Do Not Buy List
Updated May 8.2013
Feel free to copy and distribute this list. Given the large numbers of chemical and brand names here, you are welcome to print any portion of this list and take it shopping with you.
See Your Choices Matter for a list of action alerts that allow you to influence public policy. I have compiled this list to help consumers make healthy, environmentally sound, and ethical choices with their dollars, but I concur with the folks behind the Safe Chemicals Act that what we really need to protect the public from the trillions of pounds of some 84,000 chemicals placed into the US environment annually is a responsible federal law.
In the meanwhile, here is a shopping list that we can all hope we will only need in the short term!
Here is the newest “dirty dozen” list of commercially grown fruits and vegetables with the highest number of pesticide residues on them, according to tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group. These are listed in the order of their pesticide numbers (that is, the worst are first). To protect your health and the environment, produce on this list should only be purchased as organic. The persistent presence of apples on this list is of concern for children’s snacks and baby foods. Grapes are also an issue in that so many juices of all flavors contain grape juice as a primary filler (read the labels).
- Bell Peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
- Blueberries (domestic)
Green beans and kale often contain pesticide residues of special concern.
Here is the list before the one above” Peaches, Strawberries, Cherries, Pears, Grapes (Imported), Spinach, Lettuce, Potatoes, Apples, Sweet Bell Peppers, Celery, Nectarines.
And the contrasting (relatively) clean fifteen:
- Sweet corn (but if you are concerned about genetic engineering, buy organic corn)
- Sweet Peas
- Cantaloupe (domestic)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Mushrooms (do not harvest from roadside areas which may have been sprayed with herbicides: mushrooms readily absorb such toxins).
Why to Avoid Pesticides on Your Food
Charles Benbrook, research professor in the sustainable agricultural program at Washington State University, has developed a sophisticated dietary risk index using data on pesticide residues found on US produce. Charts indicating where particular foods fall on this index, including comparisons of imported foods, can be found in the October 2012 issue of Nutrition Action. As of October 3, 2012, this latest healthletter is not online, but it should be soon. In any event, this newsletter is worth subscribing to: it is an inexpensive ad-free newsletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which takes no corporate funding.
According to the dietary risk index, commercial peaches and nectarines imported from Chile as well as bell peppers from Mexico, cucumbers from Hondorus, green beans from the US and asparagus from Peru have residues above the safe level prescribed by the EPA. Commercial peppers, kale, and green Beans from Mexico are close behind. Though due to EPA restrictions, imported food generally contains more toxic residues, food from Canada is an exception. Only imported Canadian cherries have more toxic residues than US cherries; in every other tested category, Canadian produce was cleaner than US produce.
Of special concern for children are organophosphates, especially chlorpyritos. As shown in double bind experiments (testing blood levels of residue and IQs in children in housing projects treated with these chemicals), children living in the same projects with the highest blood levels of the pesticides had the lowest IQs; and IQ decline continues for several years. For adults, the issue is long term low level exposure to a range of pesticides (including herbicides) linked to cancer, heart disease, dementia, and diabetes: the strongest data in these cases comes from farm worker populations.
It is thus a matter of justice to those who grow and harvest our crops as well as our health and the environment to avoid fruits and vegetables grown under certain conditions.
The good news is that children eating organic produce show such a radical decline in pesticide blood levels that some of these are no longer detectable in as little as a few days to a week.
Given this data, the President’s Cancel Panel (2012) expressly recommends that people of any age eat organic produce whenever possible.
More bad news about the herbicide RoundUp: a recently released study by University of Pittsburgh researchers found that this herbicide applied according to label specs (no wind, spot application, etc). caused nearby amphibians to change shape. This comes on the heels of reports from Argentina about persistent human fetal abnormalities implicated in RoundUp use. Why Argentina? Monsanto’s widespread sales of its “RoundUp Ready” gmo crops there increases RoundUp use, thus exposing fieldworkers and their families to consistent doses of this herbicide.
There are well documented problems with certain pesticides and their toxicity to honeybees and other pollinators. Join over 100,000 others to urge Bayer to withdraw bee-killing chemicals from the market.
Alas, Apples! A Special Note
Apples made the top of “dirty dozen” list above.
The sales from this Pacific Northwest staple took a dive during the “alar” scale– when this pesticide was determined to cause cancer. The problem is that the easiest route to blemish free fruit in our climate (given various fungi and the apple maggot) is spray, spray, spray. Sadly, the consumer demand for “heritage” apples has made things worse, since these fruits– often-grafted for quick production– do not have a chance to develop resistance over time. So no more alar means other sprays instead. And peeling helps little since many modern pesticides are “systematic”– that is, engineered to be taken up into fruit flesh and persist there.
This is especially problematic for children, since the EPA pesticide standards don’t account for their additional susceptibility as compared with adults– or the fact that they may be ingesting more apples that the yearly “average” they use to compute safety.
Buy organic apples to protect yourself, your children, and the environment. They are periodically on sale for less than commercial varieties locally in the Willamette Valley. Even better, look for unsprayed neighborhood trees where apples are going to waste–and ask permission to glean them. Many apples keep for months, others can be dried and sauced (cut out the wormy parts, which tells you they have not been sprayed!).
Want to help spread the word on current research and change the current pesticide use? Sponsor a screening of the highly praised documentary Unacceptable Levels available this past fall. The link to this film also has some personal action ideas, including a list of responsible corporations, some non-profits working on this issue and a downloadable card to take along when you shop for personal care products that lists the top ten toxics in these products.
More information on particular pesticides and their hazards is detailed below under “household products”
Arsenic in baby formula and energy bars
The source of contamination is evidently brown rice syrup– even, in some cases, brown rice syrup that is supposed to be organic. The baby formula incidence is most alarming, since it is largely the type of arsenic that is known to cause cancer. However, one cereal bar had 12 times the arsenic currently allowed in drinking water.
Trying to avoid arsenic in your organic rice? Use organic rice grown in California rather than former cotton lands in the South-central US where arsenic was used as a pesticide in those earlier crops.
Milk-based formulas were lower in arsenic than non-dairy formulas– likely because of the rice syrup sweetener in non-dairy products. The researchers at Dartmouth who found this suggest that a single energy bar poses little hazard, but that those on gluten-free diets who use a substantial amount of rice in their diet vary this by using other grains as well.
Nature’s One organically certified infant formula has a response to this problem in which they indicate that their products are specifically tested for their arsenic levels.
Why rice? Arsenic is naturally occurring in particular water sources and rice takes much water to raise. Air pollution from the smeltering of particular metals falls back onto rice products, which is why Chinese rice tends to be so high in mercury from coal burning. Such heavy metal concentration– unless specifically tested for– may well fall below the radar of organic certification that is checking for pesticide exposure– though arsenic was one of the earliest forms of pesticides used in the pre-DDT era.
Older forms of treated wood were also treated with arsenic (now illegal): and leach readily into garden beds. Treated wood of all types (including the old arsenic treated variety) is ground and recycled into chips sold to homeowners and landscapers. Lane County Waste Management, for instance, does not take it in as “hazardous waste” (though they used to)– but instead gives all incoming treated wood to these chip sourcing companies. Children’s play structures with arsenic-treated wood have largely been replaced in public parks– but I don’t know if anyone has traced what happened to the treated wood they replaced.
This problem with arsenic exposure follows shortly after the finding of arsenic in apple juice below.
Arsenic in apple juice
All commercial apple juices were recently found to contain inorganic arsenic, with baby foods containing some of the highest levels.
Arsenic as a pesticide has been outlawed in the US, but is still used in China, where much processed apple juice originates.
Arsenic in Commercially Raised (Factory Farmed) Chicken
Chickens raised in crowded commercial conditions in which they are unable to move have plenty of problems related to these inhumane conditions, including frequent debeaking so that they will not act on the cannabalistic impulses created by such crowding.
On a health basis, commercial chicken is yet another product in which consumers may find arsenic– evidently fed to these chickens to help combat infections deriving from frequent sores caused by their living conditions. I can’t tell you why commercial chickens might also contain caffeine and Benadryl, though a banned class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones is more understandable– if no less problematic. The latter were found in the analysis of chicken in peer reviewed studies of researchers at John Hopkins and Arizona State University.
Recent research links carrageenan with gastrointestinal inflammation, both in laboratory animals and in studies using human colon cells. To be on the safe side, avoid yogurt, ice cream, frozen yogurt, pudding– and for the holiday season, egg nog– thickened with carrageenan. Read your labels on this one.
“Organic” foods and medicines from China
The USDA tests only one per cent of foreign imports and what it has found for the Chinese use of the “USDA Organic” label is that many of these foods are not only NOT organic, but have toxic residues that surpass standards for any food being sold in the US. Some still contain melamine: the plastic-waste “protein” that sickened a number of babies with melamine-laced infant formula and killed many pets with its presence in pet food.
Rice from China has other problems. Because of the proliferation of coal-fired plants in China, rice is now the single greatest source of mercury contamination there. Coal burning produces mercury as a pollutant, which then falls onto crops.
Herbal and other medicinal products from China have also been found to contain high levels of lead and other toxics.
Sadly, the offenders in this regard undermine the confidence with which you can buy “organic” products from those China producers who use this label legitimately– and many do. Know your producer!
Healthy Veggie Burgers? Not if they are not organic
Veggie burgers with processed soy protein are processed with the neurotoxin hexane (not allowed in gasoline). Here is a list of products that contain and do not contain hexane:
Veggie burgers containing hexane:
Boca Burger, conventional
It’s All Good Lightlife
Yves Veggie Cuisine
Boca Burgers “Made with organic soy”
Morningstar “Made with organic”
Superburgers by Turtle Island
Products labeled “organic” aren’t allowed to contain any hexane-derived ingredients, but that rule doesn’t apply to foods that are labeled “made with organic ingredients.”
Protein bars containing hexane:
For a list of “made with organic ingredients”-labeled protein bars made with hexane, see the Cornucopia Institute’s “Behind the Bean.”
BVO: There is enough question about whether “bromated vegetable oil” can build up in human tissue to cause it to be banned in the European Union, where soda manufacturers use readily available alternatives. BVO is an emulsifier that gives these light colored sodas their cloudy appearance, but BVO, originally banned by the FDA and given provisional status in the 1970s (and still allowed under that “interim” status), has been linked to suggestive bromine build up in the body in European studies. Bromine build up is linked, in turn, to heart muscle and nerve damage.
Phosphates: You could switch to colas like Pepsi and Dr. Pepper which do not have BVO– if you don’t care about your bones. The combination of phosphorus and carbonation in beverages interferes with calcium uptake in the bones. This is especially hazardous to teenage girls who should be building up their bone mass to allow them to avoid osteoporosis later in life. Sodas do NOT belong in school cafeterias for this reason alone.
Sugar or “Diet”: most sugar in sodas is corn syrup (see below) which has its own problems. At the very least, we don’t need all this extra sugar in our diets. But if you switch to diet drinks in the hopes of avoiding calories, you may not be thereby avoiding extra pounds. Why? Researchers don’t know, but recent studies have indicated the same amount of weight gain with those ingesting diet sodas as those ingesting the sugared variety. One supposition is that “fake” sugar may stimulate the appetite system without satisfying it, thus actually inciting people to eat more sugar in response.
BPA is directly linked to childhood obesity, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
At breastcancerfund.org there is a downloadable wallet card on canned foods to avoid, since they are sealed with this synthetic estrogen that double blind studies have linked with breast cancer, reproductive problems, obesity, and ADHD. These include especially salty, fatty or sugary food into which BPA leaches so that you consume it with the food. This means most processed canned foods (even organic ones like beans and coconut milk).
For home canners, BPA is also used in the lids of Kerr and Ball home canning jars sold in the US. There are alternatives available: ask at the store where you purchase your canning supplied.
The following companies have gone BPA free in their canned foods:
Vital choice, Oregon’s choice, Wild Planet and Eco Fish (canned fish)
Trader Joe’s : canned corn, canned beans, canned fish, canned poultry, and canned beef at Trader Joe’s are all packaged in BPA free cans. However, any other products that contain corn or beans or fish, etc. and other items – for example in soups or chilis – are not in BPA free cans, the company said. No labeling here, either.
Edward & Sons produces a line of exotic, often organic, sustainably raised canned and packaged goods without BPA in their packaging, including Native Forest and Native Factor brands.
More companies will hopefully be added to the safe list as more data comes out on BPA dangers. As always, it is best to buy fresh or frozen goods.
Since BPA is found in many plastics, also avoid heating in plastic microwave packaging. Also switch to stainless steel (not aluminum) or glass cooking and storage containers.
Debra’s List contains a list and analysis of over 1000 healthier alternatives or green products: especially useful for parents.
For more info and if you would like to join an alliance that works to protect our families by keeping toxics out of our food, homes, and larger environment, check out Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.
Be especially careful of high acid fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and some fruit juices in cans. Giving these to children is a bad idea, since certain tomatoes in BPA sealed cans have been tested to leach enough BPA to replace natural hormones.
This chemical causes reactions such as migraines and digestive upsets in some consumers. Avoiding it, however, is not so easy as avoiding a label that says MSG. Here’s why:
The FDA also allows MSG-containing products to be labeled as follows: Autolyzed Plant Protein, Autolyzed Yeast, Calcium Caseinate, Glutamate, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP), Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP), Maltodextrin, Monopotassium Glutamate, Sodium Caseinate, Soy Protein Concentrate, Textured Protein, Yeast Food or Nutrient and Yeast Extract.
Swanson Beef and Chicken Broths, Target brand Market Pantry Homestyle Chicken & Wild Rice Soup, Annie Chun’s Soup Bowls, Chef Boyardee’s Mini ABC’s and 123′s with Meatballs all say “no MSG” on their labels, even though their ingredient lists indicate a form of MSG is actually in their product.
Even organic chocolate may be sourced from African plantations that enslave children as laborers. Chocolate produced in Central American is likely to be better in this regard. Fair trade is best of all.
Nestle UK and Cadbury signed recent fair trade agreements with African workers– though the agreements are only partial. Mars and Cadbury also recently made agreements with the Rainforest Alliance to use at least in 30 per cent “ethically sourced chocolate” in their products. The other 60 per cent are still problematic as are Mars’ corporate practices– it contributed to defeating the 2012 food labeling initiative in California.
Hersheys, ADM and Cargill, however, are lagging behind. After a promised “voluntary” phase out of child slave labor, they have failed to produce any substantial change in nine years.
The companies below list their chocolates as “slave-free”– although some production methods have not been verified by a third party. In contrast, Equal Exchange and Divine Chocolate hold cooperative contracts with laborers.
Denman Island Chocolate
Divine Chocolate Co.
The Endangered Species Chocolate Company
Green and Black
Health by Chocolate
Ithaca Fine Chocolates
L.A. Burdick Chocolates
La Siembra Cooperative
Newman’s Own Organics
Omanahene Cocoa Bean Company
Original Hawaiian Chocolate
Plamil Organic Chocolate
Rapunzel Pure Organics
San Francisco Chocolate Factory
Seed & Bean Chocolate
Sweet Earth Chocolates
Terra Nostra Organic
Trader Joe’s Organic Chocolate Bars
Corn syrup is everywhere in processed foods/ A benefit to avoiding it is avoiding many processed foods. Research indicates it may be an “obesegen”– since it does not register in the brain’s satiety centers in the same way that ordinary table sugar does. Commercial corn syrup is also high in mercury, since its manufacture entails the use of lye made by pumping salt through large vats of mercury.
Milk and milk products containing rBGH
rBGH or recombinant bovine growth hormone is a genetic copy of cow hormones that causes them to produce more milk. This hormone is banned in Canada, Australia, Japan, and all countries in the European Union due to its effects such as speeding up the growth of breast and prostrate cancers. It is also boycotted by 95 percent of US dairy farmers. However, the FDA, EPA and Department of Agriculture continue to license the drug (and other genetically engineered foods) without adequate pre-market safety tests.
The Breast Cancer Action Coalition summarizes data that links the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and breast cancer. It is especially important that girls and young women do not consume dairy products with this hormone added, as new data indicates that fast growing breast tissues are the most vulnerable to toxic exposures. Thus girls or young women exposed at this vulnerable time in their lives are at risk for developing breast cancer later in life.
The Institute for Responsible Technology outlines the data that indicates Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of this hormone is profiting both from causing cancer and selling drugs to treat it.
Buy milk and cheese that are rBGH-free . If you are in Oregon, support local dairy farmers who have refused to use this hormone from the outset.
The presence of this hormone in older dairy cows (a major source of hamburger in the US) is another reason to buy organic and/or totally grass fed beef from local farms you trust. See below for problems with corn fed beef.
Carry your own cup to stop ocean plastic waste, waste of energy and water in bottling water, as well as corporate buy-up of water rights.
In case you need additional health concerns to stop using bottled water, the FDA allows lead in bottled water, even though there is no safe level of lead for human consumption, even though lead in any amount negatively effects the human nervous system, especially in children. Here is basic information on lead in drinking water.
For a list of the host of toxic chemicals found in bottled water, see here.
Here is an overview of the consequences of the corporate buy up of water.
And here is a fun short film by Annie Leonard (“Story of Stuff”) on bottled water.
There is more data coming about concerning potential allergens and other issues related to gmos, especially when linked with herbicides as in RounduP Ready soy seed. In any event, Monsanto, largest producer of gmos, including the RoundUp Ready seed, has been voted into the Corporate Hall of Shame several times for its anti-consumer, anti-environment activities. Especially troublesome is the gmo producers attacks on small farmers as well as on gmo labeling for consumers.
If you wish to avoid gmos, avoid processed foods as well as the foods produced by those who spent millions to defeat the California right to know initiative. The corporate contributors against the initiative labeled themselves, so don’t buy their products if you are trying to avoid gmos. Sadly, some of these also sell “natural” or “organic” products. Here is a list of those:
- PepsiCo (Donated $2.5M): Naked Juice, Tostito’s Organic, Tropicana Organic
- Kraft (Donated $2M): Boca Burgers and Back to Nature
- Safeway (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M):“O” Organics
- Coca-Cola (Donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla
- General Mills (Donated $1.2M): Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar
- Con-Agra (Donated $1.2M): Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, Hunt’s Organic, Lightlife, Alexia
- Kellogg’s (Donated $791k): Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger
- Smucker’s (Donated $555k ): R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic
- Unilever (Donated $467k): Ben & Jerry’s
- Dean Foods (Donated $254k): Horizon, Silk, White Wave
And here are supporters of gmo labeling: the list is very long, so I have not reproduced the whole of it. The list that follows gives a sense of food producers who on the side of consumer right to know:
Bumble Bee Health Foods
Clif Bar & Company
Country Choice Organic
Edward & Sons
Late July Organic Snacks
Lundberg Family Farms
M2 Ingredients, Inc.
Mary’s Gone Crackers
Nature’s Path Foods (many cereals)
Numi Organic Tea
Rudi’s Organic Bakery
Rumiano Cheese Co.
Straus Family Creamery
Wallaby Yogurt Company
Whole Soy Company
The Center for Food Safety has produced a detailed “True Food Shopper’s Guide” for avoiding gmos.
Corn Fed Beef
Once upon a time (I remember the days! ) “corn fed beef” was considered prime, but no longer. Cattle are naturally grazing herbivores, and feeding them grain in order to hasten fattening leads to digestive upsets on the part of the cattle, as well as health and environmental risks to humans. Michael Pollen, in his Ominivore’s Dilemma, indicates the scientific case for why.
Grass fed beef is almost entirely free of the e coli contamination of grain fed beef– a corn diet changes the acidity of the cow’s stomach, which allows these bacteria to flourish. One feedlot vet told Pollen that if his bovine charges had been fed grass instead, he would be out of business. As it is, feed lot cows are fed a constant infusion of antibiotics and many still fall victim to various disease, since the corn diet plays havoc with their immune systems.
Furthermore, “corn fed” no longer means fed with good old fashioned corn. In spite of the prohibitions on feeding cows certain body parts of sheep to prevent “mad cow disease” (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy), protein in feed lot cow feed often includes blood and other body parts of chickens (such as skin and feathers) as well as beef “waste” from other butchered cattle.
Corn-fed hamburger is especially bad, since a pound of commercial hamburger may contain the meat of a hundred cows scraped from areas near the bone and spine where the “prions” of mad cow reside.
The corn diet also largely does away with healthy fats found in grazing animal flesh, replacing them with unhealthy saturated fats.
Moreover, corn feeding takes a substantial toll on water and oil resources in the raising of subsidized corn crops for cattle feed. whereas environmentally conscious (rotated) grazing utilizes lands otherwise unsuited for agricultural production.
Especially if you have humanitarian concerns, the CAPOS (concentrated feeding operations) give animals a wretched existence, as well as giving workers some of the worst jobs in the nation. See Fast Food Nation for more details. It is no surprise that the agribusiness lobby recently asked the FDA to prevent pictures of their operations from becoming public.
If you consume meat, buy grass fed beef from a local farmer to pressure changes in the current irrational system of beef production.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has an extensive list of sustainable and healthy fish choices to supplant those that are mercury laden, have extensive bycatches or are implicated in ocean habit degradation and species extinction. They have a downloadable card you can print and take shopping with you.
One of the fish listed as a health risk on the Monterey Aquarium website calls for special attention: farmed salmon. Ocean-going wild salmon (labeled “wild Alaska salmon”) is one of the cleanest fish you can buy– and one of the highest in healthy fatty acids and vitamin D. Unfortunately, farm raised salmon is one of the dirtiest fish you can purchase– and its healthy fatty acids have gone the way of its diet, which includes carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT found in the mix of soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feather these penned fish are fed.
Any salmon that is labeled “Atlantic” is farmed, since there are no more wild Atlantic salmon fisheries.
Two problems: butter substitutes which have caused serious health risks in workers (and are now slowly being phased out) and chemicals in bag linings, which are highly toxic. Here is where the budget conscious come out on top: it only takes a few minutes to pop your own popcorn. If you don’t want to do it on the stove top, check out local second hand stores for super cheap air poppers.
Cottonseed oil (and cotton clothing)
Cotton is the most highly pesticide- sprayed crop in the US , but it is not classified as a food crop, so the pesticides in its oil are not regulated by the EPA. Since cottonseed oil is one of the cheapest oils available, it is liable to show up in processed snack food like potato chips. Sometimes this is obscured by a label that reads, “may contain soy (or some other oil) or cottonseed oil”. Don’t buy it; if is either/or, you can be pretty sure it contains the cheapest oil.
Of the 15 pesticides used on cotton, the EPA has classified 7 of them as probable, likely, or possible causes of cancer. In the Punjab in India, cotton growing areas center cancer outbreaks.
Throw out anything with cottonseed oil in it. And look for “organic”, “green” or “fair trade” cotton in your clothing unless you want to be cause environmental and human health damage as you pick out your “natural” cotton clothing.
Also, rice grown in former cotton growing areas in the South (where arsenic was an early pesticide) are more likely to have unacceptable levels of arsenic (that is, higher than the FDA limit for drinking water) than rice grown in California where no cotton was formerly grown.
One hundred per cent of children’s face paints tested by the Environmental Working Group contain lead, for which there is no safe exposure limit. Because face paint is classified as a cosmetic, its ingredients do not not have to be labeled, so parents have no way of telling that what they are purchasing for childhood fun contains lead and other heavy metals. Here are tips for a toxics-free Halloween (including costumes made with PVC and laced with phlalates recently outlawed in children’s toys).
General information for food safety
What’s on my Food lists foods that are safest to eat as opposed to those most likely to be contaminated.
The following “dirty dozen” comes from the site of the Environmental Working Group. These are fruits and vegetables that contain proportionately large numbers of pesticides: note that these are numbers of pesticides, not amounts per se; however, this is certainly a fairly good indicator of pesticide amounts and potential toxicity.
The Nutrition Action Health letter, produced by the non-profit Science in the Public Interest’s October, 2011 issue focuses on healthy eating in honor of Word Food Day, and November5, 2011 focuses on food safety in your kitchen (prevention of food borne disease).
Some manufacturers still use manual sandblasting to soften or shape denim: a process that puts thousands of worker lives at risk of silicosis, a deadly pulmonary disease. Good news: Levi’s, H&M and C&A have abolished this practice.
However, Armani and Roberto Cavalli have refused to even discuss banning this process. The following companies have publicly committed to a ban, but are dawdling in carrying it out: Benetton, Diesel, Dolce & Gabbana,New Yorker, Orsay, Replay and Versace. Don’t buy their jeans unless they get serious about not risking their worker’s health to produce them. Check Clean Clothes for updates on this issue and others effecting the workers that produce our clothes.
Personal Care Products
Many lipsticks and other colorants in personal care products currently contain substantial amounts of lead. Just this year (2011) the personal care industry spent $170,000 lobbying Congress to defeat a Senate Bill that would hold these products to the same standards that prohibit lead in paint and gasoline.
As of now, the lead in lipstick (and children’s Halloween make up, it seems) does not even have to be labeled. See Skin Deep for an assessment of the ingredients in particular personal care products. The website of the Environmental Working Group’s has a new outline for safety in personal care products (published February 2013).
- Avoid soaps, surfactants, and lubricants listed at the beginning of the product label that start with “PEG” or have an “-eth” in the middle (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).
- Avoid ingredients in the middle of the label like “FRAGRANCE (artificial) ,” “FD&C,” or “D&C” colorings.
- Avoid these preservatives listed at the end of the label:
- Chemicals ending in “paraben”
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Triclosan( Toxic Triclosan, common in foaming and disinfect soaps, has been additionally linked to weakening of human muscle cells by researchers at the University of California, Davis)
- Triethanolamine (or “TEA”)
Here are the EWG’s six top chemicals to avoid in children’s products:
- 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3 Diol
- Boric acid and sodium borate
- DMDM Hydantoin
Unfortunately, tests by the Silent Spring Institute found a number of toxics in products touted as “green”. But there is good news: Here are the Silent Spring study tested products that do NOT contain toxic chemicals of concern:
- Healthy Pet Foods Here’s the Scoop! Natural Unscented Clay Clumping Litter
- Seventh Generation Chlorine-Free Diapers
- Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser, No Chlorine, Perfume or Dye
- Seventh Generation Free and Clear Dishwashing Detergent
- Seventh Generation Free and Clear Natural Dish Liquid
- Tom’s of Maine Natural Long-Lasting Deodorant Stick, Aluminum-Free, Unscented
- Bean Products Pure Cotton Shower Curtain
- Excell Home Fashions Ultimate Nylon Shower Curtain or Liner
- Carapelli Extra Light Olive Oil
- Magick Botanicals Fragrance Free Hairspray
- Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps Unscented Baby-Mild Pure Castille Soap
Since many chemicals of concern are not labeled, Dr. Dodson suggests the avoidance of products that contain fragrances and antibacterials or anti-microbials, which must be labeled by law. Other tips for avoiding toxic chemicals in household products from the Silent Spring Institute:
Plain water, baking soda, and vinegar for cleaning.
Shade, hats, and tightly woven fabric cover-ups for sun protection.
Fragrances in cleaning and personal care products.
Vinyl products, especially pillow and mattress protectors.
Antimicrobials in soap, toothpaste and other products (watch out for “antibacterial,” “antimicrobial,” “triclosan” and “triclocarban” on the label).
Stain resistant furniture sprays or clothing.
Parabens in lotions, deodorants, shampoos and other cosmetics (look for “paraben-free”; watch out for “methylparaben,” “ethylparaben” and “butylparaben on the label).
Cyclosiloxanes in sunscreen and hair products (watch out for “cyclomethicone” on the label).
The Silent Spring Institute has a dowloadable wallet card with this information on it.
The Institute also suggests avoiding products with lavender and tea tree oil, though I haven’t been able to verify why. I know that these are herbal anti-microbials that perhaps become chemicals of concern in concentrated or distilled formulations. For instance, thyme is a cooking herb, whose oil is used in herbal cough syrup, but such cough syrup must be kept out of children’s reach, since drinking several teaspoons of thyme oil can cause brain damage.
All brands, including alternative ones, tested in the Silent Spring study, had concerning levels of estrogenic chemicals. Some have nanoparticles in them engineered to carry UV filers deeper into skin layers. Neither of these are characteristically labeled and thus Dr. Robin Dodson, lead researcher of the Silent Spring study, advices that sunscreen be used judiciously–and replaced by use of shade, hats, and covering clothing where possible. She notes that it is a contemporary engineering opportunity to design a sunscreen that prevents skin cancer without toxic chemicals.
Ahava beauty products: These are not made in Israel as touted, but in a settlement the UN has declared illegal in Palestinian territory, and they exploit Palestinian resources from the Dead Sea in their manufacture. There will be no peace in the Middle East or security for either Israel or Palestine until Israel follows UN guidelines in this respect– a point made by the international boycott on this brand.
D0n’t buy IKEA products until they stop logging Russia’s 600 year old trees for their wood products, and tell their CEO why you are boycotting them.
Avoid Paseo or LIVI brands and their offshoots– since they are pulping ancient biodiverse Asian rainforests to produce toilet paper.
A consumer campaign recently caused Home Depot to change its suppliers and carry FSC certified lumber.
Consumer response does make a difference! Thanks to Home Depot for changing its policy and offering sustainable alternatives to its customers.
Reduce your exposure to formaldehyde, linked to asthma and to cancer, by avoiding pressed-wood products or buying only those that are labeled as U.L.E.F. (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde), N.A.F. (no-added formaldehyde) or C.A.R.B. (California Air Resources Board) Phase 1 or Phase 2 compliant.
Chlorine bleach has been banned in certain European countries. It has a proto-estrogen effect (see note on herbicides and plant hormones below). Moreover, incineration of products treated with chlorine produces dioxin, a highly toxic and persistent chemical in extremely minute amounts.
If possible, avoid not only using chlorine bleach, but buying bleached paper products and swimming in pools disinfected with chlorine products. There are safer alternatives to all of these.
Germicidal soaps sold over the counter: these soaps not only do not live up to their claims in reducing illness, they are a central element in creating antibiotic resistance.
Do-it-yourself bathtub strippers can be fatal.
The US Center for Disease Control early this year (2012) announced deaths of at least 13 persons using methyl chloride compounds available in your hardware store that come with only a small print warning NOT to use in the bathroom because of the need for ventilation in using this extremely toxic paint-stripping product. Notably, the deaths were of professional bathroom refinishers. Data on home owners trying this for themselves are not available.
Methyl chloride has been further implicated in two deaths of those using paint strippers containing this product.
Once thought to enhance consumer safety, chlorinated TRIS fire retardants are now known to be persistent toxins that accumulate in the human body and the environment. Consumers can anticipate the EPA’s action plan to remove these chemicals from clothing (especially children’s pajamas), furniture, and bedding by avoiding products, including electronics, with Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Here is the downloadable EWG guide to help consumers in this respect.
Some children’s car seats, blankets and other products contain the same toxic flame retardant prohibited for use on adult mattresses. For more details see here. Until the law is changed to prohibit these flame retardants in all products, avoid any product that is labeled: “treated with TB117″. Meanwhile, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to rid your child’s room of dust with this toxin in it.
More on children’s mattresses:
In December 2012, a study of children’s mattresses found that three manufacturers: Angeles, Babies R Us, and Foundations, continued to be saturated with banned fire retardants. Representatives of Babies R US stated that they believe mattress covers can keep the chemicals (in the chlorinated TRIS family) from contact with children’s bodies and will continue to use this retardant in their mattresses, even though less toxic fire retardants are available. All three of the above brands are made in China. US made mattresses had none or only trace amounts of the toxic fire retardants: those tested and found to be clean include Colgate Classica, Baby Cache Sweet Dreams, Serta Mater Sleeper, Sealy Signature, Simmons Kids Slumber Naturally, Little Dreamer by Moonlight, Cub Club Crib Mattress, Dream on Me, L.A. Baby Compact Crib Mattress, Naturepedic Organic Cotton, Kokcraft Good Night Crib and Toddler Mattress.
This is an especially important issue, since some babies may spend 12 hours a day in contact with toxic mattresses in a crib.
Electronics pose special problems in their usage, as well as their contribution to the waste stream. Of special concern is Apple’s removal from green certification with its intention to engineer products that cannot be broken down for recycling. Check EPEAT for the green electronics certification.
There is evidence that exposure from cell phone radiation disrupts cell configurations– especially in brain cells, since folks tend to hold phones against their heads. Tips for lessening radiation exposure include speaking on headphones, not sleeping with cell phones under your pillow or near your head, and carrying cell phones with keyboards facing your body so that the “roaming” functions of the phones (its back) is on the side away from your body. If you are not expecting a call, you might even turn your phone off– if someone does call, you can always call back later. Also, different cell phones differ radically in how much radiation they produce. Here is a list of the 20 worst offenders– ones you will not want to get your loved ones for Christmas.
The Environmental Working Group has a working paper on cell phone radiation you can download and an easy to use one page guide on good ways to avoid cell phone radiation here. This is especially important for children using cell phones.
Lead Shot and Fishing Tackle
Check out cheap, readily available alternatives to lead shot and fishing tackle. Lead shot the size of a BB can poison an eagle; lead shot in game meat can poison its human consumers.
There are a number of pesticides the EPA has listed as known, probable or possible cancer causes that it continue to license for household and agricultural use–or allows shelf stocks of these to be sold even after they have been banned. Last year’s report of the President’s Cancer Panel found several hundred chemicals approved for current pesticide use that research has linked to breast, colon, lung, testicular, and other cancers.
Pesticides have other liabilities as well:
According to Pediatrics (May 2010), children’s pesticide exposure (at the level of simply eating commercial produce– or playing on treated school lawns) is clearly linked to ADHD. This no surprise, since many pesticides and organophosphates in particular are designed to have toxic effects on biological nervous systems. These have also been linked to Parkinson’s disease (see below) and other neurological disorders.
Here is a partial list of brand names of organophosphates or combined chemical products that include these (which may be even more dangerous because of synergistic effects):
Cythion, Malathion, Grain Protectant, Fyfanon, Backrubber, Orthene, Acecap, Sniper, Guthion, Captan, Diazinon, DCT, DCT Dual, Caption CT, Chlorpyrifos, 3M Livestock Premise Spray, Dursban, Disvap Mec, Lorsban, Pyrifos, Pyrate, Pyrinex, Basudin, DZN, Diazol, Protector, Proturf, Y-TEX Optimizer, Potato Seed Piece treatment, Agrox B-2, Agrox CD, Eliminator, Dichlorvos, DDVP Plant Fume, Disvap, DDVP, Vapona, Vaportape II, Disvap III, Barn and Livestock Spray,Emul Plus No3, Kelthane, Dicofol, Cygon, Dimethoate, Lagon, Di-Thioate, Endosulfan, Thiodan, Thionex, Vendex, Aliette, Fosetyl-aluminum, Mancozeb, Ridomil Gold MZ, Gavel, Monitor 480L, Methamidophos, Naled, Dibron, Phoslane, Zolone. Phosmet, Imidan, Louse Kill, Clean Crop Mushroom Fly Dust, Counter, Terbufos, Ectogard ear tag, Dylox, Neguvon.
(Compiled from the source list of the BC Ministry of Agriculture).
If you have any of these pesticides in your household and want to dispose of them, take them to your local landfill for special hazardous waste disposal. Never simply put them in the trash.
Pesticides to avoid for their specific harms:
Neo-nictionoids: below are the brand names of pesticides implicated in colony collapse disorder devastating bees throughout the world.
These products have been banned in four European countries:
Clothianidin: Poncho, Titan, Clutch, Belay, Arena.
Imidacloprid: Admire, Advantage, Confidor, Gaucho, Marathon, Merit, Premeir, Provado, Bayer Advanced, Rose Defense, Kohinor, Hachikusan, Premise, Prothor, and Winner.
Thiamethoxam: Actara, Crusier, Platinum, Helix, Centric
Acetamiprid: Assail, Intruder, Adjust
Indoor insecticides and children’s IQs
In parts as low as 4 parts per trillion, exposure in pregnant women to the supposedly safer Pyrethroid formulations lowered the developing mental capacity of their babies for up to 36 months after birth (the length of this study reported in Pediatrics). Organophosphates that these formulations replaced are nerve toxins to which pregnant women should not be exposed. Household sprays Black Flag and Raid contains OPs.
Other pesticides are likely implicated in the collapse of over one third of honeybee colonies in the US in less than a decade. One recent report shows that honeybee cells of collapsed colonies contain sealed pollen cells– evidently in an attempt to protect the colony from toxins, since the sealed cells were especially high in pesticides compared to other colony cells. Unfortunately, this did not work for the bees, since these were the cells of dead colonies.
Other pesticides to avoid:
The most widely used herbicide in the US has now been pulled from the market by the European Union. Scientists have recently found that it works by disrupting sunlight related energy-production in plants. Humans have a similar chemical process that enables communication between the pituitary gland and other organs, which may explain atrazine use is statistically related to higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in farmers, pesticide applicators, golf course workers, and dogs in homes using atrazine as a lawn chemical. Moreover, the spread of atrazine, which is extremely water soluble, cannot be contained or controlled– since it travels through ecological systems following the same routes as do water cycles.
Pesticides implicated in causing Parkinson’s disease in consistent research results over the last 30 years:
Though some of these have been banned, manufacturers are allowed to sell remaining stocks from their shelves: Rotenone (Dursban); Paraquat, Dieldrin, Maneb and Benomyl. See organophosphate list above for additional neurotoxins that are also implicated in neural disorders ranging from ADHD in children to Alzheimer’s in the elderly, both of which are on the rise in numbers indicating environmental causes. Autism is another neurological condition whose numbers are increasing exponentially–and has been linked to pesticide exposure.
A recent study has also linked RoundUp with Parkinson’s.
Carbaryl/Sevin is also a neurotoxin that can no longer be legally used– or so I thought until I saw an ad for it in a recent homestore flyer.
Check your dog’s flea collars to make sure it is not an ingredient.
One test showed that Sevin powder applied to rosebushes resulted in changes in brainwave patterns of children (10 year olds) in neighboring yards for up to a year.
The inventor of Carbaryl/Sevin has asked that it be taken off the market.
Weed and Feed (with its 2 4-D) and related herbicides have recently been banned in Quebec after an evaluation of health effects by a national doctors’ panel.
Many herbicides such as these work by using a plant hormone that stimulates over-growth and subsequent death of broad leaf plants. Unfortunately, that hormone is chemically similar to female mammal hormones which human bodies may mistakenly respond to with cellular overgrowth in reproductive organs (creating miscarriages in pregnant women and reproductive problems and cancer in a number of species, including humans). These chemicals have also been implicated in decreasing male hormones in numerous species– including humans.
Round up (glyphosate: including Monsanto Round Up Ready seeds):
Dr. Don Huber, coordinator of the Emergent Diseases and Pathogens committee of the American Phytopathological Society, recently warned the USDA of a new, self-replicating, micro-fungal organism found in high concentrations in Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distillers meal, fermentation feed products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas– and implicated in spontaneous abortion and “sudden death” in livestock. This follows a report of Argentine scientists that Round Up causes birth defects in frogs and chickens. Round Up has been implicated in fetal abortion and premature birth, as well as birth defects in humans as well, according to the assessment of the scientists on Earth Open Source, reporting on research in several countries. This follows on the heels of a suit a few years back pressed by New York State against Monsanto, manufacturer of Round Up and “Round Up Ready soy”‘ charging that Monsanto’s advertisements calling d Round Up’s safe consisted of fraud. Earth Source cited data that showed Round Up in moderate amounts (less than that used on lawns) not only caused birth defects in animals, but in larger amounts caused the outright death of human placental cells. The use of Round Up ready soy (a gmo product) and Round Up together was implicated in the rise of dozens of new plant diseases in Argentine fields.
More problems with RoundUp (glyphospate herbicides) and 2-4 D herbicides (the “Weed and Feed” herbicide).
A just published peer-reviewed study outlines the physiological pathway between glyphospate and cellular inflammation implicated in a number of human diseases, including cancer and Parkinson’s. The results of this study come in concert with investigation that implicates glyphosate and 2-4 D, both in their chemical constituents and their heavy metal contamination, with kidney failure that has caused the death of 16,000 agricultural workers in both Asia and Central America.
And with 2-4 D
Not only is 2-4 D implicated along with Round Up in the kidney failures above, dogs in homes whose yards are treated with Weed and Feed (2-4 D formula) are ten times as likely to develop particular cancers according to the City of Eugene Stormwater’s newsletter (spring 2013).
We do know that the cancer rate of dogs exposed to Weed and Feed on their owner’s lawns have ten times the rates of particular cancers as those animals in homes that do not use this product.
The World Health Organization has verified fatal poisonings of 20,000 persons annually from these pesticides; since these cases are difficult to verify, the actual statistics may be ten times that much. See The Death of Ramón Gonzáles for a detailed analysis of the social and environmental effects of these pesticides on global agricultural systems.
Pesticides are also linked with Disease Clusters
There are distinctive geographical “disease clusters” linking higher levels of specific diseases to residence near facilities with particular chemical or radioactive outputs. Unfortunately, some of the chemicals responsible for these disease outbreaks include more than one source or a combination of chemicals, making them both more insidious and harder to trace.
These clusters indicate both the necessity of re-assessing an economic system which rewards such toxic releases–and the inequities in toxic chemical release, since many of the toxic hotspots are in low income areas.
If you must: tips for safer pesticide usage:
It is better to avoid this minefield altogether and use natural (and cheaper) alternatives in the NCAP and PAN libraries (see our links page). But if you must use them, follow the rules below:
1. Use bait rather than spray to control drift.
2. Chose non-systematic and non-persistent chemicals
3. Follow label directions carefully and notify your neighbors when you apply chemicals. (You may be liable for chemical “trespass” that harms the health or gardens or bees of your neighbors; Oregon’s department of agriculture will pull licenses of pesticide applicators who violate labels so as to endanger the gardens of neighbors. You may file a complaint directly with them if you see an application in label violation– sprayed when there is a wind that carries the chemicals onto other properties, for instance).
4. Keep your children and pets away from treated areas–and do not walk in treated areas and wear your clothes and shoes in the house. Such contamination can cause pesticide exposure to be greater indoors than out.
5. Check the chemicals and labels of pesticides applied by yard services.
6. To keep honeybees and other pollinators of over one third of our crops safe, never spray or treat plants in bloom– especially blackberries, thistle and dandelion. The latter two are not only a favorite of bees but of goldfinches, who numbers are collapsing.
Avoid Wal-Mart. There have been over 200 suits against Wal-Mart in the US courts charging illegal labor practices, including charges that Wal-Mart has pressured employees to work overtime for free or be fired.
Such practices forcing down employee salaries put Wal-Mart at the top of both the 2008 and 2009 Oregon Department of Human Services list of employers whose workers received food stamps and/or state subsidized medical coverage for the poor.
Wal-Mart is also a known polluter: in Eugene, it has received several notices for violating allowable discharges.
No better on the international arena: Recently, Wal-Mart subverted local planning codes through bribes in order to build a store near a sacred pyramid site in Mexico. When questioned as to why they chose this location, a Wal-Mart spokesmen stated it was a conscious strategy to show the Mexican public Wal-Mart could build anywhere in Mexico they wanted to.
Wal-Mart is also one of the main buyers supporting the company in Bangladesh where a fire burned at least 112 employees to death behind locked doors in November 2012. Though Wal-Mart subsequently announced it would strengthen safety regulations among its suppliers, a corporation document indicated Wal-Mart actively worked to undermine institution of such safety regulations.
Do Buy at Bi-Mart and Macy’s: Bi-Mart is worker-owned. Macy’s is a fully unionized national department store chain.
And of course, patronize local small businesses, farmer’s and crafts markets where you know the maker/producer.
Labels can be very helpful in making healthy and responsible choices. However, you will also want to avoid “greenwashing”– labels that mean absolutely nothing, such as “natural”, “cage free” or “antibiotic free”. For an outline of what labels really mean, check out this explanation in the March 2011 Audubon.
In the early 1990s produce growers agreed to add an “8″ before a four digit produce code to indicate that produce had been genetically engineered. However, industry did not follow through on this promise and today the only way to guarantee (for the most part) that you are not consuming genetically engineered food is to buy organic.
Organic foods have a five digit number beginning with “9″; commercial produce has a four digit number beginning with “4″.
Here are additional certification labels the consumer can trust:
Ecologo ecologo.org: Third party certification of environmentally-preferred products)
Energy Star energystar.gov: US EPA certification with emphasis on efficient energy use and sustainable production
Forest Stewardship Countil us.fsc.org: certification of environmentally, economically and socially appropriate logging practices.
Green Seal greenseal.org: sustainability certification for businesses
Green Good Housekeeping Seal greengoodhousekeepingseal.com Assessment of “green claims” for the benefit of the consumer
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design usgbc.org/leed international green building program
The “food identity theft” website features information on such deceptive food labeling, including a “read your label” campaign with information to help foster both consumer responsibility and health.