.

 

Naturepedic Offers Factory Tour to CleanMed

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Hospitals and medical facilities throughout the U.S. are realizing the benefits in adopting sustainable business practices and integrating greener products and materials into their mix.

cleanmed2014_logoNaturepedic was proud to sponsor the recent CleanMed 2014 show, held at the Global Center for Health Innovation in Cleveland, Ohio on June 2-5.  This national conference, held annually, brings together top thought leaders and key decision makers in the healthcare industry and promotes solutions for greater environmental stewardship.

Presented by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth (of which we are a proud member), CleanMed provides exhibits, conferences and presentations to address the many facets of greener healthcare solutions.  The entire event engages the industry, sharing successes and exploring new, healthier ways of approaching healthcare.

Because the event was held in nearby Cleveland, we were excited to offer attendees a tour of our manufacturing facility in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The Naturepedic factory is completely certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), making the tour a perfect way to start the conference.

Currently, more than 100 hospitals throughout the U.S. use the Naturepedic pediatric pad, found in hospital nurseries.

Naturepedic founder Barry Cik invites CleanMed visitors to feel certified organic cotton

Naturepedic Founder Barry Cik Discusses Chemicals in Crib Mattresses and University of Texas Study

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

A recent study published February of this year by a team of environmental engineers from the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has found that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from crib mattresses.

Below, Naturepedic founder Barry A. Cik explores aspects related to this report to provide a greater understanding of the overall topic of chemicals in crib mattresses.

 

Friends and Colleagues,

I’ve been asked by several people to comment on the University of Texas study regarding chemicals in crib mattresses.  In particular, people want to understand the practical implications of chemicals in crib mattresses.  I’ll use a Q & A format.

 Are Chemicals Really a Problem?

The chemical problem is quite well established.  For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics says the following:

“Over the past several decades, tens of thousands of chemicals have entered commerce and the environment, often in extremely large quantities…A growing body of research indicates potential harm to child health from a range of chemical substances…there is widespread human exposure to many of these substances…These chemicals are found throughout the tissues and body fluids of children and adults alike…”   [Policy Statement – Chemical Management Policy: Prioritizing Children’s Health; American Academy of  Pediatrics, April 25, 2011; http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/04/25/peds.2011-0523 ]

Naturepedic Founder Barry A. Cik talks chemical safety during the grand opening of the company's Beverly Hills gallery

Naturepedic Founder Barry A. Cik talks chemicals during the grand opening of the company’s California gallery

There are approximately 84,000 chemicals in the marketplace.  Most have been created since World War II, and never existed on planet Earth before.  An additional 1,000 new chemicals are created every year.  Most (actually, virtual all) chemicals have never been tested for toxicity or health concerns.  The EPA has the authority to take action for many other concerns, but, for chemicals, the EPA has virtually no authority.  Of the 84,000 chemicals in the marketplace, the EPA has so far banned five (5).

What Are the Primary Types of Chemicals of Concern in Crib Mattresses?

Flame Retardant Chemicals -  These primarily include Phosphate, Brominated, and sometimes Chlorinated or Antimony Flame Retardants.  When a chemical gets undue attention, and certainly if it gets banned, manufacturers tend to turn to other flame retardant chemicals.  But these substitutions are frequently known as “regrettable substitutions” because the new versions generally prove to be no better than the previous versions.  Various flame retardant chemicals have been associated with toxicity, mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, developmental issues, endocrine disruption, and reproductive issues, etc.

Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) – PFCs are used as water-repellants and stain-repellants, and are frequently used to make the surface fabric of a crib mattress water-repellant.  In addition to being carcinogenic, one fairly recent study associated perfluorinated compounds with Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities [Philip J. Landrigan, Children’s Environmental Health Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York & Luca Lambertini, National Institutes of Health; published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 120, Number 7, July 2012.]

Phthalates – Phthalates are used to soften vinyl, and are linked to cancer and developmental issues.  Six phthalate chemicals were banned by Congress several years ago (as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008) and a seventh has been added to California Prop 65.  Meanwhile, there are at least an additional seven or eight new phthalate versions now on the market, as well as other phthalate substitutes, which are technically legal (i.e. not banned) and are being used.  No one knows the effects of these substitute chemicals, and whether they will ultimately be shown to have better or worse or substantially the same health concerns.

Where Are Flame Retardants Found?

They can be found in the surface fabric of a crib mattress, and/or in a flame barrier directly beneath the surface fabric, and/or in the foam inside the mattress.  Most synthetic fabrics on the market are flame-resistant because flame-retardant chemicals have been added into the fibers when the synthetic fibers were made.  In the case of natural fabrics, being that the fibers themselves are natural and not synthetically created, the flame-retardant chemicals are generally added at any of several later stages of the fabric processing.

What About Using “Inherently” Flame Resistant Fabrics?

The industry sometimes uses the word “inherently” loosely.  When a mattress manufacturer buys a fabric to be used on the mattress, the mattress manufacturer generally would not even know the exact chemical formulation of the fabric (which may have been made by a third party, and perhaps in China), and would not know what flame retardant chemicals have been added into the fibers.  If the fabric that is used on the mattress passes the flammability test, then the mattress manufacturer will frequently simply call it an “inherently” flame-retardant fabric.  However, the only truly “inherently” flame-resistant fabrics in the marketplace are fabrics that are made with fiberglass.

What About “Soybean Foam”?

Soybean Foam, Soy Foam, Eco Foam, Harvest Foam ™, Plant Derived Foam, etc. are all marketing terms.  They are all Polyurethane Foam, except that some soybean or castor oil has been used to replace some of the polyols in the mix.  The Law Label regulations require that these materials not be identified by their marketing terms.  Rather, they must be identified by their correct technical term – which is Polyurethane Foam.

What About GREENGUARD and Other Certification Programs?

GREENGUARD is an excellent emissions certification program (and was introduced to the mattress community by Naturepedic).  However, even GREENGUARD has its limits.  For example, GREENGUARD only tests for the legally banned phthalates, but doesn’t test for all the replacements in the marketplace that are being used.  There are other certification programs available as well.  In each case, it is helpful to understand what is and is not being tested or evaluated.

Of all the certification options available in the marketplace, the certified organic program offered by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the most thorough.  It requires the use of certified organic fabrics and fill, and provides a high degree of chemical safety vetting for all other non-organic components that are required in a mattress.

How Do We Stop the Use of Inappropriate Chemicals?

Manufacturers and consumers can take several steps right now.  Chemicals of concern used in the manufacturing of a mattress can be replaced with less hazardous alternatives.  This reduces the risk up-front.  Then, exposure can frequently be limited in the product design and/or by separating the baby from the consumer item.  In the case of a crib mattress, this might include the use of an organic pad over the mattress.  Then, of course, manufacturers should be required to disclose and be transparent regarding what is being offered to the consumer.

Ultimately, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it best:  “Manufacturers of chemicals are not required to test chemicals before they are marketed…Concerns about chemicals are permitted to be kept from the public…those who propose to market a chemical must be mandated to provide evidence that the product has been tested…relevant to the special needs of pregnant women and children…”   [ibid]

-  Barry A. Cik