Over 360 long-term institutional investors representing more than $19 trillion in assets have written to G7 heads of state urging governments to stand by their commitments to the Paris Agreement at their upcoming summit in Hamburg on July 7-8, 2017.
“Investors are sending a powerful signal today that climate change action must be an urgent priority in the G20 countries, especially the United States, whose commitment is in question,” said Mindy Lubber, CEO and President of the sustainability nonprofit and JMF grantee, Ceres, which directs the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability. “Global investors are eager to open their wallets to a low-carbon future, but it won’t happen without clear, stable policy signals from countries worldwide – in particular, the US government whose waffling on the Paris Climate Agreement is hugely troubling.”
Download the letter signed by investors and the briefing paper for G7 and G20 leaders here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Research and education by the Silent Spring Institute contributed to a code change in the city of Boston that will reduce human exposure to flame retardants, while studies in Washington State have confirmed that the efforts of the Washington Toxics Coalition, among others, have reduced exposure to marine wildlife.
In June at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in British Columbia, scientists presented research confirming that several species of wildlife in Puget Sound, including harbor seals, Pacific herring, and English sole, have decreasing levels of the toxic flame retardant PBDE in their bodies as a result of a statewide ban on these chemicals in 2007. These positive testing results corroborate others and are a testament to the hard work of many groups, including the Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC), which has worked for over a decade to educate citizens and legislators about the need to phase out these toxic chemicals. Also thanks to the efforts of these groups, a law was passed this April that bans five flame retardants in Washington state.
Boston Fire Code Change:
In April, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed a bill to amend the Boston Fire Code so that public spaces in the city can have furniture free of harmful flame retardant chemicals. This was a major win for public health that doesn’t compromise fire safety. A number of organizations were active in supporting this change including the Silent Spring Institute, whose research showed that, before California’s similar code was changed in 2013, Californians had twice the national average of toxic flame retardants in their blood.
In the aftermath of the code update, Harvard has begun the switch to flame retardant-free furniture in some upcoming renovation projects. According to a Silent Spring Institutepress release, “What happened in Boston is a reflection of a changing culture, not just among large institutions, but also among first responders concerned about the health risks from exposure to flame retardants and the high cancer rates among their ranks.”
More coverage of the code change can be found here.
In March, a new study by John Merck Fund grantee the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind (SIOW) reported that if Massachusetts develops offshore wind energy at a scale of 2,000 MW, it is likely that with technology and industry advances, the costs of wind power to ratepayers will decrease by as much as 55% in the next decade. That kind of cost reduction, driven by market forces, would put the Commonwealth on a clear path to deliver clean power at a competitive price for millions in the Boston area and beyond, and would make wind power a core contributor to the state’s clean energy future.
“The key,” stated lead author Dr. Willett Kempton in SIOW’s press release, “is making a firm commitment to scale so the market can do its work. By providing market visibility – the State’s commitment to a pipeline of projects over a set period – the offshore wind industry in the US can deliver energy costs on the kind of downward [cost] trajectory seen in Europe. More than 10 GW of offshore wind energy has been built in Europe and powers nearly 7 million homes. The US has an opportunity to take advantage of this domestic clean energy resource which is in such abundant supply.”