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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve always suspected that perfumes and colognes must not be too healthy simply because of the way the smell of most of them bothers me. Am I correct? Is there information available on this issue?
—Lucinda Barry, Minneapolis, MN

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned independent laboratory tests that revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 leading fragrances. To protect trade secrets, makers are allowed to withhold fragrance ingredients, so consumers can’t rely on labels to know what hazards may lurk inside that new bottle of perfume.

© PhotoDisk/Thinkstock

Ahhh…the sweet smell of petrochemicals! The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that, while many popular perfumes, colognes and body sprays contain trace amounts of natural essences, they also typically contain a dozen or more potentially hazardous synthetic chemicals, some of which are derived from petroleum. To protect trade secrets, makers are allowed to withhold fragrance ingredients, so consumers can’t rely on labels to know what hazards may lurk inside that new bottle of perfume.

“A rose may be a rose,” reports EWG. “But that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer.”

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of over 100 groups seeking transparency about chemicals in cosmetics, commissioned independent laboratory tests that revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 leading fragrances. The top offenders?: American Eagle Seventy Seven topped the list with 24, followed by Chanel Coco with 18 and Britney Spears Curious and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio each with 17.

“The average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label,” reports EWG, which analyzed the Campaign’s data. “Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products.” EWG adds that some of the undisclosed ingredients are chemicals “with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues.” Examples include diethyl phthalate, a chemical found in 97 percent of Americans and linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies, and musk ketone, which concentrates in human fat tissue and breast milk.

EWG explains that ingredients not in a product’s “hidden fragrance mixture” must be listed on the label, so makers disclose some chemicals but “lump others together in the generic category of ‘fragrance’.”
EWG blames the U.S. government in part, pointing out that the Food and Drug Administration “has not assessed the safety of the vast majority” of secret chemicals used in spray-on products such as fragrances. “Fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance,” reports EWG. As such, the cosmetics industry has kept the public in the dark about fragrance ingredients, “even those that present potential health risks or build up in people’s bodies.”

For more information, check out EWG’s May 2010 “Not So Sexy” report, available on the group’s website. Also, EWG’s SkinDeep database serves as an evolving source of information on the ingredients (and their health risks) in thousands of cosmetics and related products widely available on store shelves.

CONTACTS: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics; EWG’s “Not So Sexy”; Skin Deep.

 
 

 

Dear EarthTalk: In recent years the hotel industry began to green up operations, but has it yet gone beyond leaving out little cards to encourage you to re-use your towels and linens?
—Mason Singer, St. Louis, MO

Those little cards urging you to reuse towels and linens may seem like token environmentalism, but they actually result in significant water and waste reductions. The website Economically Sound reports that a 150-room hotel can conserve 72,000 gallons of water and 480 gallons of laundry soap every year by placing the cards in its guest rooms.

Photo © Alan Levine/Flickr

Some hotels and hotel chains take sustainability more seriously than others, but the industry as a whole has certainly become greener in recent years. Those little cards may seem like token environmentalism, but they can actually result in significant water, waste and cost reductions. The website Economically Sound reports that a 150-room hotel can conserve 72,000 gallons of water and 480 gallons of laundry soap every year by placing the cards in its guest rooms. The Marriott chain reported saving as much as 17 percent in hot water and sewer costs at its hotels thanks to implementation of its Linen Reuse Program.

While many hotels and chains print up their own cards, thousands more purchase them from the Green Hotels Association, a non-profit launched two decades ago to bring together hotels around the U.S. and elsewhere that share a commitment to the environment and sustainable use of natural resources. The organization’s Catalog of Environmental Products for the Lodging Industry contains a wide range of environmentally friendly energy- and water-saving products. For example, 500 laminated copies of the group’s best selling card (asking guests to consider not having sheets changed every day) costs hoteliers just $200. Another example is the toilet tank fill diverter, which saves about 3/4 of a gallon of water per flush while remaining invisible to guests. The little gadgets cost hotels around $1 and as such pay for themselves in no time thanks to reduced water bills. The catalog also features dispensers that eliminate the waste of stocking every bathroom with soap bars and little bottles of hair and skin care products.

Another group promoting a greener hospitality industry is the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which works to improve the quality of tourism around the world. Under its Environment Initiative, WTTC aims to solidify a global vision on how the tourism industry can foster sustainable development. It has been especially pro-active around the mitigation of carbon emissions and last year, along with the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and 12 major hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood, launched the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, which aims to help hotels reduce, measure and communicate their carbon footprints. This is particularly relevant, says WTTC, for hotels’ corporate clients who want to quantify the carbon footprints of their hotel stays, meetings and events.

Another positive trend is the Four Seasons’ 10 Million Trees Initiative. The hotel chain is celebrating its 50th anniversary by planting 10 million trees across the 34 countries in which it operates with the hope that the effort will help combat deforestation and global warming and attract more customers concerned about the state of the planet.

Beyond what the major chains are doing, eco lodges run by or in partnership with native people or tribes have popped up all over the tropics and beyond; examples include Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambique, Africa and Posada Amazonas in the Peruvian Amazon. Staying at such a place is a good way to ensure that locals can benefit from tourism and not be tempted to pillage their region’s natural resource base.

CONTACTS: Economically Sound; Green Hotels Association; WTTC; ITP.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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