Friday, June 21, 2013

Sleep Well, Sleep Safe

By Joey Shea, Public Health Writing Intern for Toxic Free NC

Did you know that some children’s nap mats contain harmful chemicals?  New studies show that chemicals meant to keep foam mats from catching fire may be harmful to children’s health.  These chemicals have been linked to obesity, hormone disruption, infertility, and even cancer (1).

Photo by Michael LoRusso via Flickr
Flame retardant chemicals get into the air and can be inhaled by young children sleeping on the mats. And, even though these chemicals are used to lower the risk of fires, a recent study found that treating foam mats with these chemicals does not increase fire safety(2).  So, not only are these chemicals harmful for kids, they don’t even do their job!

The studies that found flame retardant chemicals in nap mats have been done on products from major retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, and Babies ‘R Us.  Safer options for mats include cotton or wool mats instead of foam.  Also, be sure to wash your hands and your child’s hands often. Hand-washing is of course the best way to get rid of germs, and will also help lower your child’s contact with harmful chemicals.

This story from The San Francisco Chronicle has a list of mats with the harmful chemicals mentioned, so you can check if the nap mat you own or the ones at your day care center are on that list.

Are you concerned about how often we hear about toxic chemicals in kids’ products? There are several legislative initiatives in North Carolina and the US Congress aimed at getting the worst toxic hazards out of kids’ products. Check out to learn more!

Joey Shea is a volunteer intern at Toxic Free NC, and is very excited to be working with a group so dedicated to the health of the planet and its communities.

Did you find this article helpful? Approximately once a month, Toxic Free NC volunteers or staff write a newsletter-ready article, focusing on children's environmental health, that we send to child care centers across North Carolina.
These articles contain helpful tips on ways child care centers, staff, and the children's parents can reduce kids' exposures to toxic chemicals and pesticides...we also think they're helpful for use in your own home, too!  We hope you find the following article regarding concerns about chemicals in popular nap mats useful, and feel free to share.

If you would like any of the past articles, please email Lynne Walter for copies or to be added to our Child Care News list.  Examples include:
  • Having Fun in the Sun: Avoiding Sunburn, Skin Cancer, and Toxic Chemicals, too
  • Insect Repellent and Kid Safety
  • Get Pesticides Out of Your Kids' Classrooms: It's Easier than You Think!
  • Mosquito Management in Child Care

(1) "Toxic Nap Mats Draw Suit in Oakland." San Francisco Chronicle
(2) "Naptime Nightmares? Toxic Flame Retardants Found in Day Care Nap Mats." Center for Environmental Health

Text Copyright 2013 by Toxic Free NC.  NC Child Care centers have permission to use text for educational purposes with their parents and staff, provided full credit is given to Toxic Free NC

Friday, June 14, 2013

State budget may scrap critical strategy for preventing child deaths

Superkid, help! Photo: Erin Debnam.
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

The NC House of Representatives has passed a budget that eliminates one of the state’s most successful and cost-effective public health strategies.

The Child Fatality Task Force brings together legislators and issue experts to develop policy solutions to save children's lives. From infant car seats to toxic chemicals, it's estimated that new laws proposed by the task force since its inception in 1991 have saved the lives of approximately 9,000 children.

Unfortunately, the state House budget eliminates the Task Force! We have a narrow window of opportunity to save the Child Fatality Task Force before a final budget is approved. Please contact House Speaker Tillis and Senate Pro Tem Berger today (contact info at the end of this post).

Here's a sampling of the Task Force's accomplishments:
•   29% reduction in infant mortality through a variety of strategies, including SIDS education, professional development and funding for direct services;
•   Large reductions in accidental deaths in motor vehicles by implementing the graduated license requirement and mandatory child safety seats;
•   More effective prevention and treatment of child abuse.
Learn more about the Child Fatality Task Force here (pdf, 197KB).

Take Action! Make a quick, courteous call or email to Speaker Tillis and Pro Tem Berger today - it will make a difference!

House Speaker Thom Tillis:   919-733-3451,
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger:  (919) 733-5708

Sample message for your call or email:
The Child Fatality Task Force works, and we can't afford to lose it. Please remove the elimination of the Child Fatality Task Force from the state budget.
Thank you!
Your name and home city, NC

P.S. Are you taking action today? Let us know if you got through and whether you got a response. Thanks!

Make an impact – Volunteer at Toxic Free NC!

by Erika Padilla-Morales, Special Projects Volunteer

You can make an impact. You have talents that can be used to make the community better. There is a place for these talents. That’s why you volunteer.

I found Toxic Free NC in April 2013. My home is in Oakland, California, one of the greenest cities in America. Bike lanes and farmer’s markets flourish among its linguistic and cultural diversity. When I moved to Raleigh with my bicycle to the Brentwood neighborhood, I was reminded that not every community benefits from curbside compost and ingrained environmental values. Brentwood is built along the Capital Boulevard Corridor where there are miles upon miles of chain and fast food restaurants and fresh organic produce is anathema.

Doing a search on the internet led me to Toxic Free NC. In addition to completing coursework this semester, I wanted to investigate and support organizations that focused on economic and environmental justice. The crawling ladybug on the website drew me in. After reviewing their focus, I wanted to contribute in some way. I felt most confident to offer support with activism, outreach, office work, office management, blogging, or researching and writing. Immediately after applying I received an email  and connected with Fawn Pattison, the Executive Director and Lynne Walter, the Associate Director for an interview. The morning of my interview was rainy. The seven mile bike ride to the office took a little longer than I anticipated. Fawn and Lynne welcomed me with a cup of tea before we discussed how I could best contribute my skills in the time I would be in Raleigh. We had a great conversation and I was excited when Fawn indicated there was a specific project I could help on!

Toxic Free NC is about connecting with community. They were working on outreach to organizations in the surrounding counties and share programming to build awareness around making your home toxic-free, green cleaning, safer pest control and, organic gardening. I would take a list that had been researched and validate the data as well as reach out to other area organizations we can partner with. In doing this project, I gained insight into the types of organizations that exist in North Carolina doing community outreach and education work. I also was in the office for a key moment in the campaign for the Toxic Free Kids Act of 2013, legislation that Toxic Free NC was advocating. The excitement in the office was palpable! And I was really grateful to get a hear from Fawn that my work was part of a grant proposal Toxic Free NC submitted to do more outreach work. My work mattered.

Toxic Free NC is a small outfit. It employs 5 people and inspires and mobilizes dozens of interns and volunteers to carry out its work. If you look to the upper left-hand shelf as you walk into the office, you will see a box labeled, “seed bombs.” I am reminded of the power of a seed. Most of the trees and plants we have around us began as almost impossibly small seeds. Over time they broke ground, branched up, and have become organisms that breathe out our oxygen, provide us food and shade. Toxic Free NC plants seeds to community improvement through legislation and grassroots outreach. It has its sights on the bigger picture without losing sight of the day-to-day impact on our communities. Toxic Free NC wants every community in North Carolina to be toxic free.

It’s been an honor to serve as a volunteer here this semester and have a taste of the quiet power that can be wielded by a small team, and feel the infectious excitement when one’s efforts are taken notice by the powers-we-put-in-place to benefit our communities. You can make the same the same impact. You are powerful.

We all find ourselves once in a while with time to offer. Consider how you can share yours and what impact your work can have on the community and the world.

Erika recently completed her spring/summer project and has just moved back to Oakland to finish her degree program. We want to thank her for her incredible work and her wonderful presence in our office!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Baby steps won't get us there

Photo by Dermot O'Halloran via Flickr
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

We welcomed the news of a bi-partisan compromise bill on toxics reform with open arms. Finally! A bill to overhaul our failed national toxics law! With sponsors from both parties! The Chemical Safety Improvement Act is truly a political breakthrough, and worth celebrating.

But reading (and re-reading) the bill's 127 pages was a disappointment. While there are some really important steps forward - such as requiring proof of safety before new chemicals come onto the market, and finally giving the EPA authority to restrict chemicals found to be hazardous - the Chemical Safety Improvement Act won't get the job done.

Simply put, the bill lacks priorities. Any legislation to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act needs to get its priorities straight:
  • Prioritize the children and pregnant women we're supposed to be watching out for. The bill should direct EPA to focus on "vulnerable populations." That's EPA-speak for the people whose  toxic exposures matter most.
  • Prioritize the high-hazard chemicals. The bill needs to spell out deadlines and expectations for EPA so that they know what to focus on, and when. Put the worst chemicals at the top of the priority list. Without priorities and deadlines, it will be very difficult for EPA to create a program that works, or secure the resources to carry it out.
  • Prioritize accountability. States should be able to hold the federal government accountable if they're not getting the job done under a new toxics law. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act puts too many restrictions on states' ability to act, even before EPA takes action on a single chemical. 
  • Prioritize health. When EPA orders a ban or phaseout of a chemical because of its tremendous risks for human health, there should be no cost-benefit analysis for action. If a chemical is too dangerous to be on the market, that should be the end of the story. Requiring a cost-benefit analysis can actually deter innovation, since maintaining the status quo is almost always the easier way. Health and safety should be the only factors EPA considers when a chemical rises to the top of the priority list.
Baby steps are beautiful to see, but our priorities require some superhero-sized strides. With over 80,000 chemicals in the marketplace, and soaring rates of chronic health conditions like autism and childhood cancers, we can't afford to toddle slowly forward. We're counting on our Senators to get this bill's priorities in order.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A legacy of health: Goodbye to Senator Lautenberg

Lautenberg speaks to supporters of the Safe Chemicals Act in 2012
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

Public health advocates around the US were deeply saddened yesterday to learn of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. At 89, Lautenberg was the oldest serving member of the Senate and its last WWII veteran. He was also a champion of public health, and in recent years had dedicated himself to winning a much-needed overhaul of the nation's failed toxic chemicals law.

I don't frequently admit to being a New Jersey native. I graduated from UNC and have long since naturalized as a Tar Heel. But Senator Lautenberg always reminded me of the best of my birth state: his rapid Northeastern accent, the unstoppable charisma that (until quite recently) belied his nearly ninety years, and especially his toughness. New Jersey is famous for its rough-and-tumble politics, and Senator Lautenberg was among the virtuosos. The really inspiring thing about his sharp-elbows style is what he used it for: Lautenberg's legacy is public health.

During his 28 years in the US Senate, Lautenberg worked for policies that are credited with saving tens of thousands of lives, from not smoking on airplanes, to a uniform national drinking age. In 2008, Lautenberg introduced the first of several bills to overhaul the notorious Toxic Substances Control Act. Just two weeks ago, his office announced a bi-partisan compromise, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, that has received mixed reviews but has won the support of both Republicans and Democrats - a remarkable feat in today's Congress. 

In February of this year upon announcing his intention not to run again, Lautenberg signalled that chemical reform was to be among the issues that make up his legacy:  
“I am not announcing the end of anything. I am announcing the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey,” he said.
We're on the same mission to protect children from toxic chemicals. We'll honor that legacy by sharpening our elbows and working harder than ever at it. Thanks, Senator Lautenberg.