The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

Vermont Public Interest Research Group

Nell Sather was a sixth grade student in Montpelier, Vermont when she wrote a letter to the local newspaper about the dangers of phthalates, harmful chemicals used as plasticizers in many products. "My baby brother, Declan, loves rubber ducks," which have phthalates in them, "and sucks on them all the time. I'm very worried about Declan and the other baby boys in our town," wrote Nell.

Phthalates are just one of many chemicals that could potentially impact the health of children like Nell and her brother. In fact, there are more than 80,000 chemicals used in the United States, the vast majority of which have never been comprehensively tested to determine their potential health and environmental impacts. Many of these chemicals are in products used in our homes, schools and workplaces every day, and they can be found in our children's toys, our food and the millions of products that line store shelves across the country.

It was this threat to people's health that led the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) to take action. VPIRG partnered with a diverse coalition of children's advocates, parents, and health professionals to launch the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont. With support from the Johnson Family Foundation and the Lintilhac Foundation, the Alliance focuses on tangible actions that will protect the public from unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals.

Since its creation just over two years ago, the Alliance has presented in classrooms and conferences, provided technical assistance to schools, and developed and distributed educational literature. And with Nell's help attracting media attention to the issue, the Alliance successfully ensured that harmful phthalates will no longer be used in her brother's toys.

"Vermont is a safer place for children because of the work of VPIRG and the Alliance," said Tom Johnson of the Johnson Family Foundation. "The fact that children have used their own citizenship skills to help make this possible is just another wonderful byproduct of this project," he added.

Building on the accomplishments of the past two years, VPIRG and the Alliance will continue to reach out to new partners and educate citizens about the availability of safer alternatives to some commonly used toxins. They will work to ensure that all parents have access to non-toxic baby bottles, that students have the healthiest learning environments possible, and that both their state and the federal governments take the utmost precaution when approving chemicals for use.

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