Tell the FDA to Ban BPA From All Food Packaging

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently banned Bisphenol A (BPA), a harmful chemical found in plastics and some metals (such as the lining of canned foods), from baby bottles and sippy cups. The hormone-enhancing chemical has been linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, obesity, and damage to the reproductive organs, and is emerging as a public health risk. Studies found BPA in 80 percent of people’s bodies and in 96 percent of pregnant women. As a result, some companies are taking notice of public demand and concern for eliminating this chemical from food packaging by manufacturing BPA-free items, but many people feel that the FDA needs to tighten its regulations and completely ban the chemical from the food industry.

BPA presents an especially high risk to fetuses, babies, and young children, whose BPA intake is highest and whose developing bodies are more likely to suffer damage from toxic chemicals. Scientists have expressed concern about the effects of BPA on fetuses’ brain development, and have noted that BPA may cause earlier puberty in children. Tests conducted on several brands of canned food showed that almost all of the products contained BPA, presenting consumers with a very high risk of exposure to the chemical.

Although BPA has been used for more than four decades without serious health implications, new research suggests that there is cause for concern regarding the safety of this chemical. Additional research is needed to confirm the severity of this chemical’s health risks, but health officials now recommend that people, especially parents with babies, stop using plastics that contain BPA. Parents are encouraged to stop using old baby bottles, especially ones that are scratched or used, as these are more likely to leach BPA into food and infant formula. Parents who are still using bottles that contain BPA are encouraged not to heat or boil the infant formula, as heat facilitates the release of BPA.

Canada and the European Union have joined the United States in banning BPA from baby bottles, and Canada has determined it to be a toxic substance. Congress has pushed for legislation banning BPA, but it has not passed. Earlier this year, the FDA decided not to ban BPA from all food and beverage containers, saying that it needed to conduct broader and more thorough research on how severely it can affect public health.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has noted that plastics marked with recycling numbers 1 through 6 usually do not contain BPA, but plastics marked as number 7 can contain the chemical.

Protecting my kids doesn’t stop when they graduate from bottles and sippy cups. I am counting on the FDA to help regulate this dangerous chemical so the people I care about most in the world are safe — no matter how old they are,” says Change.org petition writer Susan Beal. “BPA isn’t just found in baby products — routine tests have found BPA in more than 80% of Americans’ bodies.”

While previous petitions to the FDA by organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have been unsuccessful, Beal’s previous petition on Change.org mobilized people in her hometown in Oregon to take action and ban BPA; the successful petition led to legislation banning products for children that contain BPA from being sold in her local community. She is hoping that her current petition to the FDA will elicit similar results.

To support Beal’s newest endeavor and join the growing public movement to completely eliminate BPA from food packaging, sign her petition at Change.org and share it with your friends and family.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/iskir/4433695947/

It’s All in the Kiss: The Tricky Love Affair of Lead and Lipstick

A series of recent news articles has been painting the cosmetics industry in a less than appealing light, raising an alarm with consumer protection and rights groups who are now asking that the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set limits on how much lead can be found in cosmetics. The news stems from the FDA’s latest look and analysis of 400 different lipsticks, bought from retail stores between February and July of 2010 and still currently on the market.

According to their report, each of the 400 lipsticks tested contained varying levels of lead, from the very low (Wet’n’ Wild’s Mega Mixers Lipbalm Bahama Mama, with <0.026 parts per million) to the uncomfortably high (Maybelline’s Color Sensational Pink Petal, with 7.19 parts per million). On a further note, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics points out that the least expensive option (Wet’n’ Wild) also drew up the least amount of lead, prompting a spokesperson of the group to comment that “price is not an indicator of good manufacturing practices.”  But that may have already seemed obvious to many.  The complete list of lipsticks tested and their corresponding levels of lead can be found at the FDA’s website.

For a better idea of why this is raising concern, please consider: when it comes to American drinking water, 15 parts per billion is the cut off (with a larger goal of keeping it down to nil), and children’s products manufactured in the United States cannot contain any more than 100 parts per million of lead.  The cosmetics industry hopes to alleviate worry by pointing out that unlike water, for instance, lipstick is not intended to be consumed by the user; however, it is likely that throughout the hours of wear, along with the repeated applications, certain amounts of lipstick will be consumed—and when it comes to pregnant mothers, the level of danger is raised even higher.

“Lead builds in the body over time, and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels,” explains Mark Mitchell, co-chairman for the Environmental Health Task Force for the National Medical Association. 

What is perhaps most troubling is the fact that, to date, the FDA does not have any restrictions or regulations concerning an acceptable amount of lead to be found in cosmetics presently instated.  Without this oversight, it is likely that lead levels will grow or a best plateau where they are at—and there is evidence that this is already occurring.  Maybelline’s Pink Petal when tested this time around was found to have lead levels twice as high as was previously reported by the FDA in a similar study from 2008.

Even through all of the hoopla, the FDA maintains that they “do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern…The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics.” And that is precisely where the problem lies.  Without set rules, lead will continue to sneak into cosmetics and with its presence so too will come some detrimental health issues.

Already, senators like John Kerry, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have written to the Commissioner of Food and Drugs regarding this issue; and now consumers are lending their voices as well by signing petitions like the one here, which targets and presses the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to instate restrictions on lead in cosmetics.  

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lipstick_army.jpg

Paper or Plastic? No More!

Baby turtle eating plastic

As a regular at a your local grocery store, you complete your usual chore of grocery shopping and decide to buy more food compared to your usual intake. The cashier asks if you would prefer “paper or plastic”. The thought of carrying a paper bag that is more prone to break than a plastic one doesn’t seem practical; so you decide to choose plastic instead. At home, you feel relieved carrying all the food at once without having it rip apart, but the guilty feeling looms over you as you think about your recent decision at the grocery store. Now you have piles of plastic bags left over. With no particular use with them you end up throwing them in a non-recyclable compost. Now your guilty conscious should come into play. Looking at this decision you may find this as a huge problem today. We must grasp the awareness on how to recycle plastic bags, understand the harm they produce and how cities are making a courageous choice by banning it. 

In the early 1950’s, Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin invented the “plastic bag”. He wanted to create a bag that was lightweight and convenient for people to hold. Unfortunately, this lightweight modern bag has factored to many disasterous pollutants from the effects of production use. Part of production use includes burning fossil fuels; because of this, 22.5 to 30 million bags waste about 11 barrels of oil each year. 

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, “California uses more than 19 billion plastic bags every year. People have been treating them as litter instead of an environmental issue”.

Without a doubt people have been using plastic as litter. On land, people throw plastic in drainage systems, which can block the drainage and factor to many types of flooding. A good example would be the flooding that occurred in Bangladesh, India between 1988 and 1998. 

On water, plastic bags have been affecting the marine debris and marine animals. To animals, plastics seem like food; when ingested, it can kill an animal instantly. 100,000 deaths that include ingestion and strangulation occur within animals like sea turtles, sea gulls and dolphins per year. 

This environmental problem can lead to hazardous health effects too. The durability of the plastic bags takes centuries for them to decompose. Even when it decomposes, it releases toxic substances in our environment. Some of these toxic substances include bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer. Exposure of BPA and PS oligomer is an alarming fact for hormonal dysfunction in humans. Most hormonal dsyfunction can link to cancer, diabetes, obesity, sexual reproductive development and hyperactivity.

In 2010, California’s ban on plastic bags became a NO; but cities in California are fighting to change the decision to a YES. So far they have implement the ban in local markets and chain stores by gaining the senator’s support. The success of the support has issued the senator to restrict the ban in multiple California cities. San Francisco is the first known city to ban plastic shopping bags. Since then, other cities have followed like San Jose, Fairfax, Sunnyvale, Monterey, Los Angeles and Malibu. 

Some solutions to these problems would factor to our knowledge on recycling and the use of reusable bags. Recycling plastic bags is another way to decrease impact on the environment. A proper teach-in class on recycling is the key to educate people about our environment. When you learn how to recycle; it can prevent a habitat from proliferating to become hazardous.  

A reusable bag has helped the environment decrease in it’s plastic production use. About 20,000 plastic bags can be reduced if someone were to shop with a reusable bag everyday. Most reusable bags are inexpensive and durable. They can hold more capacity compare to a plastic bag. 

So next time you stop by your local grocery store and the cashier askes “plastic or paper?” You proudly show off your reusable bag and reply “Neither. Keeping it green.” 

To support the ban of plastic bags in nation-wide cities you can sign this petition here

Photo credit: http://animalconnection.ning.com/notes/Top_5_Types_of_Land_Litter_and_Their_Danger_to_Wildlife

Seattle Plastic Bag Ban Comes At A Cost

On December 19th, the Seattle City Council officially voted to ban single use plastic bags.  This act stands as a major victory and a fitting end to a year chalked full of revolutions. Though the revolution against plastic bags pale in comparison to those that took place in the Middle East this past spring, I, for one, feel pride as a native Washingtonian to know my state is trying to protect the environment.  Not only did Seattle ban plastic bags but the outlying cities of Mukilteo, Bellingham, Edmonds, as well as Portland, Oregon followed suit.

While the ban is a definite victory for the environment, it feels somewhat bittersweet because of how long the measure took to pass.  Staunch opposition funded pro-plastic bag campaigns in Seattle over the past several years to ensure their lasting use.  Initially Seattle imposed a 20 cent tax on each plastic bag used by consumers; however the vote was later repealed due in part to $1.4 million plastic industry campaign to overturn the decision.  While 20 cents does not seem like a lot of money, if you consider that Seattleites use approximately 292 million plastic bags annually, 20 cents per bag makes quite a lot of revenue (more than $58 million).  Seattle is a city home to about 608,000 people which averages to about 480 plastic bags per citizen annually.  Now, of course not every citizen is choosing to use plastic bags; and of course, there are tourists and out-of-towners that factor into that statistic. But for arguments sake, we’ll say the average Seattleite would have spent about $95 dollars per year on plastic bags, which is a significant amount of money for the lay citizen.  This opens up an interesting debate, is it better to ban something that is environmentally harmful or heavily tax its use?

The pro-plastic lobby hammered the plastic bag ban referendum for denying Seattleites of their basic right of choice.  According to the lobby, Americans should have the freedom to choose whatever we want regardless of the consequences.  With a heavy tax on something like plastic bags everyone is happy; plastic enthusiasts get to have their bags (at a price) and environmentalists don’t need to use them, right? 

Unfortunately, lobbyist funding makes issues far from cut and dry.   The 2009 lift of the plastic bag tax in Seattle is an exemplar of the intricacies of policy making in the United States.

If a lobby throws enough money at an issue, no restrictions get placed on an item’s use or effects on the environment.  While the same could be said about a wholesale ban on an item, voters tend to make more informed decisions when something has the possibility of becoming completely restricted, which means lobby money has less of an effect on the overall outcome of the vote.

Most importantly, in the case of plastic bags, a freedom should not impede any citizen’s natural right to a healthy environment.  Plastic bags significantly pollute water sources thereby threatening the sources overall health.  Americans have an insane amount of options when it comes to consuming in the United States, and we all take part in and enjoy that freedom wholeheartedly; but a choice should never threaten the overall health of the natural environment.  For the sake of the environment, society must sacrifice some choices so that the well-being of the natural environment can be maintained. 

In theory a tax works for limiting environmental degradation from plastic bags (or any consumer commodity), but because of the societal stigmas and lobby money against new taxes, no progress is ever made.  For that reason, I’m happy that Seattle has opted to join San Jose, California, Las Pinas, Philippines, Rye, New York, and Northern Territory, Australia (just to name a few) in banning single-use plastic bags.

California Wants Styrofoam Ban Due To Environmental Concerns

Following the lead of several cities in the state, California legislators are considering the ban of Styrofoam throughout the entire state. If the ban follows through, California would be the first state in the nation to ban the controversial plastic.

The bill, proposed by Democratic state Senator Alan Lowenthal, would make it illegal for restaurants, grocery stores, and food vendors in California to sell food contained in Styrofoam containers. By the year 2016, the ban would completely be in effect. Senator Lowenthal says at least 50 cities in the state have already banned Styrofoam and use greener alternatives to Styrofoam containers.

The proposed bill exempts schools, city, and counties if they can recycle at least 60 percent of their foam waste by instituting special recycling programs.

Senator Lowenthal and supporters of the bill believe Styrofoam causes numerous problems. Also known as polystyrene, the petroleum-based plastic is a major source of litter in California, commonly found scattered on beaches and in waterways. Environmentalists argue that trash Styrofoam now exceeds cigarette butts in the state. At trash pickup events, Styrofoam is increasingly becoming the most frequently collected item.

Trash Styrofoam can also be eaten by animals; it is rather common to see birds pecking away at leftover food in Styrofoam containers.

Styrofoam is not biodegradable and cannot be recycled or composted without great difficulty. Usually, recyclers do not bother with Styrofoam because the material has minimal scrap value. Why would recyclers spend time and money recycling Styrofoam if it offers no profit? In fact, Styrofoam’s strength, low cost, and durability that appeals to businesses is the same reason why many environmentalists detest it.

Additionally, in a 1986 report by the EPA, Styrofoam is considered the fifth largest source of hazardous waste. Not only is Styrofoam destructive to the environment after its life as a container, the process of manufacturing it is pollutive to the air and water. Also, Styrofoam’s large volume takes up valuable space in crowding landfills.

The EPA regards Styrofoam as a possible carcinogen. It contains numerous toxic chemicals that can be released and contaminate food and drinks if heated in a microwave. The health effects of exposure to polystyrene include skin and eye irritation, depression, headache, fatigue, and kidney problems.

Despite all the health and environmental benefits that can be reaped with abolition of Styrofoam, businesses and California’s economy may suffer from the ban. Gold Rush Grille owner Joe Thompson opposes the ban because most of his customers order carryout. He argues that containers that are environmentally friendlier are twice as expensive as Styrofoam containers. Says Thompson, “So what happens to me is I have to lay off a part-time employee or I have to take a full-time employee to part time.”

Gary Honeycutt, owner of BJ’s Kountry Kitchen, also opposes the ban. His restaurant uses about 26,000 Styrofoam clamshells per year because of the large volume of customers that order to-go. Honeycutt opposes switching to greener alternatives because they lack the strength and durability of Styrofoam. Says Honeycutt, “We put cheese on those omelets. And when we put the cheese on, it’s really hot and bubbly and it goes right through the biodegradable stuff.’’

In a time of economic woes, an outright ban on Styrofoam may benefit the environment but could also cause significant harm to businesses in the process. In fact, avoiding the Styrofoam ban may create jobs in the form of trash cleanup crews and provide incentive for recyclers to develop cost effective recycling or disposal methods of Styrofoam. Also, instead of completely banning Styrofoam, manufacturers should be pushed to clean up the process of producing Styrofoam or developing greener alternatives that have the qualities and properties of Styrofoam that make it desirable to businesses.

How about pushing scientists and researchers to develop a method to safely disintegrate Styrofoam already in landfills?

Lastly, a ban on Styrofoam would not allow people to be more environmentally conscious and learn to be more responsible. Simply taking away the source of the problem does not give people the chance to become responsible or proactive in taking care of the environment and keeping it clean. For instance, wouldn’t events such as the upcoming California Coastal Cleanup Day be less of a showcase of environmental responsibility if there was less trash to pick up?

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/fillmorephotography/525736705

Toxic Toys Being Sold in Hong Kong, China

On Wednesday, Greenpeace said it urged government officials to ban certain children’s toys containing toxins that were being sold in mainland China and Hong Kong.

The environmental group said it hired an independent group to test the toys, and found that 21 of 30 toy samples bought from four different Chinese cities had phthalates, which are used to soften plastics but can also cause hormone malfunctions and reproductive problems.  All the toys tested were manufactured from mainland Chinese companies.

In the United States and the European Union, six types of phthalates have already banned in children’s products and toys.  

“Governments in the EU and North America have all recognized the serious health concerns of phthalates for children, yet in China and Hong Kong, kids are unprotected from these harmful toxins,” said Vivian Yau, a Greenpeace campaigner.  

Greenpeace is urging Hong Kong to adopt the same policies that the United States and the European Union have implemented against phthalates in children’s products.  

“Children are one of the most vulnerable groups to hormone disruptor’s — they like to put things in their mouths, and their reproductive, immune and endocrine systems are still developing,” Yau added in a statement.  

They are also pushing for a regulatory system to be formed to eliminate the dangers posed to health and the environment from the use of these chemicals in toys and other products.  

Chinese-made toys have been called into question through a series of scandals in the last couple of years, including the recall of millions of “Aqua dots” in the United States and “Bindeez” in Australia.  

Photo Credit: www.state.nj.us/humanservices/opmrdd/images/photo_library/phthlates/baby_teethingring.jpg