Announcing the next phase of The New England Food System Resilience Fund. Learn More


February / 2017

Target Announces Ambitious New Chemicals Policy

On January 25, Target announced a new chemicals policy, which expands on the work it has been doing for years with its Sustainable Product Index.

“Our chemical strategy will be one of the most comprehensive in the US retail industry, including all Target-owned and national brand products and operations, not just formulated products,” said Jennifer Silberman, Target’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “It’s ambitious, but using our size, scale, and expertise, we think we’ll be able to make significant progress. And we hope our robust approach will accelerate similar efforts across the industry.”

JMF grantee Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign has encouraged Target and other retailers to develop comprehensive policies to eliminate and substitute toxic chemicals.

Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director, said: “We congratulate Target on this bold new commitment. The company is showing real leadership on toxic chemicals within the retail industry and setting clear goals with concrete time frames.”

By working with suppliers to remove toxic chemicals like phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals, and flame retardants from products, Target will bring safer products into the shopping carts of millions of consumers. A growing body of scientific evidence has linked even low levels of exposure to these chemicals to chronic diseases on the rise.

Target includes fragrances in its transparency goal, which is a huge step forward according to safer chemicals advocates. Fragrances can contain harmful chemicals and consumers currently have no way to find out what they are.

Target’s new commitment to invest in research into safer alternatives will also further accelerate the development of safer products for all consumers.

Using its Retailer Report Card, Mind the Store is challenging other leading retailers, like Amazon and Costco, to join Target in using their market power to adopt comprehensive safer chemicals policies to tackle toxic chemicals that affect their customers’ health.

January / 2017

National Wildlife Federation and Special Initiative on Offshore Wind

“It is not every day you get to witness history. As someone who has spent over a decade trying to spur progress in transitioning to clean energy and advancing solutions to climate change, today was without a doubt the most exciting day of my career.”

– Catherine Bowes, Senior Manager at National Wildlife Federation, during a tour to the Block Island wind farm.  Bowes summarizes the landmark progress on offshore wind power achieved in 2016 in this year-end blog post.

On December 12, the United States’ first commercial offshore wind farm came online off of Block Island, Rhode Island, and began providing electricity to the grid.  In summer 2016, Massachusetts adopted the strongest offshore wind policy in the United States, requiring utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of power over the next ten years.  The National Wildlife Federation and the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind contributed to both of these victories.

The United States has lagged behind Europe in the development of offshore wind power due to concerns about siting and costs, and because of a lack of financing and government support to help launch the industry.  In Europe there are currently 84 offshore wind farms either completed or under construction.  A total of 3,230 turbines are installed and connected to the grid, making a cumulative total of 11,027 megawatts of power.

The Block Island project will provide 30 megawatts, but the Northeast Atlantic has tremendous wind power potential, estimated to be about 500 gigawatts–enough to power the entire region’s electricity needs.  Equally important, this resource is right near major population centers where electricity demand is highest.  Offshore wind power could help to move the Northeast Atlantic from being an importer of fuel to being much more self-reliant, while also supporting the creation of thousands of jobs.

The process of establishing the offshore wind site at Block Island began in 2008, when the State of Rhode Island embarked on an ocean planning process that ultimately designated an area off the coast for renewable energy development. Deepwater Wind proposed its project within that area and worked closely with stakeholders to design a project that could be successful.  National Wildlife Federation and its partners were very engaged in the project, including working with the company to adjust its construction schedule to protect critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales. They then worked to secure broad public support for the project and championed its many permit applications in federal, state, and local forums.

In Massachusetts, advocates realized that the largest barrier to gaining support from policymakers for offshore wind was the belief that it was “just too expensive,” so the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind conducted a study that found that offshore wind costs could decrease by as much as half in the next decade if a strong state policy were enacted.  They also convened high-level forums, hosted a national conference, and took Massachusetts policymakers on a field trip to Europe to see how the industry is flourishing there.  At the same time, National Wildlife Federation coordinated an effort with environmental and energy advocates, labor, and industry experts to build awareness and support for offshore wind throughout the state through media outreach, grassroots mobilization, and policymaker education. These groups’ collaborative work paid off this summer when Massachusetts adopted an energy policy that includes the largest-ever state commitment to offshore wind power, at the scale necessary to create a viable US market.

The Northeast Atlantic is at an important turning point for offshore wind power. The US Department of Interior has designated large areas off the coast for potential wind development.  As of this writing, 520,000 acres have been leased off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and 350,000 acres have been leased off the coast of New Jersey.  In late 2016, the Department of Interior created another offshore wind area off the coast of New York. The auction generated unprecedented investor interest, with energy giant Statoil winning the 33-round auction, paying $42 million for the exclusive right to design and propose an offshore wind farm on 80,000 acres there.

Going forward, both National Wildlife Federation and the University of Delaware will continue to work with advocates, wind developers, and state policymakers to amplify the success stories in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and to demonstrate the broad public support for offshore wind. They will also assist in the implementation of wind policies in Massachusetts and New York to ensure that the Northeast Atlantic fulfills the opportunity to become the launching point for the offshore wind industry in the United Sates.

December / 2016

The Wellspring Collaborative

The John Merck Fund is providing critical funding to the Wellspring Collaborative to develop a hydroponic greenhouse called Wellspring Harvest that will provide year-round local produce to institutions and commercial venues in western Massachusetts. 

With JMF’s funds, Wellspring put together a detailed business plan, secured land, raised $900,000 in financing including $250,000 through a direct public offering, hired a skilled greenhouse grower and completed a site and building plan.  Final site engineering and permits are in process, with construction to begin this spring.  Wellspring also received a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to research the feasibility of building an anaerobic digester to provide a renewable energy source for the greenhouse.

Wellspring’s mission is to create a network of worker-owned companies that provide on-the-job training and wealth creation opportunities for low-income residents of Springfield.  The organization’s five-year goal is to create more than 100 jobs through ten worker-owned companies. Wellspring’s companies provide goods and services to the region’s anchor institutions:  the hospitals, colleges, and universities that are the largest employers and purchasers in western Massachusetts.

Local anchor institutions joined with community, labor, and economic development organizations to form Wellspring in 2010.  In December 2013, Wellspring Upholstery opened its doors as its first cooperative business. That company now has seven employees and carries out $225,000 of work a year for colleges and hospitals in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  The Old Window Workshop joined Wellspring in 2016 as a women-owned cooperative that restores historic windows.

Wellspring appreciated JMF’s willingness to invest in their innovative and long-term development project, and looks forward to demonstrating over the next couple of years that its urban, hydroponic greenhouse can provide a source of year-round local produce and employment, as well as making a significant contribution to the region’s sustainable food system.  So far, Baystate Health, Big Y Supermarkets, and Springfield Public Schools have all committed to purchasing produce from the greenhouse when it becomes available.

Reverend WC Watson, a member of the Wellspring board and pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Springfield, offers a moment of reflection and prayer at a press conference celebrating the purchase of land for the project. Wellspring staff Fred Rose and Stephen Hilyard look on.

Reverend W.C. Watson, a member of the Wellspring board and pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Springfield, offers a moment of reflection and prayer at a press conference celebrating the purchase of land for the project. Wellspring staff Fred Rose and Stephen Hilyard look on.

December / 2016

Silent Spring Institute

 “When people think of air pollution, they tend to think of smokestacks spewing nasty stuff into the air.  Our research has shown that the indoor environment is an important, if not more important, source of exposure to harmful chemicals.”  –Robin Dodson, Silent Spring Institute

Did you ever wonder what’s in all that dust accumulating under your couch?  Silent Spring Institute has discovered that there is more lurking in it than pet hair and food crumbs.  This past September, Silent Spring teamed up with fellow JMF grantee the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as George Washington University, to release the first comprehensive analysis of consumer product chemicals found in dust in American homes.

The dust study compiled data from more than two dozen previous studies and identified 45 potentially toxic chemicals in indoor dust, ten of which were found to be present in more than 90 percent of samples.  Chemicals called phthalates that are used in food wrapping and fragrances were found at the highest levels, followed by phenols and flame retardants.  The researchers then estimated how much of the chemicals from dust get into children’s bodies and summarized the health hazard information.  The study was well covered by major news outlets such as the Washington Post and Newsweek.

Besides publishing groundbreaking articles such as this one, Silent Spring also spearheads the Healthy Green Campus Project, which works to integrate chemicals and health into sustainability programs in higher education.  In its first two years, the project has focused on flame retardant chemicals in colleges in New England, evaluating the impact that different flammability standards are having on student exposure and supporting campuses in both transitioning to better standards and procuring less toxic products.  This year, thanks to scientific information provided by Silent Spring and its other partners, the City of Boston decided to update its fire code to move away from toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture.  Now public spaces in the city, including its 30 higher education institutions, can be furnished with flame retardant-free furniture.

November / 2016

JMF Grantees and Colleagues Named Champions of Environmental Health Research by NIEHS


Dr. Pete Myers, one of the awardees.

Three colleagues near and dear to The John Merck Fund – Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dr. Pete Myers, and Jeanne Rizzo – were recognized as Champions of Environmental Health Research by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) for their significant contributions to understanding how our environment influences the health of communities, families, and individuals worldwide. This is the first time in its history that the National Institutes of Health has bestowed this award.

Dr. Philip Landrigan is a pediatrician known for decades of work protecting children against environmental threats.  Dr. Pete Myers is a founder of Environmental Health Sciences, and has been instrumental in creating the field of endocrine disruption science.  Jeanne Rizzo is President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund, the only organization solely dedicated to the environmental causes of breast cancer.

“It’s a complex research field that needs the attention of top scientists, and I congratulate these awardees for their outstanding contributions,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

The champions were honored during an NIEHS 50th anniversary program on November 1 in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

JMF previously funded both Environmental Health Sciences and the Breast Cancer Fund, and in 2013 Myers was awarded JMF’s Frank Hatch Award for Enlightened Public Service, or “Sparkplug” Award.

November / 2016

Passage of the Chemical Safety Act

On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.  The legislation overhauls the nation’s 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which regulates the introduction of new or already existing chemicals in the United States.

In response to the long-awaited reform of federal chemicals policy, Andy Igrejas, the director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a broad coalition of health, environmental, labor and business organizations, issued the following statement:

“President Obama’s signature on this bill marks both the end of a long process, and the beginning of a new chapter as the EPA puts its new authority to work. The chemical backlog is enormous. It’s vital that EPA starts strong and extracts the maximum public health benefits possible from the new law.

“Because of the limitations in this bill, however, it will also be crucial that the growing demand for safer chemicals continue across society, from state and local governments, retailers, manufacturers, and informed consumers.”

The passage of this bill marked the end of a multiyear campaign to strengthen it, which was supported by many organizations, including Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.  These groups met with both success and failure in these efforts due to the influence of the chemical industry, and are now focused on ensuring that the implementation of the act, including regulatory rule making, is strong.  For more information on the story of the bill’s passage, see Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ blog post, and for a rundown of the major highlights of the bill, see their fact sheet.


September / 2016

Good Shepherd Food Bank Awarded $3 Million for Purchase of Nutritious, Maine-Grown Food for Hunger Relief

The Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) has awarded Good Shepherd Food Bank $3 million for its Mainers Feeding Mainers program to purchase vegetables, fruits, and seafood from Maine producers and to distribute them to hunger relief programs across the state.

“Our farm partners are providing us with top quality, nutritious food for our neighbors in need,” said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank. “This funding will allow us to expand our work with Maine farmers, put money back into local communities, and provide healthier options to families that are having trouble putting food on the table. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The Mainers Feeding Mainers program was initially established with private philanthropic dollars, including those from The John Merck Fund. The Fund for a Healthy Maine award will allow the program to grow and will provide a stable source of funding for several years.

Good Shepherd Food Bank, which currently contracts with 50 farms across the state, plans to increase to 80 farm partnerships in coming years. In 2015, it purchased 840,000 pounds from Maine farms and fisheries and distributed a total of 24 million pounds of food to Mainers through a network of 400 local partner agencies.  The organization plans to increase purchasing from local sources steadily throughout the 3-year contract term, bringing that number to approximately 1.3 million pounds by 2018.


August / 2016

Historic Decision in New Hampshire Could Bring End of Coal-Fired Power Plants in New England

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission recently reached an historic settlement that requires Eversource to sell all of its power plants in the state. This will force its old and inefficient coal-fired plants – including Merrimack Station in Bow – to compete on an open market against more economically and environmentally friendly sources of energy, like solar and wind. JMF grantee The Conservation Law Foundation is pushing to make New England coal-free by 2020 and this settlement is another significant step towards reaching our goal. Click here to watch CLF New Hampshire Director Tom Irwin talk about Merrimack Station and what this decision will mean for our climate and the people of New Hampshire.

August / 2016

Learning Disabilities Association of America

The Learning Disabilities Association of America is a national leader in translating the science on toxic chemicals and neurodevelopmental disorders into collective action to reduce exposures, especially among pregnant women and children.

The John Merck Fund has supported the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of America’s Healthy Children Project since it began in 2002.  The Healthy Children Project raises awareness about how environmental factors, particularly toxic chemicals, can harm brain development and contribute to learning and developmental disorders.

The Healthy Children Project (HCP)—and especially Project Director Maureen Swanson—is a key player in both market and policy campaigns aimed at reducing children’s exposure to “brain drain” chemicals.  Over the past decade in particular, HCP played a critical role in the Safer Chemicals Healthy, Families coalition, which has been a leader in efforts to improve federal regulation of toxic chemicals.

LDA and its state affiliates play a key role in national market campaigns that urge major retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals from their supply chains and products. For example, LDA most recently held events at Babies “R” Us stores throughout the country, resulting in Babies “R” Us executives holding a first meeting in summer 2016 with LDA and other campaign leaders to determine next steps.

LDA also co-founded and co-directs Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks, an alliance of leading scientists, health professionals, and advocates who in July 2016 issued a scientific consensus statement on toxic chemicals that are increasing children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, ADHD, intellectual impairments and learning disabilities.

Most recently, LDA has acted as an official petitioner to the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Federal Drug Administration requesting that these federal agencies issue rules to remove neurodevelopmentally toxic flame retardants and phthalates from food and consumer products.

Through written and oral testimony; outreach and mobilization of partner learning and developmental disabilities groups; coalescing the scientific and medical communities around collaborative action; and education of policymakers, manufacturers, and retailers; LDA works to prevent toxic chemical exposures that put children’s brains at risk in order to ensure a healthier future for generations to come.

August / 2016

Neighbor to Neighbor

Neighbor to Neighbor has brought community voices to the table to ensure one of the first “just” transitions from coal to solar in the nation at the Mount Tom power plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Neighbor to Neighbor’s Action for Healthy Holyoke (AHH) campaign has been built on the leadership of the New American Majority – people of color, immigrants, and the working class – which has allowed it to move beyond shutting down a coal plant to organizing for a clean energy future that meets the needs of low-income communities of color.

While the environmental movement has at times been pitted against the labor movement, Neighbor to Neighbor organizes at the intersection of economic, racial, and environmental justice. The original leaders of the AHH campaign, Carmelo Diaz and Virgenmina Perez, were personally affected by asthma induced by poor air quality and lived near contaminated plants that leaked hazardous materials in their native Puerto Rico.  Both lost their jobs in Holyoke when their companies relocated abroad, and they knew that fighting for a just transition beyond coal included advocating for the coal plant’s workers and ensuring a bright future for the city – with a thorough cleanup and the creation of green jobs.

The Mount Tom coal plant in Holyoke has been contaminating the area’s air and water for over 50 years.  In 2014, Neighbor to Neighbor partnered with other groups such as Toxics Action Center and the Conservation Law Foundation to ensure the closure of the dirty plant, a process hastened by changes in the energy market that severely threatened its economic stability.  In 2015, Action for a Healthy Holyoke members oversaw a community re-use study process and secured commitments from owner GDF-Suez to convert the plant to solar energy and to demolish the current building, including its highly-contaminated smokestack.

Neighbor to Neighbor continues to build the movement for climate justice by knocking on doors in frontline communities in Holyoke, Springfield, and Lynn, and by conducting popular education on the connections between day-to-day challenges like the lack of good jobs and affordable housing and the urgent need for renewable energy and resilient communities in the face of climate change. Every step of the way, Neighbor to Neighbor seeks to make state and local environmental policy and energy institutions meet the needs of low-income communities of color.