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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.