In the News: Target Announces Sustainable Product Standards

Last month, Target announced a new program in which it will rate products based on their transparency, ingredients, and environmental impact.  According to Target’s website, the 100 point system will be implemented first on personal care, beauty, household cleaning, and baby care products.

Given how big of a reach Target has, this is big news: zillions of customers, average Americans (as opposed to the average Whole Foods shopper), with more sustainable and less toxic affordable products at their fingertips.   Continue reading


A Chemist’s Response to “How Junk Food Can End Obesity”

This post is for Steph, who wanted to know what I though about the Atlantic’s July/Aug cover article. 

Last March, my mother was oh so excited that McDonalds’ Shamrock Shakes were back, but I spoiled her fast food party plans with this info graphic on the ingredients in one of those processed premixed cup-full-of-chemicals.

Just look at this image, and you will never want one again, not because of the calories, carbs, fat, and sugar, but because of all that other crap in there too. I prefer my milkshakes made with good old ice cream and milk, hold the polysorbate 80 please.

As an environmental chemist and foodie, I have a lot to say about David H. Freedman’s Atlantic piece “How Junk Food Can End Obesity.”  His main argument is that we can solve the obesity crisis in America by putting pressure on the fast and processed food industry to be healthier, rather than shunning it altogether.  The nineteen page article also devotes a significant amount of space to disparaging the grassroots real food movement and getting the science of common food additives disturbingly wrong. Continue reading

The Lessons We Need to Learn from Lead (and an environmental book review)

We have been reading a book called Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution for our green chemistry class, and boy is it terrifying.  Authors Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner are historians who have had the privilege of pouring through entire rooms full of internal memos from both the lead and vinyl chloride industries, revealing the despicable ways that each industry has sacrificed the health of humanity and the environment to promote their products.

In this post, I’m going to focus on the story of lead, as an additive in both gasoline and paint.  It’s not a nice one.

Lead is toxic, especially to children, and scientists have known this for more than a century.  By 1915, lead toxicity was established in medical literature, and the largest lead producer in the United States even acknowledged it. Lead was banned in paints around the world (except in America) and safer zinc oxide paints were available by the 1920s.  How then did lead use in paint and gasoline manage to become so widespread in the United States in the 20th century? Continue reading

On Deodorant: Aluminum, the Precautionary Principle, and a DIY

Upon reading all over the internet that aluminum in deodorant may be linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, Taylor and I decided to play it safe by avoiding aluminum in antiperspirant while also researching these claims.

This sort of better safe than sorry approach, termed the “precautionary principle,” is an important part of living a healthy and toxin free life.  The chemistry industry in general does not subscribe to this set of ethics which would require proof that a chemical is safe before it is released on a large scale to consumers. Instead, companies want to get their products on the market as soon as possible and perform safety and toxicology tests later.  This negligence is how endocrine disrupting molecules such as BPA end up plastics we encounter every day.

An example of the precautionary principle in use is the movement to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Little is known about GMOs, so many consumers would like the freedom to choose whether to consume them or not.   

Back to deodorant.  Aluminum is found in deodorants in the form of a salt, usually aluminum chlorohydrate, which has been found to interfere with estrogen receptors in human breast cancer cells.  Given that a large proportion of cancers form in the outer sections of the breast closest to the armpits, deodorant has been placed under suspicion by some scientists.  However, there is no conclusive evidence that aluminum causes breast cancer, only a correlation between underarm hygiene and younger diagnosis of breast cancer.  The National Cancer Institute can tell you more here and provides links to many of the original studies. Continue reading