Saturday, May 26, 2012

NTM News Brief: Playing with Fire (Chicago Tribune)

The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world

BAM.  This is how the Chicago Tribune’s recently published 5 part investigative series begins.

This  4 part investigative report is beyond eye opening.  The Tribune uncovered how 2 powerful industries - Tobacco and chemical manufacturers -  successfully waged  deceptive campaigns  presenting distorted science, phony front groups and straight up lies to mislead both regulators and the public and convince them of the benefits and need of flame retardants.

The results of decades of deception?  The presence of these chemicals in every single household in the country... chemicals that do not even work  as promised and who’s long term effects on our and our children’s health are quickly proving toxic.

Among the most frustrating and bothersome details the series unveils?
Just how easy it is for industry to fabricate (their investigation revealed that REPEATEDLY scientists and doctors speaking for the use of flame retardants have lied -making up stories about specific burn deaths among other things)  stories and have it not only accepted as the truth but be the basis for laws that have brought toxic chemicals into our homes.

It is eye opening and worth reading (click here to read TRIBUNE WATCHDOG PLAYING WITH FIRE)  but if you don't have the time here is a summary (and if you are not sure why you should care. jump to the end of the article!)

The first section starts off describing the testimony by the doctor who has been the star witness for the flame retardant industry in most if not all official hearings concerning these chemicals over the past few years.   The Seattle based burn doctor has repeatedly testified in these hearings and was found to have created false scenarios of child burn victims in order to put forth the agenda of the fire retardant industry.  Confronted by the journalist from the Tribune the doctor acknowledged that his stories were untrue but explained, “I wasn’t under oath.”

His repeated false testimonies, in many official hearings and specifically in California, have been the main force  behind the decision to require flame retardants in furniture and children’s products... and thus the main reason why we all have fire retardant chemicals in our houses. 

Another  player that has influenced and  helped convince regulators that flame retardants save lives and thus  must be  used throughout the house?  Citizens for Fire Safety, "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders, united to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety."  The catch?  The only 3 members are Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura, the largest manufacturers of flame retardants that, together, control 40 percent of the world market for these chemicals,

Through different players, the chemical industry has convinced many  that flame retardants save lives; this is why our children’s pajamas must be doused in them, as are crib  (and adult) mattresses, changers, sofas, rugs and electronics.  Yet according to many recent studies, the huge amount of fire retardants in our furniture (up to 2 pounds in one couch!!) , mattresses and electronics actually ”don't protect consumers from fire in any meaningful way.” and might even make smoke from fires even more toxic.

It is extremely frustrating to read this investigative report that describes how, for the last decades, the Tobacco and Chemical industries have flat out lied and deceived the public and regulators.  Based on these lies, laws have been passed that have brought toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological and developmental problems into your house and mine.


The Tribune discovered details about Big Tobacco's role, their “secretive campaign” ,  to win over the National Association of State Fire Marshals and ‘help’ make them the number one proponents of fire retardants in furniture. So much, that companies like Philip Morris collaborated with the marshals on flame retardant furniture standards.

The journalists disclose internal memos, speeches and strategic plans that revealed the surprising and influential role of Big Tobacco in the buildup of toxic chemicals in American furniture.

Part three describes how the chemical industry has manipulated scientific findings to promote the widespread use of flame retardants and downplay their health risks.  They have done this with such success, the article claims, that the industry’s  ‘story’ has essentially  been adopted as fact, cited by consultants, think tanks, regulators and Wikipedia, and have shaped the worldwide debate about the safety of flame retardants.

Among the examples of how science has been distorted, is one of the largest studies ever conducted to determine the effectiveness of fire retardants in a fire.   The lead author of the study explains that they used SO much fire retardants that, yes, the chemicals did delay the fire.  The industry used these results as a scientific  basis for their argument of the effectiveness of the chemicals. However, the study’s author explains,   “industry officials have "grossly distorted" the findings of his research, which was not based on real-world conditions. The small amounts of flame retardants in typical home furnishings, he said, offer little to no fire protection... The bottom line: Household furniture often contains enough chemicals to pose health threats but not enough to stem fires — "the worst of both possible worlds," he said.”

The Tribune describes the current fire retardant that has been approved by the EPA :  Firemaster 550.   The manufacturer's own health studies, obtained by the Tribune, found that exposing rats to high doses of Firemaster 550  lowered birth weight, altered female genitalia and caused skeletal malformations such as fused ribs and vertebrae. .. and yet it was approved by the EPA for use in baby products and common household items.

The history of Firemaster 550, highlights  "how EPA officials have allowed generation after generation of flame retardants onto the market without thoroughly assessing health risks.”

At the base of the problem is the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, that basically allows companies to sell products that contain chemicals that have not been proven safe.  When health effects are document, the law make it almost impossible for the EPA to ban the chemical.

"By the time the scientific community catches up to one chemical, industry moves on to another and they go back to their playbook of delay and denial,"


  • Long term exposure to fire retardants have been linked to lower IQs, reduced fertility, hormonal changes, reproductive harm, impacts on the thyroid and metabolic function, and hindering neurological development in infants and children, among other health threats
  • The average American baby is born with the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world
  • Most human exposure to flame retardants comes from ingesting “surprisingly large amounts” of contaminated household dust, rather than from people's diet or what they absorb through their skin.
  • According to the EPA, young children are exposed to significantly higher levels than adults, because they spend so much time playing on the floor.
  •  About a fifth of the nursing pillows, car seats, highchairs, diaper-changing pads and other products made with polyurethane foam contained Firemaster 550.  But the most common flame retardant detected is another chemical: chlorinated tris, also known as TDCCP. which manufacturers voluntarily took out of children's pajamas more than three decades ago after it was linked to cancer.  Since it was never officially banned it is still being used - regardless of its strong links to cancer.

The investigative piece makes me feel outraged.  Frustrated. Scared.    And really pissed off.   But it also validates why I care about the research I do and why I go out of my way to try to protect my family from these chemicals.  If you are reading this you do to!  Unfortunately,  if we don't do it, no one else will.

For more information on easy steps to take to reduce fire retardants at home read our post, ' How to reduce Tris Flame Retardant Exposure At Home'

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Summer Sunblock Guide

School's out soon and summer vacation is just a couple of weeks away!

With summer, come long days outdoors in the (very strong) summer sun.  Whether or not the beach or pool are in your plans this summer you still need to bathe yourself and your children in sunblock to avoid getting burned.  So, how do you choose the right sunblock for your family? If your answer is to grab the same brand you have been using for years from your local pharmacy, then you might want to rethink sunblock shopping this summer.

  • Retinyl palmitate:  A form of vitamin A that the FDA and national toxicology program suggests might heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun exposed skin.  Until more research is available try to avoid sunscreens with vitamin A. 
  • Oxybenzone: A hormone disrupting chemical that can trigger skin sensitivities and is largely absorbed by the skin.  Most non-mineral based sunblocks contain oxybenzone.  This ingredient is ESPECIALLY NOT RECOMMENDED for children and pregnant women because of its ability to penetrate the skin.
         Look for mineral sunblocks.  If you do not like mineral sunblocks look for a non mineral one  
         that contains avobenzone (not more than 3% for optimal UVA protection) instead of

  • Fragrance:  This ingredient usually means that there are phthalates present, which are hormone disrupting chemicals. Look for sunblocks that specify “Fragrance and Phthalate free”.

  • Mineral based
Mineral based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the  best option, especially for children and people with sensitive skin. They tend to not penetrate the skin as much as non-mineral sunscreens and offer better UVB and UVA protection.  HOWEVER avoid these ingredients in sprays or powders since they can potentially be toxic if inhaled in large quantities.

Common mainstream brands like Neutrogena, CVS, and Aveeno all offer mineral only sunscreens.

  • SPF
 Remember that high SPF should not give you a false sense of security... you still need to reapply.  Studies in the US and Europe have found that people using high SPF, thinking they are more protected, do not reapply sunscreen and actually get the same number of sunburns and more exposure to damaging UVA rays than those using lower SPF.

High-SPF products contain greater amounts of sun-blocking chemicals, many of which have been linked to hormone disruption and skin sensitivities.

When choosing a SPF, SPF 30-45 is more recommended since anything above that number does not provide significant more protection.

In Europe, sunscreens that do not protect significantly from both UVA and UVB sun rays are not sold.  Not so in the US.  What to look out form? Make sure your sunscreen  says it has 'broad spectrum SPF' coverage ( this means it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays which both contribute to skin cancer and early skin aging)

The truth is that not all non-toxic sunscreens are great.  Some feel really heavy and leave a white residue.  Others are just not water resistant and can leave you unprotected and vulnerable to sunburn after a dip in the pool.  So beware and be willing to try a few out before you find one you like. 

Also important?  Regardless of what SPF you are using always reapply sunscreens, especially after playing in the water!

The Environmental Working Group has a great sunscreen database (they review over 1800 products!) where you can look up your favorite brand and see how it measures up and if it considered 'safe' or not (a rating of 1-2 is ideal, 3 acceptable).  If you are starting from scratch it is a great source for you to discover new brands; just choose from those with the lowest ratings or go to their ‘Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens” list .

I have tried a couple throughout the years and here are my favorites for the whole family (they all scored a 2 on EWG's database), in no particular order!

  • Dr Robin for Kids:   A little thick but I still like it and use it on my son.

  • Aveeno Baby Natural Protection MineralBlock Face Stick, SPF 50+:   Event though this stick does leave a white residue I love to use it on my son’s face since he thinks the stick is cool and actually lets me use it on his face without squirming everywhere.

  • Alba botanical Natural Very Emollient Sunblock, Kids Mineral Protection, SPF 30 :  goes on a bit smother....  ideal for everyone in the family.

  • California Baby:  California Baby has about 4 different formulations that have all scored a 2, however I like their Super Sensitive No Fragrance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30+

  • La Roche- Posay: Anthelios 40 Sunscreen Cream, SPF 40 : I use it most of the year on my face.  

Do you have a favorite non-toxic  sunscreen you would recommend??  Feel free to comment I am always looking to try new ones!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is Nail Polish Safe for Little Kids? Is It Safe for Their Moms?

I have a little boy munchkin,  and so was not aware of just how popular manicures and pedicures are in the little girl munchkin world! That is, until recently, when a friend of mine asked me what I thought about a nail polish she bought for her 3 year old who has discovered the fun colorful world of painting her nails.  

As I began to research her nail polish I realized just how big a market the under 10 age group is for nail polish makers.  Girly spas are common for little girls and spa birthday party themes are gaining more popularity.

So: Is nail polish safe for little kids? Is it safe for their moms?

The answer: it depends on what nail polish you are using. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

NTM NEWS BRIEF: Untested Chemicals in Beauty Products (ABC News)

Last night ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer ran a great story that really brought to the mainstream media and public’s attention the lack of chemical regulation in the US and why this is so important for each and every one of us!

The average woman uses, on average, 12 beauty and personal care products a day; thus exposing herself to over 120 chemicals, most of which have never been tested for safety on humans.  How many beauty products do you use?  Think about it: 
  1.  shampoo
  2. conditioner
  3. soap/body wash
  4. moisturizer cream
  5. sunscreen
  6. foundation
  7. blush
  8. lipstick
  9. mascara
  10. eye makeup
  11. hand moisturizer
  12. makeup remover
  13.  night cream
  14. deodorant
  15. hand soap......

The average man uses about half, an average of 6  products, thus exposing themselves to an  average of 80  never tested chemicals.

What about your children?   Shampoo, body wash/soap, moisturizer?  How many chemicals are listed (and probably not listed) as ingredients in their personal care products?


Shampoo:  can have formaldehyde (known carcinogen)  and dioxane, and phthalates (linked to allergies, hormone disruptions and dermatitis)

  • lipstick:  lead
  • deodorant:  parabens possibly linked to cancer
  • skin lightning creams:  mercury
  • nail polish:  toluene
  • perfume:  phthalates
  • moisturizing creams:  Parabens and phthalates

...and the list goes on and on.

Europe has banned:  1200 of chemicals found in personal care products.
The US? Only 10 of these chemicals have been banned!

What this means:   Many companies that sell products both in the US and European markets are actually offering Europeans safer products than those sold in the US.  They have reformulated their products to meet European safety standards, however are not using these ‘safer’ reformulations in the US.  Instead they have continued to sell the original toxic chemical recipe.   (note:  not all companies do this.   Some, like Vichy for example, sell their “paraben free” Aqualia Thermal riche moisture cream - among other products, in CVS in the US!)


Consumers like us are becoming more informed and there is talk of Congress passing a Bill regulating cosmetics by this summer  that would require cosmetic companies to label ALL ingredients (today they do not have to)  and specifically prohibiting chemicals linked to cancer or reproductive problems.


  • Write your local Congressman/women and stress how important this Bill would be.. especially for children’s products. 
  •  Don’t buy products that list ingredients you can’t pronounce.   The more natural the ingredients the better.  
  • Since many companies do not have to disclose all of their ingredients stick to well known companies with truly green reputations. 
  • Check your products on EWG’s Skin Deep Database.  This is an online cosmetics safety database created by the Environmental Working Group where you can research the products already in your home or find safer products for women, men and kids before you go to the store. It is as simple as inputting the name of the product and clicking ‘search’!!
  • A great website  of reviews of non-toxic beauty products for the whole family? My friend Ana Da Costa’s blog: Green Beauty Gal 

To see the entire ABC New story click here!