Thursday, May 24, 2012


In time for stocking up for the sunny weather--the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has posted its 2012 Sunscreen Guide. The guide is a great resource for choosing safer sunscreens and other products with SPF, such as lip balms, moisturizers and makeup.

Choosing a mineral-based sunscreen--one that provides a physical block against the sun's rays--will allow you to avoid the problematic ingredients found in non-mineral based formulations. Many of the chemicals used in non-mineral based sunscreens are potential hormone disruptors. For example, about 52% of sunscreens on the market contain oxybenzone, a potential hormone disruptor that penetrates the skin in significant amounts. If fact, it has been found to contaminate the bodies of 96% of Americans. Because of toxicity and skin penetration concerns, a number of experts caution against using sunscreens containing oxybenzone on children.

Mineral sunblocks do not penetrate the skin as chemical sunscreens do. However, the EWG advises consumers to avoid any sunscreen that comes in aerosol spray or powder form. These products pose risks of inhalation and lung damage.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What's In That Honey Jar?

Siona Karen via Flickr

Last year, Food Safety News reported that 1/3 or more of all honey consumed in the U.S. is likely smuggled in from China. Why should that concern us? Because the honey may be contaminated with lead and illegal antibiotics.  

Millions of pounds of Chinese honey is shipped to the U.S. through India, flooding grocery store shelves and ending up in hundreds of different processed foods. This honey has been banned as unsafe in dozens of countries; the European Union banned all shipments of honey from India beginning in June of 2010 because of the presence of lead and illegal animal antibiotics.

What's more, as reported in this article, more than 3/4 of the honey sold in major grocery chain stores (including Giant Eagle) and big box chain stores isn't honey at all.  It has been "ultra-filtered" so that it no longer contains pollen. Most of the world's food safety agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have ruled that any product that no longer contains pollen isn't honey. However, the FDA does not inspect honey sold in the U.S. to determine whether in fact it does contain pollen.

Why would pollen be removed from honey? Pollen is the only foolproof way to identify the source of honey. Without it, there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources. 

The California advocacy group, Center for Environmental Health, found high levels of lead in honey purchased from 3 different grocery stores in the Bay Area and Southern California. The honey had between 1.5 to over 2 times the legal limit of lead. On May 2, the group filed lawsuits against two grocery store chains, alleging violations of a California law which limits lead in consumer products.

I take all this as a very strong argument to stay away from any honey unless you can verify its source. The best way to do that is to buy local honey from one of the growing number of local beekeepers. I have purchased local honey from beekeepers at the Mt. Lebanon Farmer's Market, which opened for the season last Saturday, as well as the Farmers@Firehouse market in the Strip District, which opens later this month. Other places to look for local honey: Whole Foods in East Liberty, the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip, the East End Food Co-op and Sunny Bridge Natural Foods in McMurray.

This article published last fall in Pittsburgh Magazine lists some other sources of local honey.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tide Free and Gentle (Except for Probable Carcinogen)

Proctor & Gamble markets Tide Free and Gentle laundry detergent to moms as a safer choice for their children's laundry. However, as reported here by the New York Times, testing by the environmental group Women's Voices for the Earth found problematic levels of 1,4 dioxane in Tide Free and Gentle. 1,4 dioxane is a solvent most commonly found in products that create suds, such as detergent, shampoo, and liquid soaps. It is a contaminant created during manufacturing, as the result of a process in which harsh and irritating ingredients are converted into less-harsh chemicals.  Because it is a contaminant, you will not find it listed on any product label.  The EPA considers 1,4 dioxane a probable human carcinogen.

It is possible to remove 1,4 dioxane from products, or manufacturers could simply forgo the process that creates it by using purer, less-harsh ingredients to begin with. However, Proctor & Gamble, has no plans to reformulate Tide Free and Gentle to remove this dangerous chemical.

A 2010 study by the Organic Consumers Association found 1,4 dioxane in nearly two-thirds of the laundry detergents sold in America.  Only a few brands were found to be free of the chemical.  Those brands included Seventh Generation Free and Clear (which I use and can highly recommend), as well as ECOS Free & Clear by Earth Friendly Products.

Friday, May 4, 2012

NYT Column on Endocrine Disruptors

Nicholas Kristof has a nice, succinct column in the New York Times about endocrine disruptors and their links to breast cancer, infertility, precocious puberty, and even diabetes and obesity. These chemicals are everywhere: in food packaging, plastics, cosmetics and widely used pesticides and herbicides. Kristof notes that new research is constantly being published about the long-term effects of these chemicals on our health, yet their use remains virtually unregulated.