Posted February 20th, 2015
Director of Programs
In one way or another cancer invades all of our lives — whether it’s your diagnosis, a family member’s, or a friend. In my relatively short time on this earth (35 years) my grandfather was diagnosed with bladder cancer and a good friend of mine in his early 30’s succumbed to melanoma. As I get older I know that number will only grow. One of the many frustrating (and terrifying) things to me about cancer is there are so many unknowns. While we do know that 5-10% of all cancers are genetic that leaves 90% of diagnoses unexplained.
One of the potential causes of cancer that is not being taken seriously enough is exposure to toxic chemicals in the home. In 2010 the President’s Cancer Panel released a report Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now that acknowledged the “true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” One of the report’s recommendations included the need to put in place stronger regulations that will protect Americans from chemicals linked to cancer.
Most people assume that our government requires chemicals to be tested for safety before they are used in products we come into contact with every day like furniture, food containers, cosmetics, and even children’s toys. The fact is there is very little oversight of chemicals used in household products.
The law that is supposed to regulate all chemicals on the market, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is failing to protect us from chemicals that may give us cancer. Since the law was enacted in the 1970’s only 200 chemicals have been evaluated for safety out of the 85,000+ chemicals on the market. As a result, chemicals with strong links to cancer like BPA and flame retardants are LEGALLY allowed in products we use in our home every day.
What we need are stronger laws in this country that will require chemicals to be proven safe BEFORE they are allowed on the market. However, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that changing the status quo through policy changes on the federal level is like watching a snail race to the finish line.
Thankfully, there are things you can do now to protect your health from chemicals linked to cancer. These tips are taken from Women’s Voices for the Earth’s Ten Steps to Reduce Toxic Chemical Exposure factsheet.
1. Make Your Own Cleaning Products
- It’s easy, fun, and cheap to make non-toxic cleaners from safe and effective ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. Find recipes here.
THE FACTS: Certain chemicals in cleaning products have been linked to reduced fertility, birth defects, increased risk of breast cancer, asthma, and hormone disruption.
2. Avoid Synthetic Fragrance
- Look for cleaners, laundry detergents, and personal care products labeled “fragrance-free” Warning: “unscented” does not mean fragrance-free!
- Discontinue use of air fresheners.
- Click here for tips to reduce odors around the home.
THE FACTS: Synthetic fragrance can be made up hundreds of chemicals, all of which are kept secret from consumers. Common fragrance chemicals include phthalates (reproductive and developmental harm, testicular cancer) and synthetic musks (break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures, linked to increased risk of breast cancer).
3. Give Your Personal Care Products a Makeover
- Read the label to avoid chemicals like parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, and oxybenzone.
- Check the Skin Deep database at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com to find safer products.
THE FACTS: Over 12,000 chemicals are used in personal care products — 89% of them haven’t been reviewed for safety.
4. Go “BPA-Free”
- Ditch the canned foods and opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead.
- Seek out products from the few companies now using BPA-free can liners like Westbrae Natural, Hunt’s, Healthy Choice and H.J. Heinz.
- Look for plastics labeled “BPA-free.”
THE FACTS: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is commonly found in can liners and plastic products. BPA exposure is linked to a host of hormone-related health impacts such as increased risk of cancer, infertility, obesity and diabetes.
5. Watch Out for Triclosan
- Avoid anti-bacterial hand soap with triclosan listed on the label.
- Reduce your use of disinfectant products.
THE FACTS: Triclosan is a hormone disruptor that builds up in our bodies, and it’s been found in blood and breast milk. Studies show that it’s actually no more effective at removing germs or preventing illness that plain soap and water.
6. Choose Plastics with the Recycle Symbols #4 & #5
- Look for plastic products with these symbols signifying PVC-free plastics.
- Use glass jars or bowls to store food.
- Never microwave plastic.
THE FACTS: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), known as the poison plastic, is found in plastic products from toys and cookware to shower curtains. PVC is linked to hormone disruption, reproductive and developmental harm, and other serious health problems.
7. Keep Chemicals Out of the House
- Take of your shoes before entering your house to avoid tracking in oils and chemicals from the street outside.
- Use a door mat to catch dirt at the door.
- Dust with a micro-fiber cloth or wet cloth and vacuum your house regularly (with a HEPA-filter vaccuum if you can).
THE FACTS: Shoes can track in toxic chemicals like lawn pesticides, coal tar from a driveway, etc. Dust carries harmful chemicals that shed off of household furniture, electronics, and other household products.
8. Turn Down the Heat on Non-Stick Cookware
- Keep the stove at or below medium heat when using Teflon or non-stick cookware.
- Opt for cast iron or stainless steel pans for cooking when possible.
THE FACTS: Teflon releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated to 450 degrees. PFOA is linked to developmental harm and cancer.
9. Ask Your Senators to Support Strong Chemical Policy Reform
- Contact your congressional representatives today and ask them to support policies that protect the health of our families!
THE FACTS: The Safe Chemicals Act will require that chemicals be tested for safety before they’re placed in products we use every day.
10. When possible, try to eat organic food.
- Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to find veggies and fruits that are low in pesticides (after all, not everyone can afford to buy organic all the time!)
The Facts: Fruits and vegetables can contain harmful pesticides linked to cancer.
Here’s to staying healthy and cancer free.
Posted January 26th, 2015
Director of Programs
By now, just about everyone has heard of Bisphenol-A or BPA. Commonly used in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, the notorious chemical was ubiquitous in water bottles, baby bottles, children’s sippy cups, the inside lining of canned foods, food containers, store receipts — the list goes on. BPA raised alarms among public health advocates because there is strong evidence BPA can contribute to breast cancer, hyperactivity in children, birth defects, and even diabetes and obesity.
Due to public pressure from advocacy groups like the Breast Cancer Fund, many canned food manufacturers stopped using BPA in linings. In 2009 major manufacturers of baby bottles announced they would also cease to use plastics that contained the chemical (the FDA ended up banning BPA from baby bottles in 2012). Other manufacturers followed suit, and now you can find BPA-free claims on tons of products—from baby bottles, to water bottles, food containers, canned goods; pretty much any plastic consumer goods.
Sounds like a victory for public health, right? WRONG. Turns out the quickest and easiest way to eliminate BPA, was to replace it with an alternative chemical called Bisphenol-S or BPS. The problem? Recent studies have found BPS isn’t any safer than BPA. In fact, BPS is very similar to BPA and may contribute to the same health impacts (cancer, obesity, birth defects, diabetes, etc.). In short, this means those BPA-free claims on product labels are useless.
Do you want to throw up your hands in frustration? I don’t blame you. You may wonder how companies can get away with removing one hazardous chemical and replacing it with another one that is just as hazardous. The problem is, there are no laws in the United States that require manufacturers of consumer goods to prove the safety of the ingredients they are using. This leads to what many advocates call “regrettable substitution”.
But there are solutions. One way to ensure we don’t have regrettable substitutions like the BPA/BPS fiasco is to pass a strong, federal law that requires ALL chemicals used in commerce to meet a strong safety standard. Such a law will give you peace of mind that the products you are buying in stores are required to meet a safety standard.
The good news is there is bipartisan support in Congress to do this, but in order to actually pass a meaningful law that will protect public health, YOU have get involved. To stay on-top of this issue and for ways to get involved join our action network.
And to help avoid BPA/BPS exposure from consumer products, follow these tips:
- Ditch the canned foods and opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead
- Look for products packaged in glass or lined cardboard instead of cans
- Use stainless steel or glass water bottles
- Don’t take paper receipts at ATMS, grocery stores, etc. unless you really need them.
Posted March 10th, 2014
Director of Science
For years, we’ve been told to avoid the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA by looking for the “BPA-Free” sticker on plastics or other products. But new research is showing that the chemicals that companies are replacing BPA with may be just as toxic, if not even more harmful. Check out these Mother Jones and San Francisco Chronicle articles for more.
How is this possible?! Unfortunately, our current chemical policy doesn’t require companies to prove that chemicals they use are safe before they’re placed into products we use every day, which means that companies can simply replace one toxic chemical with another.
Until we can be sure that the chemicals that companies are replacing BPA with are safe, WVE recommends adopting a precautionary principle and avoiding plastics, canned foods (which may be lined with BPA), and receipts completely when you can.
Here are our tips for really going BPA-free:
- Opt for fresh or frozen foods instead of canned. A 2011 study by the Breast Cancer Fund showed that people decreased the amount of BPA in their bodies by 60% in just three days when they eliminated canned foods and food packaged in plastics from their diet. Another study found that eating one can of soup every day for 5 days increased the BPA in your body by 1200%!
- Look for products packaged in glass or lined cardboard instead of cans.
- Store food in glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic.
- Use stainless steel or glass water bottles instead of plastic bottles.
- Refuse receipts when you don’t need them. BPA rubs off easily onto hands, and then gets into mouths or eyes.
- Store receipts you need in an envelope separate from your wallet or purse, and wash your hands after handling them.
- Avoid plastic where possible or look for plastics with the recycle symbol #5, which signifies polypropylene, a safer plastic.
Want more ideas to detox your life? Check out our Tip of the Month archive!
Posted February 10th, 2014
Director of Science
Perhaps inspired by our Detox the Box campaign, our staff has been fielding lots of questions about the safety of chemicals in other types of intimate products. So, just in time for Valentine’s Day (and since you asked!), we thought we’d share some tips on non-toxic love!
Sadly, but not surprisingly, it turns out there can be lots of harmful and toxic chemicals in products intended for adult fun between the sheets. While little research has been done on U.S. products, the EPA in Denmark conducted a study that found several toxic chemicals like phthalates, BPA and toluene in sex toys, as well as numerous irritants and allergens in “pleasure gels.” Similar to cosmetics and feminine products, these types of products are poorly regulated, often labeled “for external use only” (even though that’s not how they are being used). Intimate products need greater scrutiny to assure the public’s safety.
Meanwhile, here are some tips on how you and your sweetheart can play more safely this V-Day:
- Purchase toys made of 100 percent silicone (a fairly inert substance). These are less likely to have toxic additives than toys made from other types of plastics.
- Look for simple water-based or silicone-based lubricants.
- Avoid the products with extra bells and whistles like “warming” or “tingling” or “added sensation”—these terms mean added chemicals, many of which could be questionable for vaginal health.
Want more non-toxic tips? Check out our Tip of the Month archive!
Posted January 13th, 2012
You’ve heard about BPA in canned foods, which is linked to breast cancer, early puberty in girls, diabetes, obesity, and a host of other problems. But how much BPA really gets into your body from eating canned food?
Well, a recent study found that people who ate one can of soup every day for five days increased the levels of BPA in their bodies by 1000% over people who ate freshly made soup for the same five days.
Yikes! We know canned soup is convenient – for a quick lunch, or to add to a casserole, it’s hard to beat. But until canned food manufacturers get it together to replace the BPA in linings, we ought to look elsewhere.
So this month we hope you will join us on a slow cooker adventure – learning from each other how to make fresh soups that are tasty, healthy, budget-friendly and best of all EASY! We’ll start you off with some recipes, and we’d like you to share your favorite recipe below! We’ll compile the recipes to share with our members at the end of the month.
Here are some slow cooker tips, for those of you who are new to slow cooking (or dusting the cobwebs off an old pot!)
Split Pea and Ham Soup
Look for organic ingredients when possible
• 2 cups dried split peas
• 8 cups water
• 2 cups diced ham
• 2 potatoes, chopped
• 2 ribs celery, chopped
• 2 carrots, sliced
• 1 onion, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 bay leaves
1. In a slow cooker, combine the peas, water, ham, carrot, celery, potatoes, bay leaves, garlic and onion.
2. Cover, and cook on High for 4 to 5 hours. Remove bay leaves before ladling into bowls.
(Note – for a vegetarian option, omit the ham and replace the water with 8 cups vegetable stock.)
Chicken Noodle Soup
Look for organic ingredients when possible
• 8 cup(s) water
• 4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices
• 4 medium stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 2 bay leaves
• 1/2 teaspoon(s) dried thyme
• Ground black pepper
• 2 -3 pounds chicken pieces (legs, thighs, breast etc)
• 3 cup(s) egg noodles, uncooked
1. In 4 1/2- to 6-quart slow-cooker bowl, combine water, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves, thyme, 4 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place chicken pieces on top of vegetables. Cover slow cooker with lid and cook as manufacturer directs on low setting 8 to 10 hours or on high setting 4 to 5 hours.
2. Transfer chicken to cutting board. Discard bay leaves. Add noodles to slow-cooker bowl; cover with lid and cook (on low or high) 20 minutes.
3. While noodles cook, remove and discard skin, fat, and bones from chicken; shred meat.
4. Skim fat from soup and discard. Return chicken to soup to serve.
Now it’s your turn! What’s your favorite recipe?