Thursday, May 30, 2013

Youth taking action: We’ve done our part, now do yours EPA!

by Lynne Walter, Associate Director

On May 21, 2013, my co-worker Anna and I had the opportunity to speak with all of the 9th graders at Carolina Friends School in Durham, NC, about migrant farmworkers, their exposures to pesticides, and youth migrant farmworkers working in the fields … and as someone who went to a Quaker college, it was really fantastic interacting with these young Friends school students!

After we all watched and talked about the documentary "Overworked and UnderSpray: Young Farm Workers' Pesticide Stories", the students wrote some really incredible letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ask the EPA to release the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the federal rules that are designed to protect workers from pesticides on the job (FYI—the WPS dictates what employers need to tell workers about the pesticides they’re using, when safety equipment should be provided, and how to handle exposures when they happen).

The release of the new WPS has been substantially delayed, and the Carolina Friends School students wrote letters asking the EPA to end the WPS release delay, why this was important to them, and why they felt farmworkers should be safe from pesticide exposures.

One of my favorite parts of one of the letters was: “I’ve done my part, Mr. Jones [writing the letter]. Now the EPA must do theirs."

These forty-two 9th graders and their three teachers were getting ready for a service learning trip to the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Newton Grove, NC, the following week. We talked about what Toxic Free NC does and the risks farmworkers face from pesticides, particularly the risks and challenges young migrant farmworkers in North Carolina experience.

The Carolina Friends School students had very thoughtful questions and comments about the challenges farmworkers, especially young farmworkers, face regarding pesticide exposure in the fields, and wrote amazing letters to the EPA. I really enjoyed seeing another generation get even more involved in farmworker advocacy!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Big News: Bi-Partisan Legislation for Toxic Chemicals Reform in Congress

Yesterday Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA) filed the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, historic bi-partisan legislation aimed at overhauling the notorious Toxic Substances Control Act, also known as TSCA.

Toxic Free NC is part of a coalition of public health, environment and business leaders who have been calling for TSCA reform for years. With more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce virtually untested for health and safety, TSCA has failed us. Our soaring rates of environmentally-related diseases are a testament to the inadequacy of current chemical laws.

While we are still just absorbing this news, we are excited and hopeful about this huge step forward. Bi-partisan compromise can mean painful compromise, and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act omits some of the important protections that Toxic Free NC and our allies believe are critical for public health. However, the bill would represent a sea change in our approach to evaluating and regulating toxic chemicals - one that this country deeply needs. It would also preserve the key role of the states in holding the federal government accountable for a toxic chemicals program that actually works.

Read more reactions from leaders in public health and environmental protection here.

There is no doubt that continued, passionate grassroots pressure on the part of parents and grandparents, health care providers, business owners and workers, deserve the credit for this huge leap forward. It is our responsibility to ensure that Congress passes legislation with the strongest possible protections for public health.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A longer timeline for the NC Toxic Free Kids Act

Young Magician. Photo by PhotoAtelier via Flickr.
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

The NC Toxic Free Kids Act was magically transformed into a study bill this week by the House Commerce committee. POOF! The bill sponsors were facing down a very tight deadline - all new bills had to clear either the House or Senate this week, or become ineligible for the remainder of the 2013-14 legislative session. Rather than throw in the towel, the bill sponsors decided instead to change the bill into a study that will bring the issue back in front of the legislature in 2014.

The down side: the General Assembly did not hold a big hearing that required state legislators to pronounce the word "phthalates." 

The up side: The issue stays alive and we have an even better shot of getting it passed next year!

Representatives Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) deserve our thanks for leading the effort. Representative McGrady told the Commerce committee that he intends to use the interim study to build even broader support for the Toxic Free Kids Act, and gather some lessons from other states about implementation. He is passionate about ensuring that the legislature will act in 2014 to protect kids from toxic chemicals.

So what now? 

The study bill will create a new Joint Legislative Study Committee on Children's Health and Toxic Chemicals, which will meet in the interim between the end of the 2013 session this June, and the start of the 2014 session next spring. The study committee will create important opportunities to bring in researchers, parents, business owners and other experts to talk about what legislators can do to protect children's health from toxic chemical exposures.

Please join us in thanking the legislators who sponsored and co-sponsored the NC Toxic Free Kids Act. We can't stop now!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Our secret weapon: MomPower

By Fawn Pattison, Mom of Two

Your mama's so awesome that she can keep a toddler happy and talk to her Senator at the same time! That's why we got together with our friends at MomsRising to make this hilarious MomDance video just for the amazing moms in our lives.

Seriously, we have learned over the years that it's women who are leading the charge to protect our health and environment. And the ladies right up front holding the banner (and the hands of small children) are moms. Whether we're collaborating with a food pantry on an organic gardening workshop, or up in Washington DC meeting with our US Senators about toxics reform, we have found that moms are the toxic-free mover-shakers who are building a safer and healthier future for all of us.

Right here at Toxic Free NC, moms proliferate on our staff, our Board of Directors and Community Leadership Council. We have so many ladies in charge around here that back in 2008 when we changed our organization's name to Toxic Free NC, one of the joke names we kicked around was WAP! - Women Against Pesticides! It's a great name and a non-toxic pest control method at the same time: WAP!  (Mamas Against Pesticides was really cool too, but you have to roll up a MAP to squish unwanted pests).

That's why on Mother's Day this year, we teamed up with our favorite mom activists, MomsRising, to thank all the moms of Toxic Free NC for all they do to make the world a better place. Check it out! And send it on to your favorite moms to thank them for being so inspiring!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Welcome, Anna!

by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

Toxic Free NC is delighted to welcome Anna Jensen as our new Community Organizer!

Anna grew up in North Carolina and loves every part of it, from the Appalachians to the Outer Banks. She was a Student Action with Farmworkers intern with Toxic Free NC in the summer of 2007 and has been hooked on environmental and farmworker justice ever since.

Anna can communicate in 2 languages, holding a B.A. in Spanish and English from UNC-Chapel Hill. She has worked with farmworkers in the tobacco fields of eastern NC, where she acted as a health outreach worker with the NC Farmworkers Project, and the Central Valley of California, where she conducted research for her master's thesis at UC Davis.  When not talking to farmworkers or pondering how to bridge the gap between public policy and everyday life, she can be found in the kitchen concocting something involving lots of butter and sugar.

Anna will be leading Toxic Free NC's campaigns with migrant and seasonal farm workers, as well as conducting outreach and education around the state for all our programs. She is available to give presentations and workshops in English and Spanish. Anna is also our main media contact. You can reach her by email: or by phone at (919) 833-8655.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why we need the NC Toxic Free Kids Act

Photo by Wallula Junction via Flickr.
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

I often hear parents lamenting how hard it is to make healthy choices for our kids when we live in a "toxic soup." There is not enough information about the products we buy to know which products are safest, and which contain potentially hazardous chemicals - like the toxic flame retardants in kids' carseats. Raising healthy children today, and preventing a lifetime of chronic health problems in the future, depends on a healthy environment for our babies and children.

The NC Toxic Free Kids Act, H 848, filed by Reps Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) would tackle that problem head-on by requiring manufacturers of children's products to take three notorious hazards out of their products. They would also have to notify the state when their products contain other toxic chemicals listed on a new Priority Chemicals List.

Here's why we need the NC Toxic Free Kids Act:
  1. Children are not little adults. Their bodies are developing at an amazing rate. Pound for pound, they drink more water, breathe more air, and ingest more food than adults do. That means they’re also exposed to much higher concentrations of the chemical pollution all around us.1
  2. Cancer is on a slow and steady increase in American children, rising 22% between 1975 and 2004.2
  3. Autism now affects 1 in 88 American children, and 1 in 54 boys.3 Exposure to toxic chemicals is an important factor in these devastating diseases.
Hazardous Chemicals in Children's Products

Harmful chemicals continue to be found in children’s products, even though safer alternatives are available. Toxic chemicals known to be used in the products that children use every day include:
There is no comprehensive system in place to assure that highly hazardous chemicals are not being used in children’s products. That means many toxic chemicals are ending up in a place they shouldn’t: our children’s bodies.

The Toxic Free Kids Act will use market-driven solutions to put an end to the toxic treadmill in the products that children use every day.

Priority Chemicals from the Toxic Free Kids Act
  1. Bisphenol A  (BPA)  is a hormone disrupting chemical found in polycarbonate plastic. BPA is widely used in food packaging, including baby food and formula. Exposure to BPA is associated with increased risk for many health problems,4 including infertility, heart disease, obesity and cancer.
  2. TRIS flame retardants are used in textiles such as nursery furniture, and foam products like nursing pillows and the padding in carseats. Exposure to TRIS flame retardants has been linked to cancer 5 and harm to the developing brain 6.
  3. Phthalates  are used as softeners in PVC plastic, and as fragrance binders in cosmetics like baby shampoo. Exposure is linked to7 reproductive health problems, respiratory problems and cancer.
The ultimate solution to our toxic soup is a comprehensive federal system that evaluates chemicals for health and safety problems before they go onto the market - and into the hands (and mouths) of our children. In the absence of a strong federal toxics law, states have a responsibility to act to protect our future. The Toxic Free Kids Act is a great first step.

References Cited:

1 Ruth Etzel and Sophie J Balk, eds. 2012. Pediatric Environmental Health. 3rd Edition. American Academy of Pediatrics.
2 National Cancer Institute, 2008. Fact Sheet on Childhood Cancers.
3 Jon Baio, 2012. “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders —Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, UnitedStates, 2008.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). March 30, 2012 / 61(SS03);1-19
vom Saal et al. 2007. “Chapel Hill bisphenol A expert panel consensusstatement: Integration of mechanisms, effects in animals and potential toimpact human health at current levels of exposure.” Reprod Toxicol. 2007 Aug–Sep; 24(2): 131–138.
5 California Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or ReproductiveToxicityOEHHA. [Accessed Oct 1, 2011].
6 Divshaw LV, Powers CM, Ryde IT, Roberts SC, Seidler FJ, Slotkin TA, Stapleton HM. 2011. “Is the PentaBDE Replacement, tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP), a developmental neurotoxicant? Studies in PC12 cells.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.
7 Hauser and Calafat. 2005. “Phthalates and Human Health.” Occup Environ Med 2005;62:806-818