Does the "BPA-free" sticker on your water bottle mean it's safe, or just well-marketed? Is building an athletic field out of recycled tires a green choice, or one that introduces more toxic material into our environment?
These are the dilemmas we face as consumers. We make thousands of choices every day about what to put in, on and near our bodies. Even if we have the critical thinking skills to evaluate the merits of every product we simply don't have the time. We often must rely on others to make decisions that we implicitly trust are in our best interest. But often the toxic materials that make headlines are replaced by well-intentioned but unproven alternatives -- like replacing BPA with the chemically-similar and totally untested substance BPS.
The FDA currently does not have the budget to conduct extensive long-term research on many potentially harmful products. Industry is required to effectively self-regulate. Most consumers are completely unaware of this fact. This Spring my students raised a "Stink!" upon previewing the documentary by Jon Whelan and took incremental steps in a less toxic direction with the Silent Spring Institute's Detox Me App. The rest of us would be wise do the same.
Educators must ensure the STEM workforce be research-empowered to solve today's problems without creating issues for tomorrow. In the interim, consumers can turn to the Skin Deep Database and Think Dirty App, while decision makers must use the best information available.
Recently, Simmons College partnered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to develop Daly Field, a Boston athletic complex with dirt fields that had fallen into disrepair. Hopefully, our stewardship and development choices will protect both our athletes and our community.
Simmons is installing new synthetic fields that save up to a million gallons of water needed to maintain comparable natural grass fields -- and help to eliminate existing erosion and reduce contaminants from fertilizers and pesticides.
Synthetic turf is an easy choice, but Simmons recently made a tougher call. As a result of an ongoing federal investigation into the safety of crumb rubber (made largely from recycled tires) as infill in synthetic fields, Simmons opted for a more expensive all-natural alternative at Daly Field. Geofill consists of 90% crushed coconut husks and 10% cork. It has been in use for more than 10 years. By choosing to install Geofill rather than crumb rubber, Simmons has assured that Daly Field will be the greenest and cleanest public playing field in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Long overdue reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act is headed for President Obama's pen with bipartisan support. Whether the legislation will lead to much-needed consumer protections or future problems remains to be seen. With any luck, the reform will not follow the current trend of replacing a hazard with an alternative that later proves to be worse.
Let's hope that the government looks to the future and funds the study and development of greener alternatives that are better for both our health and the environment. Our STEM students are up to the challenge.