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Mar 072014

GRN Reports

Phthalates, none, on label

Look for “no phthalates” on cosmetic goods. If the label doesn’t say, watch for unidentified “fragrance.”

Phthalates, BPA and other plastic additives have been shown to interfere with the endocrine systems of humans and lab animals, harming the reproductive systems of children, and raising cancer and diabetes risks, potentially even raising cancer risks for future generations.

These synthetic plastic compounds are added to many consumer products to make plastics more sturdy (BPA in polycarbonate) or more pliable (phthalates) or even as stabilizers and preservatives in body products and cosmetics. Their use is so pervasive in modern life, they may even come to us in our water. (The American Chemistry Council, the industry association, says plastics are safe and that studies showing plastics cause health problems are flawed.)

Still, it’s possible to reduce one’s exposure by using phthalate-free products, avoiding synthetic fragrances and cooking and cleaning in ways that guard against plastic chemicals seeping into food.

Some of these practices will help protect people from potential leaching from less studied plastics and BPA alternatives, which some studies* now show can negatively affect human health by mimicking estrogenic activity, the same way BPA and phthalates interfere with human body functions. (The ACC disagrees.)

Here are some tips for avoiding phthalates, BPA and BPA alternatives.

  • Choose body products — shampoos, moisturizers, cosmetics — that are unscented or scented with natural essences or botanicals, especially for children, who may be more sensitive to these chemical additives because their systems are still developing. Be aware that the word “fragrance” in the ingredient list often hides synthetic phthalates, unless the product also is labeled as “phthalate free.”
  • Avoid products such as children’s backpacks and lunch boxes, bags and accessories made with PVC plastic, which contains phthalates. A tip off: Products made with PVC are typically shiny.
  • Buy hoses made of rubber instead of plastic. This option is commonly available at many home improvement stores. Plastic hoses are suspected of leaching when they lay in the sun outside.
  • Buy toys made of wood and other natural raw materials. Look for those that are made of safer plastics — those labeled #1 or #2 (while being aware that emerging science could implicate these plastics as well). Because it’s difficult to completely avoid plastic, consider the product use. For example, toddler toys that may end up being mouthed would cause more concern.
  • Store and heat food in containers made of glass, metal or other non-reactive materials to avoid BPA in plastic. Here too, you can look for the safer #1 or #2 plastics for cold storage. Leaching of plastic additives is more likely when food is hot or the container is heated.
  • Be aware that many, if not most, canned goods are lined with a plastic resin that contains BPA. Some brands have stopped the use of the BPA-lined resin (Muir Glen, Eden Organics), and note this on labels. Others have switched to glass containers, which avoid the problem altogether. Studies suggest that canned acidic foods are most likely to activate the leaching of the BPA.
  • Avoid using plastic wrap to cover food heated in the microwave.
  • Use glass baby bottles, and if using plastic polycarbonate (#7 plastic) for any type of container, do not use it for warm liquids.
  • Watch out for plastic sippy cups, even those made without BPA may still have estrogenic compounds. Keep these out of the sun and do not use them for warm liquids.
  • Do not wash plastics in the dishwasher
  • Avoid dust from vinyl products such as mini-blinds.

Compiled with information from the Centers for Disease Control, The National Institutes for Health, ToxTown, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units, Safer Chemicals.org and the Environmental Working Group .

*The 2011 study “Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved” found that many varieties of plastics triggered “estrogenic activity” that could contribute to disease and reproductive development problems. This study, by scientists with commercial labs in Austin as well as two professors, from UT-Austin and Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC, reported that even a much-touted replacement plastic for BPA, the BPA-free Tritan also triggered “estrogenic activity.”
Needless to say, this report showing that the even the industry’s “safer” plastic was meh, not so safe, inflamed the argument over plastic’s endocrine disrupting qualities.

A March 2014 article in Mother Jones,The Scary New Evidence on BPA-free Plastics,” refers to the 2011 study as shaking up the industry, which rebutted findings. The manufacturer of Tritan backed its own study showing that its BPA-free plastic did cause “androgencity” or “estrogenicity.”

Feb 282013

By Julie Thibodeaux
Green Right Now

Baby bottles are now mostly BPA-free, but are they BPS-free? (Photo: Sebastian Czapnik, Dreamstime)

Baby bottles are now mostly BPA-free, but are they BPS-free? (Photo: Sebastian Czapnik, Dreamstime)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about bisphenol-A, better known as BPA. The industrial chemical used in the making of plastic since the 1960s has come under scrutiny for its potential harmful effects. Found in water bottles, baby bottles, utensils, dental sealants and register receipts, the chemical has been found to be an endocrine disrupter, linked to chronic diseases, including diabetes and asthma, and problems with reproductive function.

While the American Chemistry Council (ACC) continues to assert that BPA is safe, the FDA banned the use of BPA in bottles for infants in 2012, following similar bans in Canada and Europe.

In recent years, bisphenol-S or BSA has been embraced as a replacement for BPA. However, a study by Dr. Cheryl Watson, a University of Texas Medical Branch professor in Galveston, and graduate student René Viñas published in January, concludes that BPS appears to create the same problems as BPA. Watson said even low doses of this “xenoestrogen” were found to have an effect on animal cells.

bpa -- Safer Chemicals.org

Baby bottle manufacturers ditched BPA when studies showed the plastic additive had dangerous health effects. But did they replace it with BPS? (Photo: SaferChemicals.org)

“With these kinds of chemicals, low doses can actually have bigger effects than large doses,” Watson said.

The presence of both BPA and BPS is pervasive. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) test of more than 2,000 people in the U.S. in 2003-2004 found BPA in the urine of 93 percent of participants. Likewise, a 2012 test conducted by the New York State Department of Health found BPS in 97 percent of urine samples taken from residents of Albany, New York.

So how can you lessen the risks associated with exposure to these chemicals? Here are common carriers and tips to avoid them:

Plastic baby bottles. Controversy surrounding BPA in containers used by children has been brewing for years. When the U.S. banned the use of BPA in bottles for infants and cups for toddlers in 2012, major manufacturers of these items had already stopped using the chemical in order to boost consumer confidence.

Alternative: Until it’s clear the industry is using a safe replacement to BPA, switch to glass or stainless steel containers.

• Baby food containers. Some glass jars of baby food feature lids with epoxy resin liners, known to contain BPA. Some liquid formula is sold in metal containers with epoxy liners.

Alternative: Buy baby food in containers made of number 1 or 2 plastic.  Formula sold in powder form is considered less likely to be infiltrated by BPA, even if it’s sold in a resin-lined can.

Everyone agrees that plastics with the numbers 1,2,4,5 are safer to use with foods. Numbers 3 and 7 are the most likely to contain BPA or BPS. Number 6 is Styrofoam, which has different issues. (Photo: Indoor Quality.org)

Everyone agrees that plastics with the numbers 1,2,4,5 are safer to use with foods. Numbers 3 and 7 are the most likely to contain BPA or BPS. Number 6 is polystyrene, which leaches styrene when heated. (Photo: Indoor Quality.org)

Plastic food containers. BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, commonly used for reusable water bottles. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, containers with the Resin Identification Codes 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 are unlikely to contain BPA. Some marked with number 3 and 7 may contain BPA.

Alternative: Use stainless steel or glass bottles to carry drinking water. Instead of using 5-gallon water bottles (the hard plastic jugs used for water coolers), switch to a water filter for the tap, or use glass jugs for filling up at water machines. Given the uncertainty that’s still looming over the safety of plastic containers, some people are switching to glass, stainless steel, paper and ceramic containers to store food.

•  Canned food and drinks. BPA is known to be in the epoxy resin liners of canned foods and aluminum beverage containers.  Studies have shown that the migration of BPA into the food may be higher for acidic foods, like tomato sauce. But there are many more foods being contaminated. According to a 2010 Breast Cancer Fund study, canned-food products with the highest levels of BPA are coconut milk, soups, meats, vegetables, meals (such as pasta dishes), beans, canned juices and canned fish. However, the study showed that even cans labeled BPA-free and alternative packaging such as Tetra-paks or polypropylene containers with epoxy-lined lids contained BPA.

Alternative: Use fresh produce over packaged foods. While only small amounts of BPA were found in soda liners, higher amounts were found in beer. Switch to glass containers for beverages when available.

For those who rely on canned foods for meal preparation, increasingly companies are looking for ways to rid their products of BPA. Eden Foods, went BPA-free in 1999 and has been using oleoresin, a mixture of oil and resin extracted from plants such as pine or balsam fir. Amy’s went BPA-free last year. Look for NB on the bottom of their cans, signifying non-BPA containers. Muir Glen is replacing BPA-based liners with food-grade vinyl, which has been used for packaging for more than 20 years. Whole Foods is working with suppliers to transition to BPA-free products.

• Heated containers. Heat can cause additional leaching of BPA when present.

Alternative: As a general rule, don’t heat food in plastic containers in the microwave. Use glass or ceramic containers containers. Don’t put hot food in plastic containers. The National Toxicology Program also advises against washing polycarbonate plastics (number 7) in the dishwasher using harsh detergents.

Old dishware. Scratched or worn plastic can cause additional leaching of chemicals.

Alternative: Recycle worn or scratched plastic dishware.

Utensils. Some utensils are made with a number 3 plastic that has been known to contain BPA.

Alternatives: Carry your own stainless steel or bamboo utensils when you go out.

• Eating Out. You don’t know how much of your meal’s ingredients came out of a can or how it was prepared.

Alternative: Eat fresh-prepared meals at home more often.

Cash Register Receipts.
Many of these are coated with BPA. You won’t absorb it through your skin, but if your hands touch your food or mouth, you’ll transfer the BPA.

Alternative: Say no to receipts, or accept them by email, it’s the greener option anyway.

For More Information See These Sources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.hhs.gov/safety/bpa/

Consumer Reports 2009 Study: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/december-2009/food/bpa/overview/bisphenol-a-ov.htm

Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bpa/AN01955

Breast Cancer Fund: http://www.breastcancerfund.org/reduce-your-risk/tips/avoid-bpa.html

Inspiration Green’s List of BPA-lined cans:  http://inspirationgreen.com/bpa-lined-cans.html

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

May 192010

From Green Right Now Reports

Waste Management, Inc. today announced it participated in a $6.9 million strategic investment in MicroGREEN Polymers, Inc. as part of a Series B round of financing. Houston-based Waste Management joined Seattle-based WRF Capital, Northwest Energy Angels and other private investors in the funding.

MicroGREEN is a plastics company that uses patented technology to reduce the amount of plastic required for the production of consumer products, thereby significantly lowering raw material costs. The company said the new funds will be used to increase engineering, sales and marketing staff, and expand its commercial production capabilities for a wide range of consumer products.

Arlington, Wash.-based MicroGREEN said its Ad-air technology creates bubbles within solid-state plastics to expand the plastic and improve its functionality by creating an internal microcellular structure that is lighter in weight, more insulating, strong and highly reflective. The technology does not involve petrochemical blowing agents or volatile organic compounds in the manufacturing process, and is said to work especially well with recycled PET (rPET) – the world’s most recycled plastic, commonly used to create beverage bottles.

Later this year, MicroGREEN will begin offering a line of Ad-air enhanced rPET sheets in various gauges for converters to transform into consumer products and packaging. The company also plans to launch its first converted product – a low-density, thermally-insulating beverage cup that is recyclable and is itself made from recycled material. MicroGREEN is initially targeting consumer foodservice applications, which according to Global Industry Analysts will represent an over $16 billion market in the United States by 2015.

In a recent lifecycle inventory and analysis study of hot beverage cups conducted by Franklin Associates, Ad-air technology as applied to a recycled PET hot beverage cup has the lowest total amount of energy required to produce a hot beverage cup and the lowest total solid waste as measured in both volume and weight when compared to expanded polystyrene (EPS) and coated paperboard hot beverage cups, the two most commonly used in the market today.

Waste Management said the investment in MicroGREEN Polymers complements its recycling operations and will help the company meet two of its sustainability goals: tripling the amount of recyclables it processes by 2020, and investing in emerging technologies for managing waste.

“Investing in new technologies and companies, such as MicroGREEN Polymers, will enable us to extract more value from the materials we manage than anyone else in our industry,” Pat DeRueda, president of WM Recycling, said in a statement. “As North America’s largest residential recycler, we handle a growing stream of PET and other plastics that can provide the feedstock for Ad-air technology. This could create more value from the materials we recover at our recycling facilities every day.”

Jul 272009

From Green Right Now Reports

The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), which represents those who recycle plastic soda and food bottles has fired a criticism at the alternative corn-derivative plastic known as PLA, saying it cannot be successfully recycled with PET containers at this time.

PET containers — water, oil, shampoo and drink bottles — are commonly recycled into polyester fabric, athletic wear and upholstery material. Their successful conversion requires a clean “waste stream” that is not contaminated with other types of plastics that may not meld well with PET, NAPCOR says.

NAPCOR’s current peeve with PLA (polylactide) is in response to claims by some PLA promoters that households and businesses can toss this this new plastic into their recycle bins along with the usual outgoing stream of conventional plastics, such as PET, and it will be sorted and used by recyclers.

“NAPCOR has spent over 20 years helping to build a successful domestic PET recycling infrastructure and this solution not only jeopardizes the PET system, but is not an effective solution for PLA,” said Tom Busard, NAPCOR Chairman, in a statement.

“We don’t doubt that PLA can be recycled,” Busard said, “but there are unquestionably some big issues yet to overcome. The current reality is that these issues (mixing PET and PLA) transfer significant system costs and logistics burdens to the PET recyclers, impacting the viability and continued sustainability of their businesses.”

The recently developed PLA, made from corn starch, looks and performs like regular plastic but unlike petroleum-derived PET, it is compostable and biodegradable. In the right conditions, it can degrade within two months. Developed in the 1990s, it was not as strong as regular plastic initially, but recent improvements have made this renewable, non-oil dependent product capable of containing liquids over a period of time.

In the competition between plastics, PLA can argue that it is sustainable and breaks down. However it cannot claim a proprietary position within the recycling hierarchy, as PET can. PET has developed a supply chain over decades and today supplies a number of end users, providing the raw material for a host of recycled products, such as tape, carpet, t-shirts and fleecewear.

PET plastic recyclers see PLA as getting in the way of this business, because when customers use more PLA and toss it into recycling bins it can clog up the reclamation of PET plastic. The mix can disrupt the reformulation of PET and degrade the quality of the second-cycle production. NAPCOR warns that such contamination could even result in the waste of more plastic, in which ruined batches of plastic would have to be sent to landfills.

Mike Schedler, NAPCOR’s technical director explained in NAPCOR’s press release: “The entire premise that you can simply add PLA containers into the PET recycling stream, successfully sort them out, and eventually find markets for the material is like advocating that mixed ceramic materials can be thrown right in with the recyclable glass stream to be sorted out, and that eventually there will be enough of this mixed material that someone will want to buy it.”

PLA, like other non-PET plastics, such as PVC, must be sorted out, costing the recyclers additional money in an already depressed market, he said.

The NAPCOR report noted that automated sorters are being tested and becoming available, but the upgrade is costly for recyclers, who are not well positioned in this economy to improve their plants.

PLA plastic, however, has been making the case that it can do everything PET can, including being recycled into other products, such as fibers to make clothing. PLA plastic developer and manufacturer, Nature Works LLC also is experimenting with sorting processes that will make it easier to pull PLA out of the recycling stream.

May 052009

Recycle your plastics. Both #1 and #2 plastics — your soda bottles, milk jugs and many shampoo bottles — are recyclable through your municipal service or local collection centers. Remember to rinse and empty them before tossing them into the recycling bin. And when in doubt about a plastic, leave it out so it doesn’t contaminate the recyclables, according to The American Chemistry Council.

May 012009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

We hear every day about dangerous chemicals in household products that are linked to cancer, infertility, autism and other diseases – yet many Americans may not realize just how many of these harmful substances they’ve actually ingested in the course of everyday living.

The answer? About 48. That’s according a study by the Environmental Working  Group and Rachel’s Network, in which five leading minority women environmentalists from different parts of the country volunteered to have their blood tested for toxic substances. The results, say EWG experts, show that regulation of chemicals in the U.S. is weak and “antiquated” and needs a major overhaul.

The tests, performed by four independent labs in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, looked for traces of 75 common chemical contaminants that might turn up in people because they are used in household goods, plastics, beauty products and food and water.

It found, in the aggregate, traces of 48 chemicals in the women, notably flame retardants (used to treat some furniture and clothing), synthetic fragrances (from body care products and perfumes), the plastics ingredient Bisphenol A (found in bottles, canned food liners and other products) and the rocket fuel perchlorate (which has been found in some drinking water).

“We are fighting the things we know that are there, the things (pollutants) outside,” said Suzie Canales, founder of Citizens for Environmental Justice in Corpus Christi, which has pushed for a cleaner environment in a city with a concentration of oil refineries. “But it’s a double injustice to find out that the products put on the market are also killing us.”

Canales report showed that her blood contained traces of chemicals from BPA, musks, rocket fuel, lead and mercury. The profiles of the other women tested also turned up several chemicals, at levels above average, that have been linked to harmful health effects; though the toxic mix varied by individual.

The findings made concrete the suspicion that all Americans are being exposed to a daily brew of chemicals that advocates now call our chemical “body burden”.

“I was frustrated to learn about the industrial chemical contamination through this study. I am a mother and I have a 7 year old daughter. I try to live a sustainable life style,” said Jennifer Hill-Kelley, a member of the Oneida Nation who’s worked to clean up environmental pollution outside of Green Bay, Wisc.  “… I don’t have the information about the personal care products or the plastics I use…and I feel that as a consumer I deserve that information to be shared with me.”

Beverly Wright, a New Orleans sociology professor working to fight pollution in the heavily industrialized Lower Mississippi River Valley area, said she was “disturbed” to discover that her tests showed a high level of musks, which are potentially hazardous compounds in synthetic fragrances.

Feb 162009

By John DeFore
Green Right Now

Last week was the start date of a ban, signed last summer by President George Bush, that targets the use of six phthalates in products made for children. Three of the phthalates are permanently forbidden, three are subject to later study, as noted here.

The chemicals, which are added to plastics to make them softer, have been linked to hormone malfunctions and reproductive effects, particularly in boys.  Because the substances’ softening quality makes it particularly likely that objects containing them will be chewed by young children, lawmakers have found risks compelling enough to institute the ban despite objections from the plastics industry. (The phthalate ban, which followed a previous ban applicable just in California, only applies to goods manufactured for use by children, which represents less than 5% of the reportedly $1.4 billion U.S. business.)

But those who started worrying about chewable plastics during the phthalate controversy might want to stay skeptical.

This notice from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission seems to tacitly acknowledge worries about implementation and enforcement of the rule. But equally worrisome is the question of what substances are performing the plastic-softening role now that these phthalates have been outlawed.

In this radio story for National Public Radio, journalist Sarah Varney takes a Mom’s-eye approach to the issue. She gets a few answers, but even the clout of NPR can’t get manufacturers to divulge trade secrets about their wares’ current chemical makeup — much less to reveal whether the new substances are any safer than the old ones.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jan 122009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Like so many environmentally aware, or environmentally “sensitive” people, I am an inveterate label reader. I know the sugar and fiber content of an array of packaged foods, from Frosted Mini-Wheats (the high fiber somewhat redeems the sugar) to Haagen Daz (some of the best-tasting sat fat around).

As with any addiction, there’s been some collateral damage to family relationships. Only the brave and highly motivated will go grocery shopping with me. And there’s been bleed over. Having read most of the labels, I’m seeking new highs and find myself compulsively evaluating the packaging (this goes way beyond squeezing the Charmin).

This week I was distressed to find that inside my large box of crackers (from Costco) were six more boxes of crackers, each containing the different variety promised on the main container box. I don’t know what I thought would be in there. Not a jumble of crackers. But it sure seemed like some sort of paper band could have held all these boxes together, instead of a complete outer box. Continue reading »

Dec 302008

By Kelly Rondeau
Green Right Now

It’s the holiday season, and along with the many joys that are associated with this fun time of year – cooking, baking, parties with friends and family – comes a lurking environmental problem: Toxic chemicals in everyday plastics. Plastics that seem to be everywhere in our holiday midst — in the packaging of toys, the toys themselves, our food packaging, in our holiday leftover storage containers, in plastic wrap, in water bottles — and the list goes on.

Many valid health concerns have been raised about poisonous chemicals present in our everyday plastics, and the headlines about these toxins leaching into our food are frightening. A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found, for instance, that food containers labeled as “microwave safe” leached BPA when heated. (See our report, “BPA turns up in ‘microwave safe’ products“.)

Just this fall, a scientific advisory panel set up specifically to review the Food and Drug Administration’s assessment of Bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic additive, concluded that the agency had ignored scientific evidence and used flawed methods when determining that it was safe.

The FDA had long said that the plastic, widely used in making clear plastic polycarbonate baby bottles and in the epoxy lining of aluminum food cans, was not harmful to the public. But the panel of scientists from government and academic circles concluded that the FDA did not take into consideration the many studies that have linked the plastic to prostate cancer, diabetes and other major health problems, according to a Washington Post report.

With headlines like these, no doubt many people are mistrustful about plastics and their labeling. The findings raise many questions: Are the plastic containers that our food comes in leaching chemicals into our systems as they are frozen or cooked? What about storage containers being dishwasher and microwave safe; can they be heated up at all? And when I’m ready to toss plastics, where do they go? Do they get recycled?

These questions are legitimate. But slowdown. No need to panic. There are ways to decode the current numbering system used to label plastics, and experts with advice on how to safely use plastics.

Look for BPA-free

“The measured amounts of chemicals found in humans derived from plastics is found to be well below levels considered to be harmful,” says Steve Russell, the Managing Director of the Plastics Division of The American Chemistry Council. “Evidence shows it (chemicals in plastics) to be safe, but, should government change their stance, then we make changes and comply.”

The American Chemistry Council, founded in 1872, represents the many companies that make plastic products. The ACC’s primary concern is to research and steer initiatives that serve communities and customers, and an extensive list of member companies follow their guidelines and also meet federal regulations.

Many of these companies now offer BPA-free products and provide information on what toxins (if any) are in their plastics.

Rubbermaid and Tupperware, two popular plastics manufacturers in the market, are both a part of the American Chemistry Council.

Rubbermaid provides extensive listings of their products that contain BPA, as well as lists of those that are BPA-free, so buyers can make their own decisions. (The number of BPA-free products, like those pictured, left, exceed those with BPA. The bowls pictured at the top of the story contain BPA.)

Tupperware has taken an aggressive response to market concerns about BPA and also produced a line of BPA-Free products that are listed on their site.

Still, it wasn’t the ACC that sounded the alarm about BPA and brought about all this transparency, but a consortium of health watch groups. Early in 2008, the Environmental Health Fund called for a moratorium on using the plastic in baby products after studies showed that heating polycarbonate plastic caused it to release BPA into the food or liquid being contained. As reported in US News & World Report, BPA can affect the delicate hormonal systems of developing babies and children, with studies linking it to the feminization of boys and a potential higher risk of breast cancer for girls.

Aug 182008

By Barbara Kessler

After an outbreak of bad publicity earlier this year over bisphenol-A (BPA), the plastic additive which dozens of studies identify as a potential carcinogen and endocrine disruptor, the U.S. government promised to take another look. Its conclusion: BPA is safe.

The Federal Drug Administration had previously cleared BPA for use in an array of consumer products, such as clear plastic baby bottles, the resin lining in food cans and many other items. It promised a new review of the science after Canada proposed a ban of BPA in baby bottles and manufacturers of polycarbonate water bottles began voluntarily giving up BPA. All cited concerns over the plastics’ tendency to leach when when warmed and possible harmful effects on humans, particularly children. Continue reading »