Archive for the ‘Chemicals in consumer products’ Category

Making Decisions Monday: Action Items for a Safer Toy Holiday or Birthday

Monday, November 17th, 2014

When beginning your research for safer toys, start here to learn more about wood toys, and don’t forget my key questions to ask yourself before purchasing a plastic toy.

While we can’t replace everything in our house immediately (it’s too expensive for me, even if I could get my kids to give up many of the toys they love at once!), we can strive to make better choices going forward, and holidays and birthdays make a great opportunity to do so.

christmas-gifts

1) Tell your friends and family that you are looking to make more conscious decisions about the toys you’re bringing into your home. Recommend some brands you’re interested in (here and here are some suggestions), and offer key terms they should look for on packaging and websites.

Key terms: Organic, BPA-free, Phthalate-free or nonphthalate, type of plastic (food grade preferred)

Terms to avoid if they are unsubstantiated: Eco-friendly, Green, Natural, Non-Toxic. Ask yourself why they are Eco-friendly, Green, Natural or Non-Toxic. If the company explains that their toys are made with food-grade plastic, or use a certified non-toxic paint, etc, then Yes! Feel comfortable in making your judgment call based on that factual information rather than an unsubstantiated and unregulated claim.

2) If you have a particular brand or toy you’re interested in lacking details about how the toys are made, don’t hesitate to reach out to the manufacturer and ask their Quality Assurance team or Customer Service, but make them aware that you understand that though they may comply with federal standards, you are looking for toys which go above and beyond in chemical safety for children.

3) This is a great opportunity to ask for replacement toys that regularly go in the mouth with safer alternatives. This year, on my kids’ Christmas wish list (which I luckily still get to make for them), I am asking for replacement play food items and bath toys. You may also be interested in replacing things like tea sets, whistles, horns and recorders, and teethers.

Happy shopping!

Making Decisions Monday: Questions to Ask Before Purchasing Plastic Toys

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Thanks for joining me on our hunt for safer toys! Last week, we talked about wood toys for toddlers and preschoolers, like my own 19 month old daughter and nearly 4 year old son.

I was on a mission to find safer action figures and dinosaur toys my son might still be interested in playing with. The wood toys I found didn’t meet that criteria, though there are some available. We all need to find our own level of comfort with what we provide to our children, so I began to look for some safer plastic toy options.

plastic-baby-dolls

PLASTIC TOYS

Here are the questions I ask myself when looking at plastic toys, in order of what I personally consider to be the most important factors regarding safety.

1) Is it BPA free or non-detectable?

Generally, I only thought of Bisphenol A as it relates to baby cups and bottles, food storage containers, etc. However, BPA is a phthalate, and a report done by HealthyStuff.org revealed that BPA was reported in certain toys just a few years ago. This year, the EU has further regulated BPA in toys effective by the end of 2015.

Bottom line: If the manufacturer doesn’t state that they are BPA-free on their website or on the product packaging, then consider reaching out to their Customer Service or Quality Assurance team directly for confirmation, or visit HealthyStuff.org to see if they have a report on the product you’re interested in.
However, remember that BPA testing isn’t required currently for toys, and a manufacturer may state that they are compliant.

2) Is it phthalate-free or non-detectable?

bath-toys

There are plenty of concerns you may have about PVC and other types of plastic, but my bigger concern is the effects of the plasticizers which soften plastic, specifically phthalates. Only six types of phthalates are regulated in the US for toys. It’s not enough, for my personal peace of mind, to have the manufacturer state that they are complying with the CPSC/CPSIA phthalates requirement.

Bottom line: Look for a manufacturer or packaging to say phthalate-free or nonphthalate, though remember phthalates may also be in inks, so look carefully at the language used.

A manufacturer is also dependent on working in cooperation with their suppliers, and while no phthalates may intentionally be added, the term phthalate-free may be misleading. You can ask for test results of a toy to see what phthalates it has been tested for specifically. Or, you can also look for toys made of a hard plastic. It’s less likely (though not guaranteed) that a hard plastic toy would contain phthalates anyway.

3) Is it PVC-free?

There are a lot of types of plastics, but this one gets some of the worst press. If you’re interested in learning more about plastic from its chemical footprint during manufacturing to health hazards, I’d invite you to read the Plastics Score Card v. 1.0.

Bottom line: Brands using food-grade plastic like polyethylene are a better bet. However, I am more comfortable giving my son a phthalate-free plastic made of PVC than my daughter, who is still putting toys in her mouth.

Bonus Question: Is it recycled?

We can all feel better for the environment and our health buying a toy made of recycled plastic! Plastic doesn’t break down easily in the environment. Here are some brands I found using recycled plastic.

Bruder Trucks
Green Toys
Sprig Toys

The following brands as of this publication date have plastic toys which are BPA- and/or phthalate-free. Be sure to research and double check yourself for your own peace of mind. Remember that formulas and manufacturing processes may change over the years.

Disclaimer: By listing these brands, neither I nor Naturepedic are endorsing them over another brand with similar qualifications. Nor have we tested all of these products or contacted each brand individually. I used publicly available information, reached out as a consumer to a few customer service agents, and made decisions about what to include here based upon: the types of toys I am seeking for my kids, their ages, and the level of comfort I have personally with the safety and quality information provided by each company.

B. Toys/Terra (Owned by Battat)
Boon
Crocodile Creek
Infantino
Lego
Spielstabil
WOW Toys

Next week I’ll be discussing action items you can do to help your loved ones select safer toys for gift-giving, including key terms to look for on packaging.

Wellness Within Your Walls

Friday, November 7th, 2014

 

I attended a wonderful webinar sponsored by the Sustainable Furnishings Council in which interior designer Jillian Pritchard Cooke spoke on the importance of better indoor air quality. She also discussed how the furnishings in a home play a part.

DES-SYN interior designs consider environmental and health impacts

DES-SYN interior designs consider environmental and health impacts

The webinar was entitled Reducing Harmful Toxins in the Home: Combating the tight box syndrome. Tight box syndrome, also called sick building syndrome, refers to a health condition created by modern houses and offices where indoor contaminants remain circulating in in the air, trapped by the tight seals of today’s buildings like air in in a spaceship.

Pritchard Cooke is a principal at design firm DES-SYN and the founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, an organization dedicated to not only reducing toxins during the interior design process but also in promoting more sustainable and responsible materials. She said she became focused on designing more eco-friendly living spaces after she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which she suspects was caused by years of working with off-gassing furnishings and flooring, paints and finishes.

According to Pritchard Cooke, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consistently ranks indoor air pollution in the top five environmental risks to public health. She also points out that science is far from understanding how the combination of multiple indoor pollutants, ranging from flame retardants in our furniture to VOCs in our paint, combine together to impact our health.

Part of the problem, according to Pritchard Cooke, is that during many interior design projects an entire room or series of rooms get huge doses of NEW: new paint, new carpeting, new sofas, new windows … new, new, new. The problem is these new additions often off gas VOCs, and the home is suddenly swamped with odors and chemicals at one time. Furthermore, tightly sealed windows and doors keep the chemicals inside, ready for our lungs.

Some solutions, she said, are common sense, even though they are often overlooked. For example, open windows, when realistic, factoring in of course weather and outdoor allergens. Also, If possible, allow new furnishings to breathe in a garage or open space out of their protective plastic wrappers instead of bringing sealed products into the home.

kitchen_4

A beautiful kitchen design from Jillian Pritchard Cooke and company

Pritchard Cooke points out fabrics can also contain a variety of additives, from waterproofing agents to flame retardants, which affect air quality. So many additives can be found in fabrics she points out that some people with chemical sensitivities can have adverse effects from even going into clothing stores full of brand new clothing items.

Of course finding healthier options that aren’t releasing high levels of harmful chemicals is ideal. Pritchard Cooke points out that integrating antiques and legacy items that have long since cured can not only help to protect indoor air quality but also reduce waste and use of energy and natural resources.

 

California’s Green Chemistry Initiative Debuts Draft of Three Year Work Plan

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

 

Logo for California Green Chemistry InitiativeLooking to encourage the creation of safer consumer products, the state of California under its Green Chemistry Initiative launched a draft of its Three Year Work Plan. The draft plan, published in September of 2014, will ultimately focus on specific Priority Products and their associated chemistries for which safer chemical alternatives must be evaluated. By focusing on select products, the plan hopes to encourage overall “market shifts toward a green economy.”

Over the next three years the plan will limit its evaluations to seven broad product categories:

  •  Beauty and Personal Care
  • Building Products and Household, Office Furniture and Furnishings
  • Cleaning Products
  • Clothing
  •  Fishing and Angling Equipment
  •  Office Machinery and
  • Clothing

Specific types of products within the categories have also been identified for further examination. At this stage specific products have yet to be chosen, with the plan instead looking to lay the roadmap for future regulatory actions by California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the agency responsible for the plan.

The seven categories and their product types were selected after rigorous study and debate, each selected based on multiple aspects such as potential exposures or end-of-life effects.

For example, beauty and personal care was selected not only because products are directly applied to the body, but also because chemical ingredients are often not disclosed. Additionally, this category was selected as common ingredients are known as hazardous for humans and wildlife and may pass through wastewater treatment plants.

Potential chemicals used in health and beauty products being considered for safer chemistries include phthalates, toluene, Triclosan, aldehydes and more, but other chemicals could be later added. beakers

The plan intends on selecting a limited number of Priority Products over the next three years, and expects that likely no more than ten products will be added each year.

Taking a long-view approach, the plan looks to be part of an overall design and approach shift in manufacturing toward safer chemistries. While this ambitious plan only is for California, it will likely be watched by other states and if successful even impact national chemical policies.

 

 

 

Making Decisions Monday: Safer Toys for Toddlers & Preschoolers

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

About 6 months ago, I came to work for Naturepedic just a few months after purchasing my own new mattress (sadly, non-Naturepedic). Imagine my surprise and disappointment as I began to learn the complexities of this industry and the chemicals that surround us on a daily basis. I quickly learned that organic is not just about food.

Working here, I’ve had the benefit of being exposed to a lot of knowledge about toxic chemicals, regulations, and above all, the impact chemicals can and do have on my children. I won’t pretend to be an expert: I’m a mom learning to reevaluate the world I live in day-to-day.

One of the most important lessons I learned early on was to pick one thing important to me to begin to change. Re-stocking and replacing an entire household is too overwhelming (and expensive). Since that time, I’ve changed a few things from cleaning products to my kids’ pajamas.

I’ve recently begun tackling my biggest challenge yet: my children’s toys.

weekend-playtime

I have a 19 month old daughter and my son is almost 4. I have his birthday and Christmas approaching. This year, I wanted to make more conscious decisions about what toys we bring into our home at holiday time.

Listen, I’m realistic. Kids love plastic toys. I’m not buying only toys made out of wood, or completely organic (though there are some great ones I’m considering!). I certainly can’t control everything that other family members purchase for our kids. They are, after all, the only grandchildren, niece or nephew, on either side of the family!

And so began my venture in finding safer toys to recommend for gift-giving to toddlers and preschoolers.

WOOD TOYS

blocksI assumed that wooden toys were inherently safe, but that’s not strictly true. Does a painted piece chip off? In my opinion, that’s unacceptable, even if we are confident that that paint is lead-free. While there are a lot of non-toxic paints (some are actually even certified), I also looked for wooden toys which have a natural stain or sealant.

Here are some brands I discovered in my search whose toys I would feel comfortable giving to my kids.

Disclaimer: This is not an all-inclusive list. There are a lot of great brands making safe wooden toys, brands using better plastics, as well as manufacturers of organic cotton plush toys and blankets. By listing these brands, neither I nor Naturepedic are endorsing them over another brand with similar qualifications. Nor have we tested all of these products or contacted each brand individually. I used publicly available information, reached out as a consumer to a few customer service agents, and made decisions about what to include here based upon: the types of toys I am seeking for my kids, their ages, and the level of comfort I have personally with the safety and quality information provided by each company. If you have a recommended addition, we’d be happy to hear about it!

anaMalz
Haba
Hape
Kid Kraft
NovaNatural
Plan Toys
Smart Gear/Wonderworld

Next week, I’ll be talking about safer plastic toys. There’s definitely some debate about whether any plastic can considered safer, but I feel like I can do my part to make more responsible choices as I’m able. Stay tuned for key questions you should ask yourself before buying a plastic toy.

Avoiding GMOs – what are your current options?

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

 

We believe consumers should have a right to know what they are eating and drinking (AND sleeping on!) In a previous post we mentioned our partnership with Just Label It, an organization advocating labeling of foods using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). At this time, however, companies are not required to disclose GMOs. Nonetheless, consumers that wish to avoid GMOs do have a few tools available.

Buyers can look for:

USDA_LogoThe USDA Organic label. USDA certified organic food currently can not contain GMOs. While this logo can also apply to non-edible raw natural fibers and materials such as cotton, this label is not designed for finished textile products.

 

Non-GMO Project Verified label.nonGMO1 While this voluntary certification guarantees food does not contain GMOs, it does not mean food is organic, so food with this label can still be grown with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Also, because this verification is voluntary, the absence of the label does not mean an item necessarily contains GMOs. Smaller organic food operations may be unable to afford the certification process.

 

GOTS certified textiles and mattresses do NOT contain GMO cotton

GOTS label. While not for food but for textiles, apparel and mattresses, the GOTS label applies to cotton, one of the top five GMO crops in the world. GOTS does NOT permit the use of GMO cotton. That means all cotton in Naturepedic mattresses (which are independently certified to GOTS) is free of GMOs, and this goes for cotton fabrics as well as cotton filling. Any raw cotton we source is U.S. grown and certified USDA Organic.

 

 

While the above labels help people know whether their food or textiles were made with GMOs, we believe people have the right to know what’s in their food at all times. We invite you to join us and the other partners in Just Label It to ask the FDA to protect your right to know. Sign the online petition for GMO labeling at justlabelit.org/take-action.

 

Study Connects Phthalate Exposure in Moms, Asthma in Children

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

 

A study released by Columbia University has found a connection between mothers exposed during pregnancy to high levels of two commonly used phthalates, BBP and DBP (also referenced as BBzP and DnBP), and asthma in their children. While these two phthalates were banned in children’s products in 2009 by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), they are still used in many, many household products, automobile interiors, and fragrances.

asthma3

Asthma in the U.S. – children at risk

The number of cases of asthma has increased globally, but there is no consensus as to why. Earlier theories suspected increases in improved sanitation (the “hygiene hypothesis”) as a possibility, but although this might explain increases in allergies, it appears to not work in explaining asthma, according to a 2011 article in Scientific American.

Whatever the case, rates of asthma have increased, particularly in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009, with African-American children seeing an almost 50% increase in asthma in that time frame.

A fact sheet provided by The American Lung Association (ALA) reveals that asthma affects 7.1 million children under 18 years in the U.S.. The ALA claims that asthma ranks as the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15, with around 29% of all asthma hospital discharges in 2010 falling in that age bracket (even though only 20% of the U.S. population fell in that demographic). Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.

 The Columbia University Study

The peer-reviewed study, published Sept. 17, 2014 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, was led by Robin Whyatt from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York, part of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.  The study measured metabolites (biomarkers left after the body metabolizes the chemicals) of four phthalates in urine samples collected from 300 pregnant women in New York City, and then measured these metabolites in their children after they were born. The study builds on previous research of the same set of parent/child as part of a long term study.

mailmanStudy results suggest a “significant” association between concentrations of prenatal metabolites of the phthalates BBP and DBP and later childhood asthma, but did not find a correlation between exposure to the phthalates DEHP and DEP and asthma.

The percentages found in the study were high. Almost one third of the children, 94 of them to be exact, ages 5-11, developed physician-diagnosed asthma. An additional 60 children had a history of wheeze and other asthma-like symptoms without the asthma diagnosis.

The findings are significant and warrant additional study. At this point, researchers are unclear on the mechanisms for how the phthalates might increase the risk for asthma, although other studies suggest that inflammation and oxidative stress* may play a role.

In the U.S. in 2007, asthma cost about $56 billion in medical costs, lost work and school days, and early deaths.

 

*For a summary description of oxidative stress, check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s explanation on his website.

The Irony of Flame Retardants in Water: How These Chemicals Are Moving From Our Couches to Our Rivers

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Naturepedic mattresses don’t contain chemical flame retardants, compounds with suspected connections to human health and developmental problems. Jillian Pritchard Cooke, an interior designer specializing in healthier designs and founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, has connected flame retardants to poor indoor air quality. But what about outdoor water quality?

Scientists have been finding chemical flame retardants, particularly PBDEs, in rivers and waterways throughout the world. The question has been why? A recently released peer-review study published Sept. 17, 2014 by the journal Environmental Science & Technology offers some answers.

Washington Toxics Coalition report - How Toxic Flame Retardants Pollute Our Waterways

Washington Toxics Coalition report – How Toxic Flame Retardants Pollute Our Waterways

The report was co-authored by Erika Schreder, science director with the Washington Toxics Coalition, and Mark J. La Guardia, senior environmental research scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The study examined 20 homes in the Vancouver and Longview areas of Washington state, testing for 22 chemical flame retardants in common household dust. The study found 21 chemical flame retardants in the dust in varying amounts, with 72% of total flame retardant mass made up of chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants, also known as tris. Tris is commonly found in polyurethane foam (used in mattresses, sofas, and other furniture cushioning) and is suspected of being an endocrine disruptor.

Of those 21 flame retardants, the study found that 18 could be detected in laundry wastewater. In other words, the dust appeared to be adhering to clothing and other fabrics there were then washed, with the chemicals then heading to wastewater treatment plants.

By comparing flame retardant levels in wastewater treatment plant influents to estimates based on laundry wastewater levels, the study found that laundry wastewater is likely the primary source of flame retardant chemicals in waterways.

Dust particles are small, so what volume levels of flame retardants are involved? Mass loadings to the Columbia River from each individual treatment plant showed up to approximately 251 pounds per year for the flame retardant chemical TCPP alone. The study found that a single treatment plant along the Columbia River released a combination of three tris flame retardants at an estimated 384 pounds a year, which the Washington Toxics Coalition estimates to be the equivalent of the flame retardant used to treat 1,088 couches.

With more than 300 wastewater treatment plants in Washington, that adds up (multiple 300 by 384 and you get 115,200 pounds per year as a rough estimate). Research suggests a connection with chlorinated organophosphates and endocrine disruption in fish, but the available research is extremely limited.

The bottom line is that chemical flame retardants commonly found in mattresses and other home furnishings as well as consumer electronics potentially impact more than just people. Studies of the potentially harmful health and developmental effects of these substances must also examine what they mean for the fish and wildlife in and along our rivers and lakes.

New Government Report on Phthalates Sends Mixed Messages

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Phthalates are chemical plasticizers used to make plastics like vinyl pliable or soft, and they are in almost everyone’s blood.  These chemicals are used in all types of products including children’s items like plastic teething rings, vinyl mattress covers and even baby lotions. This is a serious problem considering phthalates and phthalate substitutes are suspected of being connected to hormonal disruptions, asthma and even obesity. 

In mid-July, a panel overseen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a final report on phthalates and phthalate substitutes. The CPSC is a relatively small federal agency tasked with overseeing that products are safe. (For example, they issued the regulations for crib design, including the banning of drop sides.)

The “Report on Phthalates and Phthalate Alternatives” does not call for a ban on all phthalates in children’s products.  Instead, it recommends which phthalates should be allowable and which are not.

Phthalates Are Born Drifters

One aspect of concern regarding phthalates is that they don’t stay put. Because phthalates don’t chemically bind to plastics, they leach out over time. Have you ever felt a once soft vinyl cover that has become cracked and crunchy? That’s because the phthalates have left the plastic and entered the environment.

Phthalates are scary drifters. (Photo from iStock from a painting by artist Yaroslav Gerzhedovich)

Phthalates are scary drifters.
(Photo from iStock from a painting by artist Yaroslav Gerzhedovich)

Phthalates and phthalate substitutes can get into children in multiple ways. They can be transferred from the mother to unborn babies. Babies can also take in phthalates through skin absorption, primarily from products like lotions.  Children can also inhale phthalates.  Since so many of the plastics used for baby products contain phthalates, most children are being exposed to phthalates on a daily basis.

What the New Report Recommends ( … or Get Ready for LOTS of Abbreviations!)

The new report recommends continuing a previous ban in toys and child care articles on three select phthalates you may have heard about: DEHP, DBP and BBP.  The report, however, recommends allowing two phthalates that were previously banned on an interim basis: DNOP and DIDP.

PHTA The report recommends against a third phthalate called DINP which was also previously banned on an interim basis. DINP, by the way, was added in 2013 to California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer (even though the chemical industry claimed there was inadequate proof.)

The report also suggests banning four new phthalates in children’s products. The report itself is almost a whopping 600 pages and examines many, many different chemicals.

What Does It All Mean?

It’s important to remember that this is only a set of recommendations and not law. The CPSC will decide whether to accept or reject all or some of the recommendations. A decision could be reached by January 2015.

Naturepedic simply does not use phthalates or phthalate substitutes in mattresses.  While GREENGUARD tests only for a select list of phthalates, our philosophy is to avoid those chemicals altogether, meaning we hold ourselves to an even higher standard than GREENGUARD does. No vinyl, no phthalates.  This simplifies things, and we don’t need a 600 page document to explain it.

Got some time on your hands? You can read the full report here.

 

Naturepedic Founder and Other Organic Visionaries to be Honored

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

The organics movement is growing and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) supports organic businesses and the leaders that make them thrive. The OTA is holding its 2014 Organic content_img.23.imgLeadership Awards on September 17 to recognize three individuals making significant impacts on the organic industry.  We are proud to announce Naturepedic founder Barry Cik has been selected as one of those visionaries in the organic movement.

American_Visionary_Arts_Museum,_Baltimore_(ca._2005)

Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum
Photo CC license Wikipedia

The awards will take place at The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, a colorful venue perfect for recognizing the vibrancy of the organic movement. Naturepedic’s Barry Cik will be awarded the Rising Star Award for his work in growing a small Ohio-based company into a national organic presence.

The OTA will also award the Growing the Organic Industry Award to Marty Mesh, Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers Inc. (FOG). Marty is a hands-on veteran in organic agriculture with more than 40 years of experience. Not only instrumental in forming FOG, Marty has been involved in many areas of organic business including policy, advocacy, training, certification, and more.

The Organic Farmer of the Year Award will go to Doug Crabtree, a farmer and organic farm trainer. Doug owns organic farm Vilicus Farms in Montana (although he grew up on a farm in Ohio, the state where Naturepedic is based). Along with his wife Anna, Doug runs an apprenticeship program. By sharing his extensive knowledge of organic farming methods, Doug is inspiring more farmers to grow organically and is helping them develop the skills needed for success.

Join us in giving a big organic cheer for this year’s Organic Leadership winners! Together, they are promoting individual personal health and the overall health of our planet. As a bit of appropriate trivia: Villicus in Latin means “steward.” Thanks Doug, Marty and Barry for all being good stewards of the earth.

 

Naturepedic Organic Mattress and Barry Cik

Naturepedic’s Barry Cik in front of a Naturepedic organic mattress