Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More Chemicals in Your Baby

A new EWG report just came out this month and calls for the cumulative effects of phthalates on human health. According to EWG, 85% of U.S. population is contaminated with at least six different phthalates at any given time and the exposure to them is unavoidable. They are found everywhere in the environment. The biggest concern is their association with the health risk. The most fragile population is infants who come in contact with such chemicals everyday. More studies are showing that our babies are not as “pure” as we think. In fact, they are born polluted as a study from the EWG showed couple of years back, when they tested the cord blood from ten infants and found various chemicals in it. Personal care products like shampoo, lotion, and powder expose children to an average of 60 chemicals every day. This is only for the personal care products without taking in consideration the toys and the polluted environment. In the U.S. there is no law of safety standards of cosmetics so the industry can use whatever wants for making their products. Most of the phthalates are banned in Europe; I think it is time for the U.S. Congress to take action in establishing safer standards for use of ingredients in personal care products and remove the harmful chemicals from our environment.

Until then check out the Parent’s Buying Guide when shopping personal care products for your kids.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What is in the Fragrance?

While the industry is strongly arguing that the phthalates and other chemicals used in fragrances are safe, environmental activists have started a battle in alerting people of the ingredients found in fragrance. In the U.S., the ingredients in the fragrance are not regulated so the industry can put, basically, anything inside the bottle. The FDA required that manufacturers should list the ingredients found in their cosmetic products but failed to do the same for the ingredients found in the fragrance. Some resources are saying that more than 4000 chemicals are used in fragrances and these include toluene, petrolatum, ethanol, acetone, formaldehyde, limonene, benzene derivatives, etc. These ingredients were found to be linked with birth defects, cancer and various illnesses. Take a little time to watch the video and decide for yourself!

Let’s try to void ALL scented products that have "fragrance" as an ingredient - including all perfumes, colognes, personal-care products, after-shaves, , air fresheners, clean products, etc.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

BPA in Infant Formula

In a post that I wrote earlier, I talked about the presence of Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles.
Well, my search continued and I found out that many brands of the infant formula contain levels of BPA that are harmful to infants. The manufacturers are using cans and cardboard canisters to store powdered and liquid infant formulas, and they usually use a BPA-containing plastic to line their metal parts (in canisters, the top and bottom discs; in cans, the whole thing).

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 5 brands (Similac, Enfamil, Nestle, Earth’s Best, and PBM which makes numerous store brands) to evaluate the amount of potential harm to infants. The results of their tests found that “at the highest BPA levels found in formula, 17 parts per billion (ppb), nearly two-thirds of all infants fed ready-to-eat formula would be exposed above doses that proved harmful in animal test .“ The ready-to-eat liquid formula has the highest concentration of BPA because has the most surface contact with the epoxy from the metal can. The study showed that “babies fed reconstituted powdered formula likely receive 8 to 20 times less BPA than those fed liquid formula from a metal can.” Other studies conducted by EWG and FDA revealed that infants drinking formula are getting more BPA from the formula itself than from the plastic bottles.

From the 5 brands tested, the EWG found that Nestle, Enfamil, and Similac are using BPA-based plastic only for the metal tops and bottoms of their packages – not the cardboard sides, while Earth’s Best and PBM (which make dozens of store brands) are using BPA-based plastic for the entire can. Therefore the EWG came out with the following formula buying guide:

“1. First choice :


Nestlé, Enfamil & Similac powdered
(BPA in top and bottom of can)


Earth’s Best & Bright Beginnings powdered
(BPA in entire can)

2. Second choice: concentrated liquid formulas

3. Avoid all ready-to-eat liquid formulas in metal cans”

Of course, as the EWG suggests the best choice is to breastfeed your baby whenever possible and for as long as possible. It is outrageous that with so many studies proving the harmful effects of BPA especially during infant development, the companies do not change their way of manufacturing baby products; it is outrageous that they do not care about public safety unless there is a law that would force them to do it! No wonder, there are so many kids with various illnesses and cancer. It is just too painful!

The Earth Hour

In an effort to promote awareness about global warming, numerous cities around the world will turn off their lights for one hour on March 29, 2008. The idea - Earth Hour - was promoted last year by Sydney (Australia) when 2.2 million people turned off their lights .

The cities participating this year are Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Phoenix in the US; Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal in Canada; Dublin in Ireland; Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg and Odense of Denmark; Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide of Australia; Bangkok, Thailand; Manila, Philippines; Fiji's biggest city Suva; Christchurch in New Zealand; and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Participating cities will switch off their lights and appliances at 8 p.m. on March 29. The conservation of electricity will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to mitigating global warming.

I think that this is an event at which every one of us can be involved, whether our home city participates or not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Green Freedom™ - A New Concept

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) came out with a new concept, called Green Freedom™. The project proposes the production of carbon-neutral, sulfur-free fuels and organic chemicals from air and water. Green Freedom™ is using the carbon-neutral to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere, split the water into the hydrogen and oxygen, and then convert the hydrogen and the carbon-dioxide into synthetic fuels and organic chemicals. Their objective is to create a fuel that will work with existing vehicle and aircraft infrastructure.

"Among Green Freedom™ compelling advantages, it:

  • Uses benign materials that are abundant supply as its chemical feeds;
  • Produces carbon-neutral, sulfur-free liquid fuels and organic chemicals;
  • Permits continued use of the existing industrial and transportation infrastructure;
  • Enhances US energy and material security by reducing dependence on imported oil;
  • Reduces the need for intrusive exploration and extraction of natural gas, oil, coal, etc.;
  • Limits the environmental impact of the production facility and power assist waste stream;
  • Limits pressure on agricultural capacity;
  • Has the potential to stabilize energy prizes."

The major worries associated with this new project are the capital and operating costs; these worries cannot be reduced until performance data is generated for the capturing and recovering of carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and more detailed designs and analysis are developed. If this concept is feasible, it remains to be seen. However, it is exciting to add another technology to the growing list of alternative energy sources.

PowerUp - A New Game About Climate Change

IBM released PowerUp, a game that you can play for free online. In PowerUp the player has to impede an ecologic distruction of a planet named “Helios”.

The game is part of IBM’s TryScience initiative and it is about a planet in near ecological ruin where three missions for solar, wind and water power must be solved before sandstorms, floods or SmogGobs thwart the rescue. IBM stated that the game is meant to engage kids and educators in engineering, energy, and diversity awareness.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

What is safer to drink: bottled water or tap water? Bottled water became extremely popular in the U.S. In fact, U.S. is considered the largest consumer of bottled water, consuming up to 7 billions gallons annually. It is just so easy to grab a bottle in your way to the gym, or have it for your kids when playing in the park, etc. In U.S. bottled water is regulated as a food by the Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) which requires that manufacturers are responsible for producing "safe, wholesome and truthfully" labeled bottled water products. The problem with the bottled water is the consumption of lots of energy necessary to produce the bottles and the production of avoidable garbage. In a recent BBC Panorama documentary, the British research revealed that the production of some bottled water brands generated up to 600 times more CO2 than tap water. In the same documentary it is said that the Australians spend more than $500 million a year on bottled water and only 35 percent of those bottles are recycled. The plastic most commonly used for the bottles is polyethylene terepthalate (PET), which is derived from crude oil. Hoping to diminish the environmental harm, some companies are considering a more ecological alternative by using biodegradable plastic called polylactic acid (PLA), which is derived from corn.

The tap water is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) including extensive regulations on the production, distribution and quality of drinking water; regulations on source water protection; regulations on operation of drinking water systems; regulations on contaminant levels; and regulations on reporting requirements. Given all these strict regulations, it seems that the tap water is safe to drink, at least the same or even safer that the bottled water. Considering that the bottled water take a long route until it reaches us and thus, going trough various climate changes (i.e. hot weather) that may determine the leach of chemical substances from the plastic, I think that tap water is safer to drink. To note that a considerable quantity of bottled water is actually tap water - that is just sold in a bottle. If trying to avoid the fluoride in the tap water, then bottled water is a solution although many brands have fluoride added.

Which one is safer? Check the quality of your own drinking water!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Care Products We Are Using - Are They Safe?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), created a cosmetic database -Skin Deep Database- to help fill safety gaps left by the cosmetic industry that has publicly studied nearly 13 percent of the 10,500 ingredients identified by the government in personal care products. The FDA does not regulate the ingredients in the cosmetic products thus, it remains to the industry to decide what ingredients to put in their products. The EWG is stating that:
"More than 750 personal care products sold in the U.S. violate industry safety standards or cosmetic safety standards in other industrialized countries."
98% of all products contain one of more ingredients never publicly assessed for safety."

Their analysis of ingredients in more than 23,000 products revealed that 751 different products fail to meet one or more industry or government safety standards, including:

  • "383 products containing ingredients that are prohibited for use in cosmetics in Canada, Japan, or the E.U.
  • 447 products that industry safety panels have found unsafe when used as directed, including 86 found unsafe for all product applications by the CIR and the International Fragrance Association, and 360 found unsafe by the CIR when used according to package directions and,
  • 1,331 products containing ingredients for which the CIR panel said there is insufficient data to determine whether they are safe in cosmetics.
  • 22,697 products (98% of all products assessed) containing one or more ingredients for which FDA, the CIR panel, or any other publicly accountable U.S. institution have not conducted safety assessments."
For a complete report go here.

The Skin Deep is the largest and most comprehensive database where consumers can compare safety ratings of numerous personal care products. The database contains searchable information about
27,528 care products - shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, toothpastes, baby products, fragrances, sunscreens, etc. In all these ratings are included 7,145 ingredients, 1,675 brands, and 1,040 companies.
Being very doubtful about the industry's care for the safety of the public, I check this database all the time when I need to buy care products for me and my family.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pesticides and Organic: A Review of the Most and Least Contaminated Produce

Pesticides are found everywhere - in our food, in the water, and in the air. There is no more doubt that they are posing health risks especially during pregnancy and childhood. Fortunately, the FDA regulates the amount of pesticides in food, but even at small quantities there is a health risk with long lasting effects. The problem with some produce is not only that they have pesticides at the highest limit allowed by the FDA, but there are many pesticides in each produce. For example, on an apple there can be up to 9 kinds of pesticides, or on a sweet bell pepper there can be up to 11 pesticides, and so on. The results of the studies are controversial and in some cases partly considered. Some pesticides (e.g., lindane, atrazine and many others) are used heavily in U.S. while they are banned in Europe due to health problems. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) developed a list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables based on a study of 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2005.

“An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 14 pesticides per day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to less than 2 pesticides per day.”

I listed the first 12 most contaminated and last 12 least contaminated produce below but for a complete list go here: Test Results: Complete Data Set.

The most contaminated:

Peaches (the most contaminated)
Sweet Bell Peppers
Grapes - Imported

The least contaminated:

Sweet Peas-Frozen
Sweet Corn-Frozen
Onions (the least contaminated)

Most of these fruits and vegetables are already affordable to buy. The best solution would be to buy local; in this way you can support an organic farm next to you and more important, you can eat fresh every week (directly from the garden). I subscribe to a local farm and I just love it; I get fresh fruits and vegetables every week, they are diverse (so, I don’t get bored) and, last but not at least, I stay healthy by eating more greens and organic. If interested, check at Local Harvest to find a farm next to you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

California Green Roofs (rather: Shiny Ones)

In California there's so much sunshine it's always a pity it all goes to waste... It would be nice if we could turn our roofs into generators and feedback the power into the grid. You'll say: way too much pain, why would I replace my roof, yada yada... But, if you own a condo or townhouse and your roof is a HOA property, solar roofs become a possible way of lowering your HOA monthly bill: replace all roofs with solar panels, feed back energy into the grid -- and take care of the HOA electrical bill, roof maintenance and have some left over (hopefully).

Of course it takes a feasibility study and all, but it sounds reasonably sound at the surface. But it should be all possible since Al Gore did it! :) That's his roof in the image.

Here's a piece of news that makes it all interesting: because it requires the utilities to cooperate and there's an incentive to generate all the energy and feed it back to the grid. In case the link goes bust, here's the soundbite:

"Homeowners, businesses and farms that produce renewable energy should be paid by utilities for the excess power they send to the state grid, Assemblyman Jared Huffman says.


Huffman said utilities should be required to pay for excess power from all renewable energy technologies at a rate set by the state Public Utilities Commission. That would encourage residents to produce as much energy as they can.

"They've been zeroing out their own bills but get nothing else out of it," Huffman said of the contest winners. "We need to change the policy for those who do have solar panels - the message is they should not be efficient because it saves the utilities money and not themselves."

Huffman said the bill will be heard before the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee as early as March."

Search in CA Senate site for Assembly Bill 1920 from Feb 8th 2008 (or try here with little hope) for the text of the bill if you're in the mood for some legalese...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Baby Bottles Free of Bisphenol A

As a parent I am worried about the presence of Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles. The results of the studies are controversial depending upon who paid for them. I am not planning to discuss about all these studies, but if interested, a comprehensive review of them can be found in the articles: Large effects from small exposures. II. The importance of positive controls in low-dose research on bisphenol A. or Toxic baby bottles. The Environment California Research and Policy Center states in their review that that the government fails to protect the consumers from toxic chemicals. The body of our babies is the most fragile and like a sponge for every toxin in the environment. It is alarming that there is no government protection to it. Thus, it remains to us the consumers to become aware and search for the safest things we offer to our kids. Therefore, I made my homework and searched for bottles that are BPA free - like those made from glass or a safer non-polycarbonate plastic for my new baby.

Brands tested and found to leach BPA at harmful levels:

Avent (Natural feeding bottle)

Dr. Brown’s (Natural flow)

Evenflo (Classic)

Gerber (Premium feeding system)

Playtex (VentAire)

BPA free bottles:

Born free – made of polyamide (the new and safe plastic) or glass. They can be found on the Born free website, in Whole Foods stores and at Amazon. They are quite expensive but given the outcome and the long-term use, they are worth.

MAM from Sassy (UltiVent) - made from polypropylene. I tried these ones but the plastic smelled pretty bad and entered the milk (as confirmed by my little one who did not like the milk). I washed and sterilized them several times hoping that the smell will go away eventually but I ended up returning them back.

Medela – all their bottles are made of polypropylene. I am using these ones with a Medela pump which is excellent.

Evenflo – glass bottles. I got these ones and I am very happy with them. With the glass ones I have the assurance that no plastic (safe or not) goes into the baby’s milk. They are classy and cheap. They can be found on the Evenflo website, at Babies R Us stores or at Amazon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mattresses Free of Polybrominated Flame Retardants

I was searching these days for a new mattress. I wanted to find one that is not using polybrominated flame retardants and still not very expensive. After many reviews I ended up buying a Sealy Posturepedic mattress which is free of Teflon stain- and water-resistant treatment and uses the new fiber-based flame-retardant barriers. Other alternative would be to buy the ones from Ikea which contain alternative flame retardants. However, probably the safest ones are those made from organic cotton or organic wool and natural latex but they are quite expensive. Using an encasement made from organic cotton on your Sealy or Ikea mattress it will reduce more your exposure to VOCs and block allergenic dust mites.

The Polybrominated Flame Retardants are flame retardants found in mattresses, household products, fabrics, furniture, and electronics. They accumulate in the breast milk and are toxic to human health. The EU has banned the use of Penta- and OctaBDE since 2004 while in the US is heavily used especially in the polyurethane foams. In the State of California the sale of penta- and octa- PBDE and products containing them is banned since January 1, 2008. In 2007, the legislature of the state of Washington passed a bill banning the use of PBDEs and the state of Maine passed a bill phasing out the use of DecaBDE.

For a comprehensive review about the flame retardants follow this link: Brominated Flame Retardants: Cause for Concern?

Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid

I become more and more alert when I have to buy cosmetic products these days. The U.S. regulations for cosmetic ingredients are practically nonexistent which means the producer can put basically everything in their products. Most of these ingredients are banned in Europe and Japan but largely used on the American market. As expected, the manufacturers say their products are legal and safe according to U.S. regulations and that EU have overreacted and banned chemicals with little or no evidence of a human health threat. They are called controversial ingredients which means there are studies that proved their risk on human health and studies which found no link between the use of them and the human health. It seems that more carefully designed longitudinal studies are needed to confirm one way or the other. However, precautious as I am I would prefer to better be safe and trying to avoid them as much as possible. I would try to avoid especially the following ingredients:

Phthalates are found in medical devices (such as medical tubing and blood bags), footwear, electrical cables, packaging, stationery, toys, roofing, cosmetics (aftershave, shampoo, nail polish, fragrance, powders, skin creams, hair products) etc. In other words phthalates are everywhere around us - at home, at work, in the hospital. In E.U. three phthalates - DEHP, DBP and BBP - are banned for use in cosmetics and in all toys and childcare articles and three others - DINP, DIDP and DNOP - are banned from use in toys and childcare articles for those articles that can be put children's mouths. Within U.S., currently, there is no ban on phthalates; only the state of California will ban the use of some phthalates in children’s toys starting in 2009.

Parabens are found in baby preparations, shampoos, cleansers, deodorants, eye-products, lotions and moisturizers, make-up, personal lubricants, nail products, topical/parental pharmaceuticals, toothpaste, and other hair products, and sunscreens.

Petrolatum (also known as petrolatum jelly) is found in conditioners, creams and moisturizers, epilating wax, baby cream, nail products and makeup. Petrolatum is banned in Europe.

Propylene Glycol is found in: moisturizers, sunscreens, antiperspirants, hair strengtheners, mouthwashes, shaving products, , and stick perfumes and baby lotions.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is found in: shampoos, bubble baths, emollient creams, soaps, cream depilatories, hand lotions, permanent waves, , and toothpastes.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is found in: shampoos, including baby shampoos.

Synthetic fragrances found in any cosmetic product.

Follow this link to read a List of Substances which are Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or Toxic to Reproduction. Many of these substances are still found in the cosmetic products we use every day.