Students lead charge in tackling pollutants in cosmetics widely used by women


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After 18 months of fighting for clean air in Willowbrook, Ill., Alexandra Collins thought she might leave ethylene oxide behind. But then she learned that the pollutant, widely known to scientists as EtO, is an ingredient in many cosmetic products that women and girls use today.

“I saw that the problem with one polluter was bigger than my local community,” said Collins, 17.

She combined her computer skills and advocacy work and teamed up with a friend to create an app that examines cosmetics with a mission to protect girls and women from the harms of EtO. Now Collins said they are holding meetings with two natural products companies, First Aid Beauty and Sia Botanics, about potential partnerships.

Alexandra Collins created the EtO-Free app alongside her friend Elyssa Chandler. He reviews the products of traditional cosmetic companies. (Courtesy)

Her environmental activism began at a town hall in 2018 when she found out that a local company, Sterigenics, had been releasing EtO into the air for 30 years. Collins was upset that her town was unknowingly breathing air infected with a chemical that causes breast cancer, fertility problems, and brain and lung damage.

With the help of her older sister and a few friends, she started Students Against Ethylene Oxide. Club members have organized letter-writing campaigns, attended rallies, educated students about the dangers of EtO, and advocated in public hearings. Often the youngest in the room, these teens worked with government officials to help shut down the plant in September 2019.

As EtO continues to make headlines, Students Against Ethylene Oxide has grown into chapters in 12 states, as well as Mexico and Guatemala. The Smyrna, GA branch is pushing for the closure of another Sterigenics plant using Collins’ advocacy methods.

“It has been a tremendous privilege to work with the many young women who are part of Students Against Ethylene Oxide,” said Mariah Lopez, New Jersey chapter chief. “Hearing their individual stories and their willingness to fight ethylene oxide from educational cohorts motivated me to talk about the harmful impact of pollutants in my city. The group is focused on writing letters after an incident near the Delaware Memorial Bridge, where a major EtO gas leak occurred.

“Activists like Alexandra and members of Students Against Ethylene Oxide understand that toxins like EtO have a profound negative impact on women’s health in ways that don’t impact men,” he said. said Yvonne Mayer, former school board member and leader of EtO Sleuths, a data collection organization that played a crucial role in shutting down Willowbrook Sterigenics and helped educate the city on how to hold Sterigenics accountable for the issues medical through medical follow-up.

The Stockholm Environmental Institute finds that women are disproportionately affected by pollution, including the way chemicals affect a woman’s body and cultural norms that force women to use products containing toxic chemicals, like makeup.

The Students Against Ethylene Oxide club organized letter writing campaigns, attended rallies, educated students about the dangers of the pollutant EtO. (Courtesy)

Thanks to the app that Collins created alongside her friend Elyssa Chandler, EtO-Free reviews products from leading cosmetics companies. Short videos created by Collins and the club members provide in-depth reviews that assess a product’s individual benefits and function, along with a full ingredient list. Collins ranks them based on wear resistance, textures, results and provides an overall analysis.

“Knowing that ethylene oxide is in these [cosmetics] as part of the process of producing these products, it really highlights the gender differences with the whole ethylene oxide problem, ”Collins said.

The fight against ethylene oxide is not over, but Collins remains hopeful the non-EtO movement is growing. “I’m just trying to create a space for women to get information about the ethylene oxide problem and how they, as consumers, can make choices to help support a healthy environment. and on. “

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