Innovators Series: Making Healthier, Safer Mattresses at Naturepedic

More than a decade ago, Barry Cik walked into a baby store to buy a crib mattress for his first grandchild.  He didn’t know about mattresses, but he knew something about chemicals.  He noticed that children’s mattresses contained lots of nasty chemicals and even worse, it was hard to figure out what else might be in them.  As a hazardous materials manager, he had seen the harm caused by environmental pollution, even in his own community near Lake Erie.

Barry was astounded that he couldn’t find a mattress that he was certain would be safe for his grandchild. Why would we want to use harmful chemicals in a product that we use for almost a third of our lives, Barry wondered, particularly for children.   

At that point, Barry took an unusual step – he started his own mattress company in his garage. More than a decade later, Naturepedic is a successful and expanding business, with products sold all over the world. 

Naturepedic’s journey to make safer mattresses without hazardous flame retardants, phthalates, glues and adhesives, and antimicrobials is detailed in the video below.  Learn how Naturepedic was able to solve a series of design challenges to make a safer mattress.  


Published on May 25, 2016

Health Leaders Urge State Legislators to Make Public Health a Priority.

On May 4th, Health Leaders Fellows from across the state, including nurses, public health professionals, and dieticians, traveled to Lansing to urge state legislators to make public health a priority in policy decisions that relate to our air, water, and the environment. This is the third cohort of the Health Leaders Fellowship, a program designed to educate health professionals of all types about critical environmental health issues and empower them to make an impact in their local communities and at the state level. The fellows were in the Capitol to share their knowledge about the importance of public health when it comes to energy policies and ending childhood lead poisoning.

In the morning, Ecology Center staff held training sessions for the fellows, providing information and best practices regarding campaign planning, advocacy, and how to speak with elected officials. After breaking into groups and practicing their talking points, the fellows and Ecology Center staff members headed out for 20 meetings with senators and representatives.

Health professionals are some of the most trusted spokespeople and are uniquely positioned to tackle some of our most pressing public health issues. Health Leaders have the first-hand experience and knowledge to highlight the connections between the policies that decision makers enact and the community impacts they have.

Overall, the day was a success with many fellows feeling energized and excited about future advocacy opportunities and meetings with elected officials. They found that the state legislators valued the input and knowledge of their constituents and health professionals.

Although the Flint crisis has been the primary focus of legislative conversations about lead, Michigan’s children across the state remain at risk for lead poisoning.  The Health Leaders Fellows met with legislators to educate them about the many proactive steps that the state can take to finally end lead poisoning in Michigan, including advocating for increased funding in the state budget for lead abatement.

For Michigan’s energy future, there is still much uncertainty.  The Senate Energy and Technology Committee has been meeting to discuss proposed legislation that is a step in the wrong direction for Michigan. In their current form, Senate Bills 437 and 438 would repeal Michigan’s successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and redefine clean energy to include waste incineration. If enacted, these bills would result in an increase in air pollution, poor health outcomes, and increased costs for Michigan families. 

Update: On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Technology voted the bills out of committee. Now is the time to contact your State Senator and urge them to reject Senate Bills 437 and 438. Take Action

Published on May 24, 2016

Breast Milk, Babies' First Perfect Food

Despite fears of toxic chemicals, such as lead, polluting breast milk, it undeniably remains the most important first food for babies.

Breastfeeding. Breast milk is the perfect food for babies. In 2005 the American Academy of Pediatrics declared, “Human milk is species-specific, and all substitute feeding preparations [formula] differ markedly from it, making human milk superior for infant feeding.”

If you are among the millions of moms who have breastfed you know there are challenges. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes your workplace isn’t accommodating. Sometimes family members or the community at large are not supportive. And sometimes you just want your body back after 9 months of sharing it with another human. It’s easy to feel discouraged.

Countless other reasons can tip the scales in the other direction: cost-savings (free!), convenience (no need to go to the kitchen and make a bottle at 2 a.m. and again at 4 and 6), the benefits of bonding and skin-to-skin contact, and the power of nursing to shrink the baby belly. But above all are the health benefits for mom and baby.

Lead in Breast Milk

But, what about moms who have been exposed to contaminants, such as lead? The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan has raised questions about the possibility of mothers passing undesirable substances, such as lead onto nursing babies.

In response to the on-going crisis, MIBFN released the publication, Breastfeeding & Lead Exposure: Issue Statement and Recommendations. The co-chairs of the organization and authors of the statement (and medical professionals) note that “Lead in maternal plasma is indeed transferred to breast milk, however, the most recent studies indicate that very little maternal plasma lead is actually transferred to the milk…”

Therefore, only nursing moms with exceedingly high blood lead levels (BLL) of above 40 mcg/dL are encouraged to temporarily interrupt breastfeeding (but continue to pump) and resume when their BLLs are 40 mcg/dL or below. This level, however, is extremely rare. Indeed, no one--man or woman--during the crisis in Flint has recorded a BLL higher than 27 mcg/dL. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and MIBFN encourage parents to have their nursing infant’s blood tested for lead levels as well if the mom has a BLL of 5 or higher.

The takeaway here is that breast milk is still best. Mothers that breastfeed when drinking water sources are contaminated actually protect their children from contaminants, such as lead in the water.

Other Toxic Chemicals

In our daily lives, we are exposed to many toxic chemicals, some of them can even build up in our bodies. Chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA, a plastic component), PBDEs (flame retardants), perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, used in floor cleaners and non-stick pans), phthalates (used in plastics) can end up in our blood, tissues, and even in mother’s milk. But, medical associations and researchers agree: the benefits of breastfeeding are so vitally important that they outweigh potential risks from toxic chemicals present in breast milk.

Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, puts it this way, “Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice. The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with the continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.

What about formula?

If any parent is not convinced, consider this: formula contains contaminants too. A 2011 study testing 437 individual samples of infant formula, oral electrolytes, and 5% glucose solutions found average levels of aluminum of 440 ng g−1 in milk-based formula and 730 ng g−1 in soy-based formula. These levels are about 9 - 14 times higher than the highest levels found in human milk (50 ng g−1). The researchers found, levels of the heavy metal cadmium to be slightly higher in milk-based formula than in human milk, while lead levels were on average, marginally lower. BPA, perchlorate, and phthalates have all been found in infant formulas too.

So, the next opportunity you have, encourage and support a nursing mom. It may not easy for her. But, it is by far the best choice for the health of our next generation.

Learn more about how the Ecology Center’s First Food and Healthy Stuff programs are working to keep toxic chemicals out of breast milk and consumer products


Published on May 24, 2016

Schuette is Standing on the Wrong Side of History

Across the country, our neighbors are witnessing rising sea levels, record-breaking wildfire seasons costing millions in damages, water shortages, thousand-year droughts and superstorms that have become more frequent and more intense. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years in history have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century. This March marked the 11th consecutive record hottest month in Earth’s history.

The verdict is in on climate change, and the time to kick the can down the road to the next generation is over.

That’s why a broad coalition of businesses and professional organizations filed legal briefs supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. These groups stepped forward because, like me, they care about halting climate change, promoting clean air, and leaving a healthier planet for our children.

The EPA’s plan takes a monumental step towards curbing the effects of climate change. It’s estimated that by reducing dangerous carbon pollution, this plan can save thousands of lives and leave millions of Americans less susceptible to air pollution-related illnesses. This is crucial in Michigan, where our asthma rate is 25 percent higher than the national average and we rank 5th in the nation for premature deaths, hospital admissions, and heart attacks attributed to coal-fired power plant pollution.

The plan also provides each state the flexibility to tailor their individual blueprint for reducing carbon emissions. That’s why a majority of states (31) are already on track to be more than halfway toward meeting their benchmarks.

So at first glance, it might be difficult to understand why such a plan is currently under attack by a group of Republican state attorney generals, including our own AG Bill Schuette. Why would public officials so adamantly attempt to block a flexible, common sense plan that would benefit the health of so many in their states?

For starters, energy companies such as Peabody coal and other polluter interests have donated more than $2.4 million over the past two campaign cycles to the Republican AGs, including Schuette, who have expressed opposition to or joined in the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan. In return, these AGs have worked behind the scenes in an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” to protect polluter profits by attacking the plan. They’ve become the de facto legal team for the dirty energy industry, perhaps because if these polluters are held accountable for their actions, it might mean a reduction in the size of their campaign donations.

That’s why long before any details of the Clean Power Plan emerged, you heard opponents dragging out the same tired, old arguments polluters have used for decades when reasonable efforts to reduce environmental damage are proposed. They’ve made false claims about costs when in fact it would save the average American family almost $200 a year on their energy bill and pave the way for 270,000 jobs.

On Earth Day, 110 U.S. companies including tech companies like Google, major retailers like IKEA and big manufacturers like Dupont, also called for swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan to support investments in low-carbon energy and to help achieve our global commitments.

Schuette is standing on the wrong side of history. Failing to address climate change will have devastating impacts on our health and our economy, leading to more record-breaking extreme weather events. Not to mention that continued unchecked pollution will ensure Michigan’s asthma rates remain high.

I’m adding my voice to the chorus of organizations and majority of Americans supporting this plan because we can be the generation that responsibly addresses climate change instead of standing idly by or in the way.

–Charles Griffith, Climate & Energy Director

Published on May 24, 2016

Transit is an Environmental Issue

Connecting communities to help reduce sprawl, increase urban density, increase walkability, and eliminate the need to continuously build more parking lots.

Many people talk about public transportation as an issue of access, mobility, safety, and economic development for the people and businesses in Southeast Michigan.  These issues are critical to our region, but public transportation has significant environmental advantages as well.  Ecology Center has long been committed to improving public transportation in Washtenaw County, and we have recently expanded our efforts throughout SE Michigan by joining A Coalition for Transit (ACT), a broad-based coalition dedicated to improving and expanding public transportation throughout our region.

It is no secret that public transportation can help reduce the number of cars on the streets, but how does that exactly help the environment? For starters, it helps alleviate traffic congestion, and thus helps improve air quality. The fewer cars on the roads, the less toxic emissions being spewed into our environment. 

Public transportation provides environmental benefits for land use. It connects communities in ways that can help reduce sprawl, increase urban density, increase walkability, and eliminate the need to continuously build more parking lots. This means that we can preserve the valuable green space that we have all come to love, providing both environmental and public health benefits.

Public transportation can help reduce our reliance on dirty energy sources like fossil fuels, reducing carbon emissions that are causing climate change. The transportation sector accounts for over 30% of carbon emissions in the United States, and light-duty vehicles, which include the cars we drive everyday account for 61% of transportation energy use.  That means that  those who choose to ride public transportation reduce their carbon footprint and conserve energy.  Estimates suggest that if an individual switches from driving a 20-mile round-trip commute to using public transportation, his or her annual CO2 emissions will decrease by 4,800 pounds per year.  That’s equal to a 10 percent reduction in a two-car household’s carbon footprint. 

On May 31, the Regional Transit Authority ( will release its master plan draft.  After the release, there will be several public meetings throughout the month of June, giving people the opportunity to learn about the potential for connected regional transit and submit their comments.  Ecology Center will keep you updated as these events are scheduled. It is time that we start reshaping the way we talk about public transportation in Southeast Michigan, as an opportunity that will benefit us all, providing mobility to those who need it, supporting local economic development, improving public health and protecting our environment. 

For more information on how to support public transportation in Southeast Michigan, you can visit


Published on April 27, 2016

Think Global, Eat Local: Beans!

One food that has never gone out of favor and is a staple in kitchens the world over is dry beans.

Fluctuating diet trends may confuse people looking for the healthiest options. But one food that has never gone out of favor and is a staple in kitchens the world over is dry beans. Whether pinto and black beans in Mexican dishes, small red beans in Asian cuisine, red kidney bean recipes of India, or American baked beans, dry beans are relied upon by many cultures as a year-round protein source

And all of these global staples grow in Michigan! The state is the second largest dry bean producer in the U.S.; and the number one producer of black beans, cranberry beans (Ever heard of those? Try the recipe below!), and small red beans (adzuki beans). Cultivate Michigan, which is co-coordinated by the Ecology Center and Michigan State University, highlighted this feature food this past winter due to its prevalence in local agriculture. But the statewide campaign, designed to help farm to institution programs grow, also notes that dry beans are a low-fat source of protein, which are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Cultivate Michigan recommends institutions and individuals try Michigan dry beans as a salad bar topping, in soups or chili, pureed into a hummus or bean dip, as a side vegetable, or as a meat alternative.

Avoid potential leaching of BPA into your bean cuisine by soaking and cooking the dry beans instead buying them in cans (instructions below). Last month, the Ecology Center released Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food which found 71% of bean cans tested contained a BPA-based coating on the inside of the can or lid. BPA is a hormonally active chemical. Exposure to “exquisitely small amounts” of the chemical is linked to numerous health problems, including breast and prostate cancer, asthma, obesity, behavioral changes (such as attention deficit disorder), altered the development of the brain and immune system, low birth weight and lowered sperm counts, according to the report.

Additionally, Cultivate Michigan notes that opting for dry beans over canned, allows for “complete control over the amount of added sodium”. But, make sure to take a moment to scan for small bean-sized stones that may pass through mechanical cleaning and processing.

To find Michigan-grown dry beans, visit your local Michigan farmers’ market or check out Cultivate Michigan’s Dry Beans Guide. Below are three resources to connect you with organic or naturally-grown Michigan beans.

Cultivate Michigan’s tips for preparing dry beans


The first step in cooking dry beans is to look for and remove any shriveled, broken or discolored beans and foreign material, such as small stones, that may have been missed by the processing facility. Examine dry beans one layer at a time by scooping the beans onto a dry metal pan. After sorting, beans should be thoroughly rinsed.



After sorting and rinsing, rehydrate the dry beans by soaking them. The U.S. Dry Bean Council offers three different methods for soaking beans:

Hot Soak - reduces cooking time and produces consistently tender beans 1. Place beans in a pot and add 10 cups of water for every two cups of beans. 2. Heat to boiling and boil for two to three minutes. 3. Remove beans from heat, cover and let stand for four to 24 hours. 4. Drain beans, discard soak water and rinse with fresh, cool water.

Traditional Soak 1. Pour cold water over the beans to cover. 2. Soak beans for eight hours or overnight. 3. Drain beans, discard soak water and rinse with fresh, cool water. (Cold water starts the rehydration process slowly so beans will appear wrinkled after soaking.)

Quick Soak 1. Place beans in a large pot and add 10 cups of water for every two cups of beans. 2. Bring to boil and boil for two to three minutes. 3. Drain beans, discard soak water and rinse with fresh, cool water.



To cook dry beans, cover soaked, drained beans with plenty of fresh water. Simmer until the beans can be gently mashed with a fork. Cooking can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours depending on the type of bean. Drain beans immediately to prevent them from over-cooking in the hot water.

Please see Cultivate Michigan’s Dry Beans Guide for a list of 12 different beans and their suggested cooking times as well as a Canned Bean to Dry Bean Conversion chart.


Recipe: Cranberry Beans with Broccolini


3/4 pound broccolini

1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

Kosher salt, to taste

Black pepper, freshly cracked, to taste

1 pound cooked Michigan cranberry beans

Yield: 12 1/2-cup servings


In a large pot, bring four quarts of salted water to boil. Cut the broccolini florets and stalks into bite size pieces. Add broccolini to boiling water and cook until soft and tender, about five to six minutes. In a large sauté pan, warm four tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and gently sauté until golden. Drain the broccolini, reserving the water to reheat the cranberry beans, and add to sautéed garlic, tossing to mix together. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Reheat the cranberry beans in the simmering salted water. Drain and add the hot cooked beans to the sautéed broccolini, stirring them together. Generously add 1/4 cup or more extra virgin olive oil, to your taste preference. Check and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Recipe provided to Cultivate Michigan courtesy of John Korycki, Director of Culinary Education at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.


Published on April 27, 2016

Gardening for Bees…and Children

Spring has finally handed Old Man Winter his coat and hat and sent him on his way. Life in our yards reemerges as the grass turns green, robins return, and bees begin buzzing. But, one sign of spring is not always welcome: the humble dandelion.

I dare to say, however: let’s celebrate the little sun-like flower heads!

What? The scourge of green landscapes everywhere? Yes!! These bits of yellow dotting our lawns are a most welcome site to pollinators (and children!) who have endured the barren, winter months. Dandelions offer hungry bees their first source of nectar each spring, sustaining our pollinators until the abundance of the season blooms in full. (And have you ever met a more joyous small child than one picking dandelion flowers, making dandelion chains, or blowing their white fluffy seeds?)

Indeed, European settlers intentionally brought dandelions to America for its nutrient-dense leaves (which are also a gentle diuretic), its liver-cleansing root, and its flowers that can be made into wine! And it seems the plant is quite comfortable here, employing its long tap root to break up compacted soils everywhere. It’s fitting that this European native plant supports the European honeybee so perfectly.

Across the country—and the world—people are concerned about the continual and dramatic decline of bees, monarchs, and other pollinators. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a nationwide loss of 42% of managed honeybee colonies in 2015 (some states lost more than 60%). Native pollinator numbers are harder to track. But, a recent article in BioScience states that half of the 46 or 47 species of bumble bees in the United States are in some level of decline. The Xerces Society estimates 80% less monarch butterflies in North America than the average population over the past twenty-one years.

The good news: anyone with a yard can contribute to helping these important species. The first step is to offer food in the form of nectar and pollen. Embrace pollen and nectar-rich flowers like dandelions, clover, goldenrod, and aster that volunteer in your yard. The next step is to not poison your visitors, once they do accept your invitation, ie: avoid all lawn and garden pesticides. This will create a healthy place for children and pets to play as well. (Don’t worry. Gardens and lawns can still be beautiful. Visit three pesticide-free gardens at the 2016 Grosse Pointe Garden Center Garden Tour!)

Here are some additional ways to get started:

1. Go "neonic-free." Ask garden centers if their flowering plants are free of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides, which are particularly lethal to bees and other beneficial insects. In 2014, 51% of garden plants tested positive for one or more neonic.

Home Depot is now labeling plants that have been treated with neonics. Both Lowe's and Home Depot have agreed to stop selling neonics by 2019. Ask Ace Hardware and True Value to do the same. 

The U.S. government has temporarily halted the registration of any new neonic products.

The state of Maryland recently banned the sale of neonics in stores.

2. Treat grubs naturally with beneficial nematodes or milky spore; not Merit ® or other products that contain neonicotinoids. Refer to Pest Patrol: Grubs for more tips on grub control. Wondering if your garden product contains neonics? Check this list of Brand Name Products Containing Neonicotinoids.

3. Avoid weed and feed products—they are pesticides! Most contain 2,4-D, a dangerous herbicide linked to cancer in humans and canine lymphoma. Learn how to Maintain a Lawn Without Pesticides.

4. Plant native perennials, shrubs, and trees to attract pollinators, as well as beneficial pest-eating insects and birds. Visit The Native Plant Nursery of Michigan, this list of Bee Friendly Wildflowers & Flowers, or this list of 5 Spring Plants That Could Save Monarch Butterflies. Remember: Using pesticides will poison all the bugs (including the beneficial ones) and the birds that eat them.




Published on April 27, 2016

Introducing the Rebecca Head Fund for Education and Leadership

Developed to honor the work of Dr. Rebecca Head, a leader in the Michigan public health community and long time friend and supporter of the Ecology Center.

The Rebecca Head Fund for Education and Leadership supports innovative programs and campaigns at the Ecology Center that educate health professionals about the intersection between human health and the environment.

The Ecology Center is Michigan’s leading organization focused on the link between the environment and health. For decades, the Ecology Center has developed innovative programs to educate and engage health professionals around pressing environmental issues.

About Rebecca Head

Rebecca was trained as a toxicologist, and worked briefly for Proctor & Gamble, before taking important environmental health positions in local government and academia; including the Washtenaw County and Monroe County Health Departments, and the University of Michigan.

In her various positions, she worked with the Ecology Center on a large number of issues.  In the 1980s, she was Washtenaw County’s lead official developing the county’s Right-to-Know ordinance that lets the public know about toxic chemicals in their community, and workers know about chemicals in their workplace.  In the 1990s, she was the lead County administrator dealing with the groundwater contamination at Gelman Sciences on the west side of Ann Arbor.  Over the last several years, she served as a member of the State of Michigan Green Chemistry Roundtable, working with the Ecology Center and others to facilitate the development of better chemicals.  

Throughout her career, Rebecca worked to educate and engage health professionals on critical environmental health issues. We are thankful for her excellent service to the field of public health and dedicate our work in this area to her memory.

Priority Use of the Rebecca Head Fund:  Health Leaders Fellowship

Funds donated to the Rebecca Head Fund for Education and Leadership will be used to support the Ecology Center’s Health Leaders Fellowship

The Health Leaders Fellowship is a leadership development opportunity for health professionals of all types, at any stage in their career. As trusted spokespeople for institutional and policy change, health professionals are uniquely positioned to tackle some of our most pressing environmental health challenges.

The Health Leaders Fellowship program aims to develop and inspire local environmental health leaders through a series of issue and civic engagement trainings and field experiences.

Health Leaders learn from experts in the field about the connections between human health and the environment and what can be done to improve health outcomes. Fellows will develop the critical civic engagement skills needed to advocate for change within health care institutions and in the public policy arena. Through a unique guided practicum fellows will gain experience applying new knowledge and skills to help drive social change.




Published on April 19, 2016

Engage Your Four-Legged Friends in Environmental Research!

By providing pet food packaging samples to be tested for toxic chemicals.

We'd like to invite you and your four-legged friends to participate in our environmental research that will lead to safer pet food and healthier pets.

What: Following up on our new study of food can linings for people food, the HealthyStuff team is launching a study of food packaging for our beloved pets. The study, Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food, identified a number of potentially hazardous coatings being used in food can linings for human food. We want to know if similar hazards exist in pet food packaging. You can help by providing us samples of cans or bags used for pet food. We'll test the packaging and report back to you, and you'll be part of a study, which will help reduce potential hazards to your pets.

How to participate: You may submit up to four packaging samples purchased in the past 3 months. All packaging should be individually contained in a paper or plastic bag.

Cans: Empty and thoroughly clean the inside of the pet food can. Scrub it well; you won't damage it. Place lid and can body in a zip lock or paper bag. Include a completed sample submission form in each bag.

Bagged Food: Cut out a "dollar bill" sized sample of the food bag. Place this sample a zip lock or paper bag. Include a completed sample submission form in each bag.

Each sample must have a sample submission form filled out or it will not be analyzed. The form must include an email for the person submitting the sample, sample name, retail store and date purchased. Include a receipt of possible; otherwise, estimate the purchase date. Samples will be analyzed for a report to be issued later this year. Individual sample results will be reported to participants over the summer.

When: We will be collecting samples beginning Saturday, April 23rd, 2016. Please download sample submission form and mail sample to:

Attn: Pet Food Packaging Samples

Ecology Center

339 E. Liberty St. Suite 300

Ann Arbor, MI 48104


Published on April 19, 2016