Alba honored for advocacy against toxic chemicals

Actress Jessica Alba, recently appeared in Greenwich to receive the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center’s Champion of Children Award. She posed with Philip Landrigan, a pioneering doctor in children’s health and head of the center. — John Ferris Robben photo

Actress Jessica Alba, recently appeared in Greenwich to receive the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center’s Champion of Children Award. She posed with Philip Landrigan, a pioneering doctor in children’s health and head of the center.
— John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich got a taste of Hollywood recently, but it wasn’t a new movie filming in town. Instead it was something closer to home … specifically the chemicals people use every day in their homes that could well have unintended impacts on children.

As she came to Old Greenwich on May 20 to receive the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center’s Champion of Children Award, actress Jessica Alba had those chemicals very much on her mind. An activist and entrepreneur as well as an actress, Ms. Alba is the author of the recent New York Times best-selling parenting book The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You. She is also the co-founder of a business called The Honest Company, which sells affordable and nontoxic products for use on children as well as for beauty and for household cleaning without the chemicals that many believe had made commonly used products such a potential danger.

“Not only are there fragrances that contain toxic chemicals in things like baby laundry detergent but chemicals in baby shampoos that numb a baby’s eyes to make them tearless,” Ms. Alba, a mother of two, said upon receiving the award. “I asked myself, How is that legal? and then I learned even more. There are toxic chemicals in everyday products that we clean our households with and even in our mattresses. … And the more I learned on this journey the more I worried about where I was going to find products that I could use. I wanted to keep a clean house, plus I had a baby to diaper, and I had no idea what to do. I found it impossible to try and shop around the problem so I felt like we had to create the solution.”

That’s where the company she founded with activist Christopher Gavigan comes in. She said she wanted to bring products to the marketplace that were free of toxics and actually worked, which she said the ones previously out there did not. But this is a company also dedicated to health. Ms. Alba said there are more than 80,000 toxic chemicals in the marketplace and fewer than 20 of them are banned in the United States because something has to be proven unsafe before it can be banned.

“That means that these toxic chemicals are being tested on us and our kids, which is a really terrible and shocking reality,” Ms. Alba said.

With their company and their lobbying efforts, Ms. Alba and Mr. Gavigan said they were hoping to bring about much-needed reform and have found a legislative partner in the United States Senate in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Copies of Ms. Alba’s book were given to every attendee at the event, and during her speech she thanked Philip Landrigan, director of the center, for all his help. Dr. Landrigan, whose pioneering work helped link lead to harmful effects in children and get it out of use in products like paint and gasoline, helped Ms. Alba with the research and the writing of her book, and he gave her the award for her work as an activist and businesswoman. He also spoke at the event and said there were links from toxic chemicals to everything from asthma to attention deficit disorder to even childhood obesity because of how those chemicals can negatively impact how bodies develop and react to things.

Ms. Alba’s award was part of the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center’s sixth annual Greening Our Children benefit luncheon. The center is dedicated to conducting research to identify the environmental causes of childhood diseases and then using that research to try and bring about policy changes in the country, like getting chemicals banned from products.

While the hospital is located in New York, the center has been a help to many Greenwich families, several of which have gotten involved with the annual benefit. Greenwich resident Jeanine Behr Getz was one of nine co-chairs for the event, including two others from town, and she told the Post that she wanted to have the chance to help better educate mothers about the dangers of environmental toxins and their effect on children’s health.

“I didn’t even know about this at first and it’s so important to make sure people are aware,” Ms. Behr Getz said. “As an environmentalist you tend to worry about conservation and land and water, and sometimes it doesn’t segue into environmental health and the toxins in the things we put on our skin and in our mouths. It was a whole new education for me and I wanted to learn more about it.”

To help with that education, there was an expo of environmentally safe products that are organic and chemical-free, as well as approved by Mt. Sinai, to show people how easy it is to get them and use them as alternatives to the products they now use. Ms. Behr Getz said the center wanted to be able to empower women to know that this is out there for them.

This puts the missions of Ms. Alba and the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center right on the same target, and in speaking to the media after accepting the award, Ms. Alba told the Post that living without these harmful chemicals was far easier than people thought and that her business helps make sure people can get them while not paying any more than they would from going to a store like Target.

“We do everything from dishwashing detergent to laundry to bubble baths to shampoos to body washes,” Ms. Alba said. “When you need to clean yourself or your homes you’ll be able to do that with us and at a price you can afford.”

Ms. Behr Getz agreed that even with all that mothers have on their plates already, this is something that can easily be accomplished and is very necessary.

“When people are seeing children with higher rates of cancer and higher rates of autism and seeing that there could be environmental causes for this, they are more willing to listen,” Ms. Behr Getz said.

But getting the products out there is just one thing both Ms. Alba and Mt. Sinai are trying to do. There’s also the need for reform. Ms. Alba noted that the federal Safe Chemicals Act had not been revised since 1976.

“The only way it will ever be a priority in anyone’s political career is if we make it one,” Ms. Alba told the Post. “We have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ At the end of the day it’s not going to cost taxpayers any more money and it’s even going to create jobs within the chemical industry to make it so they can test their chemicals for safety.”

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