Healthy Environment, Strong Communities, Accountable Government

Non-Toxic Living

Harmful toxins are present in many everyday products. To protect ourselves and our families, we should all be aware of these toxins, and the safer alternatives that exist. The Neighborhood Network is committed to informing Long Islanders about these alternatives, and to promoting healthier choices for Long Island families.

Both Nassau and Suffolk Counties have recently adopted policies to choose safer, non-toxic products for cleaning and maintenance operations.

Suffolk Non-Toxic Purchasing Law Passes 18-0

Nassau County to use non-toxic cleaners in County buildings.


Plastics

Did you know that it’s not a good idea to microwave food or your morning coffee in a soft plastic container or styrofoam? Or that it may be harmful to allow your infant to chew on soft plastic toys? The reason why is that certain plastics contain carcinogens, and/or endocrine disruptors. Chemicals that can interfere with your hormonal system which controls many functions in the body, including reproduction.

To be safe, it is better to avoid plastics and always store and heat food in glass, ceramic, stoneware or metal containers. They do not leach any questionable chemicals when in contact with food. Use ceramic mugs to heat beverages in the microwave. Containers made from stainless steel are an environmentally friendly choice because steel is 100% recyclable, and also because stainless steel is easy to clean without any harsh chemicals.

Avoid heating food in plastic containers. A "microwave-safe" or "microwavable" label on plastic containers only means that they should not melt, crack or fall apart when used in the microwave, the label is no guarantee that containers don't leach chemicals into foods when heated.

Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC, recyling number 3) -- Most cling-wrapped foods sold in delis are wrapped in PVC. To soften PVC plastic into its flexible form, manufacturers add "plasticizers" during production. Traces of these chemicals, known as adipates and phthalates, can leak out of PVC when it comes in contact with foods. According to a National Institutes of Health report, di-2-ehtylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), commonly found in PVC plastics, is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. While DEHP is not expected to cause harmful health effects in humans at the levels found in the environment, reproductive problems, birth defects and damaged sperm did occur in animals with prolonged exposure.

Polystyrene (PS, recycling number 6) -- usually found in styrofoam containers, cups and plastic cutlery. PS may leach styrene, which is considered a possible human carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, and may also disrupt hormones.

Polycarbonate (included in recycling number 7 with other plastics) -- Polycarbonate bottles are made with bisphenol-A, which many studies have evaluated as a hormone disruptor which can leach into food in cans or from polycarbonate bottles as they age. A 1998 study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that bisphenol-A simulates the action of estrogen when tested in human breast cancer cells. Polycarbonate is usually found in baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles (such as office water dispensers), microwave ovenware, and lining in food cans. About 95% of all baby bottles currently on the market are made of polycarbonate. It’s a good idea to call the manufacturer and ask if bisphenol-A is in your plastic product.

Plastics Fact Sheet pdf

Cosmetics

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, FDA cannot require companies to do safety testing before marketing, but if the safety of a cosmetic product has not been determined, the product's label must read "WARNING: The safety of this product has not been determined." The FDA can inspect the manufacturing process of a product, but the only way it can take action against certain products is through legal action. Reporting of complaints to FDA is voluntary, and can come directly from consumers or through the manufacturer, again on a voluntary basis. Meanwhile, a 1997 General Accounting Office (GAO) study identified 125 cosmetic ingredients suspected of causing cancer and others of causing birth defects.

Cosmetic claims are allowed without scientific substantiation, if a cosmetic makes a medical claim, such as removing dandruff, the product is regulated as an over-the-counter drug for which scientific studies demonstrating safety and effectiveness must be submitted to FDA.

It is up to consumers to be smart about the cosmetics they use.

Parabens -- used as preservatives, these are irritants and are associated with weak endocrine disruption (they mimic estrogen).

Phthalates -- In March 2003, Newsday reported on the presence of these chemicals in cosmetics and other products used around the home, saying that “Some researchers say there is evidence that the chemicals can cause birth defects and damage the male reproductive system.” These chemicals are the subject of national controversy because they are found so widely in the population, and the federal government is paying a lot of attention to them. They are found especially in plastics, but also in cosmetics, and the effects are found even at low doses. They are used in hair spray, perfume, and nail polish; they are likely to accumulate in body fat. 6 Environmental Working Group, working with nottoopretty.org, found them in 52 of 72 name brand cosmetics.

Cosmetics fact sheet (pdf)

Household Cleaners

Maintaining a clean home or school is an important way to minimize possible health problems caused by germs and molds. However, you may not realize that some of the common household cleaners sold at supermarkets and institutional cleaners may also contribute to certain health problems. Many common household products contain alcohols, ammonia, bleach, and lye. These substances can cause nausea, inflammation and burning of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system, and are linked with neurological, liver and kidney damage, asthma, and even cancer. According to the Healthy Schools Network, more children have asthma and allergies than ever before, so reducing respiratory irritants is important. Some cleaners may also have environmental impacts when washed down the drain.

Bleach -- Chlorine bleach, though a very effective disinfectant, is caustic and can irritate skin and lungs. When mixed with other compounds in wastewater, chlorine can combine to form chlorinated organic compounds, which can be toxic and even carcinogenic.

Petroleum distillates -- Many cleaners contain petroleum distillates which may irritate eyes, skin, and lungs. These may cause dermatitis, and even damage to the central nervous system. Petroleum distillates may contain benzene, a carcinogen.

VOCs (Volatile organic compounds) -- Some cleaning products give off VOCs, which when airborne, react with other compounds in the air and form ground level ozone and smog which aggravates respiratory ailments. According to the Washington Toxics Coalition, some VOCs that frequently pollute indoor air, such as toluene, styrene, xylenes, and trichloroethylene can be emitted from cleaners, but also products such as pesticides, paints, paint thinners, aerosol products, petroleum distillates, dry-cleaned clothing, laser printers, photocopiers, adhesives, air fresheners, and perfumes. High levels of toluene, can put pregnant woman at risk of having babies with neurological problems, retarded growth, and developmental problems. Even at low concentrations, however, toluene exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and fatigue in children and adults.

Household Cleaners fact sheet (pdf)


Suffolk Non-Toxic Purchasing Law Passes 18-0

Suffolk County Legislature approved a law championed by environmentalists and breast cancer action advocates, to eliminate carcinogens and other harmful substances from products purchased by the County.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced on Tuesday (March 6, 2007) that he would sign the legislation that was sponsored by Legislators Edward Romaine and Steve Stern. The bill was passed by the Legislature by an 18 to 0 vote, later that same day.

The law, which was included in the recommendations made by the County Executive at his State of the County address, will require an extensive review of purchasing practices by the many different County agencies. The new rules will require that toxic substances be avoided when the county purchases products for fleet services, landscaping, painting and other maintenance. These new procedures will be added to existing rules that already restrict the use of chemical pesticides on County properties and prohibit the purchase of cleaning materials that contain toxic substances. Additionally, the law will require paper purchasing by the County meet or exceed the EPA recommendations. Implementing this initiative will be under the responsibility of the newly created Suffolk Department of Environment Energy.

Supporting this initiative and working hard with the County Legislators and County Executive Levy’s staff to hammer out the details of the provisions of the new law were many environmental and breast cancer action advocates.

 

“Suffolk County has taken a leading role in adopting this pollution prevention policy,” said Karen Joy Miller of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition and Neighborhood Network board member. “I applaud the commitment of our Suffolk county Executive Steve Levy, Legislators Edward Romaine and Steven Stern for working together for the common good and taking the lead in going green.”

“We have already pursued an aggressive non-toxic policy in the purchase of pest control, cleaning and maintenance products, and the additional measures in this legislation will keep us heading in the right direction by ensuring we are not unnecessarily introducing harmful products into the environment,” said Levy.

“We have a responsibility to our employees and constituents to ensure that the county I son exposing them to dangerous chemicals,” said Legislator Romaine. “It is critical to work to reduce exposure to products that may cause cancer, which unfortunately, is at epidemic levels in Suffolk County,” Legislator Stern said.

“With the passage of the green procurement bill, Suffolk County is demonstrating responsible leadership, as this noble effort will undoubtedly protect public health and our environment currently at risk,” said Laura Weinberg, Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition.

“Suffolk County is leading by example, by implementing these rules for the products it purchases,” said Neal Lewis, executive director of the Neighborhood Network. “The actions of the two counties, with hundreds of buildings maintained and thousands of cases of cleaning products, paint, paper and other products purchased annually, will serve to develop a market for non-toxic products. The combined effect of the two counties’ impact on the market for these products will result in making more non-toxic product choices available on Long Island for homeowners and small businesses.”

Nassau to use non-toxic cleaners

Under a recently announced executive order from County Executive Thomas Suozzi, Nassau County will begin using non-toxic cleaning products in County Facilities. The program began in the Executive Building at One West Street, Mineola, and will be expanded to all County operations in 2007.

In the Executive Building, Nassau County has been using "Greening the Cleaning" products developed by the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology, part of the not-for-profit Hackensack University Medical Center. All profits from the sale of "Greening the Cleaning" products go toward pediatric cancer research, and to studying the environmental causes of cancer.

At the press conference announcing Nassau's new non-toxic cleaners policy, from left to right: Adrienne Esposito (Citizens Campaign for the Environment), County Executive Tom Suozzi, Diedre Imus, Neighborhood Network Issues Program Director Beth Fiteni, and Neighborhood Network Executive Director Neal Lewis.

Neighborhood Network
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Advocates for Long Island's Environment