Ecology Center Calls on the Snyder Administration to End Lead Poisoning in Michigan

Adequately Funding Public Health is Critical to Michigan’s Future

First and foremost, the Ecology Center demands that the Snyder Administration end lead poisoning in Michigan, starting in Flint, and take action to fully fund public health services across the state.  The Flint water crisis has drawn much public attention on the critical problem of lead, one that continues to jeopardize our future by poisoning so many of Michigan’s children. 

Michigan is the fifth worst in the nation for the number of lead poisoned children according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Many of Michigan's largest cities have alarmingly high percentages of children exposed to lead at levels higher than those benchmarked for concern by the CDC. In a 2014 study, 5 to 20 percent of 1-2-year-olds in Highland Park, Hamtramck, Muskegon, Detroit, Jackson, Saginaw and Grand Rapids were found to have troubling elevated lead levels. Michigan’s future is intimately tied to the future of its children.  We simply cannot succeed as a state if we are poisoning such a significant percentage of children. 

An Ecology Center analysis conducted in 2014 estimated annual costs of lead exposure in Michigan are more than $330 million,  $145 million of those costs burdened on taxpayers (special education, lost income tax, the judicial system, etc.)

What is most frustrating about the current level of lead poisoning in Michigan is that this is a problem we can solve. 

Not only do we know how to remediate homes, our analysis determined that it would be cost effective do so. The cost of abatement is estimated at $6,000 per housing unit for 100,000 most at-risk homes in Michigan.  A scenario to abate all of the most at-risk homes ($600 million) would pay for itself after 3 years and thereafter a considerable return on investment.

Secondly, we support and echo the public health leaders in Flint calling for every evidence-based early intervention that helps kids thrive including universal preschool, nutrition, food security, and access to mental health services.  We direly need to expand these services to all underserved areas of the State and to make Flint along with Michigan the model public health system of a thriving community.  The Snyder Administration has an opportunity to elevate Michigan as a model nationally. 

And, we know these interventions are cost-effective.  In 2013, the Michigan Association for Local Public Health (MALPH) did a report on the Return on Investment for Local Public Health Funding. Astonishingly, the MALPH study found that for every 1 dollar invested in local public health, there is a return on investment from 2 to 1 to as high as 162 to 1.  In other words, investing in local public health pays real dividends and is a wise investment in Michigan’s future.  

Local public health departments are charged with the basic operations of keeping people healthy including immunizations, infectious disease control, food safety inspection, drinking water protection, and on-site sewage management. As of 1984, the state and local health departments were each required to each fund half of these services. Despite this requirement, the state has not funded local health departments at the statutorily required level in more than 15 years, leaving local health departments scrambling for funds from other sources, either through fees or from local governing entities.

While fundamentals, like drinking water protection, are vitally important for the health of our community, the State of Michigan's failure to invest in these fundamentals by not matching local funds to support this work suggests that perhaps our health is not as important to them as it should be. 

Watch Ecology Center's Deputy Director speak about lead poisoning in Flint and Michigan on Off the Record. 

More Information and help us end lead poisoning in Michigan!

  • Join the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes in Lansing on March 2nd as we speak to Michigan Senators and Representatives about the Flint lead crisis and lead poisoning across the state. Learn more and RSVP here by February 22nd.
  • Read more on Mlive about lead poisoning rates across Michigan and the price of lead pollution. 

Published on April 7, 2016

Ecology Center Joins A Coalition for Transit, ACT

ACT is Committed to Improving Quality of Life and the Economy Through Connected Regional Transit

On March 24, 2016, the Ecology Center joined civic, faith, labor, environmental and social service organizations, along with business and community leaders from across the region at an event in Detroit to show their support for connected regional transit in Southeast Michigan.  A Coalition for Transit (ACT), a broad-based coalition representing a group of diverse individuals and organizations that recognize just how essential regional transit is for a modern city to grow and compete, hosted the event to bring its members together to discuss the lack of connected regional transit in Southeast Michigan. ACT is committed to improving the quality of life and the economy by seamlessly connecting Southeast Michigan’s four counties – Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne, including the City of Detroit.

Southeast Michigan is one of the largest metropolitan regions in the country without a connected public transit network. Due to this disjointed regional transit situation, many jobs and communities in Southeast Michigan remain inaccessible or far underserved.    ACT is working to educate residents in the four counties about the need for efficient, accessible regional transit. 

Southeast Michigan residents deserve a reliable transit system to connect them to jobs, education, recreation and vital goods and services necessary for maintaining a quality of life. ACT is working towards achieving just that: a transit system that connects people to jobs and opportunity, allows senior citizens and people with disabilities to maintain their independence, connects our communities and truly allows Southeast Michigan residents to experience everything our region has to offer.

Ecology Center has been committed to improving transit in our community for years, working with the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority (AAATA) to expand services for residents in Washtenaw’s urban core, but reliable, effective transit cannot be disjointed.  The need for regional transit in Southeast Michigan has never been greater. It is time that our communities become truly connected.

Published on March 30, 2016

Teaching Future Nurses Advocacy

The Strength of Their Voices and the Importance of Advocating for Their Patients Well-Being.

Over the past two weeks, nursing students traveled to the Capitol to attend MI Air MI Health’s Advocacy Training Days. More than 130 students from Michigan State University’s and the University of Michigan’s nursing programs came together to participate in the training activities.  The purpose of the advocacy days is to teach future nurses about the strength of their voice and the importance of advocating for their patients well-being inside and outside of the clinical setting.

The training included background on the important role advocacy plays in public health and the role nurses can have in policy work. Students learned how to create testimony and practiced by drafting testimonials for issues related to asthma rates in Michigan, the connections between cancer and air pollution, and health disparities and social determinants of health. Health professionals also participated on a health policy and advocacy panel for the students.

Panelists included Ecology Center’s Health Outreach Coordinator, Mara Herman, MPH, Kindra Weid, RN, BSN, MPH from MI Air MI Health, Dawn Kettinger and Debra Nault, RN, MSN from the Michigan Nurses Association, Ken Fletcher from the American Lung Association in Michigan, Kathleen Slonager, RN, AE-C from Asthma and Allergy Foundation- MI Chapter, and Tina Reynolds from the Michigan Environmental Council. Panel participants discussed their professional backgrounds and how their experiences shaped their work in health advocacy. Panelists also answered questions from students and faculty pertaining to best practices when talking to elected officials and how students can get involved in advocacy work.

The days concluded with students attending meetings with state legislators, including Senate Energy and Technology Committee Members to discuss the negative health effects Michigan’s reliance on coal-fired power plants for energy production have. Students shared stories from their clinical experiences and treating patients suffering from respiratory issues. As future health professionals, the nursing students asked their elected officials to support stronger renewable energy and energy efficiency standards due to the health benefits they will have for Michigan residents.


Published on March 29, 2016

Toys, Décor, and More

Chemical Flame Retardants Come Full Circle

What happens to your old computer after you haul it to the local e-waste recycling drop off? Many of us have seen photos of workers (including children!) dismantling electronic waste in developing countries. But, then what? Surprisingly, after traveling halfway around the world, parts of that outdated desktop may end up back in your home in any number of items, including children’s products.

Decorations, costumes, accessories, toys, school supplies, kitchen items, garden tools, apparel, floor tiles, and more: the Ecology Center sampled more than 1,500 of these products for a recently published, peer-reviewed study. The study uncovered evidence that plastics from recycled electronic waste—think old computers, phones, TVs, printers, cables—are contaminating new products with low levels of brominated flame retardants, lead and other metals. The exposure hazards for consumers are not known.

The Journal of Environmental Protection published the paper, titled “Toys, Décor, and More: Evidence of Hazardous Electronic Waste Recycled into New Consumer Products,” in February 2016. The full text is available here.

More than 1,500 new consumer products purchased in 2012 through 2014, were analyzed using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to detect metals and bromine in the plastic parts of these items.

Electronic products were much more likely than non-electronics to contain high levels of bromine (greater than 1,000 parts per million), suggesting that flame retardants were intentionally added—as expected. Non-electronic products were more likely to contain between 5 and 100 ppm bromine, suggesting unintentional contamination.

But the results of some products didn’t fall into the normal ranges.

“While we expected to find high levels of bromine in electronics,” Ecology Center staff scientist and lead author of the study Gillian Miller says, “we were very surprised to find equally high levels of bromine in beaded necklaces and garlands, such as Mardi Gras beads.” Miller found that besides bromine, these strands of beads—commonly tossed to children at parades and hung in homes during the holidays—also had several other hazardous elements often found in e-waste, including lead.

Electronic and electrical devices typically contain flame retardant chemicals and heavy metals. When plastic parts of these products are recycled into new, non-electronic products, hazardous substances can re-enter the marketplace. Miller and her fellow authors of the study argue that bromine (at both low and high levels) in non-electrical products is at least partly due to brominated flame retardants present in recycled e-waste plastics. E-waste plastics include TV and computer monitor housings as well as wire and cable insulation.

But, why were bromine levels so much higher in the beaded holiday garlands and necklaces than in the other non-electronics? Miller and her colleagues needed to know. To further understand the anomaly, they used a different technique, which allowed them to identify specific chemicals. They found five brominated flame retardants (including deca-BDE, which was phased out of U.S. production in 2013) in  beads sampled from fifty different necklaces. When cut open and examined with a microscope, the beads were found to be a mixture of tiny plastic chunks. Bromine was heavily concentrated in some of these chunks, suggesting that the bead plastic is made up of tiny pieces of discarded electronics.

The study underscores how these hazardous chemicals persist in our world and will continue to show up long after they are no longer used.The results are consistent with studies by other researchers that have found low concentrations of brominated flame retardants, most likely from recycled e-waste, in plastic kitchen utensils and toys.

But, this doesn’t mean you should simply throw your old electronics in the trash, where they will be added to the municipal solid waste stream. All of those heavy metals and hazardous chemicals may end up polluting the air and water if not handled properly. The answer may lie with local e-waste recyclers who process outdated gadgets on site (instead of sending them overseas), practicing strict safety standards and tracking toxic materials downstream of their facilities. See below for resources. And whether you are shopping for holiday decorations or enjoying a parade, don’t bother reaching for the shiny plastic beads.


Published on March 28, 2016

A New HealthyStuff Report: Buyer Beware

Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes Found in the Linings of Canned Foods

BPA bans across the U.S.

Over the past twenty years, more and more consumers have actively sought out products with BPA-free packaging. Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been banned in baby bottles, infant formula packaging and sports water bottles in five U.S. cities and counties, and thirteen states. Manufacturers nationwide have voluntarily removed this common plastic ingredient from these products as well.

But, BPA is still allowed—and commonly used—in canned food linings.

Low dose makes the poison

Shoppers are concerned about BPA because of its known estrogenic qualities. First considered for use as female hormone therapy in the 1930s, the chemical didn’t gain in popularity until the 1950s and ‘60s. The discovery that it stabilizes and hardens plastic led to BPA becoming a common basic ingredient—or “building block”—for polycarbonate (popular for reusable bottles and containers) and epoxy resins (for can linings).

By the 1990s, scientists discovered another characteristic of BPA: a portion remains in the finished polymer and doesn't stay put. Containers and coatings release small amounts of the chemical. But, if only small amounts are getting into our food and drink, what is the harm?

Studies show that exposure to very low doses (parts per billion and even parts per trillion) of the chemical—levels comparable to the amount to which an average person can be exposed through food packaging—may increase the risk of health problems all too familiar today. Breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have all been linked to BPA exposure.

Food packaging: the number one source of BPA

What if BPA was no longer used in food packaging? Could we significantly reduce our exposure to BPA? Researchers say “yes.” A recent study showed an average drop of 66% in BPA levels when study participants ate a diet void of known contact with BPA-containing food packagings, such as canned food and polycarbonate plastic. The study suggests that removing BPA from food packaging will remove a major source of BPA exposure.

Some national food brands have, in fact, stated their cans are BPA-free. Some have pledged to use BPA-free can linings in the future. But many questions remain. Can we be sure “BPA-free” on the outside means BPA-free on the inside? What is being used in place of BPA? How safe are the BPA replacements?, along with five national partners, sought to answer these questions and identify what chemicals are lining the canned food on our store shelves.

Buyer Beware report

For the report, Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food, HealthyStuff researchers analyzed the interior coatings of can bodies and lids of nearly 200 canned foods collected in nineteen states and Canada. The cans tested came from major national brands and private label retailers.

The testing revealed 67% (129 of the 192 cans analyzed) contained BPA epoxy in one or both of the body and lid. Besides BPA, four major coating types were identified: acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers. The PVC-based copolymer is made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen and was found in 18% of retailers’ private-label food can linings and 36% of national brands.

Leading brands

According to the report, Campbell Soup Company promised its shareholders in 2012 to phase out the use of BPA in can linings and claims to be making significant progress in this effort. Yet, 15 out of 15 (100%) Campbell’s products tested positive for BPA epoxy resins.

Del Monte Foods is one of the country's largest producer, distributor, and marketer of canned foods with approximately $1.8 billion of annual sales. Ten out of the 14 (71%) Del Monte cans analyzed tested positive for BPA epoxy resins. The company has no timeline to move away from BPA.

Private label brands

The study also included store brands from popular retailers like Kroger, Meijer, Albertsons (including Randalls and Safeway), Dollar General, Dollar Tree (including Family Dollar), Gordon Food Service, Loblaws, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Whole Foods. The majority of these cans (62%) tested positive for BPA epoxy.

Some major retailers like Albertson’s/Safeway, Kroger, Wegmans, and Whole Foods have adopted policies to reduce or phase out BPA in their private label canned food; but don’t have a timeline in place. Target and Walmart, two other major retailers, don’t have any policies in place to eliminate BPA.

The report’s good news is that some major private label retailers and national brands have reduced or eliminated their use of BPA in canned food: Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Organic, ConAgra, and Eden Foods have fully transitioned away from the use of BPA and are being transparent about what they are using to line their canned foods instead.

HealthyStuff and its partners are calling on all national brands, grocery stores, big-box retailers, and dollar stores to eliminate BPA from food cans.  

Other recommendations:

Food manufacturers: Use safe substitutes to BPA. Label all chemicals used in can liners.

Congress: Adopt comprehensive chemical policies to safely replace other chemicals of concern in products and packaging.

Consumers: Avoid canned food when possible (choose fresh or frozen instead); or only purchase canned food from manufacturers and retailers that fully disclose the identity and safety of their can linings. (At present, none do this.)


Published on March 24, 2016

Food Can Study 2016


The Ecology Center’s lab analyzed and identified the interior linings of 192 food cans containing vegetables, fruits, soups, broth, gravy, milks and beans. We found two out of three cans contained linings made from Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that impacts our hormonal systems and may contribute to a host of harmful health effects including breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma and attention deficit disorder. Can test results

Aside from BPA-based can coatings, four major coating types were identified among the nearly 200 cans tested including styrene-acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers.

Five types of can coatings, or linings, were detected by HealthyStuff's testing. 

To find out what policies are in place to phase out BPA and avoid “regrettable substitutions” (replacing BPA with other harmful chemicals), our report collaborators surveyed 29 leading national brands, such as Campbell’s and Del Monte, as well as 13 retailers of canned food. No comprehensive policies are in place at any major retailer or food manufacturer. Tell Kroger, Meijer, and Campbell's: It's time to can BPA.

For more details, see the FULL REPORT 

Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food


Ecology Center in Brackets for Good Tournament, Donate Today!

Friday, February 26th at 8 pm kicks off the first Ann Arbor Area Brackets for Good, a competitive fundraising tournament, in which area non-profits have been sized up and matched into bracke

Published on February 26, 2016

Ecology Center Alumni, Where Are They Now?

From the Peace Corps in Ghana to the Thoracic Medical Unit at the Mayo Clinic, Ecology Center alumni are doing important and fascinating work around the world!

Published on February 25, 2016

Justices Delay, Michigan Doesn't Have To

On February 9th, the Supreme Court granted an emergency stay of the Clean Power Plan. The Court overruled a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which denied motions to stay the Clean Power Plan on January 21st following two months of briefing and weeks of careful review. The Supreme Court's decision means that implementation of the plan will be delayed while the D.C. Circuit court reviews the merits of lawsuits challenging it. 

Students Explore the Chemistry of Cosmetics

Teenagers use more body care products (cosmetics) than any other demographic. This may not be surprising, but it should be cause for caution. Adolescence is an important window of vulnerability when an exposure--or repeated exposures--can cause lasting harm.  Add this unique time of vulnerability to the fact that the ingredients of body wash, facial scrub, deodorant, lotion, shampoo, and other cosmetics do not have to be proven safe before they reach store shelves. And you have reason for concern.