Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Are bee-killing pesticides hiding in your garden?

"Bee-friendly" plants may carry hidden dangers. Photo: Andrea_44
by Lynne Walter, Associate Director

I love gardens because they give us a chance to grow beautiful flowers, plants, fruits, and vegetables. Besides providing a relaxing oasis for me, the gardens I love also provide a haven for butterflies and bees.

Unfortunately, new research shows that bee-killing pesticides may be lurking in our gardens - without our knowledge!

Toxic Free NC participated in a recent study of garden plants marked as "bee-attractive" that are sold at top retailers.  We purchased several "bee-attractive" plants from Lowe's and Home Depot stores in Raleigh, NC, to be tested. Colleagues in 17 other cities across the U.S. and Canada did the same.

The report, Gardeners Beware 2014 from our colleagues at Friends of the Earth, shows there is a good chance bee-killing pesticides are lurking in our gardens and backyards.  The report reveals that more than half of the garden plants we tested contain neonic pesticides. Neonics are highly toxic to bees - they can kill bees outright, and also make them more vulnerable to diseases and other stressors.

And these "bee-attractive" plants carry no warning labels for us, the consumers.

So, what can we do?
  • Sign the Petition: Ask garden retailers to stop selling neonicotinoid-treated plants and products that contain neonicotinoids.  

  • Raise Your Voice Locally:  Let your local nursery know you will only purchase neonic-free plants and ask the nursery to communicate your request to their corporate headquarters and supplies who grow the plants they sell.  You can find a sample letter here for U.S. companies.  
  • Grow Bee-Safe: Avoid buying neonicotinoid-treated seeds and seedlings.  Purchase organic plant starts or grow your own plants from untreated seeds in organic potting soil for your home vegetable and flowers gardens.
  • Practice Bee-Safe Pest Control: Avoid using bee-toxic pesticides in your garden and use alternative methods of pest control, such as providing a habitat for beneficial insects that prey on garden pests.  You can find more information at Toxic Free NC's Organic Gardening resource pages.
  • Don't Buy Products that Contain Neonicotinoids: Read the label and avoid using off-the-shelf neonicotinoid pesticides in your garden.  Look for active ingredients like acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran.  You can see the appendix at the end of Gardeners Beware 2014 for a list of common products that contain neonicotinoids.
  • Do a Clean Sweep: Check if you have neonic pesticide products at home, and dispose of them as municipal hazardous waste or take them back to the store where you bought them.

Thank you for taking action to help protect these critical pollinators, and please spread the word!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beekeepers & Activists Swarm Lowe’s Annual Shareholder Meeting in Charlotte


Brett Abrams : 516-841-1105 :

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA -- On Friday May 30th, outside of Lowe’s Annual Shareholder Meeting, members of, joined by beekeepers from around the country, and a giant inflatable bee, will draw attention to the corporation’s continued sale of neonicotinoids, commonly known as neonics, a type of pesticides that has been linked to the collapse of bee populations worldwide.

WHEN:  Friday, May 30th.  Protest and visuals start at 8:00am ET.  Press conference and remarks at 9:00am ET.  Lowe’s Shareholder Meeting starts at 10:00am ET.

WHERE:  10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy, at the intersection of John J. Delaney Dr. Charlotte, NC 28277

Beekeepers outside join Lowe’s shareholders inside asking the corporation to remove bee-killing neonic pesticides from its shelves, and to promote alternative products that are not toxic to bees. More than 730,000 people have signed onto a petition from, urging Lowe’s and Home Depot to stop selling the bee-killing pesticides.

“From all over the world, tens of thousands of everyday Lowe’s customers and shareholders are urging Lowe’s to think about the impact that these dangerous bee-killing pesticides have on our food supply chain and the company’s brand,”  said Paul Ferris, campaign director at  “It’s time for Lowe’s to remove bee-killing pesticides from its shelves and supply chain.”

"North Carolinians are deeply concerned about the threats facing our state insect, the honeybee," said Levy Schroeder, Executive Director at Toxic Free NC. "Faced with habitat destruction to climate change, bees don't need another challenge. Lowe's should be truly bee-friendly and take toxic pesticides off the shelves."

Neonicotinoids have been the focus of many recent studies, which have found repeatedly that even small amounts of the chemical have been found to have ‘sub-lethal’ and even deadly effects on wildlife. Earlier this year, the European Union issued a two year moratorium on the use of neonics.

For more information, or for interviews with or beekepers involved in Friday’s action, please contact Melissa Byrne at 609-364-4267 or Brett Abrams at 516-841-1105 or by email at

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bees, bees everywhere!

by Lynne Walter, Associate Director

It was an early morning in May, and I found myself traveling through the mountains of western North Carolina.  I drove further and further northwest in Madison County, passing through Mars Hill and beyond.  Finally, I arrived.  And there they were: Bees.  Lots and lots of bees.  Behind the electric fence, their hives stretched across a cool, green mountain field, and their low, resonant droning could be heard over the bubbling of the creek and the twittering birdsong.

Jon Christie and assistant, of Wild Mountain Bees, with their bees.

You may be asking yourself, is this the picturesque beginning to the new fictional novel I am writing?  Nope.  Just another day at Toxic Free NC, helping protect pollinators and supporting community gardens!

Back in October 2013, we held our annual Beehive Giveaway, and the winner was Briggs Avenue Community Garden!  But, the bees they won weren't going to be ready until the spring.  The nucleus colony of bees came from the fantastic people at Wild Mountain Bees, whose shop is in Asheville and whose apiary is in northwest North Carolina.

But wait, you may be saying, Toxic Free NC is in Raleigh and Briggs Avenue Community Garden is in Durham.  How did the bees get from one end of the state to the other?

*Enter brave and intrepid Toxic Free staff member*

I was already going to be in western NC, and after many coordinating phone calls and emails by my coworker Ileana, everything was set for the Great Bee Transport of 2014!

Everyone buckled in?  The bees in their transport box.

This involved driving into far northwestern North Carolina to get the bees; running the AC on full blast the entire drive to Durham so the bees wouldn't overheat, get angry, and die; wearing a hoodie sweatshirt as I drove; wearing the hood of the hoodie sweatshirt up on my head as I drove; getting weird looks from the other drivers for wearing my hood up; saying nice and soothing things to the bees during the trip; and turning off the raging AC every now and then to listen for angry buzzing.  Which, luckily, I never heard once.

You know, just buzzing out by the ventilation opening.
And you may be wondering, why would Toxic Free NC embark on this wild road trip adventure?  The answer is: because we care.

We care about protecting our pollinators.  We care about supporting local community gardens.  We care about helping ensure that everyone has access to healthy, pesticide-free food.  And, most of all, we care about keeping all North Carolinians safe from exposures to toxic chemicals and pesticides!

And sometimes that means you drive 4 hours down the highway with 25,000 buzzing passengers in your backseat.

The Bees at their new home!

See what the buzz about Toxic Free NC is all about!

Toxic Free NC's "Save a Bee Campaign" is made possible with support from The Burt's Bees Greater Good Foundation.  Want to bee a supporter, too?  Find out how you can help us keep the buzz going for protecting pollinators and organic gardening:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Join us for a Twitter chat on Organic Gardening

by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

I hope you can join us for our first-ever Twitter chat - it's all about Organic Gardening!

We are so excited to be teaming up with our friends at MomsRising for an evening chat all about our favorite activity. Best of all, the featured guest will be Tom Philpott, writer, farmer and food & ag correspondent at Mother Jones magazine. Tom is the cofounder of Maverick Farms, a center for sustainable food education in Valle Crucis, North Carolina.

When: Tuesday April 29
Time: 9 PM EST
Where: On Twitter! Use the hashtag #EcoTipTue to follow the conversation

Whether you're just getting started with gardening, or you're a master gardener, please join us! We'll be talking about:

  • tips for getting started with an organic garden
  • how to fight pests naturally
  • how to make sure your soil and beds are safe
  • how to make and use compost in the garden
  • ways to get kids involved in your garden

And of course we'll be taking your questions and ogling each other's garden pictures. I hope you can join us. Leave a comment to let us know you're coming!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dig In: Dirty and Dignified

by Sarah Snow, Toxic Free NC Outreach Coordinator Intern

On March 8, 2014, community leaders and teachers gathered in the garden of Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, NC.  There were there to attend the Dig in Community Garden & Urban Agriculture Summit , where I would be volunteering. This was my first time volunteering with Toxic Free NC, and I was excited to learn about the growth of the pesticide-free food movement in North Carolina!  Dig In would be the perfect place to meet people in our state who already cared about organic gardening.

Many of the people who attended Dig In were teachers who wanted to learn how to start organic community gardens at their schools.  While children played in the museum, I talked with teachers about organic food and why pesticide-free schools were important for their communities.  These teachers shared their concerns about the health of our state's children and their excitement about using what they learned at Dig In back in their own communities.

TFNC volunteers Jean and Margaret making seed bombs!
Our table also caught the attention of curious families who were visiting Marbles Kids Museum.  Kids were happy to get their hands dirty at our seed bomb station where they made balls of clay, soil, and seeds.  After they dried in the sun, the seed bombs could be "detonated" to set loose a sea of wild
flowers.  While kids were busy in the mud, parents collected our fact sheets about how to make their homes and gardens pesticide-free.

In addition to the interest in organic gardening, attendees at Dig In were also eager to sign Toxic Free NC's petition to the EPA!  After learning about the lack of pesticide protections for young farmworkers, people felt strongly about signing the petition.  Because children as young as ten can work in the fields with some crops in North Carolina, young farmworkers are at a very high risk for pesticide exposure.  No on understands better than parents and teachers how important it is to protect growing minds and bodies from dangerous chemicals!  Teachers and parents also want to make sure that the food their children eat is grown safely and responsibly.  These signatures will increase the growing tide of voices calling for protections for young farmworkers!

After a long day of tabling, I felt refreshed!  It felt good to volunteer with energetic people ready to "dig in" to organic gardening.  All the people I met that day strengthened my own belief that change begins with individuals.  When motivated communities come together, organizations like Toxic Free NC and their volunteers help change our state for the better!

Seed bombs that kids at Dig In made, waiting to dry and be thrown or planted!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Let’s make Seed Bombs: A fun-filled flower planting activity for all ages

by Lynne Walter, Associate Director

Spring has officially arrived!  And there is no better time than now to get outside with your friends and family to do some gardening and planting.  A simple and easy activity you can do together is to make and plant seed bombs!  This is also a great take-home activity for kids ages 3 and up--ready-made for classrooms, birthday parties, and festivals.

Photo by NCDOT via flckr
Seed bombs are made of clay, organic compost, and flower seeds.  They were inspired by guerrilla gardeners, who plant beautiful things in less-then-beautiful places.  Seed bombs are designed to be easy to plant and to automatically fertilize the beautiful flowers that grow from them, attracting pollinators like butterflies, honeybees, and even hummingbirds.

How Do We Do This
First, you will need to gather your supplies:
  • Clay (you can use potters clay or clay dug right from your backyard)
  • Organic compost (worm castings are a great choice)
  • Flower seeds (a wildflower mix with native flowers from the Southeast will work well)
  • Medium-sized waterproof container (for mixing)
  • Big wooden or plastic spoon
  • Water (in a watering can or water bottle)
  • Flat tray or cookie sheet
  • Sandwich bags
  • Paper towels
  • Hand wipes
  • Tablecloth that can get dirty or some newspaper
Once you have all your supplies, head out into the beautiful spring weather to make your seed bombs.  Set up the supplies on a table covered by the tablecloth or newspaper:
  • Mix together the clay, organic compost, and flower seeds in the medium-sized waterproof container:
    • 5 parts clay
    • 1 part organic compost
    • 1 part flower seeds
  • Add enough water to the mix so that is gets muddy, but not soupy
  • Make seed bomb mud balls (about 2 inches in diameter)
  • Put the seed bombs on the tray to dry for a few minutes
  • Put the seed bombs in the sandwich bags and place them in a cool, dry place for 24 - 48 hours
  • Once you're ready to use your seed bombs, simply take them out of the bag and throw them where you want to plant them.
  • You can also crush them up by hand and plant them this way, too.
  • Give them a little water and watch them grow!
Volunteer Shannon making seed bombs at a Toxic Free NC event

Have other questions about organic gardening?  Check out Toxic Free NC for more information, helpful hints, and workshops.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Duke & UNC vying for Most Toxic Products!

It’s March, and in North Carolina, that means one thing… MARCH MADNESS!!! This March, Toxic Free NC is teaming up with to look into the hazardous chemicals in our favorite University Themed products. We found some pretty nasty stuff in our favorite fan gear from UNC and Duke - that’s why we’re releasing our March Badness report today.

Check out our results and choose who should advance to the Shameful Sixteen. Don’t delay - Duke is on the bubble! The MTP brackets lay out the toxicity rating of common gear fans buy to support their team from t-shirts, lunch bags and foldable chairs to flags and banners. We were disappointed that a lot of the items available at the nations Top Ten Retailers were full of toxics! For example, the Michigan State University Seat Cushion we bought at Kroger, the University of North Carolina Lunch Bag and University of Central Florida Car Mat (both from Walmart) contained both lead and phthalates. We think the only unhealthy things college basketball fans should be exposed to are beer, pizza and Krzyzewskiville.

Yet, this popular college gear contains phthalates banned by Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and levels of lead that exceed CPSC regulation in children’s products.  The seat cushion you sit on, the jersey you wear and that koozie that keeps your drink cool might contain harmful chemicals that are linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity, and cancer.

Many of the chemicals we found in the study contain chemicals of concern identified as Hazardous 100+ chemicals. and our partners in the Mind the Store Campaign are asking the Top Ten Retailers to stop playing dirty by getting toxic chemicals out of the product on their store shelves. Join us in asking them to clean up their act.

If you’re interested in finding out where Duke, UNC and the top teams from around the nation stand in terms of toxic gear, check out’s ranking here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The no good, horrible, very bad chemicals bill

Photo by Sashafatcat via flickr
by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

Last week was a big week for toxic chemicals reform.

First, the Good: Wal-Mart announced its new Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide. It's great news that the nation's largest retailer is taking concrete steps to make good on its pledge to provide full information to consumers, and reduce high-priority toxic chemicals in many of the products they sell. I sincerely hope that the other top retailers across the nation will soon follow suit (hello Target? Walgreens? are you listening?).

But then, the Bad. The no good, horrible, very bad: The chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), has released a draft bill to "reform" the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). I don't want to mince words or hide my feelings: The “Chemicals in Commerce Act” is very bad. Horrible. No good.

What's so bad about it?

It seems hard to fathom, but the Chemicals in Commerce Act would actually take us backwards from the current federal toxics law, TSCA. TSCA is the notorious toxics law that has allowed more than 80,000 chemicals into commerce, with very little scrutiny. How could it get worse than that?

Here’s how: the Chemicals in Commerce Act would shut down all the progress being made in the states on toxic chemicals. It would end the states’ ability to restrict a chemical in any way if EPA has taken action. It would even impose new secrecy, preventing states from collecting and sharing information about toxic ingredients in products as soon as EPA takes the first steps to evaluate a chemical.

Maybe some of these state programs would seem less necessary if Congress were considering a sweeping, robust federal system of chemical evaluation and regulation that worked swiftly to put public health and the environment first. But they’re not. The Chemicals in Commerce Act actually weakens the approach taken in TSCA, giving undue consideration to the cost of developing new, safer chemicals over the benefits to our health that could be derived from restricting the hazardous old ones.

I'd like to suggest an edit to this sentence from the bill summary: "This is a commerce bill, not just a chemical safety bill." The Chemicals in Commerce Act has nothing to do with chemical safety. It has everything to do with shutting down scrutiny of old-generation chemicals and ending the debate over the Toxic Substances Control Act.

And where does this leave North Carolina? If legislation like the Chemicals in Commerce Act were enacted, our state would no longer have the authority to even consider legislation like the NC Toxic Free Kids Act, or other recent bills to protect our kids’ health from notorious toxic products. Our state legislators ought to take notice.

US House members, especially those serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee, need to hear from their constituents that we value our health above the profits of a handful of corporate chemical giants. From North Carolina, Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Renee Ellmers (R-NC) serve on the committee and will be hearing lots about this proposed legislation in the weeks to come. Make sure they hear from you!

Walmart recognizes the need to get the most hazardous chemicals out of consumer products. Why doesn't Congress?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

This is an improvement: Teens applying pesticides

Photo credit: Valley_Photographs via Flickr
by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

This ought to give you a sense of just how inadequate the US EPA’s Worker Protection Standard for agricultural pesticides has been over the last 22 years:

Last week the EPA announced a proposal that would significantly strengthen the Worker Protection Standard, designed to prevent hazardous exposure to pesticides for the 2+ million people who harvest our food in the US. One of the proposal’s hallmarks: a new minimum age of 16 to mix, load and apply pesticides, or to re-enter fields for work before the required safety interval has expired (with an exemption for farm family members). The previous rule posed no minimum age at all (though separate regulations from the Department of Labor prevent teens younger than 16 from applying a subset of highly-toxic pesticides).

Does anyone else feel a little concerned about 16 and 17 year-olds applying pesticides on farms? Toxic Free NC asked North Carolina farmworkers – people who know a thing or two about how dangerous pesticides can be – what they believed should be the minimum age to work as a pesticide handler.

“One should be a responsible person, direct, who focuses, who is attentive to what he is doing.  Because one error can cost your life,” says Alfredo, a North Carolina tobacco worker interviewed by Toxic Free NC. “So, this person should be prepared in everything and be careful of doing the job, be responsible with the job. And well, a person of 16, 17, 14 years of age…they are not responsible.” Many workers felt that a pesticide handler should be someone over twenty. None of the 45 workers we asked said that anyone under 18 should perform tasks involving pesticide use.

To be sure, the proposed changes to the Worker Protection Standard would make work with pesticides on farms significantly safer, if implemented well and properly enforced (that’s a big “if”). For example, the EPA has proposed annual safety trainings – a huge step forward from the current standard of training workers on pesticide safety only once every five years. The training content would be expanded to make sure that workers know about the long-term health effects of pesticide exposure, and how pesticide exposure can affect the health of their spouses and children when pesticide residues travel home on their hair, skin and clothes.

But the proposal also takes some notable steps backwards – like removing the requirement that employers post all the information about recent pesticide applications at a central point where workers can review it. EPA declined to require medical monitoring for workers handling the most toxic pesticides – a step that health agencies have been encouraging for years as a way of tracking whether the safety measures are actually working.

Overall, the proposed rules – which will affect more than 150,000 farmworkers in North Carolina, and upwards of 2 million across the US – are indeed a significant improvement over the current state of affairs. But this statement may sound like faint praise, considering just how ineffective the current state of affairs has been at preventing worker pesticide exposure. Recent studies have found that North Carolina farmworkers and their families experience widespread pesticide exposure, even when following the current safety requirements.

The chemical industry will argue energetically that new regulations are not needed – that just enforcing the rules we already have would fix the problem. For the EPA to pass stronger pesticide rules, it’s critical that those who support them make their voices heard. EPA will be accepting public comment on the proposed rule for 90 days through the website. For those of us who want safe food, and care about the people who harvest it, this is a great opportunity to make a difference – and one that we’re not likely to have again anytime soon.

Not up for writing your own comment letter? Sign our petition to raise the minimum age for pesticide handlers to 18 years old.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Place Matters

by Levy Schroeder, Executive Director

As I settle into my new place after relocating to North Carolina from Washington, D.C., I’m reflecting on the meaning and importance of “place”. Place is a tough thing to define; our perspectives are unique.

However differently we define “place”, I am impressed by the importance that it plays in our lives. Place shelters us, protects us, supports us and nourishes us. It anchors us to our values and influences our choices.

Place is part of our identity. Where we live has a tremendous impact on how we live: it can determine health, economic status, educational opportunity, access to resources and general well-being.

Place stretches beyond the confines of our homes. In this age of the global market, the entire world supplies us with food, fuel, clothing and technology. Place stretches across the globe and intensifies our dependence upon its resources. No place is isolated from another.

North Carolina is beautiful place. Mountains. Beaches. Shimmering lakes, and long rambling rivers. Rolling hills rich with agriculture that grows our nation’s food supply. Thriving urban areas with all the amenities any human could need. It’s a great place for families to provide a safe and healthy place for their children to live, grow, learn and play.

But for too many in this place called North Carolina, toxic chemicals and pesticides in our food, water and air degrade the quality of life we seek in this place we call home.

When one of us is made ill from exposure to dangerous, unhealthy pesticides, or one of us is excluded from the place where decisions are made about our health and safety, everyone in North Carolina suffers the consequences. This is a sad reality for this place, but we are here together because we believe this is not acceptable.

I came to Toxic Free North Carolina because I believe we can build a truly toxic-free community. I’m proud to inherit the 26-year legacy of this strong, bold organization and to lead us through the hard work ahead on the horizon.

We will work together to build upon the tireless efforts of the founders, board members and staff. We will put a premium on our sense of place, recognizing that our community is inextricably bound to our neighbors.

We will safeguard our communities by expanding our efforts to bring much needed reforms to regulation of pesticides and toxic chemicals, and we'll work to reduce our childrens’ risk of exposure where they learn and play. And we’ll keep finding ways to make work environments safer (especially for farmworkers), and to make safer, chemical-free food accessible to everyone.

It will be no easy task, and I have a hard act to follow, but I know we can do it together. I’ve got an energetic, passionate staff, board of directors, volunteers and supporters. And most importantly, I’ve got you. This is a great place to start.

Contact Levy: or (919) 348-9789

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NEWS RELEASE: New pesticide rules seek to address long-standing safety problems

EPA proposes updating Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides after more than twenty years of problems.

WASHINGTON DC– In North Carolina and Florida, three babies born in 2005 brought to light in the most painful way that pesticide exposure poses dangers to farmworkers and their children. All three babies were born with severe birth defects. Their mothers had worked together on tomato farms for the produce company Ag-Mart in both states. State investigators found hundreds of instances of pesticide safety problems, but were unable to prove pesticide violations in the case, because of loopholes in the Worker Protection Standard – the very pesticide rules they were trying to enforce.

The federal Worker Protection Standard, first adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, is notoriously difficult to enforce. The standard does not require record-keeping to document whether pesticide rules have actually been followed – that loophole doomed the Ag-Mart case. The Worker Protection Standard requires only minimal training on the risks that pesticide exposure can pose to workers’ children and families, so many workers don’t find out about those hazards until after the worst has happened. Today the EPA proposed strengthening the Worker Protection Standard to address many pesticide safety concerns – including those raised in the high-profile birth defects case.

The Worker Protection Standard was also designed with adult workers in mind. But agriculture is different from most other industries in that it allows children to join labor crews at 12 years old – even at 10 in some crops – and these children are exposed to pesticides on the job. Yesenia Cuello and her sister Neftali began working on tobacco and sweet potato farms in North Carolina when Yesenia was 14 and Neftali was 12. Both girls report that they saw pesticides used nearby and were even exposed to the drift, but never knew what pesticides were. “We never heard the word ‘pesticide’ or had a safety training until 4 years later,” says Yesenia. “I assumed it was some kind of fertilizer.”

An estimated 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States. The nation’s 1–2.4 million farmworkers face the greatest threat from the health impacts of these chemicals. Ten to twenty thousand farmworkers are injured by pesticides on the job every year in the US. Short-term effects of pesticide exposures can include skin and eye injuries, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems, and even death. Long-term exposure on the job can increase the risk of serious chronic health problems such as cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease for farmworkers, their families, and their children.

Advocates who work with farmworkers welcomed news of the proposed rule change. “For too long, the people who pick food for our tables have had to put their own health at risk, and their children’s health at risk, just by going to work every day,” stated Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate at Toxic Free North Carolina. “We are pleased that the EPA has proposed strengthening this outdated safety standard, and will work together with North Carolina’s farmworkers to ensure that it really does protect the health of farmworker families in our state and across the nation.”

Last week 52 members of Congress, led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Linda Sanchez of California, urged EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a letter to release the proposed rule, stating that the current agricultural worker protection standard is "limited" and "insufficient" to protect workers from the hazards of handling pesticides.  The same week, California-based Pesticide Action Network submitted a petition to McCarthy to strengthen the Worker Protection Standard, signed by more than 18,000 citizens.

The proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard can be viewed on the EPA’s website. The US EPA will be accepting comments from the public on the proposed changes through May.

Fawn Pattison, Toxic Free North Carolina
(919) 833-5333,

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice
(202) 745-5221,

Dr. Margaret Reeves, Pesticide Action Network North America
(415) 728-0176,

Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida
(407) 886-5151,

Friday, February 7, 2014

Shopping for kids' stuff? You've got to read this.

by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

Photo by amseaman via Flickr
Recently I had to buy a new car booster seat for my older child, who is four. She'd outgrown her toddler carseat, and as I usually do with any significant purchase, I did my homework.

I wanted the booster with the best safety rating. It had to perform well in crashes, and protect the head and neck, not just the body. After lots of reading, I settled on just the right model, and ordered the chic-yet-practical black-and-gray one. And then I started to fret.

While I'd spent hours poring over crash test results, there was no way to know what kinds of toxic flame retardants had been used in the carseats I was reviewing. Manufacturers in the U.S. don't have to share that information, even though many of the flame retardants used in children's products like carseats have been linked to neurological harm and increased risk of cancer. She's going to be sitting in that thing every day, inhaling whatever it's off-gassing, snuggling up in it (mouth open, drooling) during long car trips to her grandparents' house. I don't want to expose her to anything that could put her health at risk.

And this is the conundrum I find myself in almost every time I have to buy something for my kids. Carseat, bed, shoes, sippy cups... there's no way to know what kinds of toxics are in there.

Until now. Because in 2008 Washington state passed a law that highlighted 66 "Chemicals of Concern" -- things like the toxic flame retardants -- used in children's products. The largest manufacturers now have to actually test their products for the 66 toxics on the list and - get this! - make the information public. Seriously. Public.

So they've just started releasing the results, and they're not pretty. Washington Toxics Coalition just released a report on what manufacturers like Target, Walmart, Nike and Walgreens reported from March to September 2013 (read the report here). 

Among the total 4,605 reports of toxic chemicals in children’s products are reports of toxic flame retardants linked to cancer, learning disabilities and fertility problems. In the report’s findings:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) was reported in plastic used in dolls and soft toys. BPA is a developmental and reproductive toxicant.
  • Antimony trioxide, a carcinogen, was reported in toy vehicles.
  • The Tris flame retardant TCEP was reported in baby car seats. It is a carcinogen and reproductive toxicant.
  • Children’s plastic plates, bowls, mugs and cups, drinking glasses and other tableware was reported as containing ethylbenzene, toluene, and phthalates as well as formaldehyde.
  • The flame retardant deca-BDE was reported in the plastic of baby car and booster seats, even though manufacturers made a voluntary agreement with EPA in 2009 to end the use of deca-BDE in most products by now, and deca-BDE was banned in Washington state in 2007.
I have to confess that reading this report made me want to pack up my kids (without carseats) and go live in a cave somewhere. But I got over that, and now I'm just mad again. Mad at manufacturers who choose shoddy chemical ingredients over our kids' health. Mad at Congress for taking so long to fix the federal toxics law that's the reason for all these "Chemicals of Concern" in our kids' lives. But also grateful for the steps forward that Washington State has taken, and hopeful that North Carolina will follow suit before too long.

Check out to let the nation's largest retailers know that it's time to get the toxics out of the stuff they're selling us.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gold medal for farmworker advocacy

Farmworker Advocacy Network members
It's been a great week for the folks in North Carolina who fight for farmworker justice. This week members of the Farmworker Advocacy Network (of which Toxic Free NC is a member) were honored with two remarkable awards:

It always feels good to be recognized in your hometown paper, and that's exactly what happened this week when the Independent Weekly gave the Farmworker Advocacy Network its annual Citizen Award. Check out the article in the Indy and leave a comment if you support justice for the folks who harvest our food in North Carolina!

On a bigger stage, FAN members were also delighted to win a Midsouth Regional Emmy this week for our 2010 documentary, "Harvest of Dignity." This 30-minute short film commemorates the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow's groundbreaking television documentary, "Harvest of Shame," which first exposed the shocking living and working conditions of the people who harvest our food in the United States. "Harvest of Dignity" revisits a North Carolina labor camp featured in the 1960 film, and explores just how little things have changed since then. "Harvest of Dignity" was produced by Minnow Media in association with the Farmworker Advocacy Network.

Want to meet these award-winning advocates in person? Toxic Free NC and other FAN members are available to bring a film screening and discussion to your church, school group or other civic group - contact us to set up a date and get more involved in the struggle for justice in our food system.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Polar vortex, pesticides, red tape can't stop us!

By Neftali & Yesenia Cuello

Yesenia and Neftali braved brutal cold at the Capitol last week to speak out about pesticide safety.

We started working in the fields of eastern North Carolina when Neftali was 12 years old, and Yesenia was 14. We worked in tobacco, blueberries and strawberries every summer for years. We saw pesticides used nearby and were even exposed to the drift, but never knew what pesticides were.

We never heard the word “pesticide” or had a safety training until 4 years later when we joined NC FIELD and our eyes were opened.

All those years we were being exposed to these things on the job, without any knowledge of what they could do to our health. Now we go out into the fields to meet other children who are working there, photograph them and learn about their lives. We meet teenagers, sometimes kids as young as 8 and 9. Not one youth farmworker we’ve met said they’d ever had a pesticide safety training.
NC youth working in sweet potato. Photo by Yesenia Cuello
This is why we have to make our voices heard.

Last week we joined a delegation of farmworkers and youth who traveled to Washington DC. We met with members of Congress and the US EPA to ask them for a strong Worker Protection Standard. People shouldn’t be working with these chemicals without training and safety protections that keep them and their families safe. Kids shouldn’t be working with pesticides at all!

We don’t want unsafe pesticides on our food, and we don’t want other kids to have to work around them or with them like we and our other siblings did. We need a strong Worker Protection Standard that makes the fields and our families safer. If you agree, please make your voice heard, too.

Neftali Cuello serves on Toxic Free NC's Community Leadership Council, and is the Secretary of Poder Juvenil Campesino, the youth group of NC FIELD. Yesenia Cuello is President of PJC and serves on NC FIELD's Board of Directors.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hungry for real pesticide protections? So are farmworkers.

by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

Each year farms across the United States use over 800 million pounds of pesticides – weed, bug and fungus killing chemicals – to grow our food. Some of those chemicals wind up on the food we eat. Some of those chemicals wind up in our water. These chemicals are associated with a wide array of health problems in humans, from increased cancer risk to learning disabilities.

But more than anyone else, the people affected by pesticides are the people who pick our food: farmworkers. From higher cancer rates to learning disabilities among children, farmworkers suffer the greatest burden of harm from the pesticides used on our food.

This week, farmworkers are demanding a change.
A team of farmworkers from North Carolina and Florida are braving brutally cold weather to travel to Washington DC for meetings with the US Environmental Protection Agency and members of Congress. Members of NC FIELD and the Farmworker Association of Florida have left their jobs and families behind this week to convey their message in Washington: End the delays that have slowed down new pesticide rules for over a decade. It’s time to finally move forward on the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the set of regulations intended to protect farmworkers from exposure to hazardous pesticides on the job.

The WPS governs things like what safety equipment must be worn, how workers are trained, and what information is provided to workers about the chemicals they’re working with. By any measure, the WPS has failed in its job so far. The WPS allows teenagers to work as pesticide handlers. It is unclear about many requirements, like how soon employers have to provide medical attention in case of an emergency, and whether workers should get written information about the pesticides to which they are exposed.

Why does this matter to the average consumer? Just imagine if the workers in an automotive plant were under-trained and under-informed about the materials they worked with every day. Workers need to be able to report faulty equipment, misused chemicals, stupid mistakes and breaches of the law. When they can’t, we all bear the consequences, in the form of foods, streams and soil contaminated with hazardous chemicals. And the farmworkers themselves suffer most of all.

The decision-makers at the EPA need to hear from the people most directly affected by the political choices they make. If they do, we all reap the benefits.

P.S. Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook page to get updates from the team in DC this week!