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

July / 2017

Toxic Industrial Chemicals Found in 10 Varieties of Macaroni and Cheese Powders

On National Macaroni and Cheese Day, National Coalition Urges Kraft Heinz to Lead the Industry by Pledging to Eliminate Any and All Sources of Phthalates

July 13, 2017—Laboratory testing of 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese products has revealed toxic industrial chemicals (known as phthalates) in the cheese powders of all of them, according to the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging, a national alliance of leading public health and food safety groups.

In recognition of National Macaroni and Cheese Day tomorrow, the coalition has issued a call to The Kraft Heinz Company—the dominant seller of boxed macaroni and cheese, with 76 percent of market share—to drive industry-wide change by eliminating any sources of phthalates that may end up in its cheese products. Detailed information and a public petition are available here.

“Serving up one of America’s favorite comfort foods shouldn’t mean exposing your children and family to harmful chemicals,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a coalition member.  Other JMF grantees, including Earthjustice, Ecology Center, Healthy Babies Bright Futures, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Safer States, and Toxic-Free Future are also members.

Two million boxes of macaroni and cheese are sold every day in the United States.

July / 2017

Environmental Health Strategy Center

For the past fifteen years, the Environmental Health Strategy Center has inspired groundbreaking state policy and innovative market-based campaigns to phase out some of the most toxic chemicals from household goods and baby products.

The Environmental Health Strategy Center (EHSC) was founded in 2002. Through its campaigns and partnerships, the center works to ensure that all people are healthy and thriving in a fair and healthy economy. EHSC Executive Director Mike Belliveau is widely recognized for his leadership in the environmental health community and received The John Merck Fund’s Frank Hatch Award for Enlightened Public Service, or “Sparkplug Award,” in 2009.

EHSC is the lead coordinator of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, which played a key role in educating policymakers about the first comprehensive safer chemicals law in the country, the Kid Safe Products Act, which passed by the Maine legislature in 2008. The bill requires Maine to adopt a list of priority chemicals of high concern, forces manufacturers to disclose the toxic chemicals they add to products, and authorizes the state to require safer alternatives whenever they are available.

In 2014, EHSC recognized the potential that markets-based approaches could have to move the economy toward safer chemicals, and they undertook a thoughtful strategic planning process to explore which type of campaigns could have the most market impact that would also be the best fit for EHSC’s skills and expertise.

This planning process led them to focus on phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that can lower testosterone and alter thyroid function. Scientists have linked exposure to some phthalates during pregnancy and early childhood to changes in the developing brain that may result in children struggling to succeed in school, work, and life.

Scientists agree that for most people, the greatest exposure to phthalates comes from food. They are not intentionally added to food, but migrate into food products during food processing, packaging, and preparation. A 2014 scientific review paper concluded that dairy products were the largest contributor of dietary exposure to the most common phthalate, DEHP, for pregnant women and children.

EHSC began working with partner organizations to research phthalate exposure, participate in federal regulatory processes concerning phthalates, and develop a campaign targeting phthalates in children’s foods. That group of organizations is now known as the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging. Their campaign to urge Kraft Heinz to eliminate phthalates from macaroni and cheese products launched in July 2017.

July / 2017

ChemSec Creates New “Dating Site” for Safer Chemistry

The corporate drive to substitute hazardous chemicals in products and supply chains is increasing dramatically, but it it is difficult for those creating safer alternatives to find those seeking them. This May, JMF grantee ChemSec (the International Chemical Secretariat) announced the launch of their Marketplace. In the words of  Anne-Sofie Andersson, Executive Director at ChemSec, “The Marketplace provides both a unique market opportunity for producers of safer alternatives, as well as a one-stop shop for progressive companies looking to substitute hazardous chemicals in their products.”

On Marketplace, safer alternatives are offered in the form of ads created by companies.  Some of the most forward-thinking chemical producers, such as Clariant, Chemours, and Valspar, are already featuring products on the website. “ChemSec’s Marketplace is a unique digital forum for suppliers and purchasers to exchange interest in commercial products that represent technical alternatives that may meet their sustainability goals or other business needs. Valspar is honored to be one of the first companies to place an advertisement for the valPure® V70 food contact coating technology on the Marketplace. We hope that others share our commitment to transparency and innovation and will advertise their solutions as well,” says Flavio Marchi, Global Marketing Director for Packaging at Valspar.

Click here for a Marketplace FAQ.

July / 2017

McFadden and Associates Wins EPA 2017 Safer Choice Partner of the Year Award

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented McFadden and Associates with a 2017 Safer Choice Partner of the Year award on May 15 in an awards ceremony held at the Gaylord Convention Center near Washington, DC. The professional consulting firm specializing in green chemistry applications and sustainable business practices was recognized by EPA Safer Choice “for its efforts to proactively advance and advocate for the importance of green chemistry and sustainable business practices.”

“We are honored to receive this distinguished EPA award. The recognition from the EPA is an important validation of our commitment to assist companies to innovate and formulate safer and more sustainable products ” said Roger McFadden, Senior Scientist and President of McFadden and Associates and member of the JMF Board of Trustees.

McFadden says, “A growing number of our business clients are selecting EPA Safer Choice because of its rigorous evaluation of the environmental and health impacts of every chemical ingredient in a product as well as its high credibility among consumers.”

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Roger McFadden (503) 915-4640 or email at

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.

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.


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.

July / 2016

Unprecedented Alliance of Scientists, Health Professionals and Advocates Agree that Environmental Toxins are Hurting Children’s Brain Development

For the past two years, The John Merck Fund has supported Project TENDR, an alliance of 48 of the nation’s top scientists, health professionals, and health advocates who work on issues related to children’s brain development (“TENDR” stands for “Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks;” click here for a list of participating individuals and organizations).

On July 1, Project TENDR released a groundbreaking consensus statement that scientific evidence in their fields supports a link between exposure to toxic chemicals in food, air, and everyday products and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, and learning disabilities.   The consensus statement can be found here, and fuller coverage of the release in the New York Times can be found here.

According to the statement, prime examples of the chemicals and pollutants putting children at risk include pesticides, flame retardants, air pollutants, lead, mercury, and PCBs.  In the words of Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto from UC Davis, who co-directs the project with The Learning Disabilities Association’s Maureen Swanson, “This is truly an historic agreement.  It’s the first time so many leaders in public health, science, and medicine agree on the message from the scientific evidence: That toxic chemicals are harming our children’s brain development.  Ten years ago, this consensus wouldn’t have been possible, but the research is now abundantly clear.”