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Apr 292009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

From electronics powered by the sun to plates made from corn, towels woven from bamboo and suits spun from recycled plastic bottles, green products are crowding into stores. Never before has the green consumer enjoyed such a dazzling, dizzying…and completely confusing array of treats.

How does one choose? Should you get the locally grown zucchini or the organically farmed summer quash? The bamboo towel from Asia or the organic cotton bath sheet from Texas? Organic face cream or natural? Disposable or reusable? Plastic or stainless? Is it green, sustainable, FSC and Fair Trade?

For an increasing number of consumers, these are important questions. But the answers are spread across a universe of websites, books and human resources. That’s where GoodGuide and TheFind come in. GoodGuide is an online index that rates green food, toys, personal care and household products. TheFind is a shopping search engine that allows you to search and segregate green consumer goods. Both websites want to help you find the stuff that’s legitimately green, with the attributes that you value, and also ferret out products making false claims of sustainability.

Both websites also aim big: GoodGuide has already investigated tens of thousands of green products and wants to become the largest, most reliable online tool that consumers employ to vet the green credentials of a product, be it baby food or dog food, hairspray or bug spray, an action figure or a soil activator.

The free service tells prospective buyers about the product’s contents, its environmental pedigree and whether its manufacturer is working to lower greenhouse gas emissions, embracing low-impact methods, cultivating non-toxic alternatives, treating workers fairly and offering transparency into company workings.

The GoodGuide, which launched last September, already boasts a library of 70,000 products and is getting daily queries from the public for more, says Jodie Van Horn, director of partnerships for GoodGuide. (Now that consumers can assess their food, they’re asking for the guide to step up its inventory of pet foods.)

Now about TheFind. Its goal is simple: to show shoppers “everything” that’s available for sale, online and locally.

“With Google you can see (and) you can find any article from any website anywhere, we’re just trying to do that with shopping,” says TheFind’s CEO Siva Kumar. “It can be done.”

A distinguishing feature of TheFind, which can link shoppers to 500,000 stores, is that it gives searchers an option to sift out the “green” products and/or find local stores. The local shopping option, in some instances, may offer the lowest carbon-footprint purchase. All told, TheFind can locate some 320 million products, and more than a million of them are part of its green data collection.

Are you sensing that the GoodGuide and TheFind might be compatible? So did the proprietors, which is how TheFind and GoodGuide came to partner by interlinking to each other’s data. This just-announced partnership should put green consumers on the fast track to finding the best-of-class, verifiably green products – in the price and location they want.

Apr 162009

By Harriet Blake

The EPA has issued a list of pesticides that will be screened for possibly disrupting the human, as well as animal, endocrine system. The list, released Wednesday, focuses on “endocrine disruptors” which are chemicals that can negatively impact hormones produced by the endocrine system. The system regulates all biological processes in the body – specifically, growth, metabolism and reproduction.

“Gathering this information,” said EPA Adminstrator Lisa P. Jackson, “will help us work with communities and industry to protect Americans from harmful exposure. Endocrine disruptors can cause lifelong health problems, especially for children.”
The endocrine, or hormone, system is found in all mammals, birds and fish. It is made up of glands, hormones that are produced by the glands and receptors in different organs that respond to the hormones.

The EPA will have the makers of 67 pesticide chemicals test their products this summer to see if their chemicals are responsible for disrupting the endocrine systems.

The testing will be done through the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (ESDP) set up by the EPA, which commonly relies on companies to test their own products.

The list of all 67 chemicals can be found here. The EPA stresses that this list is not a definitive collection of known endocrine disruptors. The chemicals selected were chosen because there is a high potential for human exposure through food and water, residential activity or agricultural pesticide application. Many of the chemicals found on the list are present in commonly used lawn treatments, insect sprays, solvents and other household products.

“These pesticide chemicals were picked because we wanted to start with ones that more people might be exposed to,” says EPA spokesperson Suzanne Ackerman. “They were not selected based on which ones are considered most dangerous. We won’t know that until we have them tested.”

Several chemicals on the list, though, have been flagged for health concerns. Atrazine, for instance, has been banned in the European Union. Atrazine is among the most common, if not the most common, herbicide used in the United States.

Other recognizable chemicals on the testing list, include diazinon, malathion, carbaryl and permethrin. Diazinon has been banned for household use in the U.S., but remains available for agricultural use as an insecticide. Permethrins turn up on flea collars for dogs, which some health groups consider too toxic for household use.

Endocrine disruptors work in several ways. Sometimes, the chemical mimics a natural hormone, tricking the body into over-responding to the stimulus. The endocrine disruptor can also block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors. In other cases, the chemical can stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system, causing the overproduction or underproduction of hormones. Sometimes, as in the birth control pill, a chemical intentionally inhibits the endocrine system.

Impaired endocrine function can result in lowered fertility and other health conditions.

The direct connections between human diseases of the endocrine system and the system’s exposure to environmental contaminants, are still not clear, according to the EPA. This is why the establishment of the screening program is considered an important step.
Copyright © 2009 | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Mar 302009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

That old saw “Beauty at all costs” got flipped on its perfectly coiffed head at a salon convention in Chicago where some 60,000 beauty professionals gathered over the weekend at America’s Beauty Show. There, some organizers took a moment to ask, “Beauty at what cost?”

The question broadly encompassed the economic concerns facing salon workers, how to improve environmental sustainability, and also reduce the environmental risks of acute and chronic exposure to the chemicals in beauty products.

These concerns are still be working their way to the top of the industry, but the whiff of trouble is evident in any busy salon, where hairspray particles aggravate the nose and the pungent scents of bleaches and dyes can slice through the indoor atmosphere like chlorine at a chemical spill — at least on Saturdays.

In connection with the Chicago show, which ends today, Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of Environmental & Occupational Medicine
at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, released a statement about these often smelly, but unvetted, “hidden dangers” wafting about most beauty establishments and coming home on our hair and in our lungs.

His list of concerns rivals the list of products stocked by your average hairdresser:

  • Bulk containers that dispense products with the label no longer present, leaving practitioners and clients in the dark about ingredients
  • Poor ventilation, especially in smaller salons; a serious concern for salon workers
  • Hairspray aerosols that can settle into the lungs and may contain a carcinogen, vinyl chloride, a propellant linked to liver cancer
  • Hair dyes, especially those containing phenylenediamines which have been shown to cause cancer
  • Phthalates, compounds typically used as preservatives in scented products and known to be endocrine disruptors, linked to breast cancer and the hormonal health effects, especially on boys

In a press statement, Dr. Epstein warned that hair dyes pose special concerns. “About 35 percent of women and 10 percent of men are regularly exposed to these dyes in salons or by personal use,” he said in a statement. “Black and dark brown permanent and semi-permanent dyes contain carcinogens, particularly those known as phenylenediamines. These have been shown to cause cancers, particularly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and multiple myeloma, besides breast and bladder cancers.”

Europe has banned these types of dyes, but in the U.S. most hairdressers and clients remain blithely unaware of their potential dangers, he said.

The remedy to this toxic roulette? Epstein, who also is head of the Chicago-based Cancer Prevention Coalition, is calling for better ventilation of salons and also for a ban on pressurized sprays.

He also says that the government-produced Material Safety Data Sheets (known as MSDS reports) should be made available and kept on site at salons so employees can take precautions.

And for those of us who serve as client guinea pigs in the pursuit of a finished veneer – there’s Epstein’s new book (March 2009): Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health…and What you Can Do About It.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Beauty and the Beastly Dangers

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Aug 042008

By Harriet Blake

What started out as a practical way to keep food from sticking to pans and paper, may not be so great for our health. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a synthetic (man-made) chemical that is used to coat Teflon cookware as well as the packaging of many fast-food products, including pizza boxes and fast food wrappers. It’s also used in stain-resistant fabric and Gore-Tex clothing, and if a California bill succeeds, it will be gone from food packaging, at least in that state.

California Senator Ellen Corbett has drafted a bill (SB 1313) that would ban PFOA in food packaging sold in California by 2010. The senator has said there’s no reason to continue to make products containing PFOA when there are safe alternatives that responsible corporations are already using. Some companies have discovered more natural clay-based options. Continue reading »