Selected category: Markets and Retail

People deserve to know if lead pipes and paint are present where they live and work

Tom Neltner, J.D.is the Chemicals Policy Director

We live in an increasingly transparent world. When it comes to the real estate market, companies are mining local government databases to let us know the size of a home, how much it’s worth, and even when the roof was last replaced.

Yet, you can’t find out if the house you might buy could poison your children with toxic lead. Federal law only requires that the seller or landlord reveal the presence of lead paint when you sign a contract to buy or rent a home.

We think that has to change.

People should be able to readily know if lead is present in the paint and water pipes where they live and work when they begin making important decisions, not when they are finalizing the deal. When shopping for a place to live, the best time to learn if there is lead at a property is when it is listed for sale or rent. Some opponents claim that revealing this information invades the resident’s privacy, but the presence of lead is not about anyone’s behavior. Rather, it’s a fact about the house, a legacy of the construction of the building. It is no different from the type of furnace or number of bedrooms.

There are signs of progress. In Washington, DC, the water utility has launched an online map that reveals information that can help improve transparency on lead pipes. Anyone can check online and see what’s known (and not known) about the presence of lead service lines that connect the drinking water main under the street to their home or business.

It’s a model other communities should follow. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made this type of transparency a priority for states and utilities. And the private sector needs to play a role, too — real estate innovators like Zillow and Redfin, who have transformed how we find homes, should include this information in their online listings.

It’s time that people begin to know the possible health impacts of their housing options when evaluating homes to buy or rent.

Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Flint, lead, Regulation, Uncategorized| Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Senator Markey asks: What if people could buy food they know is free of secret ingredients?

Senator Markey (D-MA) asked FDA if it can require a label to tell consumers when the food they are eating contains chemicals it has not reviewed for safety. In his April 26 letter, he asked the agency to respond by May 17.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

In May 2015, 36% of consumers said that chemicals in food was their most important food safety issue and 23% of consumer said they changed their purchase habits out of concern with chemicals in their food. Leading food manufacturers responded by reformulating their products to remove artificial flavors and colors.

What if these same consumers knew that chemicals added to their food had not been reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? As the Natural Resources Defense Council made clear two years ago, 56 food additive makers chose to avoid FDA’s scrutiny by taking advantage of a loophole in the law for “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) substances. They purposely chose not to be transparent by keeping secret the safety evaluation conducted by their employees or consultants. These companies appear to make only a few of the estimated 1000 chemicals that FDA has not checked for safety or is aware they exist.

In February, we learned that 51% of consumers think that safety means not only that a product is free of harmful ingredients but that its labeling is clear and accurate. Forty-seven percent want clear information on ingredients and sourcing. With this in mind, it’s fair to assume that consumers also expect that all food chemicals are safe and known to the FDA. Many consumers would likely not buy products where the labeling failed to disclose that the food they serve their families contained ingredients the FDA has admitted it “cannot vouch for their safety".

On April 26, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) put the issue front and center when he asked FDA whether it has “sufficient authority to require a special label on any foods or beverages containing ingredients that have been self-determined to be GRAS without an FDA review?” If FDA had sufficient authority, then “what would the label look like?” Read More »

Also posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, Regulation, Uncategorized| Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

Walmart Makes Progress on Its Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Boma Brown-West is a Manager, Consumer Health Corporate Partnerships Program and Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program

It’s been two and a half years since Walmart first committed to adopting a sustainable chemistry policy. Since then, consumers, companies and advocates have been watching the retailer with interest. Today, Walmart released its ninth annual Global Responsibility Report (GRR), which outlines its environmental and social activities for the past year. For the first time, this report includes information about the progress it has made against its Sustainable Chemistry Policy adopted in 2013, which aimed for more transparency of product ingredients and safer formulations of products.

According to Walmart, it has reduced the usage (by weight) of its designated high priority chemicals by 95 percent, a pretty sizeable number. Walmart has said that it will post more specifics in the coming weeks on its Sustainability Hub, including quantitative results on all aspects of the policy’s implementation guide and details about how they achieved the substantial reduction

Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy| Tagged | Comments are closed

Making "safer" accessible to all

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

I find purchasing shampoo and other common personal care products to be a surprisingly stressful experience – I pace the aisles at the drugstore for a good 10-15 minutes, read every product ingredient list, contemplate the legitimacy of claims like “paraben-free” or “no artificial colors or fragrances,” and weigh the impact on my wallet. In the end, I usually choose a moderately priced product with some sort of ingredient safety claim brightly printed on the front label, and hope the extra $2 I spent will actually reduce my exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Many consumers are hungry for information and solutions that help reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals.  As more research links exposures to common ingredients in personal care products and health impacts – like certain parabens to reduced fertility; certain phthalates to asthma, reproductive disorders, and neurological effects; and triclosan to obesity – many consumers want to feel empowered to take action. That’s why the results of a recent intervention study are so intriguing: researchers found that exposures to certain chemicals fell in a population of low-income Latina girls after using personal care products labeled as being free of such chemicals for three days.

The implications of this study raise several interesting questions that I’ll explore in this post. Specifically, are personal shopping choices an effective way to avoid chemical exposures?  And, is this strategy equally available to everyone in our society?   Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Science, FDA, Health Policy, Health Science| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Towards Safer Food Additives

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

EDF strives to make safer food available by partnering with companies to reduce and eliminate potentially unsafe chemical food additives and supporting efforts to fix a broken regulatory system.

For many years this blog has focused on the safety of chemicals and nanomaterials used in industrial and consumer products.  Most of these substances are regulated federally by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  But we also encounter chemicals in other ways, including those present in or added to food.  Such chemicals are regulated under a different law, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), administered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This blog introduces EDF’s “Safer Food Additives” initiative to get unsafe and questionable chemicals out of our food by using dual levers of change—corporate leadershIFIC Charts - 5-16-16ip and public policy.   Making our food trustworthy demands leadership in both the private sector and the FDA.

The food market is changing rapidly as manufacturers work to keep up with consumer concerns about what’s in our food. And it’s not just about added sugar, salt and trans fats, or whether the food was grown locally or with or without pesticides. Public campaigns increasingly put the spotlight on many chemicals commonly used in food and food packaging—food additives—with growing scientific evidence questioning the safety of their use.

A respected industry survey released in May 2015 showed that 36% of consumers rated chemicals in food as their most important food safety concern – greater than pathogens, pesticides, animal antibiotics and allergens, and up from 23% in 2014 and 9% in 2011. These concerns translated into action; 23% of consumers reported changing their buying habits (corrected from 45% on May 16, 2016). Read More »

Also posted in FDA, Food, Health Policy| Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

Walmart Takes Important First Step on Disclosing Product Ingredients

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist, Alissa Sasso is a Research Consultant.

Imagine you’re standing in the shopping aisle looking for a new brand of lotion that won’t irritate your baby’s skin. You find yourself surveying at least a dozen different lotion labels trying to understand and compare product ingredients. The process is frustrating and slow, not to mention confusing—what are some of these things even used for? You’re ready to pull your hair out!

You are not alone. Inadequate access to ingredient information has long been a systemic problem. Fortunately, the situation is improving. In the past few years, more and more companies have taken action to make product information more transparent to consumers, including, importantly, the sharing of ingredients online. Walmart has recently joined the ranks of these companies.  Read more to learn what action the retailer has taken.   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy| Tagged | Comments are closed
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