safer chemicals

How you can help people make safer choices every day

By David DiFiore

How many people can say they really love their job? Lucky for me, I’m one of those people. As part of the Safer Choice Program the work I do helps people make safer choices for their families, pets, and the environment every day.

Safer Choice is our label for safer chemical-based products, like all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents, degreasers, and many others.  Each day, consumers, custodians, cleaning staffs, and others use these products, and families, building occupants, and visitors are exposed to them.  The Safer Choice program ensures that labeled products—and every ingredient in them—meet the program’s stringent health and environmental criteria—and perform well, too.

Working in the Safer Choice Program, I have the privilege of seeing the results of our work in many tangible forms in real-time, every day. When I go to the grocery store and see a labeled product on the shelf, I know that the work I do helps protect people, animals and the environment from toxic chemicals.

So how can you help people make safer choices?

Also, if you’re interested in helping people make safer choices across the country, take a look at two new Safer Choice job announcements.  We’re looking to build our team to take on the enormous opportunities in labeling safer personal care products.  Perhaps we’ll get to share the adventure.

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About the Author: David DiFiore has worked for the Safer Choice Program since 1997. Before that, David worked in several other EPA programs, including the New Chemicals Program, where he learned the science and art of identifying and promoting safer chemicals and products.

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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The DfE Safer Product Label:  Products that can Prevent Pollution

By Bridget Williams, Ph.D.

I’m the outreach and communications lead for EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Program.  Our program evaluates products, such as all-purpose cleaners and laundry detergents, and allows those that meet our Standard for Safer Products to use the DfE Safer Product Label. This label helps you easily choose products that are safer for your families and the environment.

The best part of my job is talking to consumers, businesses, health advocates and many others about safer chemicals and products.  Most of my conversations are with DfE partners (the manufacturers of products that carry the DfE Safer Product Label) and with companies who would like to become DfE partners.  These conversations are productive and satisfying, but often involve the nitty-gritty of how to become a partner or how to communicate about their DfE partnership.  From time to time, however, I get a different type of call. For example:

  • A housecleaning business that is using only DfE-labeled products in their service and wants to display the DfE label on its minivans.
  • A cleaning product distributor, interested in safer surfactants, learns that DfE criteria cover all product ingredients and wants to start carrying only DfE-labeled products.
  • A consumer sees the DfE label on a dish washing product – visits the website – and now plans to do all his or her cleaning with products that carry the label.

Calls like these energize me and show me how our safer product label helps people and the planet every day.   These calls also reinforce that it takes a network to make the change to safer products. We need to help people who buy products, companies who make those products and the chemicals they use, and the retailers who sell them.  By guiding manufacturers in the design of safer products and use of safer chemical ingredients, DfE helps prevent pollution before it happens.

Do you know about the DfE Safer Product Label and look for it? Whether you’re familiar with the label or not, we hope you will join us for a Twitter Chat on the DfE Safer Product Label, Tuesday, September 17th at 2:00pm EDT by following @EPAlive and using the #SaferProducts hashtag.  Ask us a question, share your ideas, and join the conversation on safer products.

Learn more about Design for the Environment
Learn more about Pollution Prevention Week
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About the Author:  Bridget Williams joined EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Program in 2011.  Before that, she taught high school physics and chemistry as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country Burkina Faso.

 

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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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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A Violet Tale

By Elias Rodriguez

During Children’s Health Month, I’d like to share a cautionary tale about a mother’s good intentions. Growing up in New York City’s Lower East Side, one of my childhood memories is the ubiquitous use of a home remedy applied by my mother. This apparently magical medicinal concoction was known to me and my six siblings simply as “tinta violeta” or violet tint.  It was, Mom said, a medicine used by her mother and grandmother as a topical panacea for almost any ailment on the outside of the body.

Tinta violeta was a staple in many Puerto Rican medicine cabinets. Housed in a tiny glass bottle with a dropper, it added an interesting dimension to our heritage. Mom swore by tinta violeta. What was the solution for the scratch I got at the playground? Dab on some tinta violeta. Was that mosquito bite itching? Apply a dot of tinta violeta. When I suffered from a scab due to slip and fall…Quick… Add a drop of tinta violeta to avoid an infection. It seemed like tinta violeta’s deep violet stains were all over my skin at one point or another. The liquid appeared to be a quick, low cost remedy for just about every bite, scratch, itch, rash or other external malady.

What is in tinta violeta? I had not the foggiest idea. When, if ever, is it appropriate to use tinta violeta? In what amounts should tinta violeta be applied? Was it tested by the FDA?  This tiny tot wasn’t worried about any of those concerns. The only downside I could tell was that the deep dark spots made me look like a character out of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  Parents, on the other hand, have a responsibility to do as the EPA has recommended for years: KEEP YOUR CHILDREN SAFE. READ THE LABEL FIRST!

My siblings and I were not the only ones to get the treatment. One day our beloved family dog came down with a nasty rash that caused much of his hair to fall off. We could not afford a veterinarian’s visit, so Mom handled the consultation herself. It took a few weeks, but our German Shepherd was totally cured and back to normal eventually – The prescription from Dr. Mom? Tinta violeta had done it again!

My saint of a mother, now 83-years-old, says that she always knew that tinta violeta was potentially toxic, which explains why she only administered it in small amounts and kept it far from reach. That was smart, but I wonder how many parents continue to use remedies that they inherited from others and know little about. Should my parents have known that tinta violeta is a powerful dye that has been found to cause cancer in mice? We now know that even traditional medicines can contain chemicals that can harm your health. Never administer any remedy without careful consideration of the source and its potential health effects.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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A Greener Option to Dry Cleaning: Celebrate P2 Week!

By Lorne LaMonica

Professional Wet Cleaning (PWC) is a method of garment cleaning that uses water, a gentle washing machine, biodegradable soaps and conditioners, and specialized drying and pressing equipment.  The U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) recognizes PWC as an example of an environmentally preferable technology that can effectively clean garments.

There are around 2,000 dry cleaners in the state, with the largest concentration located in the New York City metro area. Of these, approximately 80% use percloroethylene (“perc”), and the remaining use a solvent other than perc. Throughout New York State, only nine facilities currently use wet cleaning. It is estimated that New York State drycleaners use approximately 137,000 gallons of perc each year, of which 131 tons of perc per year are emitted to the atmosphere.

EPA has determined that perc is a “likely human carcinogen.” People exposed to high levels of perc, even for brief periods, may experience serious symptoms including: dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, eye and mucous membrane irritation.

What can I do to help reduce environmental and health risks from dry cleaning?

The most important thing you can do is to choose a high quality cleaner who acts responsibly toward the environment. Most professional dry cleaners are experts in fabric are and are already familiar with these issues. They will be able to advise you on whether or not your garments can be successfully cleaned in new cleaning processes. Some specific things you can do include:

  • Know what you are buying. Learn about cleaning processes and know what options are available to you from your local professional cleaners.
  • Ask your cleaner about cleaning methods, safety and maintenance practices, and how s/he handles solvent waste streams.
  • Bring your clothes to a professional cleaner who carefully follows safety requirements, and properly maintains cleaning equipment.
  • If your professional cleaner offers a wet cleaning process as an option, consider asking your cleaner to wet clean your clothes.
  • Help your cleaner determine the best way to clean your clothes by describing how they were soiled (e.g., food, ink, make-up), and by giving your cleaner the fabric content information off the care labels if you remove the labels for any reason.
  • If you smell solvent when you enter a cleaning shop, you might want to consider going somewhere else as solvent odors can indicate improper processing or solvent use.
  • If you think all of the solvent was not removed, or if your newly dry cleaned clothes smell like solvent, ask your cleaner to re-process your order or take them to another cleaner for re-cleaning.

Where can I get additional information about PWC?

EPA: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/wsgc/wetclean.htm

New York State Pollution Prevention Institute: http://www.rit.edu/affiliate/nysp2i/garment-cleaning

About the author: Lorne LaMonica is a senior Environmental Scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. LaMonica has been with the EPA for over 20 years and has worked in many of EPA’s environmental programs, including its hazardous waste, NEPA, and State Revolving Fund programs.  Lorne is the Region 2 Liasion for the national EPA WaterSense program, a contributing web content author, and is a Project Officer for several grants under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Pollution Prevention grants programs. Lorne works in the Pollution Prevention and Climate Change Section in EPA Region 2.

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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Safer Chemicals for a Safer World: Celebrate P2 Week!

By Kristie Friesenhahn

As Tom Hanks said in You’ve Got Mail, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.” Today launches Pollution Prevention (P2) Week, and with that in mind, we can make sure Back to School season is a little greener. The theme of this year’s P2 week is “Safer Chemicals for a Safer World.” As we get settled into the new school year, consider these tips for celebrating P2 Week.

Pollution Prevention Public Service Announcement

Bring green chemistry to your school. Promote safe chemical management and encourage teachers and students to use green chemistry principles in the classroom, considering the lifecycle of the chemicals they work with and their impact on the environment and creating awareness of chemical toxicology and sustainability. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is conducting green chemistry pilot projects for New York’s high schools as an innovative and safer approach to chemistry. The pilot projects will include chemical assessment, inventorying, and training workshops. Read more information on green chemistry.

Cleaning your home or dorm room? Search for safer products recognized under EPA’s Design for the Environment Safer Product Labeling Program. By doing so, your family can eliminate 40 pounds of potentially harmful chemicals per year. 40 pounds! That’s more than the weight limit for a dog at your average NYC apartment!

If you’re cleaning out your medicine cabinet, remember to safely dispose of your medications. Mark your calendar for Saturday, September 29th (10am – 2pm) and visit the DEA NationalDrug Take-Back Initiative website to find a location near you.

Purchasing a new computer this school year? Search for EPEAT®-registered electronics. EPEAT® is a comprehensive environmental rating that helps identify electronics designed to be easier to recycle, less toxic and more energy efficient. Also, EPEAT® is expected to expand late this year and early next to cover printers, copiers and televisions!

E-cycle the computer you’ve replaced with the EPEAT® registered one. Read about a fellow Greening the Apple blogger’s successful Brooklyn experience with e-cycling.

About the author: Kristie Friesenhahn has been with the EPA for over five years working on issues related to pollution prevention and toxics, including developing best practices to prevent consumer and worker exposure to chemicals.

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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