Lori Alper, a Boston-area based blogger and founder of Groovy Green Livin had a significant role in a recent California court agreement by Procter & Gamble to substantially reduce the levels of a chemical linked to cancer found in their Tide laundry detergent. Alper started a petition at Change.org that helped publicize the issue. An Oakland-based non-profit ultimately sued the company for making Tide with too high levels of 1,4-dioxane (which the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry classifies as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.") without disclosing it to consumers in violation of California law. Procter & Gamble did not respond to a request for comment.
We caught up with Alper recently to fill us in more:
Green Blog: What prompted you to start the petition at change.org?
Lori Alper: A report released by Women’s Voices for Earth, Dirty Secrets: What’s Hiding in Your Cleaning Products? found high levels of a cancer-causing chemical in Tide Free & Gentle® laundry detergent. This chemical isn’t listed on the product label or on the product website, so consumers have no way of knowing it’s in there. This was especially concerning, because Tide Free & Gentle® is marketed to moms as a healthier choice for their children’s laundry. Infants and children are more vulnerable to chemical exposures, because their immune, neurological, and hormone systems are still developing. I felt compelled to do something about this so I created a petition on Change.org asking Procter & Gamble (makers of Tide) to strip this harmful cancer-causing chemical out of Tide Free & Gentle®.
What happened after the petition went up?
LA: The petition went viral. Almost 80,000 people from all over the world stepped up to the plate and signed demanding that Procter & Gamble change the formulation of their Tide laundry detergent. We knew Procter & Gamble could make this change because they had done it before. Back in 2010 the company reformulated its Herbal Essences® shampoo for the very same reason. We continued to turn up the volume, letting Procter & Gamble know that we wouldn’t stop until they made a change. After almost a year of continued consumer pressure Procter & Gamble realized they could no longer ignore our concerns and they finally agreed to reformulate their detergents to reduce the levels of this toxic chemical.
GB: It seems like phrases like “free and clear” promises safety. What advice can you give to parents trying to pick safe products for their children?
LA: Unfortunately regulations surrounding toxic chemicals in cleaning products are pretty old and ineffective. As it stands right now, cleaning product companies aren’t required to tell us what chemicals are in their products. Until the Safe Chemicals Act passes product labels don’t have to reflect toxic chemicals and there’s very little information on whether or not a product is safe once it hits the market.
For personal care products I would suggest using The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database to research the safety of most personal care products already in your home or to help you find safer products in the store.
The best option is to make your own cleaning products. Until we know what’s in the products we buy off the shelf, we can mix our own with safe ingredients like vinegar and baking soda.
If you are concerned about a cleaning product that you currently use (and like), contact the company directly and ask about their ingredients. Ask the manufacturer to disclose all of their fragrance ingredients and any contaminants.
GB: When and why did you start Groovy Green Livin?
LA: After practicing law for many years, I realized that I had outgrown the fast-paced and stressful lifestyle. I began to see firsthand how living an organic, non-toxic lifestyle can directly affect your health and well being. My commitment towards a greener lifestyle was strengthened once I started a family. I began to educate myself about chemicals and other toxins that were going into and on our bodies. When my youngest went off to kindergarten I decided to trade in my suits and follow my passion- to educate myself and others on how to live as naturally and toxin-free as possible. And so Groovy Green Livin was born.
GB: What are the biggest challenges you experience in living a green life?
LA: My biggest challenge at the moment is remembering to bring my reusable bags to the store. I finally have a system in place. I leave my reusable bags in plain view on the passenger side of the car. You would think this would be a simple fix, but I’m still only remembering them 80% of the time! I’m just reminded that no one is perfectly green.
GB: Give us a green tip you’ve recently discovered.
LA: Fill your living space with house plants! House plants are such a simple way to improve indoor air quality. Many common houseplants act as an air filter, removing toxins from the air we breathe. They are known to absorb toxins including gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber and more. I have a brown thumb so I try to add plants that are simple to grow such as a peace lily.
About the green blog
Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.
Christopher Reidy covers business for the Globe.
Doug Struck covers environmental issues from Boston.
Glenn Yoder produces Boston.com's Lifestyle pages.
Eric Bauer is site architect of Boston.com.
Bennie DiNardo is the Boston Globe's deputy managing editor/multimedia.
Dara Olmsted is a local sustainability professional focusing on green living.