Is Gardening Actually Green? Some Considerations for the Aspiring Gardener

IMG_0396Far too late this spring for efficient planning, I got bitten by a gardening bug. You know the kind: a large beetle-like apparition that sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear about hydrangeas until you find yourself wandering, dazed, through what seems like acres of plant nurseries, credit card in hand.

Or perhaps that sort of thing just happens to me. At any rate, given my lack of actual information about growing things, after spending a penny or two on some fancy and not-so-fancy plants, I panicked and decided I’d better bone up on how not to kill them right away.

I’ll be first to admit I’m an inconsistent, mostly aspirational, green-to-black thumber. Indeed, it should be stipulated that I spent much of my wayward adolescence brattily refusing to assist my parents as they toiled about our yard. I was too busy watching reruns of Three’s Company reading War and Peace. So I’ll forgive their incredulity now as I plumb the soil, or gad about with my trowel like a dowsing rod that could point the way to my misspent youth.

As a semi-grown-up, I first got interested in gardening during the all-too-brief period in which I lived — believe it — in Manhattan. We paid literally one million dollars per month for 600 square feet on the Upper West Side, at garden level, and had our own tiny patch of ground. It was such a luxury to have a patio “area” that I wanted to try at least to make it nicer than the patch of scrubby dirt that greeted us with appropriate NYC diffidence.

But I knew nothing, and knew I knew nothing. My folks — ever willing to assist in my flights of fancy on the cheap, bless’em — actually drove up from Virginia with patches of sod and spare hostas and other plants liberated from their own yard. And friends came by to help us dig and install (thanks, Steve!). A few days of work, and this:

Eventually became this:

IMG_0533IMG_0517It was bliss. And then, sadly, we moved. And then, happily, had a baby. Two years after being installed in a house with a postage stamp yard in Takoma Park, I had barely lifted a three-pronged diggy thing. Sometime this past April, I looked around in despair and decided change had to come, and that change was me.

But since my last short-lived pass at gardening, I had a green awakening and started this blog. So I resolved to look into what I was doing to the yard and why, rather than just purchasing some pretty flowers and plopping them in as before.

Here’s the upshot (get ready to be shocked, I tell you, shocked…): while it’s possible to do gardening with environmental concerns in mind, it’s not always as easy as it should be.

There’s actually a ton of greenwashing in gardening. As I discovered, the garden sections of stores are filled with poorly labeled plants  — most do not say whether they are native or not (hint: most are not) — while the shelves are filled with (Monsanto‘s) chemical solutions to common gardening problems, lead- and PVC-laden garden hoses, “organic” potting soil that uses both chicken parts from who-knows-where and peat moss from our rapidly depleting carbon-sink bogs, and plastic, lots of plastic.

Although I’m a newbie gardener, below I offer some resources as I’ve discovered them to date. I also hope for your assistance as people who actually Know Things About Plants in sharpening the list and offering more tips.

IMG_0400Un-Greenwash Your Gardening: A Few Basics

Don’t Get Soiled

Soil is home for your plants. Just like your home, you’ll want it to be free of nasty chemicals. Most gardening store have an array of options, many of them proclaiming themselves to be organic in large fonts and bright colors.

It’d be nice if we could believe these eye-catching appeals to eco-sensitivity, but it’s just not that easy. There are actually no labeling rules that define “organic” with regard to soil, so that “organic” in this context can just mean, well, organic matter. Duh.

The upshot is that it takes some work to figure out what you’re feeding your plants. Be sure to eyeball the list of ingredients on the back of the bag. Of concern are the fertilizers, in particular something called “poultry litter.” The name is vague, but poultry litter, to put it simply, is everything that can be shoveled from the floor of a poultry farm, including excrement, bedding, feathers and feed.

Some manufactures purchase their litter from big factory farms like Perdue, and while the soil may be advertised as organic, Perdue doesn’t observe organic practices. It stands to reason that if the source of the litter isn’t organic, the litter isn’t organic either. The easiest way to know if your “organic” soil is actually organic is to look for a label from the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).

My personal faves are Organic Mechanic (which is a company with major ambitions to do this right) and Black Gold. There’s also the option of making your own soil at home, which requires a robust compost and likely some experimentation to get it right. We’ve just started composting at home, using lawn clippings and kitchen scraps, and I can’t wait to work it into the heavy clay soil around the house next spring.
IMG_3894Harry Potting (Mix)

Potting mix is the way to go if using containers for your plants inside or out or need to root seeds. But watch for vermiculite, a mineral that comes with a sordid past.

For decades, the primary source of vermiculite sold in the United States was a mine in Libby, Montana. The mine had a natural deposit of asbestos, and much of the vermiculite extracted from the mine was badly contaminated. Asbestos-tainted vermiculite is less of a concern now, because the mine closed in 1990, but vermiculite is still not risk-free, and even a tiny amount of asbestos can be harmful if it gets into your lungs. According to a piece on Eartheasy:

Today, most vermiculite is safe. However, that is not to say it cannot contain asbestos. Vermiculite which is accompanied by a great deal of dust likely has residual asbestos in its contents and should be used with caution. Current EPA regulations ban products which contain 1% or more asbestos. Unfortunately even products containing less that 1% asbestos are still extremely hazardous, particularly when in loose dust form as vermiculite often is manufactured.

IMG_0391Mulch, Smulch

Mulch is great for your garden. It helps soil retain water, suppresses weeds and prevents compaction. There are a variety of kinds available, each offering its own unique benefits.  As you decide which one best suits the needs of your garden, keep a few things in mind.

Peat Moss

Peat moss, which is made up of partially decomposed plants, has a great earthy aroma and supplies nutrients to plants as they need them. However, it accumulates in peat bogs, and to remove the peat, the bogs must be drained, contributing to wetland degradation. Additionally, peat bogs are one of Mother Nature’s most effective tools to combat climate change. The peat acts like a sponge, absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When peat moss is removed, not only is a natural carbon sponge lost, but the harvested peat actually releases carbon dioxide back into the environment.


Cypress mulch is another popular mulch that comes at a high cost to the environment. To produce the mulch, manufacturers have destroyed vast swaths of cypress forests in Florida and Louisiana. The forests are home to all sorts of creatures but also act as natural buffers against storms and hurricanes.  Once destroyed, the majority of them won’t grow back.

Wood mulches

Be careful when buying wood mulches. It’s possible, though not likely today, that the wood was treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate and can leach arsenic. To make sure the mulch you’re buying is safe, look for a label indicating that it’s been certified by the Mulch and Soil Council, which tests products for the presence of treated wood.

Plastic mulch

Plastic mulch is made from polyethylene, which is considered one of the safer types of plastic out there, but why use it, given the many alternatives? Plastic mulch isn’t biodegradable and will eventually end up in a landfill or the ocean, where it harms sea life. It also blocks water from penetrating the soil and can cause runoff.

Cocoa hulls

Cocoa hulls add nutrients to your soil and will make your garden smell like chocolate, but choose another mulch if you have a dog. Chocolate is toxic to dogs, and cocoa hulls can make your pooch very sick if ingested.

Leaf Mulch

Many municipalities and counties now collect leaves and other garden waste for mulching, which can be less expensive than other mulches. Leaf mulch is excellent for soil development, but not as good at suppressing weeds as wood or other types of mulch. The drawback is that yard waste can contain pesticides and other chemicals used on lawns. As it’s impossible to tell what’s in it, locally-made mulch is not the best choice for organic food gardens, but it may be perfect for flower beds.

IMG_1627A Highly Liquid Proposition: Your H2O

Keeping a garden watered over the hot summer months can be a demanding proposition, so there are a couple ways to reduce the impact your garden has on the water supply. To conserve, water at night and early in the morning, when the temperatures are cooler and the water is less likely to evaporate right away. Just be sure to keep an eye out for rot and fungus, and switch to early mornings if the water is sitting overnight.

You can also set up a rain barrel to collect water that runs off your roof. After the initial investment in the barrel, the water comes at no cost. Montgomery County, near where I live, has a substantial tax credit for “rainscaping,” including rain barrels, porous paving and rain gardens (the program unfortunately excludes Takoma Park. Grr…).

Rain barrels are easily found at most gardening stores, but you can also build them yourself. Be aware that unless you rig up a pump, the water will best be used in irrigation-style drip hoses dug into the ground.

Unfortunately, the common garden hose also has a problem, besides the ubiquitous kinks. Many are made of PVC, include harmful pthalates, and have lead in the fittings and other parts, as an environmental investigation by Healthy Stuff found. As I use ours to water our ostensibly organic garden and to fill various water play stations for Maya, as well as with the sprinkler she plays in, I searched high and low for a better option. I found this rubber hose, which does appear to be lead free. Once you learn to lay it out flat, it works just fine, and no lead or other issues of concern!

IMG_0408Pollinator defense: Invasives, native plants and crowd-sourcing your clippings

Non-native species are sold at many gardening stores, and the more aggressive among them out-compete their native counterparts and spread, so checking on pedigree a bit before you plant is a good idea for both planning your yard and the planet. Some plants, like the butterfly bush running wild in my yard in the picture above, have both more and less invasive versions, or are considered invasive in certain zones of the country, so be sure you know what you’re getting into.

I’ve found gardening stores to be, well, less than forthcoming on these grounds, and even the better ones tend to hide their less showy native plants in a back corner somewhere. But perseverance and research pay off, especially if you invest in perennials that return each year. Be sure to “amend” your soil generously if needed to assist a new planting, and to monitor how plants are doing to be sure that they are happy in their new homes.

To learn if you are unwittingly introducing a hostile species into your ecosystem, do a little research before buying. Here’s a list of problem plants and native alternatives in the Mid-Atlantic region and here’s another helpful source for native plants and garden design (pdf), as well as a list of resources from Montgomery County’s Rainscapes program. You can also find a list of solutions specific to your state here and a list of attractive native substitutes here (pdf). Native species are wonderful to mix in with other plants, as I have, or to plant exclusively as purists do, because they help to sustain the local ecosystem and nurture bumblebees, which are fighting a terrible battle with colony collapse, as well as butterflies and other species.

If you feel overwhelmed, you can always call in a professional, but be sure that they are on the same wavelength. Where I live has a small but very nice community of folks who are more eco-minded, including a specialist in local wild edibles and a local expert in creating kitchen gardens and children’s natural discovery areas. Another easy way to avoid invasive plants and learn about native options is to participate in a plant swap and solicit the advice of knowledgeable gardeners in your area. There are a ton of online exchange communities and list servs in which real gardeners swap plants and trade knowledge, all for free or for a low cost to join.

Plant swaps are another great way to expand your garden, pick up tips and connect with your community. The native plant swap school fundraiser I attended last spring was the beginning of my gardening obsession and a great way to give back to the community. Plants like bee balm, native ferns, and wildflowers (some of which are edible) are wonderful additions to gardens. If you discover that your area doesn’t have a swap, here’s how to organize one yourself….

You can also offer unwanted plants from your yard (and sometimes even get others to dig them up for you!), or ask for cuttings on neighborhood list servs, which is how I got several new hydrangeas and rose plants this year. Friendly folks actually allowed me to prowl their yard at will, and about a third of the plants actually survived my clumsy attempts to root them.

To deal with cuttings properly, just strip the bottom leaf nodes and plant. Be sure to grow more delicate plants like hydrangeas under old, large glass jars to protect them as they learn to root. A rooting mix works nicely for these, and you can even use disposable cups you have hanging around, as I did. You can also plant seeds and scraps from your kitchen, like avocado pits (but don’t expect fruit for years, if ever!) and even pineapple tops.

IMG_6545The same process worked with this rosemary from a friend’s large and healthy plant. I rooted it in water for three weeks or so, without any cover, and when it sprouted, I planted it. More rosemary for the garden!

Your Lawn, by Monsanto

Here’s the bottom line on pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Don’t use them. They contain neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They kill insects and animals besides those you’re targeting, including honeybees, according to the current research and the European Union’s ban on a certain classes of pesticides. They also contaminate the watershed when they’re swept away in runoff. And children are exposed whenever they play outside.

Here’s just one write-up of a single product, in a Forbes article on “green-ish” efforts by the folks who brought us Miracle-Gro:

The active ingredient in Scotts Turf Builder with Plus 2 Weed Control is 2,4-d, which is made from dichlorophenol and acetic acid. It can kill dandelions, but it’s nasty stuff, capable of causing nervous system, kidney and liver damage in humans.

Need more evidence? Here’s the excellent Beyond Pesticides site:

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are possible and/or known carcinogens,  18 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system, 19 are linked to reproductive effects and sexual dysfunction, 11 have been linked to birth defects, 14 are neurotoxic, 24 can cause kidney or liver damage, and 25 are sensitizers and/or irritants. Children are especially sensitive to pesticide exposure as they take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals.

My own fair city of Takoma Park is one of the first larger local jurisdictions in the U.S. to ban lawn pesticides earlier this month, a fact about which I am unduly proud despite the fact that I was not at all involved. Yay us.

By taking steps to promote a healthy garden, you can minimize problems with pests and weeds. You can use mulch, edge your garden beds well, and use ground covers and competing plants to suppress weeds, and when buying plants, choose ones that are pest-resistant. There are also natural weed-killers you can mix up from dish-soap, vinegar, salt and related ordinary ingredients.

Of course, the most direct way is to get on your knees and pull them out. While you are cursing them, you can reflect on the fact that gardening — and actual contact with soil — is an effective way to replenish your microbial health. And if you feel like giving up or giving in, you could always eat your dandelions. Jo Robinson’s new book, Eat Wild, is my vacation reading for next week. I’m so excited to start nibbling what I find on the lawn!

IMG_0393Raising the stakes on garden beds

Raised garden beds are one of the most common sources of toxins in a garden. The wood that’s used to retain the soil is sometimes treated with chromated copper arsenate, which prevents rot but also leaches arsenic, or copper azole, which includes a potent fungicide. If you’ve inherited one of these beds, remove the wood and transfer the soil to somewhere children and pets won’t contact it.

When building a new bed or replacing one, choose types of wood that are naturally rot-resistant like juniper or cedar. Some companies offer pre-made beds as well, though I don’t think the information on the sealant this company uses is very clear. For greater rot resistance, you can use milk paint, which is naturally non-toxic. Milk paint is available in stores but it requires only a few ingredients, and if you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can make it at home.

Last, as summer turns to fall, don’t forget the many indoor gardening options. If you’re feeling hip, you could always order up one of these new super cool miniature fish-tank-herb-gardens from Back to the Roots, which are a closed-loop waste cycle as well as a meditative design element for your living room.

If you have other tips, please let me know! And feel free to check out my Pinterest page on gardening, which has many, many more design ideas. Happy growing!

Have Yourself a Merry (and Non-Toxic!) Christmas

IMG_5821Just like the folks at Fox News say, at my house every year there is a War on Christmas. A War on Christmas hazards, that is.

I actually get all ooey gooey over Christmas. I love bedecking the mantel with snowmen (where are all the snow ladies, anyway?), reciting the Night before Christmas until even Maya is rolling her eyes, and I’ve already festooned our house iPod with overly cheerful holiday tunes.

But I’ll skip the excessive materialism, toxic chemicals, and baubles made by enslaved children, thank you very much. Or at least give it the old elfin try.

I’ve been making my list, and checking it twice. So here’s a few things to think about this holiday season as you contemplate the true meaning of Christmas:


O Christmas Tree

If you can find a source for organic trees — or find the time to go get your own — this is worth doing. Ours comes conveniently from a lovely neighbor in Takoma Park, who runs a CSA farm and also cultivates sustainable, organic trees.

Why go organic? Keep in mind that trees are brought into your house in the middle of winter, when you are least likely to open the windows, and the needles tend to get everywhere. While no one appears to have measured pesticide exposure in the home from bringing in a Christmas tree, this is an utterly avoidable risk, and we do know that trees are sprayed liberally with nasty pesticides and fungicides. In places like Oregon, the pesticide atrazine is sprayed from the trees aerially on Christmas tree farms, and such indicriminate spraying harms both animals and water quality.

Need more convincing? Here’s two well done articles, one from the New York Times, and another recent piece that notes:

No independent, comprehensive studies are widely available on how much pesticide residue is released once a tree is set up in a warm home environment. However, atrazine and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals are nonmonotonic, meaning even at extremely low exposure levels, damage can occur.

While you’re at it, be aware that conventional liquid tree food is full of toxins, and are in a bowl which can be lapped up by the dog or splashed in by a toddler. There’s no point in going organic halfway, particularly when it’s so easy to make tree food with sugar, lemons and water (or with store-bought lemonade if you like). I use half a lemon, fresh squeezed and a tablespoon of sugar in as much water as needed (the proportions aren’t picky).

Although natural is best, keep in mind that many holiday decorating plants are quite toxic if eaten. Both holly and mistletoe berries are very poisonous, and can even be fatal if consumed by children. Bittersweet, boxwood, and even pine can also cause problems if eaten. So hang those wreaths high!

Allergies can be an issue too. And if you live someplace like South Texas, as the allergist Dr. Claudia Miller wrote to me today, be very wary of the evergreens like the Texas Mountain Cedar, which have, as she wrote, “some of the highest pollen counts known to mankind.” They pollinate right in time for Christmas, and unsuspecting folks have been known to develop allergies overnight from bringing them indoors.

Even with all this, the natural options are preferable, because artificial trees and fake greenery are typically made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a terrible plastic that off-gasses, mixed with lead, a potent and notorious neuro-toxin. Again, the heath risks are not clear. As one study concluded:

Results from these experiments show that, while the average artificial Christmas tree does not present a significant exposure risk, in the worst-case scenarios a substantial health risk to young children is quite possible.

Another article debunks the notion that fake trees are somehow “greener” (after all, PVC is not a biodegradable material), and describes a troubling federal study on exposures:

In a 2008 report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a multi-agency review panel on U.S. children’s exposure to lead noted, “Artificial Christmas trees made of PVC also degrade under normal conditions. About 50 million U.S. households have artificial Christmas trees, of which about 20 million are at least nine years old, the point at which dangerous lead exposures can occur.”

Smith explained, “Recent studies have found that as plastic trees age, they can start to release a kind of lead dust into your home. That alone could have a real impact on how long we want to keep an artificial tree before replacing it – perhaps with a live tree.”

Why bring these risks into your home? There are so many other ways to decorate, as well as more natural options for greenery! I heartily recommend tchotchkes as one way to go.


The Stars Are Brightly Shining

Sadly, Christmas lights are also a problem: most commercial lights (like most appliance cords, btw) are made of a mix of PVC and lead as well. Here’s what one lightmaker says:

The lead in holiday string lights is used as an additive to the Polyvinyl Chloride wire covering. The lead acts as a heat resistant insulator and is also used to help stabilize the coloring of the wire. All PVC contains some sort of metal stabilizer including lead, cadmium or tin. Christmas lights have contained lead since they have used PVC as an insulating coating and pose no danger with normal use. Lead containing PVC is used in many common household applications including the PVC piping used to deliver our drinking water, other electrical cords which are insulated with PVC, and even car keys.

You should wear gloves, ideally, when sorting them out from their inevitable spaghetti tangle, and/or wash your hands well after hanging them up. Do not let kids touch or play with them either, obviously. She does not cite a source, but toxics expert Debra Lynn Dadd does say “they are fine when hanging. They don’t outgas lead, you just don’t want to touch them.”

For better options, some LED lights — allegedly such as those sold by Ikea or this Environmental Lighting site — meet the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), which requires them to be virtually lead-free. I did schlepp to Ikea last year to look at the LED options, which was a special kind of awful given the amount of off-gassing particle-board in any Ikea, but I did not like the LED lights at all. They were faint, tiny and gave off a cold white light without enough twinkle to be Christmas-y.

I also checked out the Environmental Lighting site, but you need to buy a controller and power source for the lights, which makes changing to LED a significant investment of around $100 or so.

When I think of the amount of PVC and lead involved in traditional lights, it makes me sad. At least some places have recycling programs for them (and some LED sellers offer discounts in exchange)! And perhaps the LED types will improve over time. If folks are aware of nicer LED options, please do let me know.

Candles are also a common holiday touch, and a nice one at that! Unfortunately, conventional candles are made of paraffin wax, and many wicks contain lead. From Healthy Child, Healthy World:

Though the US Consumer Product Safety Commission asked candle manufacturers to replace lead wicks with zinc, compliance is voluntary and imported candles are not checked; in addition, commercial-grade zinc and zinc alloys used in wicks contain lead.

Aside from the wick, the candle wax can also be a respiratory irritant. Wax can be made of petroleum paraffin, which emits toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde when burned (these are carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins).

And the now-ubiquitous scented ones use chemical scents that typically contain pthalates, a chemical used in fragrances for many household items that has been linked to diabetes and heart disease, among other health problems. At our house, we do have some regular unscented candles to use as decorations, but we only burn the ones that are natural beeswax.


Deck the Halls 

Those lovely ornaments on the tree are a source of additional concern. They’ve been known to contain lead paint or mercury (some are even called “mercury glass” ornaments!), so be sure that they do not get handled or mouthed by children.

And speaking of children, you may be interested to know that on December 5th, 14 children in India were freed from enslavement in a sweatshop where they were working to make Christmas ornaments for Western customers. Where you can, it’s always best to buy Fair Trade, to buy them from craftspeople, or make your own decorations. Ten Thousand Villages, Serrv, and Fair Indigo are great resources for these, which also make wonderful gifts!


Joy to the World

I’ll be posting soon with a round of gift options on the greener side and some DIY ideas for presents. In the meantime, I’ll try to resurrect the real spirit of Christmas (and shake off the toxic bah-humbugs) by commending to you some of my favorite, more off-beat, holiday tunes.

First, what could possibly be a better deal than Sufjan Steven’s wonderful 4-disc Christmas music set for a cool $15? Simply called “Songs for Christmas,” these are ethereal takes on familiar songs, alongside his own eclectic synth-folk signature songwriting. (Just order the actual box-set, because it comes with some extras and a cute little book.) Along similar lines, I adore the un-done beauty of Low’s album, “Christmas,” and especially am grateful for “Just Like Christmas,” which is Low at it’s pop-highest.

Because nothing says the holidays like a nostalgic political anthem, I’ll also throw in a plea for you to give Steve Earle’s earnestly progressive “Christmastime in Washington” a listen, if only just to recall what the early aughts felt like ’round these parts. And then, last but not least, kick up your heels and stoke your indignation about why the GOP won’t bend to reason on tax rates for the wealthy by indulging in The Kinks’ completely awesome, rockin’ ode to Xmas equality: “Father Christmas.”

Have a safe and happy holiday!


Persnickety Letters on Products

Perhaps because of my history as a consumer advocate, I derive a rather sick enjoyment from writing emails in which I ask persnickety questions of companies. Below is a sampling, with more to come.

Given the extent of “green-washing,” I also try to ask hard questions of friendlier companies, sometimes with gratifying results.

Coming next: The anatomy of a consumer brush-off: how companies do (and don’t really) answer our questions.

Exhibit 1: Plastic Bath Toys and Vinyl Wall Stickers from Giggle

Several months ago, I wrote these two letters to Giggle to ask what was in the soft plastic bath toys and wall stickers I bought (or requested as gifts) for Maya. The answer? PVC, or polyvinyl chloride.

PVC is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the process to make it produces a potent carcinogen, dioxin, which gets everywhere — in breast-milk, in the air, and in our food. Second, if it’s in your house, and there is a fire, PVC becomes hydrochloric acid and is highly toxic to breathe. Third, PVC is often softened with pthalates, and tests show it contains lead. So calling it “non-toxic” is a stretch. (Though at least the promise below is that both of these items are pthalate-free.)

In addition, plastics tend to break down over time. I was not particularly reassured by the notion that it’s fine if children put these toys, after playing with them in hot water repeatedly, in their mouths, or, in the case of the stickers, that kids move them around on the wall and play with them. We tossed the bath toys (great, more toxics in the landfill!), but the wall stickers are still up. When Maya figures out they can be moved, then out they’ll go.


PVC in Bath Squirters sold by Giggle, Inc.

Q: Hi there,

We purchased these, but I am still concerned about the safety of the plastic. What number and kind of plastic are they? Is there any vinyl? Heightening this concern is that they come in a vinyl bag, which is PVC, and are used in warm water.


A:  Elegant Baby’s responsible commitment to children’s safety means that their Sea Creatures Bath Squirters meet and/or exceed several safety regulations, including the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA); the Federal Hazardous Substance Act; the American Standards for Testing and Materials (ASTM-F963), testing for toxic elements; and the European Standard EN- 71 that specifies safety requirements for all toys sold in European nations. In addition, these extensive third party acts test for hazards such as lead, phthalates, and toxins, as well as potential choking hazards.

The Bath Squirters are made of non-toxic, BPA-free, and phthalate-free PVC. They contain no VOC’s, and are safe enough for a little bather to put in their mouth.

Parents can be confident that giggle’s commitment to children’s health and safety includes eliminating exposures to any potentially harmful chemicals and substances contained in our product assortment so we can help build healthier environments for children.


PVC in Dottilicious Wall Stickers sold by Giggle, Inc.

Q: Hi there,

I have had these up in my nursery for over a year. I was upset in retrospect to consider that these are vinyl, which means PVC, which is toxic and off-gasses, similar to the news about shower curtains and liners.

In addition, other heavy metals are used in PVC manufacturing. Please tell me:

1) How long the off-gassing lasts from these stickers?
2) Whether the stickers contain other substances, including lead, chromium or other heavy metals?


A: WallCandy’s responsible commitment to children’s safety means that their Dottilicious Wall Stickers meets and/or exceeds several safety regulations, including the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), and the Federal Hazardous Substance Act. These extensive third party acts test for hazards such as lead, phthalates, and toxins, as well as potential choking hazards.

WallCandy decals are made of non-toxic PVC Vinyl with a low tack adhesive that allows for the reuse of the decals. They contain no VOC’s or pthalates, which means no off-gassing in your home!

Parents can be confident that giggle’s commitment to children’s health and safety includes eliminating exposures to any potentially harmful chemicals and substances contained in our product assortment so we can help build healthier environments for children.

Exhibit 2: Haba Rolling Turtles and Fantasy Blocks with Arsenic and Bromine?

Date: Mon, 5 Sep 2011 05:11:09 +0200
Subject: HABA Contact form

After paying such a premium for non-toxic toys, I was shocked to learn that the rolling turtles and fantasy blocks have been identified as having arsenic and bromine in them. Please tell me what you have done specifically to address these serious problems.


From: Lea Culliton HABA
Subject: FW: HABA Contact – Laura MacCleery
Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 10:47 AM

Dear Ms. MacCleery:

Thank you for taking the time to write to us to learn more about your concern.  Would you mind sharing with me where you learned this information so that I may properly address your concerns?  It is at this time of year that many public interest groups post information about products without using the appropriate testing procedures approved by the CPSIA.

Please let me assure you that HABA is a family owned company and our wooden products are still produced in Germany at our wholly owned facilities.  The stains that we use are tested by 3rd party laboratories to not only meet the USA testing standards but to almost meet and exceed the European standards and all other standards from throughout the world.  We maintain the highest level of integrity of our raw materials and of our suppliers.  Feel free to learn more about us by visiting our website at and clicking on the About tab.  We have all of our Certificates of Compliance to the CPSIA on our website for consumers to see/download.  We have films about our production and about our testing.  We try to be as transparent as possible.

The owner of our company Mr. Habermaass has children and grandchildren himself and so do over the 1,300 employees working for HABA.  We care about our children and what products we are giving them to play with (and chew on) each and everyday.

We appreciate your concerns and would like to be able to address them; again thank you for taking the time to write to us.


Lea Culliton

HABA USA, President

From: Laura MacCleery [mailto:]
Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2011 8:28 PM
To: Lea Culliton HABA
Subject: Re: FW: HABA Contact – Laura MacCleery

Thanks for your reply. The information on arsenic and bromine is here:

Related to your fantasy blocks — in particular, the one with the bell. We have a bell block from our “First Blocks” set and I would very much like to know whether it also could contain arsenic and bromine. I look forward to your reply —


From: Lea Culliton HABA
Subject: RE: FW: HABA Contact – Laura MacCleery
Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011, 9:58 PM


A couple of years ago this website had to recall a report on another one of our items that they reported.  It is important to know that this organization uses a XRF “analyzer” to perform approximate heavy metals in the materials.  This is NOT a laboratory certified test where the material is actually scraped off and tested.

Another important fact to note is that the solubility and possibility of transference from product to person is not examined and/or discussed on this website.

HABA did pay an independent, CPSC authorized, testing laboratory to test this item.  The item passed all ASTM F963 specifications and it passed the European EN 71 requirements; this item is absolutely, positively safe for young children.

Warm regards,

Lea Culliton

Hi Lea,

I’m not sure I follow — are you saying that the XRF method produces incorrect results? We just had lead measured in our home and that is what the technician used and my understanding is that it is very accurate.

In terms of the standards that the toy has passed, do those standards allow for or prohibit lead and/or bromine? If they allow it, at what level? Is transferrability to the child an aspect of those standards?


Friday, September 30, 2011 11:36 AM

From: “Lea Culliton HABA”


The XRF guns are reliable for quick passes.  They are not however allowed to be used as the final tests for 3rd party laboratories.  The labs physically scrape the surface and test the materials.

If you would like to learn more about the standards please visit the website.  The CPSIA that President Bush signed into law just before he left office made the mechanical ASTM F963 test mandatory instead of voluntary.  The CPSIA also set the gradual lowering of the allowable lead levels to less than 90 ppm.  Links to these laws and specifications can be found at the CPSC site.  You may want to click on the Business tab at the top to learn even more.

I can reassure you that all of the HABA products being sold into the USA marketplace are 3rd party lab tested and approved to meet and/or exceed all of the required American and European standards.  HABA toys are safe.

Warm regards,

Lea Culliton


Exhibit 3: Skiphop Play Mats with Formamide?

From: Laura MacCleery [mailto:]
Sent: Monday, May 30, 2011 9:16 PM
To: Info
Subject: formamide in mat tiles?

Please let me know asap whether your EVA foam tiles contain formamide, a substance of concern since foam mats have been banned in Belgium and France since Dec 2010.Thanks–Laura


Thank you for contacting us – we understand your concern. All Skip Hop products, including the Playspot, meet or exceed regulatory safety standards in the USA and Europe, without exception.

We do not add Formamide to Playspot, although it can be a byproduct of the EVA foam manufacturing process (which includes such items as flip flops and many bath toys). That said, due to these concerns, we have tested Playspot using ISO 16000 methods.

We are pleased that our Playspots received the lowest possible score, <2ug/m3 (less than 2 millionths of a gram per cubic meter) for Formamide emissions, the lowest measurable result with this testing method.  These tests show that – within the limits of the test – its presence is essentially not detectable.

Therefore, the Playspot is a safe EVA floor mat option for children and you should feel confident that we have specifically tested for this issue.

Feel free to contact us with further questions.

Lilia Rodriguez

Customer Service

Skip Hop, Inc.

Exhibit 4: Preservatives in Method brand cleaning products

On 7/28/2010 5:39 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Please let me know, as a prospective customer, what is the “preservative” on your label?



Thursday, July 29, 2010 9:13 AM

From: “Tim Barklage”

Hi Laura —

Thanks much for your interest in our products.  Below is some information about how preservatives are used in cleaning products and information on our specific system:

  • Cleaning products are mostly water and have long shelf-lives and therefore must have some agent which prohibits the growth of bacteria
  • Anyone who claims there is no such agent is either:
    • Not disclosing information
    • Has a natural agent, such as lactic acid, at such high levels (low pH) that it will damage the surfaces you are cleaning and is certainly not safe to have around children.
  • BETTER LIFE has chosen a preservative system which is approved in skin care products
  • Our preservative is put in at 7 parts per million.  This is incredibly low and is would probably not be traceable under general analysis
    • Additionally these are at comparable levels of foreign substances contained in many municipalities tap water systems.

For further clarification, here a detailed statement from our chief scientist:

General Answer:

Preservatives are often a “hot topic” especially within the skincare products industry. All consumer products must have some system in place for preservation of the product in order to give it a shelf life.  However, there are a lot of options when it comes to which system/materials you use.  I have employed systems adapted from both the food and skincare industry to preserve the BETTER LIFE products instead of using the harsh, industrial type preservatives found in most cleaning products.  Depending on the specific product, we use things like fruit acids and essential oils/extracts.  In certain cases when these will not offer enough protection to ensure quality we use a completely biodegradable synthetic ingredient at less than 0.01% to supplement the system.  These systems that we have developed are safe, environmentally responsible and ensure quality in our products.

Detailed answer:

Preservative systems are always tricky since it is necessary for product shelf life, but needs to be closely evaluated to make sure the safest most responsible ingredient is used in the formula.  We use MIT and  I have chosen this preservative for the following reasons;

a.       Able to use at incredibly low amount (7 ppm)

b.      More than 30 years of safety data on this material.  It has achieved worldwide registrations (including Japan ) and complies with all safety regulations for use in skin care and cosmetic applications.

c.       Tested “readily biodegradable”, not bioaccumulative, and not persistent in the environment according to US and European standards.

d.      Not a formaldehyde donor!

Most competitive products utilize preservative systems that must be used at MUCH higher levels (in many cases 10x’s higher levels), pose serious health risks (formaldehyde donors, lack of safety testing, etc.) and are persistent in the environment. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.  We appreciate your interest and support!

Tim Barklage
Better Life

Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:44 PM

From: “Laura MacCleery”

To: “Tim Barklage”

Thanks for this information, Tim. Please give me the full name of MIT. I assume it’s not the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!

Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:55 PM

From: “Laura MacCleery”

To: “Tim Barklage”

Never mind — I found it:

Shame on you for playing hide the ball on your packaging and your Web site! At least list all of the real ingredients by name so that consumers can fully evaluate their exposure to toxics. Basic transparency — which you tout in the ad copy on your Website — demands no less.

Laura MacCleery

Friday, July 30, 2010 2:07 AM

From: “Kevin Tibbs”


While it is often difficult to personally answer many of the emails that we receive I saw your email and felt the need to respond.  I am surprised and sorry that you feel as though BETTER LIFE is not transparent.  As a company we have went to great lengths to empower the consumer – providing them with more information than they have ever been exposed to in the past (when it comes to household cleaners).   Not only are we one of the few companies that provide a complete listing of ingredients, we also have developed the “ingredient summary” panel which provides in depth information about the product and its ingredients.  Please know that we are not “hiding the ball” at all!  It appears that you inquired about the preservative and we provided you not only the INCI name but a lengthy description as to why products are preserved and why BETTER LIFE chose MIT.

I have been a formulation chemist for 14 years specializing in skin care and hair care products.  When my first daughter began crawling around and exploring, I took notice of the types of household cleaning products that were around the house.  The more I looked into these products the more frustrated I became!

–          All traditional cleaning products contain absolutely no information on specific ingredients in their products and customer service will not reveal this information.

–          Cleaning products are covered with warning statements.

–          The so called “green” cleaning products I evaluated contained only partial ingredient disclosures (I found that many of the ingredients were left off the labels).

–          Both traditional and “green” products are filled with heavy fumes, petroleum based ingredients, strong acids or bases, synthetic dyes and fragrances, etc. etc.

As a chemist, I know firsthand what types of ingredients are used in both tradition cleaners and other green cleaning products.  I do not want these chemicals around my home, or my family.  So, I did something about it.  Two years ago, I resigned from my job and co-founded BETTER LIFE.  At BETTER LIFE, I take great pride in developing the safest, most eco-friendly products on the market.  And the performance of our products is amazing!

If you would ever like to chat about what makes our products so much different than the others out there please feel free to contact me (all of my information is below).  I really would not want anyone to think that we are not completely transparent!

Thanks for your email,

Kevin Tibbs


From: Laura MacCleery

Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 8:31 AM

To: Kevin Tibbs

Subject: RE: Re: What’s the preservative you use?


Thanks so much for your reply.

I would say that using the generic term “preservative” instead of MIT or, even better, the full name of the chemical on your labeling and Website, falls squarely into the category you criticize, here:

“The so called “green” cleaning products I evaluated contained only partial ingredient disclosures (I found that many of the ingredients were left off the labels).”

Its similar to Ecover’s use of the term “fragrance,” which most consumers will not know is an area in which there is scant research on health consequences.

It would be great if at least one company that sells widely available cleaning products to green consumers actually was 100 percent transparent. Your decision to use the generic term “preservative” is evasive and misleading and does in fact violate the spirit and letter of your claims to transparency and to more transparency than your competitors.

I note that Method also uses MIT, a harmful chemical, but openly notes and defends this decision on its Web site.


From: Kevin Tibbs

Subject: FW: Re: What’s the preservative you use?

Date: Friday, August 6, 2010, 2:58 PM


I am not sure we are on the same page.  What I meant by partial ingredient statements is that many companies that manufacture “green” products list only some of the ingredients and COMPLETELY leave out others.  You mentioned Method Products below so I will use them as an example:

Here is what there All Purpose Cleaner ingredient statement is (pulled directly from their website): Corn and Coconut derived surfactants, biodegradable emulsifier, purified water, soda ash, fragrance oil blend, potassium hydrate, color

There is no mention or listing of preservative, despite the product having one.  This is what I was referring to when I say partial ingredient statements.

Further, I expect that you know cleaning products are not held to any government standards or regulations when it comes to ingredient labeling.  This is why the majority of products in this category do not have any ingredient disclosure at all.  It is also why some products are not penalized for only partially disclosing ingredients.  At BETTER LIFE, we list all ingredients.  Apparently you are not happy with the way in which we list them.  I do apologize for this but I realize that you cannot please everyone.   Skin care is an area which is regulated by government (FDA) and there are regulations for standardized ingredient labeling.   If we use skin care as a guide,  you should know that “fragrance” is the correct  INCI terminology for an ingredient listing.  In fact, by listing it differently a company making skin care products could be fined by the FDA for not using this correct terminology.

Again, I hope you appreciate the great pride and sense of responsibility I take in the BETTER LIFE products.  We have gone to great lengths to make the safest, most environmentally responsible products available.  You will find that our products do not contain “colors” (a nicer way of saying synthetic petroleum based dyes), “fragrance oil blends/ synthetic fragrances”, petroleum based surfactants and ethoxylates (which is referred to as “biodegradable emulsifier” in Methods ingredient statement above), alcohols and petroleum solvents just to name a few.  I have developed these products to provide a safe and effective alternative to the common cleaning product for my family and yours.  I know that there will always be critics, but I take comfort in knowing how many people we have helped with the BETTER LIFE line of green cleaners.



To: “Kevin Tibbs”


I’m not sure why most of your email points fingers at other products. I don’t think that any manufacturer of household cleaning products is doing a good job.

Still, you have not explained why your label and Website both merely says “preservative,” rather than MIT or (better) the full name of the chemical being used. You claim to be more transparent than other companies, but this choice to conceal the contents of this aspect of the ingredients in your product is not.

Moreover, the decision to use MIT is troubling. While your other ingredients may be green, this chemical is dangerous and clearly so.

If you want Better Life to be recognized as an industry leader, start by only using ingredients that you are comfortable clearly stating on both your label and Website.


Dear Laura,

Thank you for you advice.  You refered to Method as an example so I simply helped you understand their labeling approach compared to ours.   Have a great weekend,


Exhibit 5: Nurture My Body: Clarifying whether essential oils are safe

New comment on your post “Fragrance Free Organic Beauty Products – Confused?”

Author : Laura MacCleery


I appreciate the post, but was hoping to find out about any scientific research that has been done on the safety and health impacts of essential oils and fragrances. Even though they are natural substances, you are affecting the potency, as you note, and many natural things may not be good for a person. Do you know of research on this subject? I would be very interested.

A: Thanks ever so much for your question about scientific research that has been done on the safety and health impacts of essential oils and fragrances. The best places for you to dig into would be these authority sites:




Quite sincerely,

Rich Arnold
Customer Care

Nurture My Body

your skin ~ our organics

P.S. Thank you ever so much for your patience for our response. We have been heavily engaged in creating our new website which launched yesterday.

Exhibit 6: Schylling Plastic Piano Horns

From: Laura MacCleery

Sent: Monday, September 12, 2011 9:53 PM


Subject: Piano horn

Hi there,

Please tell me the kind of plastic that the piano horn is made of, including the mouthpiece. I’m very concerned about the types of plastic my daughter might have in her mouth.



RE: Piano horn

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 2:56 PM

From: “Jennifer Thissell”

To: “‘Laura MacCleery'”

Thank you for contacting us. We care about the health and safety of our consumers. Our products meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards and the Consumer Product Safety Commission standards for lead and toxicity.  Our Piano Horn does pass all federal and state testing for phthalates, but I don’t have information on the specific material used.

Please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns, thank you.

Jennifer Thissell, Customer Service

Schylling Associates

Exhibit 7: Chicco Car Seat: Flame Retardants

From: Laura MacCleery [mailto:]

Sent: Sunday, June 27, 2010 10:37 AM


Subject: Keyfit 30 car seat — safety of chemicals


Please provide me with any independent testing or information you have about the presence of any chemicals in your car seats — including lead, chromium, copper, formaldyhyde and aluminum.



RE: Keyfit 30 car seat — safety of chemicals

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 12:51 PM

From: “” <>

To: “‘Laura MacCleery'”

Dear Chicco Customer,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. Chicco is very aware of and concerned about recent studies which discuss the toxicity of certain chemicals or elements in child car seats.  ALL Chicco products meet or exceed the stringent safety standards in the U.S. and Europe regarding chemical content. Additionally all Chicco products are Phthalate-free.


Customer Service

Chicco USA, Inc

On Jun 27, 2010, at 7:21 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Hi there,

I am interested in a purchasing a Swedish car seat due to the lack of flame retardant chemicals in the products, which my research has shown to be banned in Sweden.

Would you confirm that the foam in these seats lacks bromides? If so, you should include this in your Web site, as its a major selling point!

Also, some of the Britax models sold in the U.S., including the Roundabout, have a rebound bar for rear facing seats? Which of the models that you sell include the rebound bar? This is an important safety feature in rear impact collisions.

Thanks so much!


On Jun 27, 2010, at 5:23 PM, “ (Info)” <> wrote:

Hello Laura,

Thanks for your email.  I need to double check on the issue of flame retardant chemicals. Same with the bromide questions. I’m impressed by your detailed questions:-)

No seats in US have a rebound bar.  Most of the Swedish seats have a support leg which is beneficial for avoiding over rotation in a collision.  Britax seats Multi Tech and Hi-Way have support leg as well as DuoLogic, Maxi Cosi Mobi and BeSafe Izikid.

It’s not really an issue in rear facing collisions and make little difference.  Rear facing collision only account for about 5% of collisions are are rarely severed due to speed and other factors.  The only seat which doesn’t have a support leg is Britax Two-Way but it’s just as safe as the other s since it’s installed leaning on front seat or dashboard.  This means a rock solid installation.  You can check out this report from a happy user of Two-Way who was rear ended at high speed….

Kind regards


Håkan Svensson

On Jun 28, 2010, at 4:17 PM, Laura Maccleery wrote:

Thanks for the responses! I will install the seat in the middle back seat–

Looking forward to your answers re the chemicals. The rebound bar is now available FYI on some US models– Britax only, it seems.

It’s also helpful for frontal collisions– and I don’t discount “rare” events– while the vast majority of rear crashes are fender benders, on highways they can be quite severe.

Does the Swedish government or any consumer group do crash ratings for the models you sell, similar to Consumer Reports? If so, I’d love to see the links.

Thanks so much!

Laura MacCleery

— On Mon, 6/28/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
Subject: Re: A few questions
To: “Laura Maccleery” <>
Date: Monday, June 28, 2010, 5:57 PM

Hello Laura,

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you mean with “rebound bar”.  Can you show me a US seat which has this feature?

We have some consumer groups but testing of car seat in Sweden is actually rare.  We know from experience that long rear facing time is very important, type of car seat is of less importance.  We do have a new car seat standard in Sweden called “Plus Test”.  This test is by far the strictest in the world which means no forward facing seats pass.

Currently DuoLogic and two BeSafe X3 seats have passed testing.  More seats will be tested shortly.

In Sweden we look very little at testing since it’s so biased, subjective and each test is performed differently.  This makes it impossible to compare seats  between tests.   Most of European testing is done In Germany which is basically clueless about rear facing……

Kind regards


On Jun 29, 2010, at 9:36 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Hi there,

Here is the link to the picture of the Britax rebound bar:

Any information on the issue of chemicals?

Here are some links about these concerns:

Thanks so much!


— On Tue, 6/29/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
Subject: Re: A few questions
To: “Laura MacCleery” <>
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 6:16 PM

Hi Laura,

I see what you mean now.  DuoLogic and BeSafe use the rebound bar.  Most European seats use a support leg instead of top tether since it’s a better solution technically.  We have seats with rebound bar and many without, lack of rebound bar doesn’t make RF our seats any less safe.  Sitting rear facing for a long time is what’s important.

I have no more info about the chemicals.  The sources you provided sound worrying but before making any judgment I would like to see peer reviewed independent research showing any downside to children in car seats.  Flame retardant items for kids do overall fill a very important function and save lives.

Here in Sweden we are probably a bit more “old fashioned” and like to use more natural products for our children.  Lots of wooden toys etc.  We are not so keen on the mass produced battery intensive toys out of China for example.

I will try to find out some more about the chemicals and get back to you.

Kind regards


On Jun 30, 2010, at 12:49 AM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Thanks for your response. I’m not sure I understand it completely — are you saying that top tethers and support legs replace (functionally) the need for a rebound bar?

I’m an auto safety expert, as well as an expectant parent, and do find the Britax videos on the benefits of the rebound bar compelling. How do top tethers or support legs work? Do they play the same role?

Chemicals in the U.S. are not well regulated in comparison to Europe — we use a much wider range of dangerous chemicals and in large amounts, even in childrens’ products. Here’s an NGO study on flame retardants and their risks:

While traditional foam materials are made of petroleum-based materials, there is no need for them to be, and hence no reason for such intense use of flame retardants, which are well demonstrated to be risky to reproductive health.

Moreover, in a car seat, I’m not sure that flame retardants are that useful. Fire is involved in catastrophic crashes, and smoke inhalation in that context is likely to be more dangerous– and to affect an infant far more quickly.

At any rate, it looks like at least one form of these chemicals is banned in Europe generally and that PBDEs are banned in Sweden. Here’s a few scientific studies:



— On Tue, 6/29/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
To: “Laura MacCleery”
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 7:22 PM

Hi Laura,

Sounds like you know a lot about this subject:-)  Out of curiosity what kind of auto safety stuff do you mainly work on?  Support legs are not used in US but they are used extensively in Europe.  Support legs can be found in infant seats with Isofix (your LATCH, except ours is rigid and easier to use) and also the Swedish rear facing seats.

Top tether and support leg fill similar functions but a support leg is considered a better technical solution.  The support leg is there mainly to avoid over rotation.  Our seats have a RF limit of 55 lbs so forces are quite a bit different compared to 35 lbs seats which are still most common in US.

As mentioned before, DuoLogic and BeSafe Izikid seats do have the rebound bar but we don’t consider these seats any safer than the ones without the rebound bar.  What works best is long rear facing time, rebound bar is not a big deal.  Beauty of rear facing is the simple solution and the way the whole back of car seats ( and baby) absorb the enormous impact forces.

Fire dangers are of course a very small percentage of car accidents, we refer to them as “catastrophic”.  We have been rear facing children in Sweden since 1965 and know from experience that children here don’t die while sitting rear facing unless an accident is catastrophic.  That means fire, hit by a bus at 60 mph or driving into a river and drowning. No seats will ever protect against these types of accidents.

I’ll speak to some manufacturers tomorrow and see what I can find out.

Kind regards


On Jun 30, 2010, at 1:35 AM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Hi there,

I worked for Public Citizen, an NGO here, for 5 years, on backover, power windows, rollover safety, side impact air bags and other issues.

Ok — I think I’m comfortable with ordering a seat — which work with our LATCH system, if any?



— On Wed, 6/30/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>

Date: Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 4:47 PM

Hi Laura,

Interesting work.  Our Isofix seats are compatible with LATCH (DuoLogic and Izikid X3 Isofix).  Isofix is a great solution since it’s so easy to install.  Downside is higher price and also a RF weight limit of only 40 lbs.  This is the maximum for any Isofix seat.

Kind regards


On Jul 5, 2010, at 3:57 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

You’ve been so incredibly helpful! Thank you!

Were you able to get any confirmation on the chemicals issue? Just curious.

Also, I drive a Nissan Altima, which is a mid-sized car. Would the Izkid fit or would the Duologic, with its smaller base, be better? I do like the support leg on the Izkid.

With shipping etc, we want to get this right!

Thanks so much!


— On Mon, 7/5/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
Date: Monday, July 5, 2010, 2:07 PM

Hi Laura,

The only seat which detaches from the base is DuoLogic. It’s basically an infant seat which slides into an Isofix base. Izikid needs just a bit more space than DuoLogic when installed upright.  Izikid does install quite upright so most parents use the sleep position most of the time.  This adds another 3 inches of space required.  DuoLogic works well in small and large cars.  Both seats use a support leg and also a rebound bar.

I spoke to Britax and we do use less chemicals in the seats here.  Flame retardant is a good add-on to car sats but there are of course limits on how much will benefit safety. Britax Could not give me exact details on the Bromide.  In the beginning of the year they were audited/surveyed by a large organization specializing in issues with chemicals/allergies and the results were really great.

Flame retardant is important but there is something such as diminishing returns.  Flame retardant will save lives but adding three times as much will not really make a big difference. We feel like flame retardant is  a good safety add-on but there are limits on what’s practical, useful and rational.  Children dying in burning cars is extremely rare so it’s not a big issue and keeping retardants on a reasonable level seems reasonable.

Kind regards


Exhibit 8: Brita Water Filters and BPA

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 4:59 PM

From: “Brita Consumer Services” <>

Dear Ms. MacCleery,

Thank you for contacting us about the composition of the Brita Water Filtration System.

Our products do not contain bisphenol A and are all tested by the NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) for safety. The pitcher lids and filter housings are made of polypropylene plastic and the reservoirs and pitchers are made from either NAS (a styrene based plastic) or SAN (Styrene Acrylonitrile). The soft-touch handles are made from an elastomer called Santoprene. Unfortunately, the pitcher materials are not recyclable and therefore do not have a plastic recycling number.

Please to not hesitate to contact us at or at 1-800-24-BRITA if you have additional questions or concerns.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact us.


Shelley Preston, Consumer Response Representative, Consumer Services

Exhibit 9: Kid Basix Safe Sippy 2 re: PVC

From: Laura MacCleery
Sent: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 6:43 PM
To: Susan Soja
Subject: Safe Sippy 2

Hi there, I just purchased two of these cups for my daughter. Please let me know asap the answer to the following 2 questions: 1) Is there any PVC in any of the parts of the cup, including interior parts and straw? 2) What are the numbers of the plastics used for each part? Number denote types of plastics. Thanks so much!Laura

From: Susan Soja
Subject: RE: Safe Sippy 2
To: “Laura MacCleery”
Date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 7:47 PM

Hi Laura-

Thanks so much for your note.  There is no PVC in the cup or any of its parts.  The Cap, Lid, Spout and Handles are made of #5 Polypropylene.  The Straw is made of LDPE #4.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

All the best,


Susan Soja

Kid Basix, LLC

From: Laura MacCleery
Subject: RE: Safe Sippy 2
To: “Susan Soja”

Thanks very much!

Exhibit 10: Estrogenic properties of soy in Baby’s Only baby formula

Product Question email submitted on: June 6, 2011From: Laura MacCleeryI feed my baby your Baby’s Only Diary formula, which works well. But  I am concerned about the soy content — see — does the soy lecithin include genistein?



From: <>
Subject: RE: Product Question email from Contact page
To: Laura
Date: Monday, June 6, 2011, 3:49 PM

Dear Laura,

Thank you for contacting us with your concern. The issue about use of soy appears to be related to the protein portion of soybeans. As you are aware, Baby’s Only Organic® Dairy formula contains organic soybean oil and organic soy lecithin derived from soy oil. Soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier that keeps the fats in a product from separating out. It has been determined that soy lecithin is a safe ingredient for food products and, in fact, has been used for many years in many foods for this purpose. This ingredient, because it is not derived from soy protein, does not contain the phytoestrogen, genistein, that you have inquired about.

We do not know of another standard dairy-based formula that is completely soy free, including free of soybean oil and/or soy lethicin. Soybean oil is included in almost all infant formulas because of its specific fatty acids. When combined with other oils, the soy oil helps to meet the required essential fatty acids in the appropriate amounts needed by an infant.

As you may know, organic vegetable oils, in this case, organic soybean oil, are expeller-expressed. This is a process that basically presses the oil from the soybean. Suppliers of organic soybean oil and organic soy lecithin cannot guarantee that miniscule amounts of protein measured in parts per thousand or parts per million are not passed through the filters and into the oil during this process. Therefore, even though there may be miniscule amounts of soy protein in the soybean oil, Nature’s One® has added the soy allergen statement to our Baby’s Only Organic® Dairy Formula and Baby’s Only Organic® Lactose Free labels.

Conventionally processed soybean oils use hexane solvents to extract the oils so the oil is free of protein. This harsh process then requires the oil to be flashed with fire to burn off the hexane solvents. Hexane residues can remain in the finished oils. We believe that hexane has no place in a baby’s diet – even if only a residue. Also, USDA organic rules prohibit the use of solvent-extracted vegetable oils. So Baby’s Only Organic® Formulas would not be labeled organic if we selected conventionally processed vegetable oils.

We do believe that we are using the best organic ingredients currently available. We continue to monitor the availability of better organic ingredients that can be used in our products and can assure you that we will use them if they are, in fact, a better alternative than currently available ingredients.

Regarding the controversy about soy protein use, the following information may be of interest. There is a great deal of information and misinformation on the Internet regarding soy use in infancy. As I noted previously, The anti-soy literature mainly is concerned with the phytoestrogens in soy protein, specifically the isoflavones in soy. Phytoestrogens are proteins and not fats. The following reputable sources of information on use of soy in children may be of interest.

In 2006, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, US National Institute of Health, and the Center for the Evaluation of Risk to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of the National Toxicology Program convened a meeting of key pediatric nutrition and medical experts to review the use of soy formulas in infancy and addressed many of the concerns about soy and phytoestrogens. This prestigious group was unable to conclude, after exhaustive research and reviews of the medical and scientific literature, that soy products, including soy infant formulas, were unsafe or presented risk to reproductive and developmental health. The panel called for continued research on the role of soy in human health.*

Since that time, CERHR has determined that there are new publications related to human exposure or reproductive and/or developmental toxicity that were published since the 2006 evaluation. CERHR held a meeting in December of 2009 to review these new data and is expected to post the final report on its website and solicit public comment through a Federal Register notice. Nature’s One, Inc. will continue to monitor all reports on use of soy in infancy and will update our information as appropriate.

Furthermore, a clinical report co-authored by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and titled, “Use of soy protein-based formulas in infant feeding,” states the following: “In summary, although studied by numerous investigators in various species, there is no conclusive evidence from animal, adult human, or infant populations that dietary soy isoflavones may adversely affect human development, reproduction, or endocrine function.” (1)

Also, a recent study from the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center compared growth, development and health of breast-fed children with children fed soy formula or milk-based formula. Preliminary results indicate the feeding of soy formula to infants supports normal growth and development. The authors further state “early exposure to soy foods, including SF (soy formula), actually may provide health benefits rather than adverse effects, eg, improved body and bone composition and prevention of breast cancer.” (2)

References: 1. Jatinder Bhatia, Frank Greer, and the Committee on Nutrition. “Use of soy protein-based formulas in infant feeding,” Pediatrics 2008; 121; 1062-1068. 2. Badger, TM, et al, “The health implications of soy infant formula,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009; 89(suppl):1668S-1672S

Laura, I hope this information regarding the use of specific soy ingredients in our products has been helpful. Thank you for your interest in Baby’s Only Organic® and please let me know if you have additional questions.



Nature’s One, Inc.

5 Myths About Toxics and What to Do About the Truth

Myth #1: There is a big laboratory in Washington which tests products for safety and bans unsafe stuff. After all, they wouldn’t be able to sell it if it wasn’t safe.

The sad, sad truth: There isn’t much oversight, really. A few government agencies (the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency) have responsibility over toys, food, and chemicals, respectively. But there are not many standards that apply before a product is sold.

Unlike for prescription drugs, where at least pharmaceutical companies have to make a showing that a drug works and is safe, for most things sold in the U.S. there is no pre-market obligation to show it’s safe and healthy to use.

On chemicals, the laws have not been updated since the 1970s, and were too weak to begin with. Laws like the Clean Water Act are showing their age – since, just for example, thanks to an enterprising high school student, we now know there are birth control pills, antibiotics and other trace pharmaceuticals in all of our water, and no real effort to get them out. Food oversight, as Obama remarked to hearty guffaws last year, is spread across a dizzying array of different agencies.

And the standards for what can be sold – much less what is considered safe – also vary widely. What with their lobbying and political power, and the revolving door, companies play the agencies like so many broken fiddles. And when Congress tries to step up, the industry swarms all over Capitol Hill like dollar bills over an investment banker.

In fact, the only place in across all of the law that imposes a general duty for manufacturers to care about what happens to consumers (called the “duty of care”) is when some injured family sues them for negligence. That’s why companies malign “trial lawyers” so much, and conservative courts and legislatures work to drastically curtail so-called “punitive” damages (that is, the amount of money the company should pay so that they won’t repeat the bad behavior, in addition to paying back the mere peanuts typically owed an injured person).

Other than taking them to court when you or someone you love has been hurt, which is, let’s face it, an important, though depressing and inadequate, after-the-fact way of paying medical bills following a human-caused tragedy, all we have are the government’s weak and inadequate rules. And there’s no laboratory in the sky there, believe me.

If you’re overwhelmed by this fact, be aware that both Europe and Canada have more protective rules on chemicals, and the European Union’s system does require a showing of safety for some chemicals, which is a major step in the right direction. (In fact, we now see companies selling stuff here in the U.S. that they can’t in Europe due to its stronger laws.) So there is a clear path forward, if we could only get our dunderheaded political system to unlock itself.

And small steps can make a huge difference. For some chemicals, Bisphenol-A, for example, we know that reducing exposure leads to a clear drop in the chemical’s presence in humans. So whenever we do take action, the effects will be immediate.

Myth #2: Pollution is out there, in the burning river. Or in the Superfund site, over in that other town.

Not true, and we should have asked Fido and Fluffy. The scope and intensity of indoor environmental pollution also has been a bit of a shock to researchers, who in 2008, for example, tested cats and dogs and found disturbing levels of flame retardants (23 times higher than people), teflon, and mercury.

So-called “body burden” studies of people measuring chemicals in their blood tell us that we have dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of chemicals in our bodies today that our great-grandparents did not.

In fact, we now know that man-made environments are frequently toxic. Just stop and think for a moment about the number of highly engineered products in your home: the upholstered furniture, paint, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, processed foods, mattresses, your dry-cleaning hang in the closet, all of the plastic containers and bottles, the electronics doused in flame retardants and filled with heavy metals. Now think about how much of that was in a home a scant one hundred years ago.

When NASA designed vehicles in which to take people into space back in the 1970s, it had to commission an engineer to work on innovative strategies to de-toxify that closed space, to ensure it was habitable due to the off-gassing of the materials used to build the spacecraft. Now, it’s clear that we’re all on that spacecraft.

The truth is that we’re in the midst of a massive experiment in genetics and chemistry. We are largely guessing about the effects of many of these chemicals on humans, as the science to tell us what we are doing to ourselves is still under development, and we have very little idea of how the chemicals do and could interact with each other in the environment.

In the face of such uncertainty, perhaps we’d all do better to open our windows a little more, consume a little less of what we don’t really need, and look for simpler ingredients in every category of thing we buy. And be very careful while pregnant.

And, in the face of such uncertainty, it’s really not too much to ask that chemicals that are not proven to be safe be kept out of the food supply, out of other consumer goods, and away from our families.

Myth #3: Only big doses of toxic chemicals can hurt us.

One stalling tactic of chemical companies is to argue about something called the “dose-response relationship.” What they mean is that studies of rats taking really high doses of some chemical or other do not accurately predict what will happen to humans who may have far smaller amounts of that chemical in their bodies.

Unfortunately for their theories, the science is often more complicated than that defensive poo-poohing of our legitimate concerns. What researchers have discovered very recently is that tiny amounts of certain types of chemicals – in particular, the ones that act like hormones in the human body (called “endocrine disruptors”) – are strongly linked to particular effectsBisphenol-A is one of these kinds of chemicals, as are pthalates, which are in a lot of plastics and fragrances.

In addition, low doses may cause the body to act differently than high doses.  And to complicate matters even further, small exposures to a chemical during a crucial stage of development, such as pregnancy, or even infancy (think: an 8-pound baby), may have impacts that forever impact health.

When we just put chemicals, willy-nilly, into the environment, we can’t control how and when a pregnant woman may be exposed. So instead we ask whether a chemical will impact a developing person in the same way as a mouse. Sorry, um, I have an issue with that. And with the dubious ethics of continued exposure in face of evidence of harm.

Of course, we should also care about how higher doses of chemicals will impact workers, like those in factories and nail salons, or even the visibly pregnant cashier I spoke to last week at my neighborhood café about handling hundreds of receipts and dollar bills per day covered in unbound BPA. They took her off the register after my conversation with her (and now she smiles at me when I come in), but what about the woman with that same job in the next town?

Myth #4: The really bad stuff stays where we put it.

You might think that flame retardants in the foam and fabric of your sofa would stay put – that is, unless your 18-month old rips a big hole in your cheapo leather chair, as mine did last week. Still, like you, we have no plans to eat the upholstery.

But body burden testing and tests of indoor air pollution and household dust reveal that flame retardants and other chemicals disintegrate and migrate from the inside of things to the floor. Once on the floor, it gets into the dust, the air and on our clothes. And into the bodies of pregnant women, where it impacts their thyroid.

In California, which has absurd rules that require nearly everything under the West Coast sun to have chemically toxic flame retardants in it (a rule brought back every year from the brink of extinction by a shadowy frontgroup for the chemical manufacturers), Mexican-American children have 7 times the amount of flame retardants in their bodies than do children in Mexico. Really.

Is it because Californian children eat the upholstery alongside their tofu? Um, doubtful. Its more likely from skin, butter, air, breastmilk, hand-to-mouth contact, and er, being a child.

And how did BPA get in the urine of 93 percent of all of us, anyhow? Were we all chewing on can liners and clear plastic water bottles? Well… maybe sometimes. The FDA may be a little confused on this point, but the National Institutes for Health seem to know the answer, and really, the notion that we can just tell something to stay put and hope that it listens to us is a fiction all of us parents have to get over pretty quickly. It’s long past time the regulators did as well.

Myth #5: Our cupboards are full of organic flax seed and fair trade, shade-grown coffee. We’ll be fine.

I’m actually a big believer in voting with your dollars, as you can afford to, for better toys, cleaners, furniture, and food. Our farmer’s market is a regular destination, and I ask questions about everything from environmental health to safety (see the Letters tab for a selection of my persnickety questions). And choosing organic food makes a big difference in whether you’re eating pesticides, as I’ll cover in a future post.

But, as I told the New York Times, we can’t shop our way to a solution here. I’ll be posting about all my difficulties in trying to eliminate as many toxins as we can, and how some can’t be avoided altogether. Even then, these kinds of steps only protect the families of the folks who have the time and money to work this hard, and most people’s children would remain exposed. So there’s a major social class and environmental justice problem.

When the issues are this complex, and this ubiquitous, and the public health costs this serious, that’s when government should step in and do its job. So far, the results of our current standards are not promising in the U.S. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to get the Congress to demand action on chemicals and unsafe products.

As of today, Congress may be about to punt on chemical reform. Again.  And you’ve read this far. So call or write them and tell them that’s not ok with you.

Just to be helpful, here is a Handy-Dandy Summary of the Myths and my (twisted) Version of the Facts on Chemicals:






1)    They can’t sell it unless it’s safe.



Puh-lease, girl.



 2)    Pollution is “out there.”



Chemicals are here, and in us.


3)    Only big doses count.



Little exposures matter more than we knew.


4)    The really bad stuff stays where we put it.



Stuff moves around: in the air, in dust, and in our food.


5) You’re really scaring me, so grab the credit card, and let’s shop our way out of this. Where do I start?


Put that credit card down. Pick up the phone instead and call Congress to ask them to reform the chemical safety laws that should protect everyone.