"Not Too Pretty" campaign pertaining to the use of cosmetics
The nonprofit Environmental Working Group launched the "Not Too
Pretty" campaign in 2002 to raise awareness about the dangers of
phthalates, industrial chemicals that are used as solvents in many
cosmetics. Most of the mainstream hair sprays, deodorants, nail
polishes and perfumes that millions of people use every day contain
these harmful chemicals. Phthalates are also employed as plastic
softeners in many different consumer products, including children's
toys and medical devices.
Shown to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs
and reproductive systems in animal studies, phthalates can be absorbed
through the skin or inhaled. Scientists at government agencies in both
the U.S. and Canada agree that exposure to the chemicals could cause a
wide range of health and reproductive problems in people.
use phthalates because they cling to the skin and nails to give
perfumes, hair gels and nail polishes more staying power. But a recent
study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
found that five percent of women between age 20 and 40 had up to 45
times more phthalates in their bodies than researchers initially
hypothesized. CDC found phthalates in virtually person tested, but the
largest concentrations-20 times higher than the rest of the
population-were found in women of child-bearing age. Meanwhile, another
study, led by Dr. Shanna Swan of the University of Missouri, identified
developmental abnormalities in male infants correlating to high
phthalate levels in their mothers' bodies.
industry-backed Phthalate Information Center asserts, "There is no
reliable evidence that any phthalate has ever caused a health problem
for a human from its intended use."
The group accuses organizations
of "cherry-picking" results "showing impacts on test animals to create
unwarranted concern about these products." But EWG spokesperson Lauren
E. Sucher urges people-especially women who are pregnant, nursing or
planning on becoming pregnant-to avoid phthalates. EWG offers free
online access to its "Skin Deep" database, which lists lotions, creams
and polishes that contain phthalates. Health experts encourage women to
consult the database before shopping for beauty products.
European Union directive bans phthalates in cosmetics sold in Europe,
but U.S. and Canadian regulators have not been so proactive, despite
mounting evidence of potential harm. Health advocates were temporarily
relieved when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced
that it would begin enforcing a 1975 law requiring labels on products
with ingredients that haven't been safety tested. But such labels
remain to be seen, even though 99 percent of cosmetics contain one or
more untested ingredients.
Those interested in adding their voices to the chorus of
environmental and health advocates opposed to the inclusion of
phthalates in cosmetics can submit a customizable pre-written letter to
the FDA expressing their concern via EWG's NotTooPretty.org website.
The website also provides pages and pages of information and research
on the issue for those looking to learn more.
For more information contact: Not Too Pretty, www.NotTooPretty.org; Skin Deep, www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep.
Dear EarthTalk: What is causing the bird flu? Could it really kill millions of people?
- Steve Schlemmer, Andover, MA
Bird flu is a viral infection naturally carried by wild birds, notably
ducks, that can infect other birds but not get sick themselves.
Domestic poultry, however, are very susceptible to the disease and
usually get sick and die once infected. Humans, in turn, can catch the
disease through close contact with infected birds.
influenza strain H5N1 appeared in humans in Hong Kong in 1997 and
spread quickly to Asia, Africa and Europe, it sent shockwaves
throughout the healthcare profession. The spread of the disease was not
sufficient to be considered a pandemic (an epidemic worldwide in
scope), but it did infect over 200 people and kill about half of them.
There have been no documented cases so far of H5N1 moving from human to
human, but experts fear that the virus could mutate into a strain that
can-and accordingly kill millions of people. It wouldn't be the first
time: Many scientists now believe that the spanish Flu of 1918, which
killed 50 million people (including 675,000 Americans and 43,000
Canadians), started as bird flu.
Some researchers see habitat
loss as a key factor in the unusual spread of the disease between wild
and domestic birds. A recently released United Nations (U.N.)
Environment Programme report found that loss of wetlands around the
world has forced migrating wild birds onto stopping points along their
way-such as rice paddies and farms-that are ordinarily the domicile of
domestic chickens, ducks and geese, with whom they normally don't mix.
depletion has direct implications for migrating wild birds," says David
Rapport, a professor at the University of Western Ontario and a lead
researcher on the U.N. study. "Wetland habitat worldwide continues to
decline, owing to agricultural expansion and urban development,
resulting in fewer staging areas for wild migrating birds."
Rapport warns that "heroic efforts" like mass culling are not likely to
appreciably slow the spread of bird flu. The best hope, he says, is to
increase habitat for wild birds and avoid siting large-scale poultry
operations along migratory bird routes. Minimizing human contact with
domestic poultry is also key, but this would be a tall order, given the
prevalence of poultry in the human diet. Also, in many parts of Asia,
separating poultry from people would be at odds with cultural
Many North Americans may not realize that the bird flu virus
has already arrived here. In November 2005 two wild ducks tested
positive for H5N1 in Canada, although not the same dangerous strain
that affected Southeast Asia. The virus was also found on a domestic
duck in British Columbia shortly thereafter. While no infected birds
have been documented in the U.S. yet, researchers say it's only a
matter of time.
Just last year U.S. Health and Human Services
Secretary Mike Leavitt said that a bird flu pandemic was an "absolute
certainty," echoing repeated warnings from the World Health
Organization (WHO). A recently released White House report warns that,
if there were to be an outbreak, the nation is unprepared and as many
as two million people could die. Meanwhile, Canada has earned kudos
from WHO, which is using its billion-dollar preparedness plan as a
model for other countries to follow.