Commentary Environment

Promise Me No Harmful Chemicals: Breast Cancer Group Calls for Greater Accountability in Fundraising

Kim Irish

How would you react if you learned that a prominent women’s health organization commissioned a perfume that contains chemicals with demonstrated negative health effects?

How would you react if you learned that a prominent women’s health organization commissioned a perfume that contains chemicals with demonstrated negative health effects?

Would you tell your friends about the potential dangers?  Register your concerns with the organization?

Would you be outraged enough to raise a stink?

When Breast Cancer Action (BCAction) learned that Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s (Komen) commissioned pink ribbon perfume, Promise Me, contains harmful chemicals, we asked Komen to immediately recall the fragrance. When they refused, we went public. We’re raising a stink because women’s health has to come first.

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Two of the chemicals that independent lab testing found in Promise Me are Galaxolide and Toluene.  Galaxolide is a synthetic musk that works as a hormone disruptor and has been detected in blood, breast milk, and even newborns.  Toluene is a potent neurotoxicant that is linked to a variety of negative health effects and is widely known as one of the Toxic Trio.  Toluene has even been banned by the International Fragrance Association.  According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group’s report “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance,“ a person’s exposure to hormone disruptors is linked to a variety of health problems, including increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity.

Through our Think Before You Pink® campaign, which was started in 2002 in response to the overwhelming number of pink ribbon products on the market, BCAction calls for greater transparency and accountability by corporations or organizations that take part in breast cancer fundraising.  That includes Komen, the giant of the breast cancer movement.  We call out pinkwashers (a term we coined in 2002) which are companies or organizations that claim to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product while at the same time produce, manufacture, and/or sell products that are linked to the disease.  Komen is pinkwashing with Promise Me, there’s no doubt about it.

How can Komen get away with commissioning this harmful product?  Easy – the federal government poorly regulates cosmetics and personal care products.  Manufacturers are not required to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before putting cosmetic products and ingredients on the market.  Even more troubling, the FDA lacks the authority to issue recalls of unsafe cosmetic products.  These gaps in U.S. cosmetics regulation mean that the burden of keeping products safe falls on the manufacturers themselves (whose main job is to make money) or on consumers (who would have to spend hours reading ingredient labels to ensure that the products they buy are free of chemicals).

It’s time for a new standard that shifts the burden of proof to manufacturers.  By creating healthier products, manufacturers can reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals.  But we know it doesn’t come easy.  It takes action – only through holding corporations and organizations to the highest possible standard will women’s health come first.

Join BCAction in urging Komen to recall Promise Me perfume from store shelves and peoples’ homes.  Ask them to make good on their vision of “a world without breast cancer.”  Send a letter now to Komen leadership – and demand that they take every precaution to protect women’s health.

Analysis Environment

UN and WHO: Chemicals That Harm Repro Health a “Global Threat”

Sara Alcid

This week, an international team of experts, in conjunction with the WHO and the UN Environment Programme, released a report declaring hormone-disrupting chemicals a “global threat” that should be addressed.

When we think about threats to our reproductive health and freedom, some of the things that first come to mind include anti-choice politicians, the Hyde Amendment, and societal abortion stigma.

But among the threats we don’t think about often enough are toxic chemicals lurking in our everyday products, from our soap to our sofas.

This week, an international team of experts, in conjunction with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, released a report declaring hormone-disrupting chemicals a “global threat” that should be addressed. That’s right: a global threat.

Man-made chemicals have become a part of our everyday life, but many of them impact our bodies’ hormonal systems. These chemicals are called endocrine disruptors, and their interference with our hormone system is not without consequence.

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The report confirms that mounting scientific evidence links exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals with adverse health effects, including harm to reproductive health.

Reproductive health issues induced by exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals include breast and prostate cancer, endometriosis, infertility, and early puberty.

Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals through their jobs, homes, and personal care products. This contributes to health disparities among communities in which individuals often lack access to health insurance.

Points of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals are numerous and include everyday activities like eating, working on a laptop, talking on the phone, showering, cleaning, and even sleeping. Food containers, computers, cell phones, cosmetics, personal care products, mattresses, and other furniture all contain toxic chemicals that are linked to reproductive health deterioration.

Even scarier is that the research presented in the report may be only the tip of the iceberg. Only a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of chemicals in existence today have been tested for endocrine-disrupting activity or safety.

And because of ineffective and outdated chemical regulation policies, manufacturers are not required to identify all the chemicals in consumer products or even test them for human safety.

This leaves us largely in the dark about the extent to which endocrine-disrupting chemicals exist in our products and how we can protect ourselves.

Shopping our way out of the problem is not viable; exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is too ubiquitous, and few individuals have the privilege of time and money to buy chemical-free products, even if they were more widely available.

But the ability of women to become pregnant when they want to, have a healthy pregnancy, and maintain their overall reproductive health is a key component of reproductive justice.

The only way to ensure all of us are safeguarded from the global threat that endocrine-disrupting chemicals present to our reproductive health and freedom is through chemical policy reform.

The Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition is working to repair our broken chemical regulation system and pass the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill that would put common sense limits on toxic chemicals.

Urge your Senators to support the Safe Chemicals Act today.

Commentary Sexual Health

STOKING FIRE: EPA Not Adequately Managing Risks of Chemicals in Consumer Products

Eleanor J. Bader

Meanwhile, US residents report skyrocketing rates of infertility, impacting both men and women, as well as an enormous spike in Autism Spectral Disorders, learning disabilities, and childhood cancers in the offspring we sire.

Early in 2009, Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, conceded that “EPA is not doing an adequate job of assessing and managing the risks of chemicals in consumer products, the workplace, and the environment.”

You can say that again. Indeed, since the Toxic Substances Control Act [TSCA] took effect in January 1977, only three chemicals have been banned—lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls—and only 200 of the more than 84,000 chemicals on the EPA’s radar have been tested to determine whether they pose a danger to human health.

Meanwhile, US residents report skyrocketing rates of infertility, impacting both men and women, as well as an enormous spike in Autism Spectral Disorders, learning disabilities, and childhood cancers in the offspring we sire.

If this isn’t a right to life issue I don’t know what is.

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According to the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition, a Washington, DC-based network of healthcare providers, environmental and disability rights groups, reproductive health activists, and concerned individuals, “scientists on the cutting edge of research have found that chemicals such as phthalates, Bisphenol A [BPA], perflourinated compounds, and cadmium are linked to reproductive health problems.“

The upshot, a Coalition fact sheet continues, is that twelve percent of US women now have difficulties conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy, a nearly 40 percent jump since 1982. Known culprits include fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, and endometriosis, conditions considered rare just three decades ago. Low sperm count in men, and sperm deformities, have also increased.

These findings—as well as information about the chemicals we imbibe and breathe–are hardly a state secret. A 2008 report released by the National Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services was one of several to sound an alarm about one of the worst threats to healthy reproduction, Bisphenol A—a substance used to make plastics and epoxy resins. Bisphenol A is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning that it mimics the body’s hormones to wreak havoc on health. Although the NTP’s study voiced “concern” about BPA’s impact on the brain, prostate gland, and development of fetuses and growing children, it stopped short of recommending that the substance be banned.

Canadian and European Union politicians, however, were far less circumspect and as data about the danger of BPA surfaced, they had no qualms about phasing it out and requiring manufacturers to remove it from products marketed to and used by newborns and infants. 

Canada also took action on toluene, a widely used solvent found in gasoline, lacquers, ink, rubber, and disinfectants—and in many nail polishes and perfumes—another chemical linked to reproductive ailments. The EPA’s own research corroborates toluene’s danger, demonstrating that fetuses exposed to it in utero are more likely to have attention deficits, nervous system disorders, and developmental delays than those who are not.

But has it been outlawed? Of course not.

Then there are phthalates, a vinyl softener—EPA estimates that 470 million pounds of them are produced annually—that like BPA, are known endocrine disruptors. Among the maladies attributed to phthalates: Cleft palate, skeletal malformations, and undescended testes.

To her credit, EPA head Lisa Jackson has indicated that EPA plans to begin reducing phthalate exposure in 2012. What’s more, she’s said that the EPA will “identify [other] priority chemicals for near-term evaluation.” As to what constitutes a priority, Jackson says that the Agency intends to use common sense, zeroing in on chemicals “where extensively reviewed data indicates they are carcinogens, cause reproductive/developmental concerns, or are identified as persistent bioaccumulative, and toxic.”

Although the plan sounds relatively tame, environmentalists are nonetheless skeptical about the Agency’s ability to carry this objective forward. They point to the Safer Chemicals Act of 2011, a bill introduced by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg in April—presently stalled in the Environment and Public Works Committee–that would update TSCA by making chemical manufacturers accountable for proving chemical safety and requiring them to submit regularly scheduled reports to the EPA. The Act would also empower the Agency to take whatever actions are necessary to reduce human contact with risk-laden products. 

You ask: Why is the bill languishing?  Activists blame the American Chemical Council, an industry trade association, for quashing all attempts to limit what manufacturers can and can’t do. A look at what transpired when Jackson’s EPA attempted to regulate clean-up and limit exposure to trichloroethylene, or TCE, last month is illustrative.  Despite the fact that TCE is known to negatively impact fetal development and harm the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, and male reproductive systems of adults who are exposed to it, the industry went ballistic over EPA attempts to change how it does business. Pressure was brought to bear and the expected regulations were never announced.

“The public wants to be protected from exposure to toxic chemicals in the air, the water, and the products they bring into their homes every day,” concludes Daniel Rosenberg, a Natural Resources Defense Council blogger. “But it seems that the White House isn’t thinking about health, the environment, or the public, only about what the chemical industry and other big polluters are demanding.”

Fisk Johnson, CEO of S.C. Johnson, admitted as much in a keynote speech before the American Chemical Society last June: “Your child has a better chance of becoming a major league baseball player,” he quipped, “than a chemical has of being regulated by EPA.”

President Obama has the power to prove Johnson wrong by pushing the EPA to fulfill its mandate. But whether he’ll finally get off the bench and do something to protect the health of the American people remains to be seen

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