As I reflect on 2013, with my kids shrieking joyfully in the background, I am reminded that massive change starts out slow. Back when I had my daughters in 2005 and 2007, we were just beginning to learn about BPA, flame retardants, phthalates and other toxins. We knew about lead, but not all the places it lurked. Resources were few. Worried moms asked each other questions, looking for solid intelligent information that didn’t make them feel irrational or hyper-concerned.
A movement was born. Led by parents, nonprofit organizations, scientists and children’s health advocates. It took years and years to build up awareness and momentum — with several victories along the way — coinciding with the rise of social media — and the amplification from the voices of regular people.
This year, toxics took center stage. Issues were brought forward by the media, and industry responded. Congress wrangled with attempts at meaningful toxics reform legislation.
Here are my picks for the top 8 environmental and toxic health stories of 2013:
1. Walmart announces it will phase out the sale of known harmful chemicals in cosmetics, children’s products and household cleaners. This is a major victory for the millions of shoppers who buy products at this mega shopping chain. We are eager to see which 10 chemicals are on this list (these haven’t been made public yet). This list is certain to make more waves, and will hopefully, propel other retailers to act.
Importantly, Walmart’s own brand cleaners will no longer contain toxic chemicals outlined by the EPA’s Design for the Environment program. This is a serious commitment to making their cleaning products healthier for consumers.
The media covered this story and indicated that consumer and environmental health groups pressured Walmart to take this first step to protect consumers from toxic chemicals. This effort was led by our friends at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The Mind the Store Campaign led the challenge. News resources such as USA Today, The Huffington Post are reporting that Walmart is making these changes because of pressure from consumer and environmental health advocates (read: all of us!).
2. Procter and Gamble to remove toxic chemicals (triclosan and phthalates) from all products. This is a huge win for public health! Procter and Gamble brands include Cover Girl, Tide, Crest and Ivory. The chemicals will be removed from all cosmetics, household cleaners and fragranced products. This was led by our partners,Women’s Voices for the Earth. And the chemicals will be removed as of right now!
Phthalates are commonly found in personal care products, perfumes, children’s lunch boxes and backpacks, as well as building materials and they have been linked to birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in newborns, fertility issues and obesity.Triclosan is a chemical commonly added to products like toothpaste, antibacterial soaps, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, cutting boards and school supplies. It is known to cause hormone disruption.
3. On the heels of the Walmart decision, Target announced its own new sustainability standards which will include a rating system for all products; analyzing sustainability, ingredient disclosure, and known harmful chemicals. According to Greenbiz.com,
“Target’s Sustainable Product Standard establishes a product scoring system for household cleaning, personal care, beauty and baby care products (with cosmetics to be added in 2014). These product categories will be scored on five attributes: ingredients (50 points), transparency (20 points), animal testing (5 points), packaging (20 points) and water quality (5 points). The scoring system does not set requirements for suppliers. Instead, Target, in its words, will “learn with our vendors how to improve our entire selection of products.”
4. Congress considers toxic chemical reform of the ancient TSCA law. Our current law grandfathers over 80,000 chemicals in commerce that have never been tested for safety. Even asbestos has not been banned! Congress held a series of hearings on this subject, and parents, scientists, and health advocates spoke passionately about the harmful effects toxic chemicals are having on families. This is an issue that is NOT going away — even as the bill is stuck in Congress. This is the farthest we’ve come — and we will continue the pressure until chemicals and products are proven safe before they are sold, and vulnerable populations are protected.
5. President Obama announced a new plan to combat climate change. President Obama was the first American president to frame climate change in terms of public health — especially children’s health. He said:
“Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants. But here’s the thing: Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air. None. Zero. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”
In fact, public health is a primary goal of President Obama’s climate change plan. Climate change causes increased rates of asthma, higher rates of flooding — damaging water quality, and excessive heat waves –driving up food prices. Cutting carbon pollution will help keep our air and water clean and protect our kids.
6. EPA takes a leadership role on health and listens to families. The EPA has been moving forward with several rules to protect health despite pressure from many industries, including the polluting coal industry. Moms Clean Air Force has a Twitter chat with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy tomorrow, January 8th, from 2-3pm. EPA is showing us that it is listening to moms and is taking action to protect health in the face of coal industry lobbyists.
7. New Nutrition Standards for school snacks. As part of a movement started in 2012, led by first lady Michelle Obama, school lunches and food are getting healthier. With 1 in 3 people in the United States considered obese, these standards couldn’t come soon enough. Soda, candy, and chips are no longer an every day item in schools. Schools have new rules for lunches, too — to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole foods. While not perfect, these rules are a step in the right direction to help children make healthier choices.
8. Safe Cosmetics And Personal Care Products Act introduced in Congress. This bill is designed to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to ensure that personal care products are free of harmful ingredients and that all ingredients are fully disclosed. Currently, the FDA has no power to recall products with harmful chemicals or demand safety assessments. This act will phase out the use of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm, require full ingredient disclosure, create a healthy standard for vulnerable populations (pregnant women and children), and protections for cosmetics workers. To learn more and take action in supporting this bill, visit our friends, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
2014 is our year! It is time for full reform of our toxic chemical laws. We also need quick decisions based on independent studies about known harmful chemicals in products. If last year is any indication, change is coming. Industry is responding. Now it is up to our government.
What issues are most important to you in 2014?
by Katy Farber