Chicago Green Jobs

3 Reasons We Need The Green Products Innovation Institute
May 25, 2010, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Green Chemistry

Tastes like snozzberries!

Observe this comical ad for DDT flavored wallpaper. Isn’t it hilarious how back in the fifties corporations and governments rushed to create all kinds of products with awesome new chemicals without even bothering to do much testing! What’s that you say? Of the 800,000 chemicals produced and used in the US the EPA has only required testing on 200?


The good news is that the Green Products Innovation Institute was launched this month with the purpose of creating a design framework to help businesses design products without relying on traditional toxic chemicals. The GPII is located, of course, in California largely as a result of that state’s Green Chemistry Initiative. My vote for the most interesting aspect of the new org:

The GPII is developing an open, public database that tracks product chemical data and also creates a list of “positive” alternative chemicals, materials and processes. This will help companies reformulate or retool to create new products.

Here are three reasons why we need a functional database of positive chemical alternatives fast:

1. Kids with higher levels of pesticide in their systems are twice as likely to have ADHD. The medical journal Pediatrics recently published a study concluding that “organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, may contribute to ADHD prevalence.” The key phrase here is “at levels common among US children.” Organophosphates are found in roughly 40 pesticides commonly used in the US agricultural industry, which means that the odds that your strawberries have a light dusting are pretty good. And considering that organophosphates were originally developed for chemical warfare it’s not too surprising that research scientists are discovering that they affect our neurochemistry.

2. American newborns come pre-polluted with 300 contaminants. The President’s Cancer Panel released a report on May 5th with this astonishing conclusion, adding that these contaminants come from normal day-to-day living, not, as one might have hoped, from licking the walls of a chemical plant. The report comes with a list of helpful hints for mitigating your child’s risk that includes: “Choose foods, house and garden products, toys, medicines, medical tests that minimize children’s exposure to toxins.” So get cracking on that – I’ll wait!

3. No one has any idea how toxic the 850,000 gallons of chemicals BP has dumped into the Gulf actually are. Forget the oil for a minute if you can. To cope with the oil, BP has dumped a world record breaking 851,000 gallons of Corexit, a chemical dispersant which, according to its Material Safety Data Sheet, has undergone no toxicity studies. The EPA has taken issue with BP’s decision to use Corexit, a stance which the New York Times reports is complicated by the fact that “there are many methods for estimating the toxicity of chemical oil dispersants and no single standard prevails.” Emphasis mine. That’s right: no studies, no standards, no way to know what BP has let us in for.

Good lord that is depressing. What should we do?

These three issues have one key point in common: the only way for us to protect ourselves is to carefully research every toy, cleaner, sofa, strawberry and pork chop that we buy to make sure we’re minimizing our exposure to the endless list of potential hazards. Oh, and try not to live too close to an oil rig.

This is not a sustainable solution. We desperately need our institutions – governmental, corporate, and social – to take a systematic approach to weeding out harmful chemicals before they are spun into plastics or sprayed on our food. The GPII has the potential to create a practical tool to help inventors do just that. I will be watching with interest.


4 Comments so far
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K- that’s great. Thanks for introducing me to the site. DId G tell you that we’re starting a Green Jobs program at the garden? This will be a fab resource. Hope things are well, and those dusty strawberries stay away from the lil one.

Comment by Becca

If only more than 72 people would read about this.

Comment by Heath Latham

Heck, Heath – I’m glad you’re reading it at least! Thanks for the comment!

And Becca – that’s awesome news about the Green Jobs program you’re starting up. If you want to talk to a local org who has done the same thing let me know and I’ll introduce you!

Comment by Kate Eyler-Werve

This is a great first step, especially the part about alternatives.

Comment by masaccio

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