Johnson & Johnson Vows to Eliminate Chemicals from Cosmetics

Carcinogens are the last thing that people want in their shampoo or makeup, but yet, these chemicals lurk in hundreds of beauty products sold around the world. However, this week, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a group composed of 175 nonprofit organizations dedicated to eliminating harsh chemicals from commercial cosmetics, announced that its efforts have led major global beauty company Johnson & Johnson to join the cause. Johnson & Johnson, which also owns Aveeno, Clean & Clear, and Neutrogena, will begin reformulating all of its baby and adult products with the goal of eliminating harmful chemicals by the end of 2015.

Johnson & Johnson’s commitment will extend to hundreds of products in all 57 countries it serves, including the United States. The company will phase out triclosan, carcinogens, formaldehyde releasers, diethyl phthalate, and animal products, and will significantly limit parabens and 1,4 dioxane. These chemicals have been indicated as health risks to humans, causing health issues such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and birth defects – and yet these chemicals are still approved by the United States government as safe for humans to use.

In 2009 and 2011, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested Johnson & Johnson baby products and found carcinogens in some of these products, including a chemical that uses formaldehyde to kill bacteria. Last year, after the group released two reports and pressured Johnson & Johnson to manufacture safer products and after consumers voiced their concerns for using products containing carcinogens, the beauty company announced plans to eliminate chemicals from baby products by 2013.

Lisa Archer, cofounder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, called this week’s decision “a major victory for public health.” She said, “We applaud Johnson & Johnson for its leadership in committing to remove cancer-causing chemicals from its products. We will be vigilant in making sure it meets its commitments and will continue to encourage it to remove other ingredients of concern. And we call on other cosmetics giants—Avon, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever—to meet or beat J&J’s commitments and signal they take consumer safety as seriously as their competitor. As always, we encourage consumers to seek out the safest products for their families and support companies that are avoiding chemicals of concern.” 

Now, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is urging other industry giants like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Avon, and Unilever – and these companies’ subsidies, which include several major cosmetics brands – to commit to a plan for removing cosmetics chemicals that is as good as or better than Johnson & Johnson’s.

“Today’s action by Johnson and Johnson is another example of a company responding to their customers and the public interest community,” said Nneka Leiba, another cofounder of the campaign. “Unfortunately, not every company will take similar steps to protect consumers from potentially toxic ingredients. That is why we need Congress and the cosmetics industry to support the Safe Cosmetics Act that will require substances be safe for human health before being used in the products we all use every day.”

In response to Johnson & Johnson’s announcement, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has released a petition encouraging other cosmetics companies to eliminate chemicals from their products and make cosmetics and beauty products safe for human consumption. To celebrate Johnson & Johnson’s monumental commitment and insist that other companies follow suit, add your name to the campaign’s petition here. To ask your local Congress representatives to support the Safe Cosmetics Act, a bill proposed last year that would require companies to use safe ingredients and thoroughly label products, as well as create health standards for cosmetics, click here.

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Survey: Americans Are the Least Eco-Friendly, Least Guilty

The United States of America may be scooping up heaps of medals at the Olympics, but in terms of environmental sustainability, a recent National Geographic survey found us coming in dead last. That’s right: America isn’t just the land of opportunity; apparently, it’s also the land of environmental apathy.  
Conducted from March to May of this year, the survey of conservation conscious lifestyles in seventeen countries ranked the USA at the very bottom of the green list, finishing below Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The list is compiled using the “Greendex,” an index created using responses from 17,000 participants who answer questions regarding housing, transportation, and consumption of food and goods. Housing and transportation account for 30% each of the Greendex, while scores in food and goods account for 20% each. A lower Greendex score implies lower eco-sustainability. Americans came in last in each of the sub-categories except for food, where the United States came in third-to-last, ranking only above Mexico and Japan.
“This is the fourth year of the Greendex study,” writes the survey’s 204-page report. “In each previous wave, the Greendex scores of the majority of consumers surveyed increased. 2012 is the first year in which there are more decreases than increases across the 17 countries surveyed. Consumers in developing nations continue to fill the top tier of the Greendex rankings, while the bottom nine countries are all industrialized.”  
But aside from exposing America’s eco-unconsciousness, the survey also revealed some interesting tidbits about our reluctance to go green.  
While 45% of Mexican consumers and 46% of Argentinean consumers strongly agreed to being “very concerned about environmental problems,” only 20% of US consumers said the same. And even more tellingly, only 21% of Americans “feel guilty” over their environmental impact, compared with 42% Chinese, 42% of Mexicans, and 45% of Indians.  
34% of Americans feel that global warming will negatively affect their personal lifestyles within their lifetimes, while 72% of Brazilians and 67% of Mexicans say it will. On a faintly more positive note, over half of American consumers surveyed agreed that as a society, we should reduce our consumption.  
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Department of Labor Releases Green Jobs Guide for Women

Last week, the United States Department of Labor Women’s Bureau released a guide to jobs in the green sector for women. The guide, called “Why Green Is Your Color: A Woman’s Guide to a Sustainable Career”, was produced to assist women in finding and landing high-paying jobs in the environmental field. The green sector has been rapidly expanding for a few years now, and it’s only reasonable that women should have the same opportunities. Many people looking for green jobs, including women, don’t know where to start, what opportunities are available or how to prepare themselves for their careers, due to the increase of jobs in the environmental sector.

Currently, men occupy many of the environmental and clean energy-related positions, including jobs that require physical labor, such as climbing wind turbines for repair. The Department of Labor said that it published the guide after holding a series of national roundtables, in which participants expressed that they didn’t know much about the jobs that are available in the green sector. The roundtables educated women about green jobs and the training and skills necessary for such positions, and informed them of career opportunities in fields such as alternative energy, green construction and environmental protection.

“Many occupations in the clean energy economy remain virtually untapped by women. This guide is an invaluable resource that workforce professionals can use to help women transition into higher paying jobs that serve as a pathway into the middle class. It is also a tool to help fight job segregation,” said Sara Manzano-Díaz, director of the Women’s Bureau, in a statement by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. “Green jobs can help women increase their income and we must make sure that women are adequately represented in the ranks of workers in green jobs.”

The guide contains nine chapters and includes information such as advice on overcoming barriers to employment in green jobs, success stories from women currently employed in the field, tips on becoming a green entrepreneur, how to prepare for green jobs and a glossary.

Among the information distributed in the guide is a fact sheet informing women that job openings in the environmental field are abundant, and that companies are looking to hire professionals of any age and skill level, as well as employees with a wide range of interests and qualifications. The guide also explains the qualifications for green jobs, noting that experience in a modern workplace or volunteer work is desirable, as are technical skills, which women can obtain through formal education or on the job. A range of educational opportunities to prepare employees for green jobs include internships, apprenticeships, colleges and universities, certificate programs and programs designed to prepare youth for green careers.

The guide defines the top five skills that employers are seeking as:
– Ability to communicate well verbally and in writing;
– A strong work ethic;
– Ability to work in a team;
– Initiative; and
– Ability to analyze a problem.

Advice on how to find and apply for green jobs, as well as interview tips, is also offered. The guide concludes by profiling seven successful women who hold environmental jobs in a range of capacities, from directing a nonprofit organization, to installing solar panels, to studying soil science and acting as CEO of environmental companies. Female entrepreneurs are also profiled, and the publication presents instruction on how and why to start your own environmentally-friendly company.

The Women’s Bureau was established in 1920, and is the only federal body that speaks for working women and helps them find higher paying jobs, achieve success in their field and earn fair wages.

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Girl Scouts Petition Against Mining Near Summer Camp

Girl Scouts in Kentucky are petitioning against a proposed coal mine to be built near their resident summer camp, Camp Pennyroyal, which is located in western Kentucky near the city of Owensboro. Camp Pennyroyal has entertained Girl Scouts and schoolchildren since the 1940s at the site, which measures 180 acres and includes a spring-fed lake and dam, as well as cabins and a main lodge.

If approved, the surface mine would be located less than half a mile from the camp. Western Kentucy Minerals (WKM) is seeking the approval of the city’s planning commission to rezone the land to allow mining on the site, but the Girl Scouts are asking the commission to reject the company’s request.  

WKM originally proposed a strip mine on almost 700 acres of land adjacent to the camp, but reduced its proposal to include about 385 acres last week. However, if the rezoning plan succeeds, the company intends to eventually mine the remaining acres of land, resulting in a total extraction of 2.1 million tons of coal. The company believes that, since the mine would be located 2,000 feet from the camp, campers would not be affected by the effects of mining.

However, the Girl Scouts and local residents disagree. Residents believe that the mine would disturb the tranquility that they are accustomed to in the area, as well as decrease their property values. The Girl Scouts cite a long list of risks associated with the mine, including negative effects on air and water quality, as their reasons for their opposing stance. They believe that the mine would create dust and debris that would contribute to air pollution and asthma, and that its operations would create unwelcome noise pollution. The clearing of the land for mining would disturb wildlife and destroy their natural habitat, while the mine would release pollutants into the environment, including arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium. Since the site is located near an aquifer, the chance of water pollution is high, and these metal pollutants could seep into the lake, polluting the water and poisoning fish.

The mine would be active for a projected seven to nine years – the amount of time that WKM estimates that it will take to extract the coal – but its operation and effects could possibly last even longer.

The Girl Scouts brought the petition to the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission in Daviess County last week, where the city commissioners tied, 5 to 5, in a vote to rezone the land. The city will conduct a second vote on March 8, and if the vote ties again, the matter will be heard in fiscal court.

Though the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana – the Girl Scout council that owns the camp – has not taken an official stance on the issue, they said in a position statement issued last week, “In an ideal world, Girl Scouts would like to see Camp Pennyroyal and the surrounding communities left in an ‘untouched’ state for future generations to enjoy.” The statement went on to acknowledge the legal right of companies to use land as they see fit, and said that the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana is taking steps to “address key issues that relate to monitoring seismic activity and water quality, minimizing excessive noise, dust and disruptive blasting, and outlining remediation options for situations that may arise over the short or long term.”

The Girl Scouts believe that protecting their camp and its pristine surrounding areas is a priority, and they have until March 8 to gather and present more petition signatures. They are not alone in their disapproval of surface mining – this week, more than 1,200 Kentucky residents gathered at the state Capitol building in Frankfort for “I Love Mountains Day”, an annual rally to protest destructive mining in the state. The Girl Scouts’ change.org petition is available for everyone to sign, while residents of Kentucky can sign an additional petition from the Sierra Club.

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Support the EPA’s Efforts to Regulate Coal Ash Disposal

Last fall, a major coal ash spill occurred when a retention bluff eroded at the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant in Wisconsin, dumping toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan.  Coal ash, which contains mercury, lead and other pollutants, can contaminate lakes and rivers and pollute the water, making it unsafe for consumption as well as harming wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to regulate coal ash so that future spills do not occur and harm our country’s water supply, but just before the spill occurred, the House of Representatives voted not to allow the EPA to regulate coal ash disposal and management on a federal level.

Coal ash, also sometimes referred to as Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR), is a solid waste byproduct of coal-powered electricity plants. Coal ash contains mercury, arsenic, cadmium and lead, which, when leached into the groundwater, contribute to serious health issues, including cancer.

Currently, there is no federal program for the management and disposal of coal ash, but the EPA has proposed two options for imposing federal regulations on the toxic substance. The agency is trying to establish federal regulations regarding the disposal of coal ash, which is commonly disposed of either in a landfill or in a retention area on the site of the coal plant. In the United States, 56 percent of coal ash is disposed of in landfills and retention areas owned by electric companies, while 37 percent is reused for beneficial purposes. 136 million tons of coal ash are produced annually in the U.S.

The EPA is proposing that all coal ash retention facilities be covered with liners to prevent coal ash from seeping into the groundwater, along with water quality monitoring and mandatory corrective action if water contamination occurs. If implemented, the EPA’s rules would protect groundwater from being contaminated by the pollutants in coal ash, prevent loss of life and property from future coal ash spills, save money that would be spent on cleanup efforts for potential spills, and protect public health and the environment. Some reports predict that regulating coal ash could create up to 28,000 domestic jobs.

While coal ash is filled with toxic pollutants, it also contains minerals that can be safely recycled and reused. Coal plants can reuse discarded coal ash to save natural resources, and used coal ash can be mixed with other products to form building materials, such as bricks. The EPA states that “Environmental benefits from these types of uses include greenhouse gas reduction, energy conservation, reduction in land disposal, and reduction in the need to mine/process virgin materials. We have no data showing that encapsulated uses pose a problem for human health or the environment.” State governments are responsible for regulating the reuse of coal ash for beneficial purposes.

This issue first came into public light in 2008, after a coal ash spill in Tennessee that required millions of dollars’ worth of cleanup efforts, polluted the environment and forced the displacement of nearby residents. Now, as the EPA tries to stand up to coal plants and protect public health and the environment, they need support for their cause.

A petition started by the Sierra Club addresses EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, saying, “This spill has shown us — again — why the status quo is not good enough. We need the EPA to finalize the strong protections against coal ash that Americans need.” The petition encourages the EPA to keep pushing for federal regulations against coal ash, and commends the agency on its efforts thus far. To voice your support for the EPA’s proposed federal regulations on coal ash, visit thepetitionsite.com and add your own comments to the Sierra Club’s letter.

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