Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Study Finds Dangerous Chemicals in School Supplies

A recent study conducted by the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice found dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in vinyl school supplies. They purchased 20 popular school supplies intended for use by children and sent them tested by Paradigm Environmental Services in Rochester, New York. The results were shocking.

Nearly all of the supplies tested contained dangerous levels of phthalates, which are chemicals used to soften plastic. Phthalates are already illegal in toys and other children's products such as baby bottles, and for good reason. Even at low levels, phthalates disrupt hormones in our bodies. They contribute to problems such as obesity, asthma, allergies, early puberty, birth defects, ADHD, diabetes, and cancer.

Even more alarming are the levels of pthalates present in the school supplies that were tested. For example, four children's backpacks among the school supplies. One of these backpacks, a Dora the Explorer one, contained over 69,000 parts per million (ppm) of a pthalate that is known to be dangerous. That's over 69 times the level legally allowed in toys. It's worth noting that every single backpack tested contained many times the amounts of phthalates considered illegal

What makes this such a problem is that children are much more easily affected by hazardous chemicals than adults. Their bodies are still developing, so being exposed to toxics like pthalates can have far-reaching consequences. In addition, children are much more likely to put objects containing dangerous chemicals into their mouths. The saddest part is that many children have been harmed by pthalates since before they were born. These chemicals have been linked to birth defects in male reproductive systems, and early puberty in girls (which increases the risk of breast cancer).

What can be done about this? First of all, parents would do well to avoid buying vinyl school supplies. Since phthalates are used to soften plastic, they're often found in vinyl products. A list of phthalate-free school supplies can be found at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice's website. You can also contact your representatives in Congress and let them know that you support the Safe Chemicals Act (S. 847). This bill would dramatically reduce the amount of toxic found in everyday products, such as school supplies.

For more information about this problem, and what you can do about it, read the original study at

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Environmental Unity in Earth Letter

By Josh Gross, Outreach Coordinator


As you may recall, my last blog was about how every human being is united by their dependence on the Earth. I did not know this at the time, but the fall 2012 edition of Earth Letter is focused on that very topic.

Whether we realize it or not, what we do to the environment has profound effects on our neighbors all over the globe. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it means that the damage we cause to the environment hurts everyone. As Sr. JoAnn Showalter points out in her article titled “Our Call: Peace, Reconciliation, and the Earth,” the excessive burning of fossil fuels by Americans means people living in low-lying areas around the world must go to greater lengths to keep their homes from being washed away. However, our shared reliance on the Earth can also bring people together.

One of the most profound examples of how environmental stewardship can lead to unity is Fred Bahnson’s article in the latest edition of Earth Letter. It’s titled “A Garden Becomes a Protest,” and it’s one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever read. It tells the story of Cedar Grove, a town in North Carolina divided by racial tension. When one of their beloved citizens was murdered, the people of Cedar Grove decided to establish a community garden.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the creation of this garden had impacted the inhabitants of Cedar Grove in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. It united the community and helped heal its many wounds. Fred Bahnson’s article truly is an inspirational story.

If you want to read the rest of “A Garden Becomes a Protest,” as well as the many other well-written articles in the fall 2012 edition of Earth Letter, consider becoming an Earth Ministry member. Individual membership costs $35, and you can join here:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Environmental Stewardship as the Great Unifier

By Josh Gross

It is no secret that humans are a divided people. We separate ourselves based on religion, geographic location, skin color, gender, and many other factors. This is not healthy. These separations lead to inequality, conflicts of all shapes and sizes (including genocide), and misunderstanding. However, environmental stewardship is one of the few topics that transcends all of our artificial divisions. As such, it can be referred to as the Great Unifier.

The reason concern for the environment has the potential to unify humanity is that we all live on Earth. It doesn't matter what cultural practices we follow, what our skin color is, or whether we're male or female: we all live on the same planet. That means when our greed or ignorance causes us to harm God's creation, it impacts everyone. No one is immune to the effects of environmental degradation. It doesn't matter if you speak English or Spanish, Chinese or Japanese, God gave this planet to all of us. That means we all depend on the Earth for our survival. However, our dependence on the Earth isn't a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a blessing.

Just like the damage we cause to the environment hurts everyone on the planet, our efforts to be good stewards of God's Earth benefit all of humanity. You may not think you're doing much by switching to fluorescent light bulbs or composting as much waste as possible, but by caring for the Earth you're making life a little bit easier for people around the globe. This makes environmental stewardship a cause we can all get behind.

It is in every single human being's best interest to protect the home God gave us. If enough of us come to realize this then environmental concerns will be able to unite people from all walks of life. Republican and Democrat, Christian and Muslim, people from all backgrounds will have reason to work for a common purpose. Therefore, the next time someone asks you, "Why do you care about the environment," consider responding, "Because by doing so I am benefiting all of humanity and helping to create a more unified future." Because that's exactly what you're doing.