Are your clothes being greenwashed?

Have you ever walked into a dry cleaner and been bothered by the smell? Your nose knows: that unpleasant aroma could actually be toxic.

For the last fifty years, dry cleaners have used perchloroethylene (perc) as their most common cleaning product. Perc is a probable human carcinogen that can cause nervous system, liver, and kidney damage. Dry cleaning workers are at most risk, but when we take dry cleaned clothes home, we expose our families to this toxic chemical as well. Perc also can pollute the soil and groundwater around dry cleaning shops when improperly managed.

Circles represent number of surveyed garment cleaners in that area.
View Garment Cleaners in Massachusetts in a full screen map.

The good news is there are several alternatives to perc. The bad news is that each may have their own health and safety concerns, and it can be tough to figure out which is the best choice. A process called wet cleaning is the safest known method of professional garment cleaning, but many companies that make other dry cleaning products advertise themselves as green or environmentally friendly, even when they’re not. This is a practice known as “greenwashing.” There are steps you can take to avoid greenwashed cleaners and keep your family and yourself healthy.

What You Can Do:

    • Do your homework. Learn about the different methods garment cleaners use to clean clothes below, and find out which ones your local garment cleaners use on the map above. Don’t see your local cleaners? Contact us to find out how you can help add them.

 

    • Take the pledge. Pledge to switch to wet cleaning if it is available in your area, or to talk to your local garment cleaners about converting to wet cleaning.

 

    • Spread the word. Share this post with friends and family, and ask them to take the pledge. Or why not host a “greenwashing” workshop? Gather a group of friends and neighbors, and someone from the AHT team will explain what greenwashing is and how to avoid being tricked by it. Contact us if you’re interested in hosting a workshop.

 

    • Have a conversation. Talk to your local garment cleaners about how they clean clothes. Here are some questions to get you started: What process or chemicals do you use to clean clothes? What do you mean by “green,” “organic,” or “environmentally friendly?” Is wet cleaning available at this store? (And make sure you clarify with them that you don’t mean laundry) Would you consider converting to wet cleaning?

 

If a business is greenwashingtheir services, they may simply be putting a trendy “green” label on what they do, and yet are still using something that can be harmful to themselves and their customers. Even well-meaning shop owners are often taken in by deceptive marketing that convinces them to use materials that may not be completely safe. There are no laws concerning how to use terms like “green,” “eco-friendly,” or even “organic,” so greenwashing is popping up everywhere.

To help separate the “green” from the “greenwashed,” here is a rundown of garment cleaning options:

  • Professional wet cleaning: safest known method; water-based process; uses biodegradable soaps; no known negative environmental or health effects.
  • Hydrocarbons: petroleum-based; most widely used alternative to perc; negative impacts on the central nervous system; creates hazardous waste.
  • Siloxane (GreenEarth): silicone-based; linked to cancer; negative impacts on the central nervous and reproductive systems.
  • Propylene Glycol Ethers: petroleum-based; negative impacts on the central nervous system.
  • N-Propyl Bromide (nPB): easiest replacement for perc; linked to cancer; negative impacts on the central nervous and reproductive systems.

Want to know more? The Toxics Use Reduction Institute has the scoop on perc, converting a business to wet cleaning, and more.

Toxic Injustice and the Power of Personal Stories

by Sara Moffett, Western Massachusetts Organizer

Sara-with-JeremyPeople often ask me, “What do you like best about working for Clean Water Action,” and my answer is always the same: the people. For me, the most rewarding aspect of my job is connecting with folks on the diverse experiences that drive our efforts for progressive change. We all suffer the impacts of environmental degradation (some more profoundly than others), and we all have unique stories to share. Whether incensing, inspiring, or downright heartbreaking, these personal stories have the power to unite us as we find common ground from which to build solutions. Story sharing allows us to think beyond ourselves and look through the window of someone else’s life, if only for a moment or two.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a national effort to ban toxic chemical additives from certain consumer products. In 2015, a petition was submitted by Earthjustice and Consumer Federation of America to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) asking the agency to protect consumers nationwide from the dangers of toxics lurking in products. Specifically, petitioners asked the CPSC to ban the sale of four categories of products (upholstered furniture, mattresses, children’s products, and electronics casings) containing organohalogen flame retardants. Organohalogens are a chemical class representing some of the worst known toxic culprits and have been increasingly linked to serious health issues like cancer, hormone disruption, reduced IQ, and reproductive damage.

Clean Water Action, working in Massachusetts with the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow coalition, organized a powerful response in support of this petition. Our members and allies submitted more than 150 comments urging the CPSC to protect public health and ban the sale of organohalogens in consumer products. We are still awaiting the agency’s final decision, so stay tuned!

In the spirit of story sharing, I have taken a selection of quotes from the comments of our coalition members. I hope that you find the words of these bold individuals as motivating as I do.

“Flame retardants are another example of a harmful product, like cigarettes, where corporations have poisoned our families.” (Ellie Goldberg Newton, MA)

“The sad story is that the public health has been endangered more by the use of flame retardants than it has benefited from them.” (Russ Cohen, Arlington, MA)

“As a person disabled by exposure to a combination of approved chemicals and heavy metals, I know first-hand the dangers and cumulative results of slow poisoning. It is the responsibility of our government to keep children and adults safe from toxins.” (Janet Johnson, Plainfield, MA)

“I am sick of spending hours trying to find the least-toxic mattress, car seat, pajamas, etc., only to find out that alternatives without toxic flame retardants are either not available, or are too expensive. MY INCOME LEVEL SHOULD NOT DICTATE MY CHILD’S EXPOSURE TO ENDOCRINE-DISRUPTING CHEMICALS.” (Amie Lindenboim, Brookline, MA)

“I clearly remember the CPSC ban of TRIS in children’s pajamas in 1977- the same week my son was born. The ban and recall of TRIS treated children’s clothing was a strong, justified response by your agency that protected millions of children over the past four decades. I hope your agency will add to that proud moment and act to ban these same organohalogen flame retardants that now pervade multiple consumer products in 2015.” (Lynn Wolbarst, Norwood, MA)

“There are far more effective ways to promote fire safety than dousing everything with toxic chemicals. Please take a stand for lowering healthcare costs, promoting consumer rights and upholding common sense by banning the sale of consumer products containing organohalogen flame retardants.” (Alex Papali, Clean Water Action Organizer, Jamaica Plain, MA)

 

Stand up for us, not the chemical industry

It was an unseasonably warm November day when I sat down in my political ecology class at Northeastern University. My professor, Danny Faber, an environmental justice champion in the Boston area, was showing us a film called “Toxic Hot Seat.” The topic seemed mundane: flame-retardants. But after sitting through the compelling and borderline shocking documentary, I was outraged. I had just watched a step-by-step breakdown about how flame-retardants, chemicals that are supposed to protect us from essentially bursting into flames, were nothing more than a tool in an industry ploy buried in a maze of misinformation. I am living in buildings and on furniture that are covered in toxic chemicals, and I didn’t even know about it. In addition, flame-retardants are being found all over the earth and are even accumulating in breast milk. I learned that firefighters are dying at incredibly high rates due to cancer and other diseases. Yet, similar to most situations like this, big industry was winning. They were denying the science, and putting profits over people’s health. The difference in this case was there was an actual tangible opportunity to make a difference.

Professor Faber told us that there was a public hearing and an opportunity to testify on a flame-retardants bill that would update The City of Boston’s fire code for public spaces. Under the current fire code, theaters, universities, office buildings and hospitals, for example can only meet the requirements by using flame retardant chemicals in furniture. At first I had no idea what I would say, or how I could possibly sound coherent in front of city councilors, firefighters, and potentially even industry executives. But I decided that I would give it a shot and maybe a Boston student who showed he actually cared about something political would help point to how clear the decision to update the fire code to eliminate flame-retardants should be.

The day came and a group of five of us had decided we were going to testify together, one after another. As we prepared outside the council chamber we could hear each person as they stood up to provide their reasoning for why they wanted flame-retardants out of furniture in the city’s “assembly spaces”. Mothers, professors, scientists, furniture manufactures, health care executives, and community leaders all stood up for what was right. Then it was our turn. As I got up to close our group testimony, I made sure I hammered home the point that all of the people who testified and spoke before the councilors that day were begging them to do their job and protect our health, and it was up to them, as civil servants, to stand up for all of us and not the chemical industry. The feeling of actually taking action instead of just learning and discussing a problem was rewarding. In fact it was addicting. That feeling propelled me to apply and accept an internship with Clean Water Action this January to continue working on this campaign. So far it looks like I will have the platform to continue to speak up and work for meaningful reform, and hopefully help end the use of flame-retardants once and for all in Boston.

Written by : Marley Kimelman

Young advocates for safe cosmetics

“Dear Retail Stores, Listen up!” urges 11-year-old Sophie Alcindor. After learning about the dangers of toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products at her after school program, Sophie decided to take action. In a letter addressed to major retailers, she expressed her desire for change:

“We all get it that you want to make money, but are [sic] this neck to neck competition really worth it. Can customers walk in and feel safe without having to feast valuable hours just to find good and safe products….Stop having dangerous products in your stores.  If you would listen to the scientists or chemists telling you they are bad then maybe you would have more customers. Create a safe environment for the customers.”

Last month, AHT coordinator and Clean Water Action’s Massachusetts Director, Elizabeth Saunders, led workshops aimed at educating young women about toxic ingredients found in the very products they use at home. The workshops were organized in partnership with La Chic Mentoring Plus, an after-school mentoring program that strives to help girls and young women gain confidence through academic support and public speaking lessons. Recently, La Chic received a grant from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell to educate girls about toxic chemicals in beauty products and raise awareness about safer alternatives and methods.

During the workshop, the girls explored the variety and number of personal care products they use on a daily basis, scrutinized ingredient labels in search of toxic chemicals, and investigated some of the risks associated with hazardous ingredients.  The workshops proved to be very engaging and eye-opening for the girls in the program.

As part of the session, students were introduced to a list of particularly dangerous chemicals common in personal care products, and used the online EWG SkinDeep® database to see whether the products they use at home contain any of these ingredients. Shocked to find many of their products listed with high hazard scores, they expressed their concern by writing advocacy letters to nearby retailers, which they agreed should take responsibility for the public’s protection. A letter written by a group of 11-13 year-olds reads:

“Dear CVS, We believe that some of the personal care products (soap, lotion, etc) that you sell at your store are harming people and animals… For example, Colgate toothpaste has sodium laureth sulfate that releases contaminants that can eventually cause cancer. We at La Chic suggest that you look deeper and buy and sell safer products that do not contain harmful chemicals.”

AHT hopes that these young women’s concerns will be heard and will prompt change that ensures the health and safety of consumers.

Laura: Mercury does not belong in your mouth

Laura Henze Russell is a member of the Massachusetts delegation to the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Stroller Brigade for Safe Chemicals in Washington DC.

Laura grew up on Long Island, New York. The horror of cancer hit home early for Laura when one of her friends lost her mother to the disease in high school. Unfortunately it didn’t stop there.  Over time, the the majority of her friends from the neighborhood, and their mothers, have contracted breast cancer.

Cancer hit her family too. Laura’s mother got non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her 60s, her father–who was not a smoker–was diagnosed with lung cancer in his 80s, and Laura herself had breast cancer in her 40s and got fibromyalgia 20 years ago.

She says of her childhood neighborhood, “We lived down the street from a mansion that was converted to a dairy, which sounded pretty wholesome. However, we later wondered what the dairy released into the water supply as they packed their products.”  When that many people have cancer, questions start to get asked.

Today, Laura lives in Sharon, Massachusetts with her husband and 20 year old son, and health problems with links to toxic chemicals have not left her alone. Last year she experienced escalating and aggravating health problems including finger tremors, unexplained skin problems and infections, allergies and sensitivities to foods she’d eaten her whole life, and continued challenges with her fibromyalgia. After a year of inconclusive doctors appointments and a battery of expensive tests, the culprit was finally found: mercury.

Like so many of us, Laura had a mouth full of mercury. A common dental filling material known as “amalgam,” also referred to as “silver” is made of 43 to 54 percent mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Laura had many such fillings and the mercury level in her body was elevated to more than 40 percent over the normal range even two months after starting detox.

Laura is on a mission to prevent others from having to go through what she did. “Physicians, labs and hospitals are not equipped to recognize and diagnose mercury poisoning,” she said. “I got third opinions from numerous specialists who said that it was all in my head. It was not even raised as a consideration.”

She sees friends and colleagues experiencing similar health problems and wonders if they too have been impacted by mercury or other toxic chemicals.

Her mission is an economic one too.  “Mercury and other toxic chemicals wreak havoc on the immune and central nervous systems and and open the door to many heath problems and diseases that are extremely debilitating and raise health care costs,” she said. “If we want to keep health care costs down we need to stop poisoning people.”

Thankfully, this saga turned into a success story; within a week or two of starting mercury detox, she had a dramatic reduction of some of her symptoms. Now, two months later she says, “I am stronger and healthier than I’ve been in 20 years!”

Gail: Unwanted toxics in the home

Gail MCCormick is a member of the Massachusetts delegation to the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Stroller Brigade for Safe Chemicals in Washington DC.

Gail is a mother of two, a grandmother of three, and a dedicated activist. Though she’s lived in 12 different states in her lifetime, she’s lived in Massachusetts for 17 years and currently calls Arlington home.

When her children were young, Gail’s family went through a harrowing experience of toxic chemical exposure that opened her eyes to the need for change.  She says:

“About 30 years ago, when my son, Braydon, was 9 and my daughter, Sabrina, was 7, we were living in Georgia and our house had a problem of powderpost beetles in the stuctural beams.  We hired an extermination company who came in and sprayed the beams with chloridane.  Chloridane was banned at that time, but the two old guys who worked for the company had been using it for years and didn’t see any reason why they should quit, even if it was banned. They sprayed it everywhere.  After they left, I wiped down the walls to try to get rid of it.  Soon after that my hands went numb and I started to feel sick.

“At first I didn’t realize what had happened, but since the smell from the chemicals didn’t go away I got the house tested.  It turned out that the whole house was saturated. The levels of chloridane levels were so high, that when the lab that did the testing got the results back they called immediately to warn the family to get out of the house…at 10:00 PM.  So we moved out in the middle of the night with only the clothes on our backs.  We left everything else behind because it had all been contaminated.

“The irony, was that at that point in time, lindane was still legal (it’s banned for use as a pesticide today), but they didn’t use it. So if the exterminators had used lindane we wouldn’t have been advised to leave the house, and the exposure might have been much worse.  In a way we were lucky that they did something that was illegal.”

Gail’s children were definitely impacted by the experience. Sabrina went on to study environmental health and described the experience in the opening chapter of her book “No Family History – Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer.”

Today, Gail is an active member of Sustainable Arlington and AHT member group HealthLink and works with those groups on making the link between the twin problems of toxic chemicals and climate change.  Arlington’s scenic Spy Pond is right in her back yard, and lately she’s seen the toxic algae that usually arrives in late summer come earlier and earlier, possibly because the waters are warmer.  She worries about the naturally occuring toxins that we may be increasingly exposed to as ecosystems shift as a result of climate change.

And unfortunately, she can’t stop thinking about the potential for toxic chemicals in the homes of her family, which now includes her grandchildren, 8 year old twins, Kyle and Owen, and 4 year old Meera.  Both Sabrina and Braydon (the father of the children) are making plans to move into newly rennovated houses.  Gail knows enough to worry about the myriad of toxic chemicals that can offgass from the building materials, the carpeting and the new furniture.  Unfortunately, 30 years later, her fears of unwanted toxic chemicals in the home have not gone obselete.

Lessons from My Grandmother

By Cindy Luppi, New England Director, Clean Water Action

April is here and for many, the top thing on our minds is the early days of spring–whether we can shelve our winter coats, maybe how close we are to Opening Day. For me, April always reminds me of my grandmother, Aubine. She was born in early April, over 100 years ago in a small town in northern Maine. When I think of her, I think of the popcorn balls she would make for the holidays…of the walks we took together…of being on drying duty as she washed the dishes after a family dinner. She taught my sisters and I many things over the years, but the single over-riding lesson was crystal clear:  you take on the hard jobs, and you don’t shy away from the things that most need doing.  That’s how she lived her life, from start to finish–including working as a young girl with her family to carve a fishing camp out of the Maine wilderness.

That lesson reinforces my commitment to keep on pressing for the updates to our laws that will protect us all from exposure to toxic chemicals. This campaign has been tough at times.

It has effectively united a diverse cross section of the U.S. public from health groups to forward-thinking businesses to environmental justice advocates, all pressing for a bill introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg, the Safe Chemicals Act.  Whenever we collectively take a step forward, though, it sometimes seems like the chemical industry is relentless in battling back.  We help release new peer-reviewed studies that reveal solid evidence that toxic chemicals are damaging our health; the chemical industry lobbyists claim the research is unpersuasive.  We deliver over 100,000 petition signatures from concerned families across the country urging reforms; partisan legislators turn a blind eye because they don’t want to give the Environmental Protection Agency the tools they need to assess the safety of chemicals.

Here in Massachusetts, the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow has been mobilizing for nearly a decade to advance reforms as well.

Some days it can seem like it’s simply taking too long or that our efforts aren’t making enough headway. On those days, when it would be easier to throw in the towel out of sheer frustration, my grandmother’s lessons eventually kick in and I can reconnect with my core motivation to stand up for disease prevention and for the smarter laws that will protect our health.

How about you? What lessons do you draw on from your mother or grandmother that you apply to this campaign?  The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow would like to know!  In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re launching a project called “Lessons from our Mothers” with our national partners that we’ll continue through the rest of April and May. We’re asking you to tell your story — what did your mother teach you that you draw on in the effort to pass the Safe Chemicals Act and the Safer Alternatives Bill? Did she teach you that persistence counts? Or that you go to the wall to protect your children? That the burden of cancer or other chronic diseases exacts too high a price and should be prevented wherever possible?  That you stand up to bullies?

Tell your story and help us build momentum as we approach a potential vote on safer chemicals in the U.S. Senate, and as Massachusetts works to reform our chemical policies here locally.  To participate, simply submit an op-ed to your local paper or post a blog to your organization’s website, and let us know how you honor the lessons of YOUR mother.  Send us a copy and we’ll re-post a number of your stories here.   To submit email your story to info@healthytomorrow.org.

By the way, do you wonder how my grandmother’s story played out?  She and her family not only established their fishing camp but it was so successful that she and her siblings were sent to college on the proceeds–something very rare in rural Maine in the early 1920’s.  I have no doubt that our collective efforts to pass the Safe Chemicals Act nationally and the Safer Alternatives Bill here in Massachusetts will ultimately be just as successful.

Margo: Not many things shock me anymore

By Margo Simon Golden, MPH

We have all been touched by cancer.  I was in my thirties, married for nine months, and diagnosed with breast cancer.   Four years later, now ten years ago, my breast cancer metastasized to my lungs.  I am grateful and thankful to all the dedicated men and women, past and present, in all capacities, who helped to develop treatment options and hope that I never run out of options.   I also support  the common sense approach of preventing cancer before it starts. True prevention of breast cancer is eliminating carcinogens. Prevention is the cure.

Since being diagnosed, not many things shock me anymore.  Yet, at a Silent Spring Institute forum and in a recent interview, Margaret Kripke, Ph.D., a co-author of the April 2010 President’s Cancer Panel report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, did just that.

Dr. Kripke, a prominent immunology cancer researcher at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said that before beginning this groundbreaking report, she was skeptical about the link between environmental toxins and cancer.  She erroneously believed that consumer products were tested for toxic chemicals before they were put on the market. She thought that if a chemical was a known carcinogen, it would be regulated or banned.  She further assumed that if something were regulated in the United States, that those regulations would be enforced.  Dr. Kripke stated that all it took was one meeting to learn that those assumptions were simply not true.  Dr. Kripke quickly went from being a skeptic to a crusader for toxic chemical reform.

I congratulate Dr. Kripke for her honesty about her “enormously eye opening experience” but it surprised me to realize that a renowned cancer specialist, influencing government policy, was learning about this deep into her career in cancer research.  If someone like her could be misled, what about everyone else?  It concerns me that government leaders and policy makers believe we are being well protected from environmental toxins when in fact we are not.  Current laws do not protect us. We are all vulnerable and live with constant daily and lifetime exposures to the health risks and harm from persistent, bioaccumulative, systemic, synergistic, hormone disrupting toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and formaldehyde.

Dr. Kripke shifted her perspective and recognized in the report, “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.”  The panel urged the President, “most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

Momentum is building as legions of scientists, health professionals, public health advocates, academic leaders, and citizens across the country are enthusiastically praising the report and calling on President Obama to move forward and embrace the Precautionary Principle approach.  To a world in which known and suspected cancer causing chemicals are not found in our workplaces, schools, or in our everyday products on sale at the corner store. To a future where infants at birth do not carry a burden of hazardous industrial chemicals passed along from their mother’s umbilical cord: as the Panel stated, born “pre-polluted.”

Soon, I hope more people, policy makers, and organizations have their own “enormously eye opening experience,” as they shift their perspective toward the Precautionary Principle.  We have a right to trust that our environment and the consumer products we all use every day are safe.  Let’s make 2011 the year that it happens.

Margo is on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Community Cancer Project, represents the Women’s Community Cancer Project on the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow Governing Board, and is the President of the Board of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition.

Pat: The Scent of a Problem

By Katherine Friedrich, Based on an interview with Pat Smith

Pat Smith had over 30 years of experience as a registered nurse. She’d been working in the same office for five years. She was used to her routine at work and at home. Since she believed products had to smell good to be clean, she used perfumed lotions, scented shampoo, dryer sheets and commercial detergent.

When Pat noticed a musty smell in the carpet near her desk at work one day, she thought one of her coworkers had spilled something. But the smell didn’t go away. Over the next few weeks, Pat developed a chronic headache. At first, she was able to keep it at bay by taking Advil. Once she began forgetting everyday tasks, feeling dizzy, having double vision, and walking into office furniture, she realized she had a serious health problem. Her coworkers were also feeling ill – especially after they sat at her desk.

Pat discovered the carpet had been sprayed with a pyrethroid insecticide.

In the United States, pyrethroids were introduced to replace organophosphates, which are highly toxic. Although safer options are now available, pyrethroids are still used frequently.

The brain damage Pat experienced left her unable to work; she has had neurological and immune problems ever since. At first, she couldn’t focus on basic everyday activities. She left pans on the stove until they burned; she left the water running after she brushed her teeth. She also had difficulty dressing and cooking. When the damage was at its worst, she was unable to answer the phone. She even had to use a walker occasionally. Seven years later, she still has chronic pain, physical weakness, numbness, balance difficulties and double vision.

One of the first things Pat did – as soon as she could spend time on her computer – was to begin educating herself and others about the health risks of pesticides. Gradually, Pat met other people who had chemical injuries. Some of them told her they were living in their cars because they couldn’t find formaldehyde-free housing. (Formaldehyde is used in plywood manufacturing. Later, small amounts of it escape into the air.)

Pat developed physical reactions to some chemicals, although the situation has improved over time. She jokes that she could probably have sniffed out drugs at Logan Airport. When a high school student across the street wore cologne to prom, Pat smelled it without leaving her house. She describes it as a “wall” of cologne. When her neighbors used scented dryer sheets, Pat had a similar reaction.

Pat has taken many steps to make her household safer and to educate other people about chemical safety, including using many of the resources that are found on our Links to further information page. She buys organic groceries if she can afford them, uses safer household cleaners rather than standard bleach and detergent, uses organic lawn products, and does not use pesticides in her garden.

Pat has also been a dedicated activist in support of the Safer Alternatives Bill and encourages legislators to educate themselves about the health impacts of toxic chemicals and then use common sense when considering the value of reducing toxic chemical use in Massachusetts.

Cheryl: Medfield mother works toward a ‘healthy tomorrow’

By Linda Thomas – correspondent for the Medfield Press. Reprinted with permission from the Medfield Press.

Cheryl Durr Patry watched as her infant son’s skin turned red.

It was dry, itchy and scaly – how his little nails tried to tear it up as he cried. He was borderline colicky, she said.

She tried over-the-counter creams and salves, and eliminated different foods from his diet.

Then, one day, he sneezed 15 times in succession while sitting on a table she had just dusted with a brand name wood cleaner.

But once she fought back with unscented detergents and 100 percent cotton clothes, she soon saw improvement in her son’s condition.

Fourteen years later, this Medfield wife and mother of four has brought what she learned in her own home to a wider platform as a powerful lobbyist for legislation and co-founder of Medfield Green.

This three-year-old non-profit, community-based organization was formed by Durr Patry and three other Medfield moms – Jill Driscoll, Megan Sullivan and Ingrid Nevins – as a way to help the community learn and share how to live green and make informed decisions and better choices for their families and the environment.

“My hope is that my children and all children won’t have to worry if a product has been effectively tested for safety,” Durr Patry said. “It will be…Our children won’t have to wonder if undisclosed ingredients are listed on products. They will be.”

Because of her strong family history of cardiovascular disease, Durr Patry focused her energies on health supporting practices.

She earned a bachelor of science degree in sports medicine from Marietta College in Ohio, and a graduate degree in applied anatomy and physiology from Boston University.

It wasn’t until her son’s skin sensitivities that she began to realize how environmental toxins played such a vital role on a small infant’s body. That spurred her to educate herself more on the effects those toxins have on the lives of our children and the environment.

Medfield Green sponsors some hands-on make-your-own cleaning products and conducts discussion groups open to the public. They meet half a dozen times during the school year on ways to shrink your footprint on earth.

“It is a forum where people can learn and share information about living healthier and lighter on the planet,” she added.

Topics range from skincare, water, energy and composting to exploring holistic therapies such as acupuncture, reiki, massage and health counseling. Meetings are held all over town from the Center at Medfield, the Zullo Gallery, and the Town Hall, to Peace Abby in Sherborn.

The group speaks at Lions Club meetings, middle school classrooms, after-school programs, and women’s groups.

Its biggest event, “Green Day,” is held in April – a one day drop off recycling event including charitable organizations: Cradles to Crayons, Planet Aid, the Medfield Library, Medfield Animal Shelter and Bethany House and more.

Medfield Green depends on its volunteers to plan, fundraise and organize, Durr Patry said.

Fellow founders Driscoll and Sullivan both believe Durr Patry is passionate about her beliefs and is dedicated to her cause, willing to make time to work for the greater good.

Sullivan, a mother of three, met Durr Patry about seven years ago when their daughters were in Girl Scouts together.

“Cheryl cares passionately for the earth and the health of everyone on the planet and is willing to work very hard to make that happen,” Sullivan said.

About 13 years ago, Driscoll, a mother of two, met Durr Patry when both were in a little mom and child play group that met once a week to chat and be together while their children were growing up.

“No matter what is going on in her life, I can always count on her friendship,” said Driscoll, a health counselor at the Holistic Wellness Center in Medfield. “She’s a caring mother and wife – and a tireless volunteer…She’s always there to help anyone in need. She has a kindness and a steady strength that isn’t like anyone else I know. I admire her spirit of hope – and she believes we can all make a difference.”

Medfield Green is on the governing board for Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, a coalition of citizens, scientists, health professionals, workers and educators seeking preventive action on toxic hazards.

Durr Patry has lobbied to support two initiatives on behalf of the alliance – the Safer Alternative Bill (An act for a competitive economy through safer alternatives to toxic chemicals) and the Bisphenol-A (BPA) campaign.

Elizabeth Saunders, director of Clean Water Action and coordinator for the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, said Durr Patry has helped to raise awareness for a healthy environment for our children.

“She started by hosting workshops about toxic chemicals in her home, and from there started one of the most active local environmental organizations around the state, Medfield Green,” Saunders said.

“Through the workshops she’s hosted and other efforts with Medfield Green, I suspect that hundreds of individuals have become more aware of the need to protect our health from toxic chemicals, and many have gotten involved with the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow.”

In 2008, the alliance presented Durr Patry with its Outstanding Citizenship leadership award for her work in mobilizing the mothers of Medfield and for using her energy to protect children from toxic hazards.

“Over the past few years she has testified at hearings, spoken at press conferences, called and met with her legislators, joined in lobbying efforts organized by others, and gotten other local people involved in the efforts to protect our health from toxic chemicals through these initiatives,” Saunders added.

“In particular she was persistent with her state representative, now senator, Richard Ross, and gained his support for the bill in the most effective way – by developing a one on one relationship with him.”

While lobbying in support of the Safer Alternative Bill, Durr Patry started off nervously making a 30-second call to Ross.  On May 15, 2008, she met him informally at Noon Hill Grill.

Eight days later he pledged to support the bill.

Ross, now a Republican state senator representing Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex Districts, called Durr Patry a strong voice for reducing toxic chemicals in the environment.

“She is a great advocate not only for things she believes in but for the future of our children,” he said.

She subsequently appeared with Ross on two occasions as a guest on Medfield Cable T.V.

Then, in March 2009, she spoke at the State House in Boston. She and Tufts University scientist Laura Vandenberg and state Sen. Karen Spilka presented Gov. Deval Patrick with thousands of petitions against using BPA (a toxic plasticizer) in baby products and water bottles – making front-page news the next day in the Boston Globe.

Nine months later, the state Department of Public Health voted to ban BPA in baby bottles and cups.

Along with her lobbying and advocacy, Durr Patry works at the Michael Carter Lisnow Respite Center in Hopkinton for mentally and physically handicapped adults. It is an adult day care center that gives families a break and provides a loving and caring place for them to interact with others. She assists with other staff in the day-to-day activities.

Durr Patry came to Medfield in 1992 and lives with husband Ron and their four children: Matthew (14), Shealagh (11), Tess (9) and Sammy (7).

She said she hopes her children will have learned that positive change can start with them on any kind of level.

“My daughter had the opportunity to be part of the BPA press conference and meet our state representative at nine years old,” she said.

“Hopefully that experience will empower her in the future so she can create change. I feel blessed to be able to share this experience with her.”

Durr Patry said loving is a great motivator for change. It started with her son’s skin condition and continues through the contributions she is making to her various causes – hoping her children will follow her lead.

“If this happens, as a mother, I may have done a piece of my job right . . . my fingers are crossed.”

Visit the Medfield Green website to learn about this AHT member organization.