FORTUNE MAGAZINE: How Stinky PJs Launched a Crusade Against the Chemical Industry

Fortune Magazine on STINK!

“Parents of young children all know about smelly pajamas. Few would consider them good source material for a motion picture.

Still, the documentary Stink! — which may cause clothiers, fragrance makers and cosmetics manufacturers to lose some sleep — emanated out of the PJs that director Jon Whelan bought his young daughters for Christmas 2011. When they opened the package, they said, they were greeted by a chemical “stench.”

Deciding to find out what was what, Whelan explored the customer-service route, got a runaround and decided to turn his subsequent inquiries into a crusading, Michael-Moore-like documentary — about industry’s use of questionable chemicals, the lack of government oversight over these chemicals, and the companies that exercise the freedom not to be fully transparent on their product labels.

The battle, which plays out in the film, is between advocates who want full disclosure on product labeling and companies that don’t. Among the principal targets in the film, which opens Friday in Los Angeles, is Justice, the tween clothing chain operated by Tween Brands, a subsidiary of Ascena Retail Group Inc. And the maker of those odoriferous pajamas.

“Safety and transparency are separate issues,” Whelan said. “What’s happened in the past is that industry has argued ‘it’s safe; we don’t have to disclose.’ But they don’t have to prove that it’s safe.”

Read more at Fortune.com.

What is Fragrance?

Many consumers are unaware of the “Fragrance Loophole.”  Look at all the cleaning products under your sink and at the personal care products in your bathroom. You may find the vague word FRAGRANCE on product labels – FRAGRANCE appears to be a singular ingredient but it’s not. FRAGRANCE is used in lieu of disclosing the actual chemical ingredients, which could be hundreds. These secret chemicals may be linked to cancer, reproductive issues and hormone disruption. And this is legal in America. While Europe has banned nearly 1,400 chemicals in its products, only 10 are restricted in America – and that’s by design. Our system to regulate chemicals Stinks!

Because of the Fragrance Loophole, American don’t get to choose the chemicals their families are exposed to; the fragrance, cleaning, chemical and personal care industries gets to choose for us and they don’t have our best interest in mind.

Together, we can expose the Fragrance Loophole and demand that companies start disclosing all the secret chemicals in their products. Let’s take the Stink! Ray out of the holster and demand healthy choices now. Are you ready to be a Stink! Superhero? #SecretsStink

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In addition to product manufacturers, we need industry lobbyists to stop gerrymandering and interfering with regulators, so that the regulators can get harmful chemicals off the market and start requiring the disclosure of ALL chemicals on product labels. Consumers need disclosure, not exposure.

Hit these lobbying organizations on social and ask them to explain the consumer benefits of undisclosed chemicals linked to cancer and hormone disruption in everyday consumer products.  tradeass

International Fragrance Association Twitter  Facebook
American Chemistry Council Twitter Facebook
Personal Care Product Council Twitter Facebook
American Cleaning Institute Twitter Facebook

Stink! outed CEO of Justice, Michael Rayden, gets a $44mm Golden Parachute

Justice (aka Tween Brands) is owned by the Ascena Retail Group (NASDAQ – ASNA) and is the largest and most popular retailer of tween girls clothing in the U.S.  This company is featured in Stink! and we were shocked by the toxic chemicals we found in its products intended for tween girls.  The scene where director Jon Whelan confront CEO Michael Rayden will make your blood boil, but apparently bad behavior pays! Read about it.
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Even lipstick has a lobby in Washington D.C. – it’s called the Personal Care Product Council (PCPC)

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The group that lobbies on behalf of cosmetics companies in Washington D.C. is the Personal Care Product Council (PCPC).

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You’ve probably never heard of them and that’s just the way they like it. Their chief lobbyist, Lezlee Westline, is paid more than One-Million-Dollars a year to make sure that 1. chemicals that go into cosmetics aren’t regulated, and 2. they don’t have to disclose all chemicals on product labels. In other words, this group you’ve never heard of does the dirty work for the pretty consumer brands you have heard of.

PCPC has a great racket going. They distribute money to members of congress to make sure its precious products aren’t really regulated. Its added bonus (for political cover) is having the FDA as its titular regulator. (I say “titular” 1. because its a fun word to use and 2. FDA does not actually regulate these products – companies are on the honor system. Most Americans think a product is safe because it’s on the shelf, but that’s not true and that’s by design (shameless plug time: if you see Stink! you will learn the truth).

So it’s bad enough in America that it’s legal to sell everyday consumer products with chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects and disrupt hormones, but it’s even more outrageous that these companies don’t have to disclose these chemicals on products labels. You can’t avoid a nasty chemical if they don’t have to admit it’s in a product, right? Not being transparent about chemicals in 2015 is just not a viable business model regardless of how much money you’re spending on politicians.

secretLately, in an apparent quest for generating goodwill, the Personal Care Products Council has been promoting STEM for girls and women in Science and Business. It’s also been crusading for ending domestic violence. We applaud them for supporting these important women’s issues. However, the one issue that they won’t discuss are the hidden chemicals in their products that can cause cancer, birth defects and disrupt hormones. We have been asking them for years to disclose these chemicals on product labels but they never respond to us.

We’ll keep trying. Here it goes: Personal Care Products Council can we count on you to support efforts to disclose all chemicals on product labels so that women have a choice about the chemicals they are being exposed to?

We hope they come around and are open to discussing the issue and finding common ground.

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Winner of Best Documentary award at the 2015 Memphis International Film and Music Festival: “Stink!”

The “Stink!” team is grateful to the Memphis International Film and Music Festival for choosing “Stink!” for its 2015 festival lineup.

2015 Film & Music Festival Documentary Winner Logo

And even more excited – Drum roll please – about this: “Meanwhile, the judges in the best documentary category sniffed out a winner in Jon J. Whelan’s “Stink!,” a first-person, activist-with-a-sense-of-humor expose’ of the use of chemicals in everyday consumer products.” Read about the Memphis International Film and Music Festival winner here.

Brazilian Blowout Cures Chemo Curls


brazilianAugust 21st is National Brazilian Blowout Day. It always sneaks up on me. In case you are unfamiliar with this product (or are blessed with naturally straight hair), “BRAZILIAN BLOWOUT IS THE PREFERRED SMOOTHING TREATMENT OF CELEBRITIES, BEAUTY EXPERTS, AND STYLISTS AROUND THE WORLD.” It is the jizz that cures the frizz™ (I just made that up). Woman rave about how effective this product is to get the kink out of their hair. But what’s the secret sauce in Brazilian Blowout?

It’s formaldehyde: a pungent gas created by combining oxygen with methanol. Formaldehyde has numerous applications but it’s best known for its role in embalming fluid. It’s a preservative that helps prevent dead bodies from decomposing and stinking. Formaldehyde is also listed as carcinogenic by the Federal Government. The good news is that Brazilian Blowout gets rid of frizz but the bad news is its main ingredient can cause cancer. Brazilian Blowout is the poster child for the so-called “Cancer Loophole.

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In fact, many products in American contain lethal but legal ingredients. Chemicals like formaldehyde, styrene, cadmium, arsenic, asbestos, benzene, toluene and atrazine – to name just a few. We assume (or hope) products are safe because they are on the shelf. But the truth is it’s legal to sell products with ingredients that not only cause cancer, but can also cause birth defects and disrupt hormones. Companies are basically on the honor system, and they shouldn’t be. lethalWhat’s alarming is that companies generally don’t need to disclose these harmful chemicals on product labels. This means that consumers are not choosing to be exposed to harmful chemicals – the chemical industry and product manufacturers get to choose for us. The situation is exacerbated by misleading ads and the ridiculous marketing claims of the products that saturate our lives. In the case of Brazilian Blowout, it was actually marketing its formaldehyde-laced product as “formaldehyde-free.” Yes, that takes brass balls!brassBrazilian Blowout got slapped with a lawsuit in 2012; not because it was selling a product with a high level of a known cancer-causing chemical but because it was marketing it as not having the carcinogen. It lost the suit but it can still sell Brazilian Blowout with formaldehyde; it just can’t market it as “formaldehyde-free.” Brazilian Blowout’s douche bag chief executive, Michael Brady, had this to say in the New York Times after the settlement:

Michael Brady, Brazilian Blowout’s chief executive, said the proposed settlement would be paid by his insurance company and would end an unpleasant episode for his company. “We get to sell the product forever without reformulation,” he said. “In my eyes, that’s the acquittal we’ve been waiting for.”

The system to regulate chemicals in America is badly broken but, perversely, the flawed system is working just fine for many companies because they are dependent on and accustomed to using cheap, untested chemicals. And they are too stingy, lazy and not creative enough to reformulate their products with better, greener chemistry.

Experts agree that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the weak link in America’s regulatory framework. Efforts to fix this broken law are underway but the so-called  TSCA “reform” bill in the Senate would not prohibit known carcinogens in everyday products nor would it require manufacturers to disclose cancer causing chemicals on product labels. Does that sound like reform to you?TSCA

Consumers don’t know what they don’t know about the chemicals in everyday products, and companies don’t need to tell them – so consumers are making bad choices about what they buy, and producers are making bad choices about what they sell.

Industry doesn’t want products labels that disclose all chemicals because they know consumers are smart and will make better choices if they know what they’re buying. Instead, industry (fragrance, food, chemicals, cosmetics, personal care, cleaning products, etc.) forms “trade associations” that lobby against regulating chemicals (even those known to cause cancer) and against listing ALL ingredients on product labels. Isn’t ignorance bliss?

tradeass

Until we fix the broken system and get money out of politics, Americans are sitting ducks for chronic disease. Morally bankrupt CEO’s justify selling products with cancer-causing chemicals by simply saying they aren’t breaking the law. The law is broken and we need to fix it.

Lastly, you may be wondering about the title of this post: “Brazilian Blowout Cures Chemo Curls.” After chemotherapy, many patients’ hair regrows much curlier than it was pre-chemo – they’re called chemo curls. Now, knowing that Brazilian Blowout’s main ingredient, formaldehyde, can cause cancer, is it hard to believe that this company might offer chemo coupons? Let us know what you think.

brazilian-chemo2

Goolander: ‘hair gel’ ingredients to be revealed at Film Festival?

 

In the summer of 1998, “There’s Something About Mary” premiered at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. Since then, viewers from around the world have wondered what the white gooey ‘hair gel’ was on Ted’s (Ben Stiller) ear and why the ‘goo’ made Mary’s (Cameron Diaz) hair stand up on end. But the ingredients in the gooey hair gel, like many personal care product ingredients, are a closely guarded trade secret; companies don’t want us to know what’s inside these products.

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We’re pleased to announce that “Stink!” is an official selection at the 2015 Rhode Island Film Festival.

What you’ll see in “Stink!” may cause your hair to stand up higher than Mary’s. This alarming documentary takes you on a madcap journey from the retailer to the laboratory, through corporate boardrooms, down back alleys, and into the halls of Congress. Follow director Jon Whelan as he clashes with political and corporate operatives all trying to protect the darkest secrets of the chemical and personal care industry.

Get ready, Rhode Island: the secret of the white gooey ‘hair gel’ may finally be revealed! The Rhode Island Film Festival is August 4-9, 2015. See you there.
laurelsRIIFF_OFFICIAL2015

Where do bacon inspired products get their bacon-ness?

Heard about the “Fragrance Loophole?” Fragrance appears to be a singular ingredient on product labels, but it is not.

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“Fragrance” masks the actual chemical ingredients (which could be hundreds) in synthetic odors. Some undisclosed chemicals are linked to cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects, and may even disrupt hormones.  Since it’s legal to use all these chemicals in America, product manufacturers have no incentive to stop using them nor disclose them to consumers.

Scent sells. What do you do before you buy shampoo? You smell it. The smell has nothing to do with cleaning your hair but everything to do with whether you’ll buy the product – scent is the single most important product feature. It’s not just true of shampoo; fragrance has become a must-have product condiment. Here’s the problem: there’s a disconnect between what you think is in the product and what is actually in the product. The packaging may have pictures of fruit and flowers and it may smell like fruit and flowers, but there’s probably not real fruit and flowers inside the product. Perception is reality.

The next time you see a product advertised as “lemon fresh” or “vanilla scented” remember to look for the word “fragrance” on the label. If it’s there, then there’s probably not real lemon or vanilla in your product – it’s a nature knock-off. As real as these bacon inspired products that ended up on the cutting room floor of “Stink!”

The good news is that the fragrance loophole may be closing. SC Johnson is taking the lead and disclosing some of the chemicals in its Glade line of fragrances – proving it’s possible. Hopefully other companies will see the writing on the wall and start disclosing fragrance chemicals too. There’s no consumer benefit to not knowing what’s in the products you buy.