Women's Voices for the Earth Champions Healthy, Safer, Non-Toxic Cleansers for Moms and Kids
Women's Voices for the Earth is among the most effective organizations in the country when it comes to protecting women and children from exposure to toxic chemicals. I sat down with Cassidy Randall, the Outreach and Campaign Manager for WVE (pictured below) to find out more about how Women's Voices makes a difference - and what you can do to help.
Unfortunately, the Toxic Substances Control Act is outdated and fails to protect us from harmful chemicals like BPA, lead, and phthalates. Of the more than 80,000 chemicals out there in consumer products, only 200 of them have ever been adequately tested for safety.
Most of those chemicals that have been tested have been looked at only for their short-term impacts to adult men in industrial settings. That’s one of the reasons why WVE focuses on toxic chemicals and women’s health: how women are exposed and the health impacts on women–especially girls, women of color, and women of childbearing age–are unique and have been mostly overlooked in the past.
There are a number of reasons that women are more impacted by toxic chemicals. First, women are much greater users of consumer products that can contain toxic chemicals:
* While gender roles have certainly changed over time, studies show that women are still doing over 70% of the housework in the average home, which means a higher exposure to household cleaning chemicals.
* Fragranced products are more heavily marketed to women, and women are more likely to suffer from fragrance allergy than men.
Second, women carry the health impacts of toxic chemicals in a unique way. Women have a higher percentage of body fat, and many chemicals tend to accumulate in fat tissue. Women can also pass chemicals on to their children during pregnancy and through breastfeeding.
Third, research shows that women’s health problems are on the rise. For example, breast cancer rates have risen from an average of 1 in 20 to 1 in 8, women’s infertility is increasing, and puberty is occurring earlier in girls.
Lastly, Women’s Voices for the Earth believes that women have tremendous social, polictical, and economic power to change the systems that allow toxic chemicals in our products in the first place. That’s why we create opportunities for women to raise their voices, whether it’s to spread the word to friends and family, call on companies to make safer products, or ask lawmakers to pass policies that will truly protect us from toxic chemicals.
Don't companies that produce the products we use have to meet standards for health and safety?
Yes, there are certainly some standards in place, but they’re few and far between. And the standards that do exist are inconsistent across industries.
For example, the cosmetics industry is self-regulated. Guess who reviews the safety of cosmetics? Not the Food and Drug Administration, but the Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel. Guess who pays them to do that job? Cosmetics companies!
And we’ve seen how ineffective this system is with the Brazilian Blowout blowup. This popular hair straightening treatment contains up to 10% formaldehyde (a known cancer-causing chemical) – but the company was lying and labeled their bottles formaldehyde-free. Neither the cosmetics industry nor the FDA has done anything to protect stylists and their clients from this toxic product, although it’s been taken off the market in several other countries.
Another great example is the cleaning products industry. There’s no law that cleaning product companies have to list the ingredients in their products, which means that companies are allowed to keep toxic chemicals like phthalates and synthetic musks a secret from consumers.
This is why WVE is working on some government policies right now – because we need strong safety standards across the board. We’re working to pass the Safe Chemicals Act, which would actually require that chemicals be tested for safety before they’re placed in products. We’re also working on the Safe Cosmetics Act, which would ban toxic chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and mutations from personal care and salon products.
Are some chemicals more dangerous than others? If you had to choose, what three chemicals would you urge women to avoid at all costs?
We’re not saying that all chemicals are toxic, because that’s certainly not the case. But some chemicals are harmful to our health, like chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, fertility problems, learning disabilities, and other serious health impacts.
It can be difficult to avoid a lot of harmful chemicals, because many products don’t come with labels and even labeled products may not list all the ingredients. But here are three toxic chemicals that can be avoided by checking labels or by switching your products:
- Ditch the canned foods and opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead.
- Seek out products from the few companies now using BPA-free can liners like Westbrae Natural, Hunt’s, Healthy Choice and H.J. Heinz.
- Look for plastics labeled “BPA-free.”
- Avoid anti-bacterial hand soap with triclosan listed on the label.
- Reduce your use of disinfectant products.
Synthetic Fragrance - can be made up of hundreds of chemicals, all of which are kept secret from consumers. Common fragrance chemicals include phthalates (linked to reproductive and developmental harm) and synthetic musks (which break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures and are linked to increased risk of breast cancer).
- Look for cleaners, laundry detergents, and personal care products labeled “fragrance-free” Warning: “unscented” does not mean fragrance-free!
- Discontinue use of air fresheners. Click here for tips to reduce odors around the home.
How do you let people like me know what we should look out for when we shop?
WVE works hard to create easy-to-understand resources for women to help them protect their health, like our 15 Toxic Trespassers fact sheet and our Tip of the Month for avoiding harmful chemicals. And because we know it can be overwhelming to think about ridding your house of toxic chemicals all at once, we recommend taking it one step at a time. When your current shampoo runs out, think about replacing it with one that doesn’t contain synthetic fragrance. Or when pick one step to take in the kitchen, like buying a big bag of baking soda for deodorizing instead of a potentially toxic air freshener.
You know that here at Big Green Purse, we believe that shifting spending to greener products and services is important for two reasons: it's a fast and simple way to protect yourself and your family; and it's a great way to encourage companies to manufacture safer products. When it comes to cleaning products, what impact could it have if women shifted to even one safer cleaning product, whether it be a tub and tile cleanser or a window cleaner?
When it comes to cleaning products, women’s consumer power is shifting the face of an entire industry right now. When we launched our Safe Cleaning Products Initiative in 2007, no companies were disclosing ingredients and many were still using toxic chemicals like phthalates, synthetic musks, and triclosan. We developed our Green Cleaning Party Kit as a solution to some of the toxic cleaners that were on the shelves. Until we know that products are healthy, it’s safer to make our own cleaners with non-toxic ingredients like vinegar and baking soda.
As thousands of women participated in Green Cleaning Parties across the country, companies started to take notice. Women weren’t buying their products, and they were using their consumer power to show companies they wanted a change. And companies listened. Now, many major companies are starting to list some ingredients online, and have started to remove some toxic chemicals linked to women’s health problems.
So you can make an impact by buying from a company that lists all ingredients on the label, or from a company that pledges not to use chemicals like phthalates or synthetic fragrance. Where you spend your dollars shows what kind of safe and healthy products you want to see on the shelves.
Could you say more about the house parties WVE organizes? How can the Big Green Purse community get involved?
WVE’s Green Cleaning Parties and Green Momma Parties are a fun way to take meaningful steps to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals, bring friends and family in on the fun, and take action to make a difference.
These parties help women to use that social, economic, and political power mentioned earlier. Not only are WVE parties fun ways to bring friends together to educate them about harmful chemicals, they offer immediate solutions for safer alternatives, like mixing your own non-toxic cleaners and suggestions for safer products. These parties also give party guests the opportunity to take easy actions to raise their voices for healthier products right there at the party, like emailing their senator to support the Safe Chemicals Act, or calling their favorite cleaning product company and asking them to list ingredients.
The best part is that both the Green Cleaning Party Kit and the Green Momma Party Guide are free to download! Big Green Purse followers can sign up on our website to host a party.
So many organizations like WVE are based in Washington, D.C. so they can lobby Congress. How did you end up in Montana? Do you still manage to lobby Senators and Representatives from there, or is that not your focus?
That’s a great question! WVE started in Missoula, MT in 1995 as a local organization that gave women the opportunity to raise their voices for environmental change. We started out with organizing women to fight local polluting facilities like incinerators, hard rock mines, and large-scale pesticide spraying – and it’s always been core to our mission that our members are part of our work and meaningfully engaged in it.
In 2004, we expanded our work to the regional level with a successful campaign that convinced Albertson’s to display mercury warning labels on seafood cases. And we cruised onto the national scene when we co-founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and then the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance a few years later.
Today, WVE is a national organization focusing our work on eliminating toxic chemicals linked to women’s health problems, but it’s still the heart and soul of our mission that our members are involved in our work. We don’t need to be in Washington D.C. because we provide opportunities for women to raise their voices no matter where they are.
WVE’s members are what makes our work so successful! There are lots of ways to support our work:
- Sign up for the WVE Action Network to become a member (for free!) and receive our email updates
- Like us on Facebook and start spreading the word about toxic chemicals and women’s health
- Make a donation to support our work to empower women