Be Safe


Chemical in BPA-Free Products Linked to Irregular Heartbeats


New ingredient in plastic bottles, receipts has same effect on lab animals as the old chemical does.


Read the story at National Geographic

Both hazard and exposure are necessary for a risk to exist.

Staying Safe (Probably): Risk, Hazard and Chemical Regulation


Risk’ and ‘hazard.’

These two words are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings in the context of chemical safety assessment. When we say a particular chemical is ‘hazardous,’ we are noting its mere potential to cause negative health or environmental effects. On the other hand, ‘risk’ describes the probability that these negative effects will actually occur under specific circumstances. In order to generate a measurable risk, some exposure to the hazard in question must occur.

Both a hazard and an exposure are necessary for a risk to exist.

If you have followed my last several posts, you’ve probably caught on to the idea that attempting to declare a chemical ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ is an exercise in futility. To comprehensively determine risk, we must know not only the detailed structure and function of a chemical, but also understand the intricacies of its interactions with the environment and the human body. Current chemical regulation in the United States operates within a risk-based framework. We establish standards and criteria for acceptable levels of hazardous compounds in products, in the environment and in our bodies; we enact bans and restrictions on chemicals in order to limit our exposures. These regulations are the product of risk assessments, which report not only the hazardous properties of chemicals but also the likelihood of human exposure.

My recent post on BPA illustrates the complexity of risk assessment. Though BPA has demonstrated hazardous potential, the levels to which humans are exposed to the compound, and therefore the actual risks of its use, are uncertain. Exposure may seem like a simple factor to evaluate, but our understanding of exposure is continually evolving, particularly with consideration for the special vulnerability of developing babies and children.  The ban on BPA in baby bottles reflects this emerging awareness of long-term effects of chemical exposures. However, the replacement of BPA with BPS illustrates the shortcomings of an approach that controls risk by limiting exposure to specific high-profile hazardous compounds.

The replacement of BPA, a known hazard, with BPS – an untested and unregulated compound with a nearly identical structure – may be considered an example of what scientists and regulators refer to as “regrettable substitution.” Regrettable substitution occurs when we eliminate one hazardous chemical from consumer products, only to replace it with a similar or even more hazardous alternative. Our risk-based chemical regulation enables us to remove demonstrably dangerous chemicals from consumer products, but also leaves profound loopholes for new chemicals, untested and unregulated, to enter the market in their stead, as long as risk assessments have not proven them dangerous. In a 2010 post on his Environmental Defense Fund blog, Dr. Richard Denison refers to this process as playing “whack-a-mole” with chemicals. No sooner have we knocked one hazardous chemical back into its hole, than a replacement rears its likely-hazardous head…until we generate evidence of its actual risk and seek to replace it with another unknown quantity.

Is this game of “whack-a-chemical” inevitable, or do more precautionary approaches exist? In Europe, regulators are striving for a balance between risk assessment and the more protective approach of hazard classification. While risk assessment relies on scientific studies to determine the risks of chemicals under different exposure scenarios, hazard classification groups chemicals based on their inherent hazard potential. It is this potential to cause harm that guides regulation, not demonstrated adverse effects.  A hazard classification regulatory scheme might have prevented BPS from entering the market, since its structural similarities to BPA make it a likely health hazard.

Hazard classification is essentially a more precautionary approach to chemical regulations. And when we operate in a framework of precaution rather than risk, the regulatory question itself changes. “A precautionary approach asks how much harm can be avoided rather than asking how much is acceptable,” write Dr. Ted Schettler and coauthors in a 2002 essay on the role of the Precautionary Principle in regulation and policymaking.

How can we better incorporate the Precautionary Principle into the chemical regulation process in the US? This question has been at the epicenter of the debate on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which I will cover next time on Backyard Talk.


What are you really eating? Take the quiz!


Think you’re a food guru, Friend? 

Put your food knowledge to the test with EWG’s new quiz!

Think you're a food guru? Take EWG's new quiz to find out!Click here to test your food knowledge and see if you know the truth about what you’re really eating.

Good luck!


Exposure to low levels of common chemical (phthalates) shown to possibly affect reproductive health of male newborns


“…”Our findings show that even at low levels, environmental exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals can adversely affect male genital development, which in turn may impact male reproductive health later in life,” said Dr. Swan, who is also a faculty member of The Mindich Child Health and Development Institute at Mount Sinai. “Because most pregnant women are exposed to phthalates, our findings not only have a profound effect on public health, but on the public policies meant to protect women as well as the general population.”"

Read more at Science Daily.

EWG Action Alert: Support GMO Labeling


The U.S. Department of Agriculture just gave Big Ag the green light.

Last week, the USDA approved the marketing of two varieties of non-browning GMO apples, some of the first GMO whole foods to reach the U.S.

Here’s the catch: They won’t even be labeled. You can’t tell GMO varieties from non-GMO in the produce aisle.

But there’s something we can do about it! Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) have introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients.

If you want to know if your apple is genetically engineered, take action to support this pro-consumer bill today!

Click here to tell your senators and member of Congress that you have a right to know what you’re eating. Tell them to co-sponsor the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act today!

This is only the beginning! Once this GMO fruit hits the stands, it will be more important than ever to have a clear labeling requirement. We deserve to know what we’re eating.

But if the question were left up to the food industry, we would be kept in the dark.

There’s no time to lose, now that even more genetically engineered food is about to appear in stores. You must take action today if you want to know what you are eating.

Click here: Tell your members of Congress today that you stand with more than 90 percent of Americans in support of GMO labeling!

Thank you for adding your voice – together we can win this fight.

- EWG Action Alert

environmental working group

Clean Living 101


Are the chemicals in the personal care products you use every day actually safe? Is the food you eat as healthy as you think? How much do you really know about the products you’re using and the food that you’re eating every day?

Welcome to Clean Living 101, an eye-opening online course that will give you the knowledge you need to navigate today’s complex marketplace and become an empowered, educated and healthier consumer. Because there’s simply no time to waste to get smart and get to know how to lead a healthier life in a healthier environment.

Click here to enroll in Clean Living 101: How to Reduce Exposure to Toxic Chemicals and start shopping smarter and living greener! If you enroll today, MindBodyGreen is offering 30 percent off to EWG supporters at checkout when you purchase through this link.

In this video course, you’ll learn step-by-step how to immediately lower your exposure to toxic chemicals in our everyday environment by using the practical tools and information that EWG researchers have developed over 20 years.

Click here to become an educated and empowered consumer with Clean Living 101: How to Reduce Exposure to Toxic Chemicals. If you enroll today, MindBodyGreen is offering 30 percent off to EWG supporters at checkout when you purchase through this link.

Photo: Associated Press

Untested chemicals are everywhere, thanks to a 39-year-old US law. Will the Senate finally act?


Many chemicals that are restricted or banned in Europe remain in use – and in some cases, untested – in the US, thanks to federal regulations that haven’t been updated since 1976. A new bill to overhaul the law is expected this spring.

Photo: Associated Press


No More Toxic Couches


A few months ago Safer Chemicals Healthy Families sent a letter to the nation’s biggest furniture retailer, Ashley Furniture, urging them to phase out toxic flame retardants from furniture that they sell.  

Great news! They’ve written back and told us that they are phasing out toxic flame retardants in their furniture!  But they haven’t disclosed when these chemicals will be eliminated, and that’s where you come in.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Ashley Furniture to finish the job by adopting a public timeline for getting these harmful chemicals out of their furniture.

As the #1 manufacturer and retailer of furniture in the country and one of the largest worldwide, this could have a big impact in getting these harmful chemicals out of our couches and furniture.  The company wrote back to us and said, “We are committed to designing our upholstered furniture with the goal of meeting the requirements of TB-117-2013 without the use of flame retardant chemicals.” We applaud Ashley Furniture for doing what’s right for the health of American families by phasing out these harmful chemicals from furniture.  

Please take a minute and join us
in thanking Ashley Furniture for doing the right thing by phasing out toxic flame retardants in furniture and encourage them to finish the job by publicly disclosing their timeframe for eliminating these harmful chemicals in furniture foam, textiles and backing.


Toxic Chocolate Valentine Surprise Hershey’s, See’s Candies, Mars, and Others – Toxic Metals Found


OAKLAND, CA – February 11, 2015 – Consumer health watchdog As You Sow filed notices of legal action today against Hershey’s, See’s Candies, and Mars. The notices allege violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act for failure to warn consumers of cadmium in the companies’ chocolate products.

As You Sow previously initiated legal action against an additional 13 chocolate manufacturers, including Godiva, Ghirardelli, Lindt, Green and Black’s, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earth Circle Organics, Moonstruck, Theo, and Vosges, for failure to warn of lead and/or cadmium in their chocolate products.

Lead exposure has been a significant public health issue for decades and is associated with neurological impairment, such as learning disabilities and lower IQ, even at low levels. “No amount of lead ingestion is ‘safe’ for children,” commented Sean Palfrey, MD, a practicing pediatrician and professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine. “Pregnant women and young children with developing brains in particular should avoid any ingestion of lead.”

Chronic exposure to cadmium has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage in humans. Children are more susceptible to exposure effects from low doses of cadmium over time. Animal studies have associated cadmium exposure with decreased birth weight, neurobehavioral problems, and male reproductive harm.

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act requires manufacturers to warn consumers if their products contain chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. Testing commissioned by As You Sow and conducted at an independent laboratory, indicates that the chocolate products named in the legal notices contain lead, cadmium, or both, and fail to provide the required warning to consumers.

“Consumers need to know that chocolate may contain heavy metals,” said Eleanne van Vliet, MPH, As You Sow’s Toxic Chemical Research Director. “Since lead and cadmium accumulate in the body over time, even small amounts should be avoided.”

“Nobody expects heavy metals in their chocolate,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “By issuing these notices, we hope to convince chocolate manufacturers to either remove or reduce heavy metals in their products through sound supply chain practices, or provide warnings so consumers can make their own choices about whether to consume the products.”
For twenty years, As You Sow has been one of the leading enforcers of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act with enforcement actions that have resulted in removal of lead from children’s jewelry, formaldehyde from portable classrooms, lead-containing baby powder from stores, and the reproductive toxin toluene, from nail polish.

# # #
CONTACT: Stephenie Hendricks, (415) 299-9510,
Eleanne Van Vliet, (510) 735-8154,
Andrew Behar, (510) 735-8151,
As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. For more information visit


Keystone Bill Ready for Veto: Follow the Money!


The bill to force the Keystone pipeline through is on its way to President Obama after the House passed the final version, 270-152 yesterday. 29 Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Read more.