Is Your Sofa Safe?

Brominated flame retardants, linked to multiple health impacts, are found in the breast milk of virtually every U.S. woman tested, at much higher levels than in Europe, largely because of failed policy. If you’re buying a new sofa anytime soon, pay attention to the article below. If you don’t have time to read, one word: IKEA.

family on couch

FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2015

Do you know that your couch may be toxic to you and your kids? A weak federal chemical safety law and poorly designed state fire safety standards fail to protect Americans from thousands of dangerous chemicals like fire retardants.

Ten years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and health advocates forced fire retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, from the market. These chemicals were showing up in people’s bodies, and research suggested that they disrupted hormone signaling and children’s developing brains and nervous systems. In 2008, EWG testing found that toddlers’blood contained nearly three times the levels of PBDEs of their parents’ bodies.

While most PBDEs are no longer used in couches, the broken federal chemical law allows other potentially problematic chemicals to be substituted. Last year, EWG teamed up with Duke University scientists to look at concentrations of these alternative fire retardants in more than 20 mothers and children. The urine of every mother and child tested yielded evidence of exposure to TDCIPP, a cancer-causing fire retardant. In fact, when the participants’ bodies were tested for a chemical biomarker left when TDCIPP breaks down, the study found that the children’s bodies contained five times the amount of the chemical in their mothers. In the most extreme case, a child had 23 times the level measured in the mother.

Here’s the bad news: The Toxic Substances Control Act is a badly broken federal law that allowed this to happen.

Now for the good news: Thanks to a key policy change in California fire safety standards, mainstream furniture manufacturers like Pottery Barn and Ikea now produce sofas and sectionals without flame retardant chemicals. Suddenly consumers can choose from a multitude of fire retardant-free furniture options.

Even more good news: As of January 1 of this year, furniture manufacturers must label products they want to sell in the state of California, clearly indicating whether each piece contains flame retardants. These revolutionary changes will take the guesswork – and the chemicals – out of sofa shopping.

Make sure your new couch doesn’t contain fire retardants

While the manufacturers listed below have eliminated chemical flame retardants from products manufactured after January 1, 2015, they may still sell their 2014 stock (with the exception of Room & Board). It’s important to visit the store or call customer service to confirm that the couch you purchase has the new label and was manufactured in 2015. The new label should read: “The upholstery materials in this product contain NO added flame retardant chemicals.”

For safe sofas, read the full article by EWG: http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/03/five-couches-without-flame-retardants-you-can-buy-right-now

A Beautiful Lawn without Poison


My Organic Lawn during Dandelion Season

It is possible to have a beautiful lawn without poisoning it, although the natural aesthetic is a little more textured. Try these tips for keeping your lawn healthy and strong without chemicals:

  • Set your mower at three inches; longer grass is healthier and can more easily crowd out weeds.
  • Spread corn gluten when the forsythia blooms and then again in Fall. It will green up your lawn and inhibit weed seed germination. This is particularly helpful when weaning a lawn off chemicals. I no longer need to do this.
  • Hand dig dandelions in areas where you don’t want them (near and in gardens, for instance). Lee Valley Garden Tools has the best diggers!
  • For poor soil, considering adding composted manure with a spreader.
  • Overseed with good-quality grass seed.
  • Try compost tea — used successfully at Harvard University — and soon to be piloted at Benedictine.
  • Consult an Organic Lawn care company, like Pure Prairie Organics, for advice and service.

An organic lawn will include species besides grass, but it can still be healthy and verdant. Organic lawns are more drought tolerant, and over a period of years, soil and roots systems deepen. Most important, organic lawns do not poison the people and pets who play on them.

Top Ten Reasons Not to Poison Your Lawn

10. Dandelions are pretty and edible.


9. Dandelions are good food for bees, which are struggling.


8. Pesticides are harmful to wildlife, particularly amphibians.


7. Lawn chemicals are expensive and consume fossil fuels.

6. Pesticides have been shown to cross the placenta and contaminate breast milk (Anderson et al 2000; Landrigan et al 2002).


5. Ma et al (2002) showed a link between maternal exposures to pesticides and childhood leukemia.


4.Pesticides are causing IQ losses, learning disabilities, and autism:

  • Recent studies have shown that we are systematically lowering our children’s IQs by exposing them to pesticides, particularly organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos (Bouchard 2011; Engel 2011; Rauh 2011).
  • Children exposed before birth to organophosphate pesticides at the highest level – the highest 20% — tested 7.0 IQ points lower than children exposed at the lowest level – the lowest 20% (Bouchard 2011). Average on the IQ scale is 100; genius is 140, and disability begins at about 70.
  • Children in the lowest 20% of exposure are not at zero, or even non-testable levels.
  • An estimated one fourth of all American children lose IQ points to pesticide exposures – an estimated 16 million IQ points total (Bouchard 2011).
  • Pesticides have been repeatedly linked to autism and ADHD.
  • Right now, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, compared to 1 in 166 just a few years ago.
  • Pesticides are linked to other neurobehavioral disorders.

3.The President’s Cancer Panel and The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified landscape chemicals as significant contributors to childhood illness and death:

Three overarching principles can be identified: (1) pesticide exposures are common and cause both acute and chronic effects; (2) pediatricians need to be knowledgeable in pesticide identification, counseling, and management; and (3) governmental actions to improve pesticide safety are needed…. Chronic toxicity end points identified in epidemiologic studies include adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight, and congenital anomalies, pediatric cancers, neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits, and asthma. These are reviewed in the accompanying technical report. The evidence base is most robust for associations to pediatric cancer and adverse neurodevelopment. Multiple case-control studies and evidence reviews support a role for insecticides in risk of brain tumors and acute lymphocytic leukemia. Prospective contemporary birth cohort studies in the United States link early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides with reductions in IQ and abnormal behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism. (Roberts and Carr 2012).

2. Many childhood health harms tied to pesticide exposure are on the rise (PANNA 2013).

Health Harms.png

1. Every infant now born is pre-polluted with an average of 200 toxic chemicals each, including pesticides.



Anderson HA, Wolff MS. Environmental contaminants in human milk. 2000. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol 10 Suppl 6:755-760.

Bouchard MF, Chevrier J, Harley KG, Kogut K, Vedar M, Calderon N, Trujillo C, Johnson C, Bradman A, Barr DB, Eskenazi B.   2011 Aug. Prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and IQ in 7-year-old children. Environ Health Perspect 119(8): 1189-1195.

Engel SM, Wetmur J, Chen J, Zhu C, Barr DB, Canfield RL, et al. 2011.   Prenatal exposure to organophosphates, paraoxonase 1 and cognitive development in childhood. Environ Health Perspect 119:1182-1188.

Landrigan PJ, Sonawane B, Mattison D, McCally M, Garg A. 2002. Chemical Contaminants in Breast Milk and Their Impacts on Children’s Health: An Overview. Environ Health Perspect110(6):A313-A315.

Ma X, Buffler PA, Gunier RB, Dahl G, Smith MT, Reinier K, Reynolds P. 2002. Critical windows of exposure to household pesticides and risk of childhood leukemia. Environ Health Perspec110(9):955-960.

Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). 2013. A generation in jeopardy. PANNA. Retrieved from http://www.panna.org/resources/publication-report/report-generation-jeopardy

Rauh V, Arundjadai S, Horton M, Perera F, Hoepner L, Barr DB, et al. 2011. Seven-year neurodevelopmental scores and prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos, a common agricultural pesticide. Environ Health Perspect 119:1196-1201.

Roberts JR, Carr CJ. 2012. Policy statement: Pesticide exposure in children. American Academy of Pediatrics 130(6):e1757-1763.

For Katherine

Surprised by Joy

By William Wordsworth   

— written for his daughter Catherine–

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

Make Yellow the New Green

I couldn’t have said it better myself:

Green Grass isn’t Greener (Pesticide Dangers)

A few years ago, I met a man, an organic landscaper, who told the story of his next door neighbor. He was on his way out to his car one morning when he heard a hello. As he turned and waved to his neighbors, he noticed their 1 year old standing on the grass barefoot, his feet yellow from the fertilizer strewn all about the yard. Within that year the baby died of leukemia. The man never discussed the possible causes with the parents, but he had his suspicions based on what he had learned about fertilizer as an organic landscaper. He knew all about pesticide dangers; he knew they could kill. 

For those who think that the leukemia couldn’t possibly have been from the fertilizer (much of which contain pesticides), think again. According to BeyondPesticides.org, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds that household and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as seven-fold. AND studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.

Read more at http://raisingnaturalkids.com/why-green-grass-isnt-always-greener/


Coal-Tar Driveway Sealants

It won’t be long now before spring is in the air, along with volatilized pollutants from lawn treatments and driveway sealants. If installing a new driveway, choose anything but blacktop. If you have inherited a blacktop driveway, choose asphalt, not coal-tar sealants. Not only are the PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) a major contaminant of local rivers; they are linked to serious health consequences like cancer and birth defects and found at high levels in homes that use coal-tar sealants. It makes me cringe when I remember that we used this product around Katherine. No one wants regrets like ours. The USGS (United States Geological Survey) has the best information on coal-tar sealants; they find that

  • Dust from pavement with coal-tar-based sealcoat has greatly elevated PAH concentrations compared to dust from unsealed pavement.
  • Coal-tar-based sealcoat is the largest source of PAH contamination to 40 urban lakes studied, accounting for one-half of all PAH inputs.
  • Coal-tar-based sealcoat use is the primary cause of upward trends in PAHs, since the 1960s, in urban lake sediment.
  • Residences adjacent to parking lots with coal-tar-based sealcoat have PAH concentrations in house dust that are 25 times higher than those in house dust in residences adjacent to parking lots without coal-tar- based sealcoat.
  • PAHs move from a sealcoated surface into our environment by many mechanisms: storm runoff, adhesion to tires, wind, foot traffic, and volatilization.coal_tar_dispersal-credit-City-of-Austin-1024x456


You can learn more at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3010/pdf/fs2011-3010.pdf And be prepared for disinformation from the industry. Last year, Benedictine hosted a small event with USGS scientists on this subject. Industry hacks and their lawyers followed this scientist from one speaking event to another, asking misleading questions and trying to dominate conversation. I had never before seen in action the deliberate effort to create doubt about health effects as a way to confuse consumers.

Flint: The American Public Health Association Addresses Lead Pipes

Lead is a battle that was supposed to be won. I include this graph on the success of Public Health efforts to reduce lead poisoning at the beginning of many of my talks just to show this: that if we make changes to public policy, if we decide to regulate industry, if we stop poisoning our children, we can change lives.

Lead Graph

Figure 1. Percentage of children 1-5 years old in the U.S. population with elevated blood lead levels (≥ 10 μg/dL) (Jones et al. 2009).

But we are still living with past generations’ bad decisions, with the paint and gas industries’ lies and obstructionism. We will live with this lethal legacy for some time to come. What kind of legacy are we leaving our own children and grandchildren? What industries are getting away with murder now?

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is conducting a webinar series to address the problem of lead pipes, a problem that is not just in Flint.

Participate in the three-part series at The Flint Water Crisis and Beyond:

  • Flint and Lead: The Water-Public Health Connection, March 16, 2016, 1 p.m. EDT
  • Public Health’s Legal Authority and Safe Drinking Water, April 5, 2016, 1 p.m. EDT
  • Working Together to Address Lead Exposure in our Communities, week of April 25, 2016

Go to www.apha.org/lead for lead resources from APHA, including:

  • AJPH research on lead exposure in water, housing, consumer products and more. Includes the research by Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose work confirmed the crisis.
  • News articles from The Nation’s Health covering research findings, case studies and prevention programs.
  • Lead reports, issue briefs, fact sheets and publications.
  • APHA policy statements.

Advocate and help the people of Flint:

It is too late to undo the damage done to the children of Flint. But it is not too late to address lead and other contaminants that systematically poison our children and ourselves. When did we forget that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? The United States is notoriously poor when it comes to prevention in many areas. After all, it’s hard to feel a hero when you don’t know what child you saved from cognitive deficits, autism, cancer, birth defects, or auto-immune disease. But the point of public health, notwithstanding the recent failures of the CDC, is precisely this: to be the unsung heroes who prevent these maladies from occurring to start with.


›Jones RL, Homa DM, Meyer PA, Brody JF, Caldwell KL, Pirkle JL, Brown MJ. 2009. Trends in blood lead levels and blood lead testing among U.S. children aged 1 to 5 years, 1988-2004. Pediatrics 123(3):e376-e385.



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