Photo by Ashley L. Conti | Bangor Daily News

Chemical safety advocacy group protests against LePage in Bangor


Photo by Ashley L. Conti | Bangor Daily News

A 25-foot-long yellow inflatable duck has been drawing attention to chemical regulation in Bangor, Maine. The “Fear the Beard” campaign was launched by members of Prevent Harm, a public health political advocacy group, to protest against Governor Paul LePage’s history of lax chemical regulation. The name of the campaign stems from LePage’s comments in 2011 that the worst possible impacts from BPA would be that some women “may have little beards” – a reference to the chemical’s endocrine-disrupting properties, which may cause effects ranging from cancer to infertility.

“We’re out here today with our little beards [on sticks] to make sure that our next governor will put Maine kids ahead of the chemical industry, not the other way around,” Emma Halas-O’Connor, Prevent Harm advocacy manager, said.

Read more from Nok-Noi Ricker at Bangor Daily News.


This isn’t a trick: Toxic chemicals in Halloween costumes


Parents across the country are stocking up on this year’s hottest costumes for their little ghouls, goblins, and princesses, but some costumes may contain hidden toxic chemicals harmful to our children’s health. I wish I were tricking you.

A new study released today by HealthyStuff.org found elevated levels of toxic chemicals in popular Halloween costumes, accessories and even “trick or treat” bags.  Dangerous chemicals like phthalates, flame retardants, vinyl (PVC) plastic, organotins, and even lead.  

TAKE ACTION: Tell big retailers – our children deserve a safe toxic-free Halloween.

They tested 105 types of Halloween gear for chemicals linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.  The products were purchased from top national retailers including CVS, Kroger, Party City, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens.

These chemicals have no place in products for our little ones.  For instance they found high levels of flame retardants in “trick or treat” bags, and a toddler Batman costume that contained very high levels of phthalates, and even lead in the lining of the mask. 

We know that big retailers can do better.  In fact the new testing also shows that many Halloween products do not contain dangerous substances, proving that safer products can be made.  

Join us and send a message to retailers today. It’s time they “Mind the Store” and get these toxic chemicals out of products once and for all.


Tips for a Toxic-Free Halloween


Wanna hear something spooky? With one of CHEJ’s favorite holidays, Halloween, right around the corner, we wanted to let you in on the chemical industry’s dirty little tricks.

PVC, one of the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment, has scared its way into some of our beloved children’s costumes.  Even scarier is that many vinyl products are laden with harmful phthalates,  endocrine disrupting chemicals banned in toys but widespread in many other vinyl products children come in contact with.  Vinyl products also often release a witches’ brew of toxic chemicals into the air. That’s that new plastic vinyl smell so many of us grew up with.  Who knew it was so scary!

With that in mind, here are some tips for a safer Halloween for your family and friends:

  • Avoid PVC: Shop for PVC-free costumes and masks.  If you’re not sure what the costume is made out of, ask the store or manufacturer whether or not it contains PVC and phthalates.
  • Make your own costume out of safer PVC-free materials!  We bet you can come up with something fun and creative by just diving into your closet.
  • Trade safe costumes with your friends. No need to buy more stuff.
  • Use safer face-paints.

Happy Halloween – and don’t get spooked by the chemical industry this Halloween season!

Chemicals of Concern

Solutions to Hazardous Plasticizers


From Mark Rossi at BizNGO

The dominant movement in the marketplace is to alternative plasticizers to DEHP and other phthalates. Yet this is the less preferred solution to avoiding PVC and plasticizers altogether. Some recent assessments on alternative materials and plasticizers include:

Clean Production Action’s Plastics Scorecard demonstrated the benefits of substituting medical IV bags made from PVC/DEHP with polyolefin bags that require no plasticizers (see figure to the right). The substitution eliminated the need for plasticizers, which are roughly 30% of the weight of an IV bag.

Alternative plasticizers need to be assessed for their hazards. While less preferable than avoiding PVC and plasticizers altogether, if a company can’t avoid PVC, here are two analyses of alternative plasticizers. The Healthy Building Network (HBN) and Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) used the GreenScreen (GS) to evaluate alternatives to phthalates in building products (HBN) and DEHP in wire and cable (GC3). Here are their findings:

- Two bio-based products that appear to be the least toxic of all the plasticizers it evaluated (Grindsted Soft-n-Safe and Polysorb ID 37) – GS Benchmark (BM) undetermined due to data gaps (HBN)
- DEHT – GS BM 3 (with data gaps) (GC3 & HBN)
- Vegetable oil based blends that vary from GS BM 2 to GS BM 3 (GC3 & HBN)
- DINCH – GS BM 2 (GC3 & HBN)
- Dibenzoate plasticizer – potentially GS BM 1 (while safer than DINP still has significant hazardous properties) (HBN); and

- Polymeric adipate – GS Benchmark 2, 3, or 4 (depending on chemical assessed) (GC3).

Further alternative assessments of phthalates: The U.S. EPA Design for Environment program is in the middle of a project to evaluate alternatives to eight phthalates.


Save SpongeBob Squarepants from the poison plastic!


Are there toxic chemicals in your child’s raincoat?  New testing coordinated by CHEJ found elevated levels of phthalates in a SpongeBob Squarepants vinyl rain poncho, at levels nearly seven times above the federal safety standard.

I recently purchased the SpongeBob Squarepants vinyl rain poncho at Toys R Us’ flagship store in Times Square, NYC and send it off to a lab for testing.

The lab found the SpongeBob vinyl poncho contained 6,600 parts per million (ppm) of the phthalate Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP).   This phthalate is widely considered to be among the most toxic of all phthalates on the market.  The amount in the SpongeBob Squarepants poncho is nearly seven times greater than the level considered safe by the CSPC.  While phthalates have been banned in toys, they remain permitted in products like rain ponchos and children’s school supplies.  Low levels of lead were also detected in the raincoat.

The lab also found the product contained high levels of chlorine, indicating the raincoat is made out of vinyl (PVC) plastic, the most toxic plastic for children’s health. We call it the poison plastic.  Nickelodeon – say it ain’t so!  We love SpongeBob and don’t want him to be toxic to our children’s health.

These chemicals have no place in our children’s products – they have been linked to asthma, developmental and reproductive harm. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time toxic chemicals have been found lurking in children’s raincoats. Last year, we found high levels of phthalates in 75% of school supplies we tested.

The new testing was funded by concerned parents through an innovative crowdfunding campaign CHEJ conducted on Indiegogo. Parents across the country provided the funding that enabled us to do the testing.

Toxic ponchos underscore need for federal chemical reform

The brand new test results were released in late October at the DC Stroller Brigade, which featured parents and children from around the country at a news conference and rally at the federal Capitol. Families then met with their US senators to urge federal reform.  The vinyl ponchos were used at both the press conference and in meetings with US Senators to highlight the problem of unregulated dangerous chemicals in children’s products.

We have the right to know.

The results were also released by our partners at the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Maine, who held a news conference releasing the results to build support for forthcoming Maine legislation that would require disclosure of phthalates in consumer products. The proposed legislation would provide parents the right to know about toxic phthalates in consumer products. Watch a TV segment on their release.

Phthalates also found in vinyl flooring, dumbbells and earphones

In addition to the testing we conducted, our partners at Healthystuff.org recently screened a variety of products for phthalates and also released the data in conjunction with the DC Stroller Brigade. These products were purchased from 9 retailers including the Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., Dunham’s Sports, Home Depot, K-Mart, Lowes, MC Sports, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. The products range from household, kitchen and office supplies to children’s products and exercise equipment.

They found:

  • 3lb Dumbbells by Empower sold at MC Sports had 41% DEHP;
  • Earphones sold at the Dollar Tree Stores had 30% DEHP and .04% DBP;
  • Royelle Sheffley vinyl flooring by Armstrong sold at Home Depot had 7%  BBP, .01%  DBP, .02% DINP;
  • Sentinel Stone vinyl flooring by Armstrong sold at Home Depot had 7% BBP, .01 % DBP, and 14% DINP.

This comes after yet another new study found phthalates in vinyl flooring linked to asthma. Thankfully safer alternatives are available for homes, schools, and hospitals.

It’s time for a common sense solution!

It doesn’t have to be this way! Toxic chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects have no place in our homes or schools.  Join me and the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Campaign in fighting back against these poison plastic products!


Tell Congress – it’s time for common sense limits on unnecessary toxic chemicals in children’s products!


New testing: Elevated levels of phthalates in Spongebob Squarepants vinyl rain ponchos


New testing coordinated by CHEJ found elevated levels of phthalates in a Spongebob Squarepants vinyl rain poncho, at levels nearly seven times above the federal safety standard.

The brand new test results were released today at the DC Stroller Brigade coordinated by the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Campaign.   The event on Capitol Hill today features parents, children, and cancer survivors from around the country, for a “Stroller Brigade” and rally. Families will also meet with their US senators to urge federal reform that will: protect pregnant women, children and vulnerable communities, take immediate action on the most toxic chemicals, and allow states the ability to pass their own toxic chemical laws.

Our new testing revealed elevated levels of phthalates in a Spongebob Squarepants children’s vinyl rain poncho, which we purchased at Toys R Us’ flagship store in Times Square, NYC.

The lab found the Spongebob vinyl poncho contained 6,600 parts per million (ppm) of the phthalate Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP).   This phthalate is widely considered to be among the most toxic of all phthalates on the market.  The amount in the Spongebob Squarepants poncho  is nearly seven times greater than the level considered safe by the CSPC.  While phthalates have been banned in toys, they remain permitted in products like rain ponchos and children’s school supplies.  Low levels of lead were also detected in the raincoat.

The lab also found the product contained high levels of chlorine, indicating the raincoat is made out of vinyl (PVC) plastic.  Vinyl is the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment.  Its manufacture uses and releases hazardous chemicals including vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, mercury and dioxin, which are harmful to the communities and workers where it’s made and disposed of.

The new testing was funded by an innovative crowdfunding campaign CHEJ conducted on Indiegogo. We are hopeful that these new results will help educate US Senators on the need to reform our broken chemical safety laws.

New test results also released today by HealthyStuff.org found elevated levels of phthalates in dumbbells, over- the-ear headphones, and vinyl flooring.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted on additional children’s school supply test results in the coming weeks.

Yours for a toxic-free future,

Mike Schade, Markets Campaign Coordinator
Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)


The Importance of Government Legislation: PVC Hazards and Chemical Policy Reform


By Samantha Stahl

So you’ve decided to start living a PVC-free life.  You have finally gotten fed up with unsafe and unhealthy chemicals and are officially taking the steps to rid yourself of them for good.  You’ve done all of the research on why PVC and phthalates are bad for you and your family, and now, armed with knowledge, you are embarking on a new, guilt-free outlook on life.  You send your kids to school with binders and lunch-boxes that are PVC-free, buy them skin care products and fragrances that aren’t made with harmful plastics and leads, and you think your cork floors look better than their low cost would suggest.  And while you don’t work directly with PVC, you take small steps to move your office towards cleaner living as well.

But is this enough?

While consumer responsibility and choice is extraordinarily important in moving the market towards safer and healthier products for our daily lives, it may not be enough to protect us from the harmful effects of PVC.  Large scale change can really only be brought about with a delicate balance between individual actions and responsible legislation.  So while making sure that you and your family are exposed to as little toxins as possible is a goal worth the effort, you may still be vulnerable to the effects of the very toxic chemicals you thought you had banished from your daily life

Read more >


Relocation in Sight for Mossville, Louisiana Residents


Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

Mossville, Louisiana residents, surrounded by more vinyl chemical plants than anywhere else in the United States, may finally see some justice after many years of organizing and campaigning for a healthier future.

Late last week, chemical giant Sasol announced plants to fund a relocation of Mossville residents who are interested in moving from their homes and from the pollution, as the company is attempting to expand their operations by building a giant ethane cracker and gas to liquids petrochemical plant.  Residents have been fighting for relocation since at least the 1990’s – so this is nothing short of huge news for this impacted environmental justice community.

“A Sasol representative announced plans to introduce the Voluntary Property Purchase Program in Mossville,” says Mossville resident Dorothy Felix, with Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN). “We have been advocating for relocation for years and know that the only way the plan can work is to meet the needs of Mossville residents, who suffer from industrial pollution that make us sick and ruin the value of our homes.”

Sasol plans to build and operate the industrial facilities on a site near Mossville that takes up an estimated three square miles.  Ever since Sasol’s proposed expansion was announced last year, Mossville residents have renewed their calls for relocation. The company has been buying up property in the area to secure their expansion, including an old elementary school and church.

Sasol boasts that the “estimated cost is between $16 and $21 billion” which represents “the largest single manufacturing investment in the history of Louisiana and one of the largest foreign direct investment manufacturing projects in U.S. history.”

Sasol has not made public the estimated pollution increase or potential risk of a hazardous accident from the proposed plants.

Not the first relocation in Mossville – will it be the last?

Mossville residents are surrounded by an alarming number of chemical plants that spew dangerous pollutants like the carcinogens vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, and dioxin.  I traveled there in 2004 and was shocked by the environmental devastation I witnessed, but also inspired by the community members fighting back.

In the 1990’s, many homes in Mossville were relocated after a gigantic ethylene dichloride (EDC) chemical spill was discovered traveling throughout the community, contaminating the groundwater underneath people’s homes.   A jury had found the PVC company responsible for contamination liable for “wanton and reckless disregard of public safety” and was charged with dumping a staggering amount of poisons – an estimated 19-47 million pounds of EDC, a suspected human carcinogen.  EDC is used to make vinyl plastic, such as children’s lunchboxes and flooring in our schools and homes.

Dorothy Felix (pictured above) and members of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) have been fighting for a healthy community and relocation for years, and was featured in a major expose by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN a few years ago, as well as in the award-winning documentary Blue Vinyl.  Now, they may finally achieve the relocation so many residents have been clamoring for.

Will this relocation be the final one for this community?  Will the company truly make the residents whole?  What will be the terms of the buy-out?  These any many other questions remain unanswered, for now at least.  You’ll be sure we and many allies across the nation will be paying attention.

“Environmental health and environmental justice groups from all over the United States and the world are watching what happens in Mossville,” declares Michele Roberts, with Environmental Health and Justice Alliance, “And we will stand by the people of Mossville until they are safely out of harms way from toxic chemical contamination.

History of chemical industry buy-outs in Louisiana

Mossville is not an isolated incident, but yet another example of how the petrochemical industry has contaminated neighbors.  Over the past thirty years, a number of other communities around Louisiana have been relocated by the petrochemical industry.  Some notable examples of vinyl industry relocations include:

  • In 2003, in Plaquemine, Louisiana, a trailer park development was relocated after being contaminated by vinyl chloride groundwater contamination, but only after women suffered from an abnormal number of miscarriages in the tainted area. Residents had been drinking contaminated water for at least five years.
  • Reveilletown, Louisiana was once a small African-American town adjacent to a PVC facility owned by Georgia-Gulf. In the 1980s, after a groundwater toxic plume of vinyl chloride began to seep under homes, Georgia-Gulf agreed to permanently evacuate the entire community of one hundred and six residents. Reveilletown has since been demolished.
  • Management at Dow Chemical’s neighboring PVC factory followed suit soon afterwards, buying out all of the residents of the small town of Morrisonville.

More recently in 2002, the Concerned Citizens of Norco achieved a historic victory after Shell Oil agreed to relocate community members after years of fighting for justice.

Mossville residents and their allies are now hoping to leverage the lessons from the Shell relocation in Mossville.

“Our prior work on a successful community relocation offer between the Diamond community of Norco and the Shell Corporation in 2000 provides important lessons on how a community and an industrial company can reach agreement on future industrial operations, the terms for relocation offers, and programs for community improvements,” explains Monique Harden, attorney with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR), which represents Mossville residents and MEAN in a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that charges the U.S. Government with violating human rights by permitting toxic industrial releases in and around Mossville.

We’ll be watching and will do all we can to support the Mossville residents in their fight for justice.

Dow Chemicals Vinyl Plant in Freeport, TX.Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011

Ouch! Vinyl Workers at Risk for Developing Kidney Stones


Liver cancer. Reproductive risks.  Chemical plant explosions.

Workers who make vinyl plastic products face no shortage of hazards on the job.  A brand new study adds to the evidence that vinyl workers risk their health when making products like vinyl window blinds, flooring and piping for our homes and schools.

Dow Chemicals Vinyl Plant in Freeport, TX.Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011

Scientists at the University at Buffalo published a study of workers at vinyl plants in China, which found workers exposed to even low levels of the chemical trimethyltin chloride (TMT) had a higher prevalence of kidney stones.  The factories use this chemical as a heat stabilizer in the manufacture of vinyl window blinds.

Read more >


WARNING: Vinyl rain coats chock full of hazardous chemicals


With the summer only a few weeks away, many parents are going out and buying new rain gear — but parents may unwittingly be exposing our most vulnerable children to lead, cadmium, and even phthalates, chemicals so toxic they have been banned in toys and baby products.

A brand new investigation of vinyl rain gear by the EcoWaste Coalition found elevated levels of lead and cadmium in vinyl raincoats marketed to children. Chemicals that can permanently disrupt the brain. Shockingly, 70% of raingear they tested contained elevated levels of lead or cadmium.

This follows a similar report I authored last year which also found high levels of toxic chemicals in children’s vinyl raincoats and rain boots, including Disney branded rain gear.  This time, a Mickey Mouse raincoat contained 2,255 ppm of lead in it.

Chemical detectives.

The EcoWaste coalition, a public interest network of community, church, school, environmental and health groups based in the Philippines, used an X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) to test rain gear for the presence of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. The XRF device is also able to identify products made out of PVC, as a high chlorine reading from the device indicates the product is most likely made out of vinyl (vinyl being the #1 chlorinated plastic in the world not to mention the #1 use of chlorine gas).

The organization went out and tested 33 pieces of rain gear: 25 raincoats, 5 umbrellas, and 3 pairs of rain boots. The products were purchased from discount stores at shopping malls in the Philippines.

High levels of lead and cadmium in children’s vinyl raincoats.

The group found:

“Of the 25 samples of raincoats that are mostly made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and featuring favorite cartoon characters, 11 had lead from 292 to 15,500 ppm with the following as the five most loaded with lead:
1.  An egg yellow “Tweety” medium raincoat with 15,500 ppm
2.  Another egg yellow “Tweety” small raincoat with 14,100 ppm
3.  A light yellow “Mickey Mouse” small raincoat with 2,255 ppm
4.  A bright yellow “Yikang” two-piece large raincoat with 2,090 ppm
5.  A blue “Tasmanian Devil” raincoat with 1,753 ppm

Of these 25 raincoats, 13 were found laced with cadmium with a green “Haiyan Ben 10” extra large raincoat containing 717 ppm cadmium.

Of the five umbrellas tested, lead was detected on the “Hello Kitty” design of two mini-umbrellas at 122 ppm and 275 ppm each.

Of the three pairs of boots, “Pengi” green boots and “Panda” red boots were found laden with cadmium amounting to 398 ppm and 523 ppm, respectively.”

Children may in turn be exposed to these hazardous metals, as studies have documented they may readily leach out of vinyl children’s products. Lead and cadmium are used to “stabilize” the product.

Phthalates in vinyl raincoats and rain boots

You may think, well that’s the Philippines, surely the US government wouldn’t allow such hazardous chemicals here, right?


As I mentioned above, less than a year ago CHEJ and the Empire State Consumer Project released a report investigating hazardous chemical additives in children’s back-to-school supplies. Among the products we tested were children’s vinyl raincoats and rain boots.

Our investigation found high levels of phthalates in the rain gear we tested, at levels much higher than what’s legal for kids’ toys. But just because the products aren’t toys, it’s totally legal for industry to use them in children’s products. Insane, right?! Phthalates are considered to be endocrine disrupting chemicals, are linked to asthma and reproductive effects, and according to the federal government children face the highest exposures to these poisonous substances. It’s nothing short of outrageous!

What can we do about it?

Look, I shouldn’t have to even say this. We shouldn’t have to worry whether your children’s raincoat contains these harmful chemicals. But sadly, we do.

As consumers, the best way to avoid these hazardous substances is to not purchase vinyl rain-gear in the first place as study after study has found hazardous chemicals in and leaching from vinyl. Whether it be phthalates, lead, cadmium, organotins, or even BPA. And perhaps even worse, the entire lifecycle of vinyl is nothing short of an environmental nightmare, releasing other highly hazardous substances including vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, dioxins, mercury, and PCB’s.

So next time you’re out shopping for a children’s raincoat or rain boots, make sure it’s not made out of vinyl/PVC plastic. Look for rain gear promoted as PVC-free. Our Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies is a great resource, as it features listings PVC-free rain gear and other children’s products in over 40 product categories. Also — be sure to check out our wallet-sized version for shopping on the go.

It’s time to Mind the Store.

However, we can’t just shop our way out of this problem. Enough is enough! That’s why CHEJ is part of the national Mind the Store Campaign, which is urging the top ten retailers to take action on the worst of the worst chemicals, including these very same ones.

Learn more and take action at www.mindthestore.org