clothing

Making Sure Chemicals Around Us are Safe

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, OCSPP

Chemicals are found in most everything we use and consume— from plastics, to medicine, to cleaning products, and flame retardants in our furniture and clothing. They can be essential for our health, our well being, our prosperity and our safety— it’s no understatement to say that the quality of life we enjoy today would be impossible without chemicals. However, our understanding of chemical safety is constantly evolving and there remain significant gaps in our scientific knowledge regarding many chemicals and their potentially negative impacts on our health, and the environment.

While you may be familiar with the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts— you may not be as familiar with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the environmental statute enacted in 1976 to regulate all chemicals manufactured and used in the U.S. When TSCA was enacted, it grandfathered in, without any evaluation, the 62,000 chemicals in commerce that existed in 1976.

Unlike the laws for drugs and pesticides, TSCA does not have a mandatory program where the EPA must conduct a review to determine the safety of existing chemicals. TSCA is the only major environmental law that has not been modernized. The process of requiring testing through rulemaking chemical-by-chemical has proven burdensome and time consuming.

Compared to 30 years ago, we have a better understanding of how we are exposed to chemicals and the distressing health effects some chemicals can have – especially on children. At the same time, significant gaps exist in our scientific knowledge of many chemicals, including those like flame retardants. Increasingly, studies are highlighting the health risks posed by certain chemicals and recent media coverage has heightened public awareness about the safety of flame retardants.

As part of EPA’s efforts to assess chemical risks, we will begin evaluating 20 flame retardants in 2013 in order to improve our understanding of the potential risks of this class of chemicals, taking action if warranted, and identifying safer substitutes when possible. Over the years, EPA has also taken a number of regulatory and voluntary efforts, including negotiating the voluntary phase-outs of several toxic flame retardants. EPA’s review of and action on flame retardants has spanned over two decades and while these are important steps forward, the long history of EPA’s action on flame retardants is tied in no small part to the shortcomings of TSCA and stands as a clear illustration of the need for TSCA reform.

We have the right to expect that the chemicals found in products that we use every day are safe and provide benefits without hidden harm. It is critical that we close the knowledge gaps and provide this assurance under a reformed, 21st century version of TSCA.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 24 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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“Fashion Show! It’s what I do…”

By Lorna Rosenberg

It’s what I do with friends and family when I come back from shopping at my favorite consignment stores with bags of fashion potential. The things I love most about consignment shopping are that it fits my style, my budget and my environmental ethic — keeping great clothes out of landfills, supporting local economies, and reducing the need for mass producing even more clothes, shoes and accessories.

I like keeping my wardrobe up to date with outfits that are new to me. I find department stores dizzying with too many choices that don’t interest me. Clothing in a consignment shop has already been selected twice, once by the original buyer and next by the shop owner, so I find the choices are better. Because the prices are much less than a retail store, I have been known to take fashion risks, like the lime-green leopard jacket that I couldn’t resist or the “flapper” sequined cocktail dress that has now been demoted to Halloween-wear. Depending on the shop, I have been known to clinch famous designers, like Betsy Johnson, Halston and Escada for a fraction of the original prices.

Consignment shops tend to have one-of-a-kind and size (unless they are re-selling stock from a closed boutique) so there is a great opportunity to mix and match for your own body type, for what looks best on you. With rare exception, I only make purchases that are in perfect condition, don’t need major alteration, and that complete an outfit. My latest cost-saving strategy is to start my shopping in the $10 and $20 rack and build my outfit from there. Environmentally, consignment shopping helps me hang onto some of my existing favorites by purchasing a new accessory or complementary item to update my look for the next season.

So now that you know how to spruce-up your fall wardrobe in a cost effective, eco-friendly way, get out there and do some shopping.

About the author: Lorna Rosenberg is the Green and Healthy Schools Coordinator in Region 3. She is grateful to have been located in Center City Philadelphia with EPA for 28 years which has contributed immensely to her clothes consigning acumen, office couture and the local economy.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Upcycle!

It’s doubtful that clothing, jewelry, furniture, or even building materials comes to mind, right? Perhaps you were picturing bicycling uphill instead?

In fourth grade, my best friend was way ahead of the curve. She took a cracker box, paper towel roll, pieces of an empty cereal box, purple paint, sparkles, and glue to give another friend of ours a moving away gift they’d never forget.

Many would have overlooked and discarded that stuff to disintegrate in a landfill somewhere. Instead, she scooped them up and created a masterful “mantelpiece.”

Nowadays upcycled goods and ideas are everywhere. Granted, most of them are a bit more professionally constructed, but the idea is very much the same.

Our first Pick 5 stories featured upcycling. The lusakaU.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia, shared with us that they were donating their rubbish to local upcyclers who made more useful and artistic goods such as reusable bags and paper.

In another story, a group of widows and single moms in Chikumbuso, Zambia, were crocheting strips of plastic grocery bags into more durable reusable bags and making beads from glass. The sales were supporting a school for their children and the community’s orphans.

LusakaUpcycling is good for us. It cuts down on our waste that ends up in the environment, helps spread awareness and inspiration for environmental action and can support local artisans and communities. Personally, I’d rather give and receive handmade gifts any day, especially if the purchase was supporting a good cause.

Could this work for a school or community fundraiser event near you? Spread the word and get others to join you, or try a family upcycling challenge. Join 8,183 others and make upcycling part of your Pick 5, share your story and inspire others to do the same.

In two weeks, I’ll feature a new upcycling story from you in a blog post and at www.epa.gov/Pick5.

Share your story Flickr, here as a comment, or on Facebook. I can’t wait to see what you create!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.