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EXCLUSIVE: Teresa Heinz Kerry Discusses Women’s Health & The Environment with The Democratic Daily

by Pamela Leavey

When asked a few weeks ago if I was interested in submitting 3 questions to Teresa Heinz Kerry for a brief interview in conjunction with her Conference on Women’s Health & the Environment, which is being held in Pittsburgh today, I jumped at the chance. For the past 12 years I have been in the business of making my own line of natural bath & body products which are all focused around well-being, women’s health and stress relief. My company has evolved over the years as the industry has, and I am firm believer that what you put on your skin, has lasting effects on your health. The natural bath & body products industry has grown tremendously over the years since I started my company, but there is little regulation on what can be called natural.

As a mother with a teenage daughter, my concerns about women’s health and the environment go beyond my interest as a business owner in a natural products industry. I was raised with a healthy respect for nature and the environment. As a child growing up in rural Massachusetts, my family grew our own vegetables, my uncle owned the local fish market and “organic” wasn’t a label, it was a way of life. All that has changed. With food contamination cases becoming more prevalent and disease and cancer all around us, we all need to take seriously what we put in and on bodies.

My questions to Teresa Heinz Kerry were brief and to the point. My goal was to ask simple questions that would fuel women to think about what they can do to start changing their habits, live a healthier life and make a difference.

Pamela: What do you think is the greatest threat to women’s health via the environment?

THK: Pamela, I know through your work with your own line of healthcare products that you are aware of the dangers of some of the ingredients that too many cosmetic companies put in their products, so I don’t need to warn you about this common threat. But cosmetics are only one of a number of hidden assaults on women’s bodies from chemicals in air, water, and food.

All day Friday, in Pittsburgh, I will be hosting the conference on women’s health and the environment, where we will be hearing from the world’s leading experts on the dangers of pesticides, herbicides, and endocrine disrupters. I understand that there will be live-blogging from the conference. I’ll make sure that you know where to tell your readers to go.

Pamela: What can women do to better protect themselves and their families from the effects of the environment on their health?

THK: There are a couple of simple things to reduce your potential exposure: buy certified organic food and avoid processed food, especially junk food. Always wash fresh food and vegetables before eating them.

Check with your local water company or public health agency about levels of lead, mercury, or any other local contaminants; if there’s a problem, use filtered water (bottled water is an uncertain substitute because there are no health regulations at all governing the bottled water industry).

To get safe cosmetics, check the list of companies that have signed the Safe Cosmetics Pledge. If you are fixing up your house, be sure to test for lead paint before you start sanding!

Pamela: What do you feel our government could do more of and better in the area of women’s health and the environment?

THK: The federal government needs to designate one federal agency to take full responsibility for understanding what chemicals are being placed in our cosmetics, personal and household products, etc – particularly when the Europeans have banned chemicals that we still use.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of chemicals in the marketplace that have never been tested for their effects on human health. Chemicals get removed from the marketplace only after women have already been injured.

Under the precautionary principle, the government would require companies to prove that new chemicals were safe before they were put into the marketplace. And, the government should require that manufacturers pay to test all of the currently legal but untested chemicals.

For more info on the Conference on Women’s Health & the Environment please visit:

  • WomensHealthPittsburgh.org
  • The Heinz Family Philanthropies
  • The complete schedule for the conference is available here
  • A complete schedule of the Teresa Heinz Kerry Blog Tour is available here and the next stop on the tour is the Post Carbon Institute.

    For a cold hard look at one of the greatest chemical offenders in the skin care industry visit the Environmental Working Group’s website and read about “petroleum-based cosmetic ingredients.” As a signer to the Safe Cosmetics Pledge, I regularly review my ingredients list and have joined the pledge to make safe, non-toxic products. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics offers tips on how you can Take Action here:

    I can not begin to stress how import Teresa Heinz Kerry’s advice on checking the ingredients is. Read the labels, research the ingredients. Natural is better, all or 100% Natural is best. In her new book, “This Moment On Earth,” co-written with husband John Kerry, Teresa Heinz Kerry outlines the effects of chemicals in our body in chapter 2: A Body Of Evidence. Although I already knew a lot about the issue due to my business, I was astounded by much of the information in the chapter. It is critical that we not only pay attention pay attention the foods we eat and the products that we use, but we must also raise awareness on the chemicals our bodies come in contact with daily.

    Many thanks to Teresa Heinz Kerry for the interview. I look forward to bringing our readers more on the Conference on Women’s Health & the Environment.

    I personally feel that the environment is an issue that touches on all the important issues of our times. I hope to post more about environmental issues in the weeks and months ahead.


  • Live Blogging the Women’s Health and Environment Conference (Updated)
  • Catching Up With Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Blog Tour
  • Teresa Heinz Kerry Not Silent… Just Quieter
  • Teresa Heinz Kerry to Conduct Blog Tour in Conjuction with Conference on Women’s Health & the Environment
  • 11 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE: Teresa Heinz Kerry Discusses Women’s Health & The Environment with The Democratic Daily”

    1. This is a terrific interview! I can’t wait to see the live-blogging of the conference.

      I’m glad you asked about the cosmetics, as this is an important issue to me. I want to check out that link for the Safe Cosmetics Pledge.

    2. I especially like the point about bottled water. You can go to your city public works department and find out what the test results are for your tap water, but you’d find it much tougher to learn what’s in a bottle of Desani.

      We still buy bottled water at our house but I’m trying to reform the rest of the household. The filter’s a good idea.

    3. Meredith

      The liveblogging thread is here – http://blog.thedemocraticdaily.com/?p=5659

      Seriously beware of products with mineral oil. Not only for the chemical reasons, but mineral oil is no where close to the natural oils skin produces. Steer towards natural vegetable oils like safflower, grapeseed, rice bran, and macadamia nut (which is awesome for older women)!

    4. Thanks for this great post Pamela. I’ve just posted a final update to the liveblog thread. I missed a lot but hopefully everyone got an idea of what a wonderful conference this is. Now I’m really looking forward to the fall event in Boston!

    5. More great information! This was such a terrific idea, every day it just gets better and better. And the liveblogging at the conference was excellent too. I really wish people would get together to stop all of this. Sometimes it seems like you put an end to one nasty chemical, just to have them turn around and create another one.

    6. John

      I use bottled water, although I have heard it’s not regulated. I don’t like the Brita filters, the water always tastes odd. I guess it’s time to look into a better water filter.

    7. Sandy

      It’s astounding all the chemicals we don’t realize that we are using. I hope we’re starting to see a resurgence in interest in taking care of the environment.

    8. As Ms. Leavey well knows, I have always admired Sen. Kerry and continue to consider him better presidential timber than the current announced field of candidates.

      But get off this ‘global warming’ kick, for chrissakes!

      Obama and Gore’s sponsors in Wall St. and on the Chicago Board of Trade may want to market ‘carbon futures’ based on a contrived ‘climate crisis,’ but their interest is not the national interest.

      Meanwhile, the yet to be impeached Cheney continues to plot a war–probably nuclear– against Iran in the short term. The Gore-headlined diversion around ‘global warming’ serves his purpose well.

      3 billion folks in this world lack electricity and running water. I consider their fate a great deal more important than the fate of hedge fund mgr. Al Gore’s animated Hollywood polar bears.

      Gore proved ‘global warming’ about as well as Cheney proved Saddam’s WMD. That is, if you ignore all contradictory evidence, you can prove anything.

      I know hedge fund mgr. Al Gore to be both politically and personally a racist. His ‘cure’ for ‘global warming’ amounts to ‘technological apartheid.’ No modern technology for the underdeveloped nations. Millions will suffer or die.

      Surely, Sen. and Mrs. Kerry does not share Gore’s racist view.

    9. G Berg,

      I guess I missed the evidence that Al Gore is “both politically and personally a racist.” Nor do I hear him advocating practices that will deny modern technology to underdeveloped nations. If that is his goal, it does not mean others who believe in global warming and curtailing it would agree. If anything, the reality of this group is understanding that ‘we are all in this together’ and no one should be left behind.

      Regardless of whether Gore ‘proved’ global warming to your satisfaction, the huge percentage of scientists studying this do support the basic premise that humans are contributing too much to the warming cycle we are in and need to cut back. Other scientists who are quite able to critique those studies agree, as well as many of us who are critical thinkers and open to the tough realities we have to face – or suffer.

      The polar bears are the global warming ‘canaries’ for more than 6 billion people who will be profoundly affected by any of the bad scenarios possible if we don’t turn the world’s ecological problems around.

      The attention on our ecological issues may be the one thing that brings the world together in finding a common war to fight rather than each other. I actually think this may bring a lot of Americans to realize that we spend way too much of our money on the Pentagon, foreign millitary bases and wars. Had we spent more of those tax dollars around the world on safe water, electricity, and fair economic development, the number without would be far lower.

      I have read Kerry’s The New War and consider his the most well grounded perspective on the dangers confronting the world.

      The MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the Global ecological challenge is that warming is only ONE of the critical issues we face. The rest include:

      -Clean fresh water resources – heavily impacted by melting of the ice caps and changes in rain/drought cycles. It is fairly common now to hear that the resource war of this century will soon turn to water.

      -Deforestation. This affects the carbon problems, water and soil erosion

      -Soil erosion affects the capacity to grow enough to feed the population and water sources that are mucked up by too much silt and soil.

      -Toxic chemicals, waste streams and garbage. One of the interesting issues of the polar bear plight that is not being discussed is that they are also in trouble from the chemical widely used for decades as a flame retardant in children’s clothing. The scientists studying some of their problems in decreased birth and survival rates finally linked it to this chemical building up in their livers. Again. it isn’t the polar bears per se, although I cringe to realize how many species humanity has killed off in the last 10,000 years and how many more in the next 50, it is the implications for humans as well.

      Air pollution is as much a means of spreading the chemicals as water. One of the most deadly are the DU particles created by exploded US bombs. They are expected to replace cigarettes as the leading cause of lung cancer. Kidney and other cancers will also be a problem.

      A companion book to An Inconvenient Truth and This Moment on Earth, is Jared Diamond’s Collapse . It is a fascinating look at how ecological problems have challenged humanity for over 10,000 years, and how some societies failed to change their actions while others did.

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