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Campaign to ban asbestos gains momentum with striking Times Square billboard

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 11:31
Campaign to ban asbestos gains momentum with striking Times Square billboard Iris Myers February 16, 2024

An unmissable new campaign featured on the iconic Nasdaq billboard in the heart of New York’s Times Square urges Congress to ban all uses and imports of cancer-causing asbestos.

“Ban asbestos now,” says the striking billboard, launched by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, or ADAO, and the International Association of Fire Fighters, or IAFF. Featuring images of firefighters, who have greater exposure to asbestos and its risks, the billboard adds, “Firefighters face risk. They shouldn’t face cancer. Tell Congress: Ban toxic asbestos.”

Despite long-running calls to ban asbestos, some forms are still legal for use in the U.S. The two groups are shattering the common misconception that asbestos is no longer permitted in domestic manufacturing, amplifying its ongoing use and persistent, deadly threat to public health.

Although ADAO, EWG and others have warned about the deadly risks of asbestos for years, efforts to ban its use have stumbled. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H. W. Bush moved to prohibit it, but a pivotal 1991 federal appeals court ruling overturned the ban, keeping asbestos legal for chemical and manufacturing purposes.

Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of ADAO, stressed the urgency of the situation in a New York Times article highlighting the new billboard. “We’re hoping to spark curiosity, and, by raising awareness, prevent exposure to asbestos,” she said.

Shockingly, over 300 tons of asbestos were imported into the U.S. in 2022 alone, perpetuating significant risks to public health from anyone exposed to it. With asbestos-related diseases claiming an estimated 40,000 lives annually throughout the country, Congress must act swiftly to impose a comprehensive ban.

IAFF General President Edward Kelly said firefighters face greater risk from asbestos, given their elevated exposure to it in their work. “Asbestos undoubtedly contributes to the heightened prevalence of lung diseases among firefighters, especially post-9/11,” he said.

Having Congress pass a nationwide ban on the import and use of asbestos would help protect the health and safety of first responders, Kelly added.

In 2016, Congress passed a law overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act to strengthen the EPA’s regulation of toxic chemicals and other substances. The agency used this new authority to review the safety of asbestos and in April 2022 proposed a ban on U.S. companies’ use of chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos being imported.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) have sponsored legislation to prohibit all forms of asbestos. The ban would go further than the EPA proposal and address expected legal challenges.

The bipartisan bill is known as the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now, or ARBAN, Act and is named after Reinstein’s late husband, who died of asbestos-caused mesothelioma, in 2006. The legislation expands beyond mere restrictions on chrysotile asbestos imports, addressing all types of asbestos to combat the pervasive threat posed by legacy asbestos in existing infrastructure.  

The ARBAN bill would go beyond the EPA proposal in three ways:

  • Ban the importation and commercial use of all six asbestos variants, and the Libby amphibole asbestos.
  • Mandate chlor-alkali plants that employ asbestos diaphragms to discontinue asbestos use and transition to non-asbestos technology within two years.
  • Launch an educational outreach initiative aimed at ensuring full compliance by industries with the new asbestos prohibitions.

EWG last year offered support for the ARBAN bill, saying its provisions would help to eradicate cancer-causing asbestos. Diseases triggered by asbestos exposure have killed countless Americans and leave thousands of families grieving for the loss of loved ones every year. 

The Times Square initiative stands as a powerful reminder of the relentless battle against this deadly substance, emphasizing the imperative to protect future generations from the devastating consequences of asbestos-related diseases and fatalities.

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Areas of Focus Toxic Chemicals Asbestos Disqus Comments Authors Alex Formuzis February 16, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

EWG expands team with key new hires

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 07:26
EWG expands team with key new hires Iris Myers February 15, 2024

Washington, D.C. – The Environmental Working Group announces the addition of several outstanding individuals to its team, further enhancing the organization’s capacity to safeguard human health and the environment.

The newest members of the EWG staff include accomplished social media and development experts, a Ph.D. toxicologist, and fresh legal and policy additions to the government affairs team.

“We are thrilled to welcome several new colleagues to EWG’s team,” said EWG Co-founder and President Ken Cook. “Their diverse expertise and commitment to the environment and human health will undoubtedly bolster our mission to foster a healthier, more sustainable world.”

Sarah Evans – Senior Director, Social Media

Sarah Evans joins EWG as the Senior Director of Social Media, bringing more than 14 years of experience in developing effective social media programs. With a passion for developing inspiring and accessible content, Evans has led successful campaigns for brands such as Toyota, Esri and Esurance.

Alexa Friedman, Ph.D. – Senior Scientist

As a seasoned environmental epidemiologist, Alexa Friedman, Ph.D., is dedicated to reducing public exposure to harmful chemicals. With a background in environmental health and a focus on early-life exposure to heavy metals, Friedman’s expertise will be invaluable to EWG’s research efforts.

Abbie Gibbs – Vice President, Development

Abbie Gibbs brings over 20 years of experience in development and strategic partnerships to her role as Vice President of Development at EWG. Gibbs has a deep understanding of environmental issues stemming from her upbringing on a sustainable cattle ranch in Arkansas. 

Bennett Rosenberg – Government Affairs Administrative Associate

Bennett Rosenberg joins EWG as a Government Affairs Administrative Associate, bringing experience in environmental policy and advocacy, including an internship at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Olivia Wagner – Social Media Manager, EWG VERIFIED®

Olivia Wagner brings a wealth of expertise in social media marketing and holistic health to her role as Social Media Manager for EWG VERIFIED®. With a background in nutrition and experience in promoting healthy living, Wagner is committed to empowering individuals to make healthier choices.

Gianfranco Cesareo – Stabile Law Fellow

Gianfranco Cesareo is the Stabile Law Fellow at EWG, supporting the government affairs team on the "forever chemicals" known as PFAS, food safety and other policy issues. After graduating with a law degree from Georgetown University, he interned for nonprofit environmental and animal advocacy groups, served as a managing editor for the Georgetown Environmental Law Review and worked in the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic. 

These talented professionals join over 60 full-time staff members at EWG.

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Disqus Comments Press Contact Alex Formuzis alex@ewg.org (202) 667-6982 February 15, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

What is sodium benzoate?

Tue, 02/13/2024 - 10:47
What is sodium benzoate? Iris Myers February 13, 2024

Sodium benzoate is a preservative found in fruit juices, fermented foods, sauces and some pancake syrups.

This food chemical has been linked to a variety of health harms, including damage to DNA, hormone disruption and reduced fertility. 

Sodium benzoate also poses a cancer risk, but only when combined with ascorbic acid, citric acid or vitamin C. When it’s combined with any of these compounds, it forms benzene, a chemical associated with blood cancers.

The same chemical process happens when ascorbic acid, citric acid or vitamin C is combined with another preservative potassium benzoate. 

There are over 20,000 products in EWG’s Food Scores database that contain both sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, citric acid or vitamin C. Food Scores lists products based on ingredient, nutrition and processing concerns. Soda, cakes, sauces and salad dressings are some of the types of foods most likely to contain both sodium benzoate and ascorbic or citric acid, or vitamin C.

Get Your Free Guide: EWG's Guide to Food Additives

Is sodium benzoate regulated?

If sodium benzoate is known to harm people's health, why is it legal for use in food?

Questionable additives, including sodium benzoate, continue to be allowed in the food we eat because of the Food and Drug Administration’s outdated generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, rule loophole. 

The purpose of the rule was to allow ingredients to skip regulatory approval only if they’re known to be safe. But it’s allowed manufacturers, not the FDA, to certify their own ingredients as safe.

Since 2000, nearly 99 percent of new food chemicals added to the food supply chain have exploited the GRAS loophole. 

And government agencies regulate chemicals one at a time. Potential harm caused by exposure to food chemicals does not come from exposure to just one ingredient. Instead, many health harms can be caused by a combination of ingredients, like sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate and citric acid, and sodium benzoate and vitamin C.

These toxic combinations must be taken into account for regulation to be effective.

How can I avoid this harmful additive?

If you’d like to limit or avoid exposure to sodium benzoate, you can: 

  • Check food product labels and avoid those that list both sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, citric acid and vitamin C as ingredients. Food companies must list these chemicals on packaged food ingredient labels. 
  • Consult EWG’s Food Scores database to find products without this combination of ingredients. When you’re on the go, use our Healthy Living app to find products without toxic chemicals.
  • Look for packaged foods that are certified organic whenever it’s possible and within budget. These products must meet strong standards that protect consumers from exposure to potentially harmful artificial additives. 
  • Reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods when possible. Many contain concerning ingredients, including other food chemicals that could harm your health. 

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Areas of Focus Toxic Chemicals Food Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors Iris Myers February 15, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

New USDA data reveal that the largest factory farms keep growing in number

Tue, 02/13/2024 - 10:42
New USDA data reveal that the largest factory farms keep growing in number rcoleman February 13, 2024

The largest factory farms that are bad for farmers, the environment and public health keep growing in number, according to new data the Department of Agriculture released today.

For cattle and broiler chicken farms, the number of the largest factory farms has grown since 2012. In 2012, there were 1,124 cattle farms in the U.S. with 5,000 cattle or more per farm. But that increased to 1,270 mega factory farms in 2017 and 1,453 in 2022, according to the USDA’s Census of Agriculture data – a 29 percent increase.

And the largest chicken farms increased by 17 percent, from 6,332 farms with 500,000 or more birds in 2012 to 7,211 farms in 2017 and 7,406 farms in 2022. The number of the biggest hog factory farms increased greatly, from 3,006 in 2012 to 3,600 in 2017 but went down slightly to 3,540 in 2022.

Across all three animal types – cattle, chickens and hogs – the number of animals produced in the largest factory farms increased. There were 28 percent more cattle produced in the largest facilities in 2022 than in 2012, 24 percent more hogs and 24 percent more chickens. 

Particularly striking was the growth in the sheer number of broiler chickens produced in factory farms with 500,000 or more birds – almost 1.4 billion more chickens were produced in these huge operations in 2022 than in 2012. 

The USDA’s data also show a shrinking number of farms overall for cattle and broiler chickens in 2017 and 2022 than in 2012. 

For broiler chickens, the number of farms decreased three percent between 2012 and 2022. There were 32,935 broiler chicken farms in 2012, which decreased to 32,751 in 2017 and 31,877 in 2022. More birds were concentrated to fewer broiler operations because at the same time that the number of farms went down, the number of animals increased by eight percent, from almost 8.5 billion birds in 2012 to 8.9 billion in 2017 and almost 9.2 billion in 2022. 

For cattle and calves, the number of farms dropped from 913,246 in 2012 to 882,692 in 2017, with the biggest drop in 2022 to 732,123 farms – a 20 percent decrease in the number of cattle farms between 2012 and 2022. 

The total number of hogs and pigs grew between 2012 to 2022, but the number of hog farms actually went up from 2012 to 2017, and then back down in 2022. 

A concentration of livestock in larger numbers produces more animal waste, which often pollutes our water and air. These environmental damages are also dangerous for public health, with toxins from animal manure sickening people and poisoning wildlife. 

And the largest livestock operations are also bad for the climate. Cows release methane to the atmosphere through their burps, and cattle and hog manure releases methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases more powerful than carbon dioxide. 

The USDA’s new data show that without policy changes, factory farms will continue to get bigger and bigger, wreaking havoc on public health, the environment and the climate.

Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Climate & Agriculture Factory Farms Disqus Comments Authors Anne Schechinger February 13, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

USDA census: Smaller farms falling further behind

Tue, 02/13/2024 - 10:04
USDA census: Smaller farms falling further behind rcoleman February 13, 2024

WASHINGTON – New data released today by the Department of Agriculture show that smaller farms are falling further behind their larger neighbors. 

The Census of Agriculture, which is released by the USDA every five years, found: 

  • The total number of farms fell, from 2 million in 2017 to 1.9 million in 2022.
  • Many of the farms that failed between 2017 and 2022 were those farms with farm sales between $100,000 and $500,000, or farms with farm sales less than $10,000.
  • The number of farms with farm sales greater than $1 million increased from 79,386 in 2017 to 107,742 in 2022.
  • The number of farms with farm sales greater than $5 million nearly doubled from 8.972 in 2017 to 16,226.
  • While the cost of farming increased, the total value of farm products sold increased from $388 billion to $543 billion.

Increasing farm subsidies, as some members of Congress are proposing, would only widen the divide between small and large farmers. 

Some members of Congress are seeking to raise the government price floor for certain crops. Their proposals to increase the price guarantees in the USDA’s Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, program would mostly benefit fewer than 6,000 farmers growing peanuts, cotton and rice in just a few states. 

Since PLC payments are linked to production, the largest producers get the lion’s share of the funding. In 2021, just 10 percent of farmers received more than 80 percent of all PLC payments.

“Increasing reference prices will only add more fuel to the fire,” said Jared Hayes, the Environmental Working Group’s senior policy analyst. 

Most farmers do not grow the crops eligible for these subsidies. A rise in price guarantees will help only the largest producers and accelerate increases in the cost of buying and renting farmland. 

Raising price guarantees is especially bad for young farmers, who are smaller and mostly do not grow cotton, rice and peanuts.

“Increasing subsidies for legacy farmers will supercharge land prices, making it even harder for young farmers to compete with their larger, subsidized neighbors,” Hayes said.

Net farm income is forecast to be $121 billion in 2024, according to the USDA. That’s below recent record highs. But it’s above the level farmers earned in any year from 2015 to 2020 and close to the 20-year average income.

Despite the dip in profits from farming compared to last year, median farm household income is expected to remain steady at nearly $100,000, significantly above the American median household income of $75,000. 

The largest farms will continue to reap extraordinary profits, according to the USDA. Large commercial farms with sales greater than $1 million are expected to enjoy farm-level net cash income of $571,000 in 2024.

Rice and peanut farmers are likely to enjoy record highs for the prices they earn in 2024. Rice cash receipts are expected to climb to $3.8 billion, up from $3.3 billion, and peanut cash receipts will increase to $1.57 billion, up from $1.56 billion.

The price that cotton farmers earn is also expected to increase in 2024, to $6.96 billion, up from $6.85 billion in 2023. 

“Some farmers are struggling, but it’s not the large rice, peanut and cotton farmers who would reap the benefits of higher reference prices,” Hayes said. “A farm bill that increases these price floors at the expense of programs that help farmers withstand extreme weather or produce renewable energy will simply expand a growing economic divide.”

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Farm Subsidies Disqus Comments Press Contact Sarah Graddy sarah@ewg.org (202) 939-9141 February 13, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Demand grows for ski, snowboard wax without ‘forever chemicals’

Tue, 02/13/2024 - 07:49
Demand grows for ski, snowboard wax without ‘forever chemicals’ rcoleman February 13, 2024

Add skis and snowboards to the long list of consumer products treated with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS: outerwear, furniture, carpeting, upholstery fabric, period products, cookware, “long lasting” makeup, and takeout food packaging, among others. 

Special wax used to coat skis and snowboards to lower wear and tear and enhance performance often contains PFAS, particularly in higher-end versions. The chemicals’ nonstick properties help skis glide better across the snow.

But a move is underway to get these substances out of ski wax, since they both harm the people who apply it and contaminate the ground and water.

What’s ski wax?

Ski wax is a technology that has evolved from its beginnings, in the 1600s, when it was made of pine tar pitch and rosin. 

Today there are hundreds of types of ski wax on the market. Olympic wax technicians might choose among 200 to 300 waxes when preparing skis, taking into consideration weather conditions, the skier’s strengths and type of snow.

Environmental and health harms

Ski wax contaminates the environment, since it flakes off. One study measured levels of PFAS in melted snow, soil and water after a ski race and found they were extremely high. 

And PFAS harm the people who apply the wax, particularly since it is used frequently over a period of many years. In one study, 92 percent of participants, amateur skiers and snowboarders, applied the wax themselves, and roughly two-thirds used a wax containing PFAS.

PFAS build up in the body and do not break down in the environment. The chemicals are found in the blood of virtually everyone, including newborn babies. Very low doses of PFAS in drinking water have been linked to suppression of the immune system, including reduced vaccine efficacy, and an increased risk of certain cancers. PFAS are linked with increased cholesterol, reproductive and developmental problems and other health harms.

Get Your FREE Copy of EWG's Guide To Avoiding PFAS Chemicals Bans and the search for alternatives

The International Ski and Snowboard Federation, which oversees elite alpine sport competition, banned fluoro waxes for the 2023-24 season. It will test randomly for the substance, though tests are slow and expensive.

Ski wax containing PFAS is no longer manufactured in the U.S. But until several years ago, alternatives were uncommon. Then, in 2016, a Colorado skier, Peter Arlein, started MountainFLOW to improve the skiing experience without the use of toxic chemicals. Three years later MountainFLOW launched its PFAS-free ski wax

Consumers shouldn’t have the burden of ensuring they aren’t exposed to PFAS – that’s the federal government’s role. But until lawmakers and regulators step up to make sure we’re protected, you’ll have to find the products you need without toxic chemicals. And new products made without PFAS are becoming increasingly available.

If you want to apply wax to your skis or snowboard yourself, look for one made without forever chemicals and wear a mask. If you don’t want to wax them yourself, find out what type of wax is used where you ski and whether it’s possible to switch to one without PFAS.

Note: EWG President Ken Cook will interview MountainFLOW founder and CEO Peter Arlein on Cook’s upcoming podcast, coming out in March. MountainFLOW makes plant-based, PFAS-free ski wax and bicycle lubricant.

Areas of Focus Family Health Toxic Chemicals PFAS Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors Ketura Persellin February 14, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Let states and communities protect their citizens from pesticides

Tue, 02/13/2024 - 07:45
Let states and communities protect their citizens from pesticides rcoleman February 13, 2024

Pesticide makers could undermine state and local governments’ right to adopt rules that protect communities from exposure to toxic crop chemicals, if some members of Congress get their way. They’re looking to make their case during debates over this year’s farm bill and federal agency funding.

These pesticide manufacturers want to limit states and localities from passing and enforcing additional requirements for warnings and information related from pesticides, bending the rules so that people sickened by exposure to these chemicals can’t seek any remedies.

Pending House and Senate bills would achieve the companies’ goal. The bills include the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act, or H.R. 4288, and the EATS Act, or H.R. 4417/S. 2019. Proponents may try to attach the bills to the farm bill or other major legislation.

If the pesticide provisions become law, crop chemical makers could avoid having to pay millions in liability cases to people sickened by exposure, even as emerging research shows many of the substances can cause cancer and other diseases. These problematic pesticides include RoundUp, which contains glyphosate, and Gramoxone, which contains paraquat.

By preventing states and localities from requiring additional pesticide warnings, the companies can minimize their liability for their victims' health problems and protect their own bottom lines.

Interactive Map Elementary schools near crop fields

This map shows the number of elementary schools within a quarter-mile or 200 feet of what the Department of Agriculture considers to be a crop field. These schools have the potential to be in the “spray zone” of pesticides that may be used on these fields. Pesticides sprayed on crop land can harm children who attend schools nearby.

View the map

Many states, cities and counties have adopted standards to restrict pesticide spraying near schools, citing the risks they pose to children. Some of these chemicals have been linked to serious health harms, including damage to the nervous system, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and harm to development and reproduction. Children are especially susceptible to potential health problems.

More than 30 states – including Georgia, Kentucky and Texas – have adopted tough standards for when and how pesticides can be sprayed near schools. EWG found that 4,028 elementary schools in the U.S are located within 200 feet of a crop field where pesticides could be applied. 

Some pesticides can drift miles from the intended crop target, studies show, creating risks for children at schools beyond the thousands EWG identified.

Farmworkers and rural communities are most at risk to pesticide drift.

Figure: Pesticide application mostly harms farmworkers and communities of color

Congress originally intended, and the courts have agreed, that states and localities have a significant pesticide oversight role in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The law establishes the Environmental Protection Agency's baseline authority over pesticides in the U.S. but gives state and local governments the power to enact additional measures.

Blocking state and local standards takes decision-making out of the hands of those most hurt by pesticide use. States and localities are often in a much better position than the EPA to assess risks quickly, consider emerging evidence, and make decisions to protect their unique local environments and communities, including schools and childcare facilities, from toxic pesticides. 

Undermining that authority would handicap critical local efforts to address cancer and other health risks, threats to water resources, and harm to pollinators and other wildlife.

The EPA would also be hampered by the legislative proposals. H.R. 4288 would hamstring its ability to respond to the most recent data about pesticide risks. The agency is just beginning to address the widespread use of toxic pesticides but restricting its efforts to potentially outdated assessments that may not reflect the best science will impair its ability to take swift and necessary action to protect public health. 

Over 140 mayors, lawmakers and other officials from more than 30 states are standing together to urge Congress to reject legislation that would limit longstanding state and local pesticide safety rules. They’re joined by hundreds of members of Congress and 185 environmental, health and agricultural organizations, including EWG. 

Congress should heed these calls and reject legislative proposals to block state and local laws put in place to safeguard communities.

Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Toxic Chemicals Pesticides Disqus Comments Authors Geoff Horsfield February 15, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

It’s time to ban paraquat

Mon, 02/12/2024 - 11:04
It’s time to ban paraquat rcoleman February 12, 2024

The Environmental Protection Agency must ban the toxic weedkiller paraquat – a step over than 60 other countries have taken because of its threats to human health. Paraquat has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood leukemia and more.

Image

The European Union's ban applies to all 27 member countries.

While the EPA says paraquat is too toxic for use on U.S. golf courses, it still allows use of the herbicide on farms. This threatens the health of the people who apply it, other farmworkers and those who live or work near crop fields where it’s used. 

More than 10 million pounds of paraquat were sprayed in 2018 alone, twice as much as has been sprayed since 2014.

Paraquat is primarily used to clear fields before farmers plant corn, soybeans, cotton, almonds, peanuts, wine grapes and other crops. While much of the paraquat applied winds up in the soil for years, the chemical can also drift through the air or linger in dust. 

This pesticide drift creates health concerns. In California – the only state where data is readily available on where paraquat is used and how much – recent studies show workers and residents in areas with the highest use of the chemical face greater risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Syngenta makes paraquat in China and the United Kingdom. The Swiss-based company, which was acquired by a Chinese state-owned chemical conglomerate, has long understood the chemical’s health risks. But it spent decades hiding this knowledge from the public and the EPA. Ironically, Chinese, U.K. and Swiss farmers are prohibited by their respective governments from using paraquat due to potential health risks from exposure. 

But the weedkiller isn’t prohibited in the U.S. Ingesting even tiny amounts of paraquat can be lethal. Reports from America’s Poison Centers show hundreds of accidental and intentional poisonings linked to paraquat ingestion in recent years, with at least one death a year. 

Parkinson’s and paraquat

Chronic exposure to paraquat increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by reducing the number of neurons that produce dopamine in certain parts of the brain. Researchers have used paraquat exposure in animals to study Parkinson’s disease. 

A study using data from the National Institutes of Health found people who sprayed paraquat were more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as those who applied other pesticides. And a meta-analysis of 13 studies found a 64 percent increase in the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease from paraquat exposure.

Most recently, findings from researchers at UCLA show paraquat sprayed within 500 meters, or about 1,640 feet, of where people lived and worked could more than double a person’s odds of developing Parkinson’s.

Other health problems linked to paraquat include thyroid disease and cancer, impaired kidney function, childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

EPA ignores the evidence

The EPA has dismissed research linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease, including in its latest analysis of the chemical, released earlier this month. This includes new research submitted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. 

The EPA has also failed to consider evidence published by the nonprofit investigative news site The New Lede, which revealed that paraquat’s manufacturer actively sought to mislead regulators at the EPA about a link between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

The EPA is also ignoring how people working on farms or living nearby can be exposed to paraquat – ignoring direct drift of paraquat through the air and underestimating how much can be resuspended in dust. The agency assumes that people spraying paraquat will follow instructions designed to minimize drift and harm. But studies show “off label” use of pesticides is common, with virtually no enforcement.

States can step up

To fully protect farmworkers and others, the EPA must follow the science and ban the use of paraquat. 

But states shouldn’t wait for the agency to act. Federal pesticide law sets a floor, not a ceiling. To protect their citizens and public health, state and local governments have the power to enact measures such as a ban on paraquat.

Areas of Focus Food & Water Food Farming & Agriculture Toxic Chemicals Pesticides Disqus Comments Authors Geoff Horsfield Alexis Temkin, Ph.D. February 13, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Duke Energy on defense in appeals court challenge to North Carolina regulators slashing solar incentives

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 13:40
Duke Energy on defense in appeals court challenge to North Carolina regulators slashing solar incentives Iris Myers February 9, 2024

RALEIGH, N.C. – Lawyers for monopoly power company Duke Energy were on defense at a February 7 hearing before the North Carolina Court of Appeals over state regulators’ decision last year, at the utility’s behest, to slash financial incentives for residents seeking to adopt rooftop solar.

Attorneys for a coalition of clean energy advocacy organizations hammered Duke Energy and the North Carolina Utilities Commission, or NCUC, highlighting utility regulators’ blatant violation of a state law that bypassed the mandatory independent cost-benefit analysis required for any major rule changes to North Carolina’s energy policy. 

During a post-hearing teleconference, a senior official with 8MSolar, one of the state’s largest rooftop solar installation companies, painted a grim picture. They cited widespread damage inflicted on the rooftop solar industry since the policy decision, known as the net metering rules change, supported by Duke and the North Carolina Utilities Commission, was implemented last October.

“Since October, when net metering was no longer an option for solar customers, we saw on the residential side a 40 to 50 percent decrease in new people signing up to go solar,” said Bryce Bruncati, director of residential sales for 8MSolar. 

“On the commercial side, it’s been even more drastic, with a 70 to 80 percent decrease in commercial operations looking to go solar. And it’s not just our company. We are seeing this across the board among the solar installation industry,” he said.

“Accessibility is now a big problem for working families. The exact people we want to go solar, save money on their electric bills and be a part of the green revolution are not able to do so now because the savings aren't there anymore,” added Bruncati.

Brucanti’s warning echoes sentiments of one solar installer, who told The News & Observer last month that the cuts were “killing” the industry in North Carolina.

Clean energy advocates at today’s hearing emphasized rooftop solar as the swiftest, fairest and most cost-effective method to transition North Carolina away from fossil fuel–generated electricity. They accused the NCUC of disregarding compelling evidence, including that of Attorney General Josh Stein, which demonstrated the benefits of net metering for all customers.

Caroline Leary, Environmental Working Group  general counsel and chief operating officer, slammed the commission for ignoring H.B. 589, a 2017 state law mandating the NCUC order an independent net metering cost-benefit analysis instead relying on Duke Energy's biased calculations.

“The commission deliberately sidestepped H.B. 589, refusing to conduct an independent, thorough cost-benefit analysis over the state’s net metering policy, and chose instead to blindly rely on Duke Energy’s deeply flawed cost analysis,” said Leary.

“This regulatory maneuver is a calculated effort to sustain Duke’s monopoly control over its captive ratepayers statewide, acknowledging rooftop solar as the sole source of competition against traditional utility giants like Duke,” she said.

Pointing to similar detrimental effects in California following net metering changes, Leary highlighted massive layoffs and business closures in that state, where more than 17,000 jobs have vanished, along with numerous companies that have gone bankrupt. 

The clean energy groups called on North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to prevent the destruction of the state’s rooftop solar industry, criticizing his silence despite numerous pleas for assistance from solar companies over the past two years.

NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren denounced Duke Energy’s long-standing claim that residential rooftop solar is subsidized by others, pointing out the company's obstruction of a proper cost-benefit analysis to validate this argument.

“Duke Energy and other U.S. utilities have claimed for 12 years that ‘rooftop solar homes are subsidized by others,’” Warren said. “That’s their key argument for killing competition from solar. But Duke vigorously blocked the cost-benefit analysis that would show the truth, and the rubber-stamp regulators agreed – without even conducting a hearing.”  

The clean energy groups say solar power on roofs, parking areas and the ground is still a strong value for most customers, but Duke Energy and the regulators have seriously damaged the most important industry in North Carolina. 

Ziyad Habash, of Sunrise Durham, emphasized the state’s responsibility to combat emissions and challenge Duke Energy’s influence and greenwashing, the corporate environmental and sustainability claims that fall short of reality.

“We live in North Carolina, so we’re responsible for truly cleaning up emissions here, and that means challenging Duke Energy’s influence and greenwashing,” he said. Sunrise is a youth-led movement focusing on the climate crisis and a transition to clean energy.

“We should be really working with these solar companies and communities to flood new rooftop solar panels onto every rooftop.” 

The coalition challenging the commission’s net metering order includes EWG, NC WARN, Sunrise Durham, 350 Triangle, 350 Charlotte, N.C. Climate Solutions Coalition, N.C. Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live, along with retired chemical engineer Donald Oulman.
 

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.


 

Areas of Focus Energy Federal & State Energy Policy North Carolina Leading solar company official says widespread damage already underway; outcome of case is pivotal for clean energy, climate efforts Disqus Comments Press Contact Alex Formuzis alex@ewg.org (202) 667-6982 February 9, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Super Bowl ads: Showcasing snacks and makeup with toxic chemicals

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 06:10
Super Bowl ads: Showcasing snacks and makeup with toxic chemicals rcoleman February 9, 2024

Whether your taste runs to salty or sweet, you probably ate your share of snacks while you watched this year’s Super Bowl – some with potentially harmful ingredients.

The big game is popular with advertisers trying to tempt you into buying their foods, spending enormous sums on spots each year. Some of the products advertised this year score poorly in Food Scores, the EWG database that scores packaged foods on nutrition, ingredient and processing concerns.

Many of the foods touted in this year’s Super Bowl ads can be classified as ultra-processed – industrially produced packaged products made with ingredients unavailable in home kitchens. High in refined carbohydrates and fats, loaded with food additives, they’re typically less nutritious and higher in calories than less-processed foods. The Super Bowl may be a time when you want to indulge a little – just bear in mind what you’re consuming.

Ultra-processed food often includes toxic chemicals, such as artificial flavors and colorants. Or, like Super Bowl advertiser Popeye’s, the food is packed with fat, sodium and calories

It’s important to know the score where food chemicals are involved. Here are some of the products and brands with ads in this year’s Super Bowl:

Mountain Dew

Three types of Mountain Dew soda are among the 20 products in Food Scores with the most page views. 

One in particular, a teal drink called Baja Blast, was featured in the company’s Super Bowl ad. It contains the mystery chemical mixture known as “flavor.” 

Natural and artificial flavors are chemically manipulated concoctions designed to make foods more palatable to the consumer, but companies aren’t required to specify which of thousands of flavors the food product contains. The Food and Drug Administration considers 700 to be safe, but industry groups approved another 2,000 without the FDA’s review. 

Baja Blast also contains the food dyes Blue No. 1 and Yellow No. 5. Some artificial food colors can cause behavioral problems in children, leading to attention and behavior problems. They can also harm the hormone system and cause damage to DNA. Blue No. 1 has been connected to headache, digestive problems, skin irritation, and cancer. Yellow No. 1 has been associated with skin irritation, allergies and asthma.

The artificial sweetener sucralose is in the zero-sugar version of Baja Blast. Recent research suggests there may be a link between higher consumption of sucralose and higher risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Candy

It’s not a big surprise that iconic M&Ms get their color from food chemicals – Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6 and Red No. 40. M&Ms also contain “flavor.”

Nerds made its Super Bowl debut this year. This candy is also the most-searched product in EWG’s Food Scores database. They’re hardly a nutritional touchdown, though: Bomb Pop Nerds contain the artificial colors Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 5, Red No. 40 and Red No. 3. 

The Reese’s candy featured in its ad may be one of its safer choices. Others aren’t as healthy. In their snack-size version, Reese’s classic peanut butter cups contain the ingredient tert-butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, a preservative that can harm the immune system and weaken vaccine effectiveness. It’s also in Reese’s Marshmallow Creme with Milk Chocolate. 

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Whipped Topping is made with Yellow No. 5 and the propellant nitrous oxide, better known as “laughing gas.” When abused, it can harm the nervous system and lead to other health issues. 

Doritos

Frito Lay touted its Doritos Dinamita chips during the big game, all of which rate 6 or higher on Food Scores – the “worst” end of our ratings. The color in at least one type of these chips comes from four colorants, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Red No. 40 and Blue No. 1. They also contain the flavor enhancer MSG and the artificial sweetener sucralose.

Makeup

Two makeup brands bought Super Bowl ads – including NYX Professional Makeup, which scores a 1, the least hazardous rating, in EWG’s Skin Deep® database of personal care products. 

But its other products score 5 or higher – from hazardous to very hazardous – with ingredients such as citrus lemon peel oil, linked to skin, eye and lung irritation and the colorant Blue No. 1, linked to hormone disruption and cancer. BHT, associated with allergies, endocrine disruption and cancer, is in some of the products, and others contain talc, which is associated with cancer.

More than one product from another brand, e.l.f., contains the toxic PFAS “forever chemicalPTFE, better known as Teflon, in addition to artificial colorants. 

Rounding out the advertiser lineup are a couple of fast food companies – watch out for PFAS in their packaging – and food delivery companies.

The government should step up

Consumers – and Super Bowl viewers – are free to enjoy their snacks, and they do. Food Scores searches show they’re also concerned about what’s in those foods. Sometimes those concerns build pressure for companies to reformulate their products, but these efforts often fail.

How expensive is reformulation? Companies often claim the price is prohibitive. But the ads were $7 million – not exactly chump change. 

Facing inaction from many food companies, we need tougher national laws to protect us from harmful ingredients. 

In the meantime, some states are stepping into the gap. Last year, California passed into law a bill banning four harmful food chemicals, including Red No. 3. Illinois, Missouri, New York, South Dakota Washington have just introduced legislation banning four additives. In Illinois, the similar bill may get amended to add one more. Other states may soon follow suit.

Get Your Free Guide: EWG's Guide to Food Additives What you can do

Consumers increasingly are searching for quick healthy snack options. There are plenty of great options, many of them in Food Scores.

Whether you’re watching a big game or just following your day-to-day schedule, it’s best to:

  • Eat whole foods like beans and legumes, whole grains and fresh produce. 
  • Make ultra-processed foods more of an occasional indulgence than a regular standby.
  • Consult Food Scores to find out more about packaged food ingredients. 
  • When brainstorming possible snacks, swap ultra-processed snack foods for healthier options, like fresh fruit and vegetables with hummus, nuts, popcorn made from scratch, deviled eggs, roasted chickpeas or air-fried sweet potato fries.  
Areas of Focus Food & Water Food Personal Care Products Family Health Toxic Chemicals Food Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors Ketura Persellin February 12, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

As farm income returns to normal levels, gaps continue to grow

Thu, 02/08/2024 - 08:30
As farm income returns to normal levels, gaps continue to grow rcoleman February 8, 2024

While farm income is expected to return to normal levels in 2024, the gap between the largest, most successful farmers and their poorer neighbors continues to grow. Increasing farm subsidies, as some members of Congress are proposing, will make these gaps even wider. 

Net farm income is forecast to be $121 billion in 2024, according to the Department of Agriculture. That’s below recent record highs but above the level farmers earned in any year from 2015 to 2020 and close to the 20-year average income.

Despite the dip in profits from farming compared to last year, median farm household income is expected to remain steady at nearly $100,000, significantly above the American median household income of $75,000. Many farmers are also very affluent – 98 percent of all family farms are wealthier than the average American household.

The largest farms will continue to reap extraordinary profits. Large commercial farms with sales greater than $1 million are expected to enjoy farm-level net cash income of $571,000 in 2024, while farm production expenses will likely remain the same. 

Overall, farm equity will set a new record: $3.7 billion. This is mostly due to the value of total farm sector assets also reaching a new peak: $4.2 billion, as a result of increases in farmland values.  

Crop price highs

Rice and peanut farmers are expected to enjoy new record highs for the prices they earn in 2024. Rice cash receipts are expected to increase to $3.8 billion, up from $3.3 billion, and peanut cash receipts will increase to $1.57 billion, up from $1.56 billion.

The price that cotton farmers earn is also expected to increase in 2024, to $6.96 billion, up from $6.85 billion, in 2023. 

The rosy outlook for farmers – especially those growing cotton, rice and peanuts – isn’t stopping some members of Congress from seeking to raise the government price floors for certain crops. Their proposals to increase the price guarantees in the USDA’s Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, program would mostly benefit fewer than 6,000 farmers growing peanuts, cotton and rice in just a few states. 

Since PLC payments are linked to production, the largest producers get the lion’s share of the funding. In 2021, just 10 percent of farmers received more than 80 percent of all PLC payments. 

Most farmers do not grow the crops eligible for these subsidies. Increasing price guarantees will help the largest producers only and speed increases in the cost of buying and renting farmland. Raising price guarantees is especially bad for young farmers, who are smaller and largely do not grow cotton, rice and peanuts.

Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Farm Subsidies Disqus Comments Authors Jared Hayes February 8, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Protein predicament: Health concerns about protein bars

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 11:08
Protein predicament: Health concerns about protein bars Iris Myers February 7, 2024

Protein bars might not immediately come to mind when you think of unhealthy foods, but some aren’t as beneficial as they seem. Many bars sold today contain large amounts of ultra-processed ingredients, artificial sweeteners and added sugars.

A hearty alternative to granola bars, protein bars have ballooned into a $4.5 billion dollar industry, with some analysts predicting the market will grow to $7 billion by 2030. Options in the protein bar aisle at the grocery store keep growing, with flavors like Birthday Cake, Maple Glazed Donut, and Strawberry Creme.

But don’t be fooled by the flashy packaging and high protein count; some protein bars masquerade as “healthy,” despite containing the calories of a candy bar. 

Although people often eat protein bars after a workout or as a meal replacement, those that are heavily processed or contain artificial sweetener do not supply the nutrients your body needs to get from a meal or to recover from exercising. 

What’s the matter with ultra-processing?

Ultra-processed foods are those that have been engineered so they no longer resemble the raw ingredients they derive from. They contain added ingredients you won’t find in any home kitchen. The industrial processing involved usually means they offer far less in nutritional benefits – fewer vitamins, less fiber, and more fats and carbohydrates. 

Ultra-processed foods have been linked to a slew of health issues, like obesity, several forms of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular issues. They have been described as interacting with the body in the same way as an addictive substance like nicotine

A Harvard study published last October collected data from more than 30,000 participants over the course of 10 years and found that people with diets high in ultra-processed foods have a higher risk of developing depression.

Another study found that just a 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 15 percent, regardless of the person’s weight.

Added sugars and artificial sweeteners

While a protein bar isn’t as nutritionally empty as a bag of ultra-processed potato chips, many brands contain added sugars, artificial sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup, and fatty oils like canola or palm that keep the bar from falling apart. These sweeteners have been linked to an abundance of health harms, including fatty liver syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes. 

Most protein bars contain added sugar, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Americans monitor and limit when possible. On average, adults consume two to three times the recommended amount of added sugar every day, an amount that has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, obesity, diabetes and even cognitive decline

The same Harvard study that found an association between depression and ultra-processed foods found a similar association between depression and artificial sweeteners. Study participants in the top fifth of artificial sweetener consumers had a 26 percent higher risk of developing depression than those in the bottom fifth.

An artificial sweetener may be listed as the second or third ingredient on the label of a protein bar. Some common ones include sucralose and erythritol, which has been linked to serious heart risk. These aren’t naturally occurring ingredients and are made in chemical processes.

The body can’t easily digest these food additives – they may cause bloating or indigestion, or have a laxative-like effect as the body struggles to absorb them.

Tips for safer protein power

Not all protein brands contain potentially harmful food additives. Certain brands of protein bars can still be a healthy snack or helpful energy boost. Just remember to:

  • Read the label. Studying the list of ingredients is the best way to get an idea of what’s in your protein bars. Take special note of how much sugar, fats and artificial ingredients there are in the bar. 
  • Avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners, when possible. The amount of added sugar in a product will be displayed in grams. Artificial sweeteners are often not highlighted in the same way and may just be listed as one of the bar’s ingredients.
  • Try to choose protein bars with minimal processing. One rule of thumb is to look for products with as few ingredients as possible – with names you recognize. Or consult EWG’s Food Scores database to identify products with fewer harmful food chemicals.
  • Consider buying organic. These products have fewer ultra-processed ingredients and additives. 

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Areas of Focus Family Health Food Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors JR Culpepper February 7, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

EPA reveals more evidence of widespread ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 14:08
EPA reveals more evidence of widespread ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water rcoleman February 6, 2024

WASHINGTON – On February 1, the Environmental Protection Agency posted data confirming 70 million people have drinking water that has tested positive for the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. That number is based on the latest test results from only one-third of public water supplies.

EPA’s new data release adds urgency to the Biden administration’s overdue effort to establish first-time drinking water standards for PFAS. President Joe Biden promised in 2020 to set a PFAS drinking water standard as part of his campaign’s plan to secure environmental justice.

The latest PFAS results reflect tests conducted in 2023 at 3,700 water systems as part of the EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR5. The rule requires water utilities across the nation to test drinking water for 29 PFAS compounds. More systems will be tested this year and in 2025.

Representing the third round of data from 2023, the new results showed PFAS were present in 33 percent of systems tested. 

The sheer scope of the PFAS contamination problem underscores why the Biden administration must quickly finalize national drinking water standards for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or SDWA. The EPA proposed such limits in March 2023.

“There are many other steps we must take to reduce PFAS pollution, including ending non-essential uses of PFAS, ending industrial discharges of PFAS into the air and water, cleaning up legacy PFAS pollution, and properly disposing of PFAS waste,” said Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group senior vice president for government affairs.

“But the single most important step we must take is to finalize a drinking water standard for all 50 states,” he said.

Regulating PFAS in water

The proposed PFAS drinking water standard will set science-based limits for six PFAS in drinking water. These chemicals have been studied extensively and are linked to serious health harms, including cancer and damage to the reproductive and immune systems. 

Some states have set their own drinking water standards for PFAS, but people in 40 states are depending on Biden to set a national drinking water standard that will apply across the U.S. 

The latest test results released by the EPA tell only part of the story – the full scale of PFAS contamination is likely much more widespread.

Tell Congress: Stop the PFAS Contamination Crisis

We need your help to protect our environment from toxic PFAS chemicals.

Tell Congress PFAS contamination crisis

A 2020 study published by scientists at the EWG estimated more than 200 million Americans are served by water systems with PFOA or PFOS – two of the most notorious PFAS – in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 part per trillion, or ppt, or higher. The EPA tests report only PFAS detections at 4 ppt or higher for these chemicals.

EWG’s interactive PFAS contamination map, which we update frequently, shows public and private water systems known to be contaminated with toxic PFAS at thousands of locations. As of February 5, the map shows PFAS are known to contaminate 5,021 locations in 50 states, the District of Columbia and four territories. 

The EPA plans to release additional data on PFAS in drinking water as more systems conduct tests between now and 2025. The agency collects data through the UCMR for contaminants suspected to be in drinking water and for which SDWA health-based standards do not exist. 

Risks of PFAS exposure

PFAS are known as forever chemicals because once released into the environment they do not break down and they can build up in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected PFAS in the blood of 99 percent of Americans, including newborn babies

Very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system. Studies show exposure to very low levels of PFAS can also increase the risk of cancer, harm fetal development and reduce vaccine effectiveness

“Every week new research highlights the detrimental effects of PFAS on human health and the environment and underscores the need for immediate action to protect drinking water,” said Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. 

If you know or suspect PFAS are in your tap water, the best way to protect yourself is with a filtration system at home. EWG researchers tested the performance of 10 popular water filters and measured how well each reduced PFAS detected in home tap water. 

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

Areas of Focus Food & Water Water Toxic Chemicals PFAS Chemicals Disqus Comments Press Contact Monica Amarelo monica@ewg.org (202) 939-9140 February 7, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Increasing crop reference prices would hurt young farmers

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 10:43
Increasing crop reference prices would hurt young farmers rcoleman February 6, 2024

Increasing price guarantees for major crops, as some farm groups and legislators are proposing, would make it harder for young farmers – those aged 35 or younger – to compete against larger, legacy farmers. 

Price guarantees for major crops like cotton and rice are paid only on lands with a crop production history, or on lands with “base acres,” a limited number of acres set by the Department of Agriculture where farmers can receive price guarantees for covered crops. Younger farmers are less likely to grow these major crops and much less likely to own lands with the coveted base acres, making it even harder for them to compete.

Young farmers also tend to have smaller farms. Because crop subsidy payments are tied to production, even those who grow “covered commodities” like cotton and rice on base acres receive smaller payments than their larger neighbors. While the average farm is 445 acres, the average farm run by a young farmer is less than 50 acres. 

The USDA defines a young farmer as someone 35 years old or younger, and a new and beginning farmer is anyone who has farmed for 10 years or less. USDA estimates that 80 percent of new and beginning farmers are also young farmers.

The USDA and many members of Congress have warned that the average age of farmers is going up, so it’s important that policymakers support the next generation.

How the current system works

Farmers growing cotton, rice and other covered commodities get a payment that covers the difference between the price guarantee in the farm bill and the market price. Farmers can only receive a payment on base acres.

In 1996, Congress originally linked base acres to crops planted between 1981 and 1985. But it used subsequent farm bills to change how base acres are calculated. The idea of payments for base acres was designed to encourage farmers to make their planting decisions based upon market conditions, not government programs. 

Most young farmers do not have base acres 

Eligibility to collect subsidies on land with base acres makes farmland with these acres more expensive, so young and other “limited resource farmers” often cannot afford to buy or rent farmland with base acres. Almost 60 percent of young farmers said finding affordable land is “very or extremely” challenging in a recent survey.

Some farm groups and legislators have proposed increasing price guarantees for major crops. But the higher price guarantees would mostly benefit fewer than 6,000 farms in a few states, EWG has previously found.

Most new and beginning farmers – 88.1 percent – don’t farm commodities that would benefit from increased price guarantees, as this pie chart shows:

Source: USDA Agricultural Census

Only 2,300 young farmers grow cotton, peanuts, rice or tobacco according to USDA data, and few of these young farmers have land with base acres. Raising reference prices would send more farm subsidies to farmers that are not young farmers.

Unlike subsidy programs, USDA conservation programs are available to all farmers, including all young farmers. Some members of Congress have proposed to cut funding for conservation programs in order to increase reference prices. This would further hurt not just young farmers but many other types of farmers, too.

Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Climate & Agriculture Conservation Farm Subsidies Disqus Comments Authors Jared Hayes February 7, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Replacement flame retardant chemicals linked to preterm birth, new study finds

Mon, 02/05/2024 - 12:03
Replacement flame retardant chemicals linked to preterm birth, new study finds rcoleman February 5, 2024

A new study finds a link between premature birth and exposure to organophosphate ester flame retardants, or OPEs, used in furniture and foam for mattresses and more. The study also found the risk of preterm birth was greater for pregnant people who gave birth to female babies.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity. Reducing environmental factors that increase risk of prematurity, like OPE exposure, can improve children’s health. 

The peer-reviewed study, published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, was led by a large team of scientists from the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program. It included 6,646 pregnant people from across the United States, the largest health study of OPEs to date. 

Some flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants were phased out of use in furniture, mattresses and baby products in the mid-2000s, due to concerns about their toxicity. Companies started to use replacements, including OPEs.

OPEs are commonly used as flame retardants in furniture and electronics. OPEs can also help make plastic more flexible and are used in vinyl flooring, children’s toys, and in personal care products, including nail polish. These chemicals are not chemically bound to the products they are added to and leach off into the air and dust. 

Greater risk of preterm birth

The authors looked at the association between nine different OPEs measured in urine and the risk of preterm birth. They reported that three of these OPEs were found in 85 percent of participants – meaning that exposure to these chemicals is common in pregnant people. 

The risk of preterm birth differed by the type of OPE. For one of the highly detected OPEs, a composite of dibutyl phosphate and di-isobutyl phosphate, a doubling in the amount of this OPE in a person’s urine was associated with odds of preterm birth that were 7 percent higher.

Health risks from one exposure

Hazardous chemicals in furniture and foam have come under increased scrutiny in recent years due to concerns about how they harm human health.

Furniture manufacturers are not required to disclose the materials they use in their products to comply with U.S. flammability standards. The Environmental Protection Agency pledged to phase out two brominated flame retardants. Now, as an interim step, new manufacturers must disclose when importing these chemicals. But they are not explicitly banned.

Despite these types of flame retardants being phased out due to concerns about their toxicity, their replacement, OPEs, were not evaluated for safety before they were used. 

After OPEs enter our body, they are quickly excreted, usually within hours. Although they do not stay in the body long, OPEs have still been associated with several health harms, including infant health and reduced child neurodevelopment and impaired thyroid function.

In December 2023, the EPA noted that one of the OPEs evaluated in this study “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health and the environment.”

These chemicals are not the only harmful substances being used as flame retardants. Fiberglass has also been used as a flame retardant in mattresses and upholstered furniture. It can enter the air, creating a potential inhalation hazard, as well as causing irritation to the skin and eyes. Last October, California banned fiberglass for use in mattresses and other upholstered furniture. The bill was sponsored by EWG.

Safer alternatives can take the place of these hazardous chemicals in furniture. These include wool, rayon and polylactic acid batting, which can be used to meet fire safety standards. The need for flame retardants in electronics is less clear, though New York has banned some of these chemicals from being used in electronics. 

Reducing exposure to flame retardants

Some steps you can take to reduce your potential exposure to flame retardants:

  • Support legislation that bans harmful chemicals in your furniture. A 2021 study by EWG authors found that the bans on flame retardants in upholstered furniture in California and other states help to reduce flame retardant levels in the home.
  • Shop for a mattress or crib mattress that uses safer alternatives. Look for a mattress from a company that’s transparent about what it uses to meet fireproofing requirements and the other materials in their products. Use EWG’s Guide to Healthy Living for tips to healthy purchases and look for our new EWG VERIFIED® mattresses for the highest level of confidence. 
  • Regular cleaning can help reduce chemical exposures in the home. Flame retardants dissociate from products they are added to and can end up in household dust. See EWG’s Guide to Removing Household Dust
Areas of Focus Family Health Reproductive Health Toxic Chemicals Flame Retardants Disqus Comments Authors Alexa Friedman, Ph.D. February 5, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Chemical industry throws temper tantrum over ‘polluter pays’ tax to cover cleanup of its toxic sites

Mon, 02/05/2024 - 10:19
Chemical industry throws temper tantrum over ‘polluter pays’ tax to cover cleanup of its toxic sites Iris Myers February 5, 2024

WASHINGTON – Chemical industry lobbyists spent more than $131 million between 2022 and 2023 urging Congress to back its interests, including opposition to a newly reinstated and fair tax forcing companies to pay for cleanup at some of the most polluted sites in the U.S.

Despite spending eye-watering amounts of money to get lawmakers on their side, the same industry is now whining that its members won’t be able to afford their share of the “polluter pays” tax without consumers suffering. Reading from the tired anti-tax playbook, the sector says it will have no choice but to pass the cost on via higher product prices.

The chemical industry cryfest is detailed in a recent report by NJ Spotlight News that highlights the astronomical lobbying dollars – a “near-record sum,” as the author notes.

For years, the industry used lobbying funds to help keep the long-expired polluter pays tax in the past. But the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021 revived the tax, finally putting companies back on the hook to pay for cleaning up their messes.

The tax works by charging chemical manufacturers and others whose toxic waste created the most contaminated industrial sites in the U.S., known as Superfund sites. The money goes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program. Reinstating the tax finally ends the burden on taxpayers to pay for many cleanup costs, which they have carried for the past 20 years.

“The chemical industry and their apologists in Congress have treated American taxpayers like the cleanup crew for decades, leaving them to cover the costs of remediating these contaminated sites,” said EWG President and Co-founder Ken Cook

“It’s high time the culprits, not the public, foot the bill for mopping up the toxic waste plaguing countless communities across the country that pose substantial threats to human health and the environment," said Cook.

The chemical industry, of course, is apoplectic for once again being forced to pay a portion of the costs to clean up the toxic mess it’s made in communities across the country.

Jennifer Scott, spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s main lobby group, believes the revived polluter pays tax is misguided, suggesting taxpayers, and not polluters, should be stuck with cleanup costs.

“We would note that the program has operated for the past 25 years without the tax, based upon general revenues and fund reimbursements,” Scott told NJ Spotlight News.

She also warned that the price of the tax will be passed onto consumers in the form of higher costs for products – a tired line that opponents of fair taxes frequently bring up.

Congress passed legislation in 1980 that created the Superfund program and the polluter pays tax that helped clean up some of the most contaminated sites in the U.S., including Love Canal, in upstate New York, and Silver Bow Creek, near Butte, Mont.

The tax expired in 1995 and Congress, led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), refused to reauthorize it. At the time, the program’s coffers contained an estimated $4 billion collected from polluters, but the fund finally went dry in 2003, placing the entire burden to cover cleanups squarely on the backs of U.S. taxpayers.

An estimated 78 million Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site, including 24 percent of all children under the age of 5, putting them at greater risk of being exposed to any number of highly toxic substances. These sites are also disproportionately located close to communities of color and the cause of a host of environmental and health problems. 

There are more than 1,100 locations on EPA’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites that need to be cleaned up. The recently renewed polluter fee will require those companies responsible for the pollution to help cover the costs and finally kickstart action at these sites.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. 

Areas of Focus Toxic Chemicals Chemical Policy Disqus Comments Press Contact Alex Formuzis alex@ewg.org (202) 667-6982 February 5, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Lead use in popular Stanley tumblers sparks consumers’ concern

Fri, 02/02/2024 - 12:52
Lead use in popular Stanley tumblers sparks consumers’ concern rcoleman February 2, 2024

WASHINGTON – Stanley tumblers, the internet-famous cups, are trending on social media not for a new color release, but because they contain the toxic metal lead. 

According to a statement on Stanley’s website, their “manufacturing process currently employs the use of an industry standard pellet to seal the vacuum insulation at the base of our products; the sealing material includes some lead.” 

The statement continues, “once sealed, this area is covered with a durable stainless steel layer, making it inaccessible to consumers. Rest assured that no lead is present on the surface of any Stanley product that comes into contact with the consumer nor the contents of the product.”

Despite these assurances, some consumers remain concerned that they, or their children, might be using a product every day that could put them in contact with this extremely toxic heavy metal, which is known to harm people – particularly kids. 

“It's unacceptable that people, especially young children, may be exposed to lead, a powerful neurotoxin, because of using a cup or any other consumer products,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., vice president of science investigations at the Environmental Working Group.

“We know the use of lead is avoidable based on online statements from manufacturers who find alternatives to lead for vacuum sealing their products,” she said.

There is no safe blood lead level in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure causes an array of health problems, including brain damage, lowered IQ and other harm to brain and nervous system development. Even small amounts can cause behavior and learning problems, slow growth, impair hearing and the ability to pay attention, and weaken overall cognitive development. 

Because of their developing bodies, babies and young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure – they absorb four to five times as much ingested lead as adults, according to the World Health Organization. Today, babies and kids are exposed to lead mostly through paint in older, badly maintained residential units and contaminated drinking water

“Lead is toxic to everyone, but children are especially vulnerable to the effect of lead exposure,” said Naidenko. 

“No infant or child should be exposed to the damaging effects of this dangerous heavy metal. The impact of elevated lead levels in a child's blood can include devastating lifelong harm to health,” she added.

Consumers should look for water bottle options that don't use lead in their products. 

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. 

Areas of Focus Family Health Toxic Chemicals Lead Disqus Comments Press Contact Iris Myers iris@ewg.org (202) 939-9126 February 2, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

How to buy a mattress without toxic chemicals

Fri, 02/02/2024 - 09:32
How to buy a mattress without toxic chemicals rcoleman February 2, 2024

How hard can it be to buy a mattress? The answer: There’s more to consider with this big ticket consumer item than you might suspect – including your health.

A mattress is a purchase you may make only every decade or so. It pays to search carefully for a new mattress because some of these products can be made with toxic chemicals that may hurt your health while you’re sleeping.

What to look for

To help, we’ve got some tips for you to keep in mind when you shop for a new mattress free from toxic chemicals.

Aside from the usual factors to consider when buying a mattress – considering your sleep habits, back issues, body size – you’ll want to take a look at the materials the mattress is made of. Some are healthier for you and the environment than others:

  • Memory foam – made of polyurethane foam, which allows it to conform more readily, and may emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
  • Latex – natural latex comes from rubber trees and can be found in organic mattresses. 
  • Innerspring – a traditional, bouncy mattress that uses metal coils to provide support, and most often is sold with a matching foundation. 
  • Hybrid – with coils on the bottom topped by memory foam or latex, more popular of late, especially for online brands.
  • Adjustable – a mattress with an air chamber that allows you to control the firmness (not to be confused with an air mattress). 
Mattresses that meet EWG's strictest standards

From cribs, to california kings -- we have done the work for you to find the mattresses that meet the mark when it comes to chemical safety.

Sleep safe with EWG VERIFIED: Mattresses Health harms of contemporary mattresses

Mattresses often contain toxic chemicals like petroleum-based chemicals, foam, plastics and flame retardants such as fiberglass. But companies aren’t required to reveal the materials they use. 

The mattress components contain and emit chemicals that can worsen indoor air quality and cause a range of health harms. It’s especially concerning since we spend so much of our time sleeping and in our beds.

Flame retardants, for instance, like antimony trioxide have been linked to cancer, and fiberglass can cause respiratory harm and skin rashes. PVC and vinyl, if used as mattress covers, can harm the reproductive system. 

And polyurethane foam, commonly found in numerous mattresses, releases potentially harmful VOCs over extended periods, posing health concerns. Exposure to these VOCs can lead to respiratory irritation, trigger asthma symptoms, and, in the long term, elevate the risk of cancer. Despite the appealing term “memory foam,” it remains a form of polyurethane foam. Even foam marketed as “plant-based” is primarily composed of polyurethane.

Some companies add “fragrance,” a mystery concoction that may include as many as thousands of chemicals, to their mattresses. Used to mask other odors, it can cause allergic reactions and harm to the hormone system.

Exposure to these chemicals can be even more harmful to babies because of their developing bodies and because of how much time they spend in their crib.

Healthier materials

But it’s tough trying to weed through all these considerations and the alphabet soup of mattress industry certifications – standards for healthier, safer mattresses – can be overwhelming. They aren’t always founded on the idea of protecting our health.

You may be familiar with the voluntary standards such as Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, and, for mattresses made with latex, the Global Organic Latex Standard, or GOLS. Anything certified GOTS must be 95 percent certified organic, and even the other 5 percent can’t include certain toxic chemicals, like polyurethane. The GOLS certification ensures the same thing but for latex, setting limits for other toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde. 

The Department of Agriculture permits the label “organic” even if just a part of the mattress is certified organic. 

The Greenguard Environmental Institute created a certification that prioritizes indoor air quality. It addresses concerns about chemical emissions that can compromise the air we breathe indoors. The certification programs ensure that mattresses undergo rigorous testing, and set strict criteria for low chemical emissions to create better indoor air quality. 

A mark you can rely on 

As with other categories of consumer goods, the EWG VERIFIED® mark on a mattress makes it easier to choose what you want. 

EWG’s research team developed a strict set of standards to be followed in the manufacturing of all products that bear the EWG VERIFIED mark.

An EWG VERIFIED mattress meets our highest safety standards, protecting consumers from a wide range of toxic chemicals, including those that may cause allergic reactions, be associated with cancer risk, and potentially harm the respiratory and hormone systems, among other health concerns.

The EWG VERIFIED mark shows consumers that a product meets our strictest criteria, based on a variety of health and environmental standards. EWG VERIFIED baby and adult mattresses are:

  • Made with transparency, with all ingredients and materials used publicly disclosed.
  • Made with safer product materials and lower-emitting volatile organic compounds.
  • Prohibited from using harmful chemical flame retardants and fiberglass.
  • Prohibited from using PVCs and the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

In 2023, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a ban on the sale of mattresses and upholstered furniture containing fiberglass, a harmful flame retardant. Sponsored by EWG and receiving bipartisan support, this legislation ensures consumer protection from fiberglass exposure, safeguarding skin, eyes and lungs. 

California and other states have also banned chemical flame retardants because of the potential harm they pose to reproductive and nervous systems.

Other considerations

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you shop for a new mattress: 

Modular mattress. Consider opting for a modular mattress that allows individual components or layers to be replaced as they wear out. This way, you can replace specific parts rather than investing in an entirely new mattress.

Be wary of sales. Many companies continuously advertise their products as “on sale” to boost their profits. Look for value and good materials instead.

Ask for a better price. Consumer Reports says around 70 percent of online mattress shoppers who asked for a better price got one, and 62 percent of shoppers in bricks-and-mortar stores. The median savings: $250. 

Check the return policy. Make sure you have time to test the mattress to see if it will work for you. Most companies have a 100-day window, but check the policy to see whether you’ll need to pay a penalty and how much of a hassle it will be.

Areas of Focus Family Health Disqus Comments Authors Ketura Persellin Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D. February 7, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Heartbreaking: Harmful food dyes in Valentine’s Day candy

Fri, 02/02/2024 - 09:12
Heartbreaking: Harmful food dyes in Valentine’s Day candy Iris Myers February 2, 2024

Heart-shaped candies, the ubiquitous Valentine’s Day sweet treats, may contain potentially problematic food dyes – likely at levels that are harmful to health. 

Concerns about food dyes

Many brands and varieties of heart-shaped candy contain Yellow Dye No. 5, Yellow Dye No. 6 and Red Dye No. 40. 

These synthetic dyes can all be found in Valentine’s Day sweets made by popular brands Frankford Candy, Brach’s, Disney and Jelly Belly.

Artificial dyes have been linked to an array of health harms. They can make children vulnerable to behavioral difficulties, including decreased attention, according to a 2021 study by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. 

Additional human studies have linked these chemicals to inattentiveness, learning difficulties and restlessness in sensitive children.

One study found that exposure to just 1 milligram of Yellow Dye No. 5 can adversely affect the most sensitive children. Many products on the market that include Yellow Dye No. 5 contain far more than 1 milligram. For example, a store-bought slushy contains, on average, 1 to 10 milligrams of food dye per serving.

Get Your Free Guide: EWG's Guide to Food Additives Regulating food dyes

The California health office also found that federal levels for safe intake of food dyes might not protect children’s brain health. It noted that current legal levels for FD&C food dyes, set decades ago by the Food and Drug Administration, don’t take recent research into account.

For decades, the FDA has allowed chemical companies to decide whether most food chemicals are safe. A recent EWG analysis found that almost 99 percent of the food chemicals that have entered the market since 2000 were reviewed for safety by industry scientists, not the FDA.

Even in instances where the FDA does review chemicals for safety, it doesn’t reevaluate earlier decisions. As a result, the vast majority of chemicals in our food supply haven’t been reviewed for safety for decades, if at all.

Avoiding harmful food dyes

If you’re shopping for your valentine and want to avoid harmful synthetic food dyes, here are some tips:

  • Check product labels. Artificial dyes must be listed among the ingredients of packaged foods, so study labels to avoid products that contain them. 
  • Consult EWG’s Food Scores database to find alternative products that don’t contain harmful food dyes. When you’re on the go, use our Healthy Living app to find products without toxic chemicals.
  • Look for packaged foods that are certified organic whenever possible and within budget – they must meet strong standards that protect consumers from exposure to potentially harmful food additives.
  • Reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods when possible. Many contain concerning ingredients, including other food chemicals that could harm your health. 
Areas of Focus Food Toxic Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors Iris Myers February 5, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

EWG applauds Biden’s plan to shine spotlight on climate pollution from bitcoin mining  

Thu, 02/01/2024 - 12:29
EWG applauds Biden’s plan to shine spotlight on climate pollution from bitcoin mining   rcoleman February 1, 2024

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced measures to address cryptocurrency production’s excessive energy consumption, launching a data collection effort on electricity use from U.S. bitcoin mining operations.

Starting next week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA, will conduct a comprehensive survey of electricity consumption by specific U.S. commercial cryptocurrency mining companies. They must provide detailed information about their operations’ energy use, a crucial step towards much-needed transparency and accountability in the cryptocurrency industry.

The Biden administration in September 2022 released a comprehensive report from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, “Climate and Energy Implications of Crypto Assets in the United States.” This was the first salvo from the White House raising concerns over bitcoin mining’s harmful impacts on the environment. 

The Environmental Working Group, along with Greenpeace USA and other advocates, formed the Change the Code, Not the Climate campaign in March 2022, urging bitcoin and its miners to reduce climate pollution by adopting a far less energy-intensive code. The mining process they use, known as “proof of work,” is inherently wasteful because of the huge amounts of energy needed for it to succeed.

In April 2023, EWG released a report profiling the noise, water, climate and air quality problems, along with electricity supply and cost issues, linked to bitcoin mining in six states.

Representatives from the campaign, led by EWG, have held numerous meetings with members of Congress and their staffs, including briefings and testimony before relevant oversight committees, as well as meetings with top White House environmental and energy advisors.

The EIA’s data collection is a significant step in addressing the environmental impact of the booming cryptocurrency mining industry in the U.S. The decision to collect data on miners' energy use is vital for understanding and mitigating the environmental consequences of this rapidly growing sector, which consumes a substantial amount of electricity, said EWG President Ken Cook.

“EWG applauds the Biden administration for its proactive stance in addressing the serious and growing environmental impacts of cryptocurrency mining,” said Cook.

“This initiative signifies a crucial step toward a more sustainable future for the rapidly evolving digital economy by better understanding exactly how much dirty energy is being consumed to keep these operations running,” he said.

The bitcoin mining industry has exploded in the U.S. in recent years after it was kicked out of China and Europe over the sector’s heavy reliance on electricity. Miners have found a far more friendly business environment in the U.S., most notably in the Northeast, Southeast and Texas.

The EIA will seek public input on the collection of data related to cryptocurrency miners' energy use, including from those who live and work nearby the mining operations that run 24/7, along with the noise pollution that has forced some people to sell their homes and move.

To power their operations, some miners rely on the resurrection of dormant fossil fuel power plants, some find low-cost high-pollution fuel sources like burning coal waste in Pennsylvania, and others flare gas from oil wells in Texas and the Dakotas to generate the necessary electricity.

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

Areas of Focus Change the Code, Not the Climate Energy Federal & State Energy Policy Disqus Comments Press Contact Alex Formuzis alex@ewg.org (202) 667-6982 February 1, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

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