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United Methodist Women urge use of chlorine-free paper

5/3/1999 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: This report is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #243.

NEW YORK (UMNS) - As a step toward preserving the environment and reducing health risks from toxic chemicals, the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries decided in fall 1997 to go "chlorine free."

That meant changing the type of paper they were buying for various uses. Most paper is bleached with chlorine, which is a chemical created by passing an electrical current through salt water or melted salt. A dangerous byproduct of that processing is a family of chemicals known as dioxins, which have been linked to cancer and other health risks.

To encourage others to join the campaign, the division sponsored a "Chlorine Free Summit" for nonprofit organizations and businesses on April 30 at the Church Center for the United Nations.

"As a Christian organization, we see environmental responsibility as a mandatory expression of our faith, not an optional one," said Pamela Sparr, the Women's Division executive who organized the summit. Co-sponsors were the Chlorine Free Products Association and the Women's Environment and Development Organization.

Working as the administrative arm of United Methodist Women, which has more than a million members, the division can have clout in the marketplace. "We represent, ourselves, a larger market (for paper) than the entire nation of Sweden," Sparr told summit participants.

Pamela Ransom, director of environmental health for the Women's Environment and Development Organization, noted that part of her group's global action plan on breast cancer calls for reducing chlorine in consumer products.

"Our scientists may debate for years on the exact connections (between dioxin and breast cancer)," she said. But there is enough evidence now "to take concrete action to make change," she said.

Response, the magazine for United Methodist Women, made the switch to processed chlorine-free paper last September, said Editor Dana Jones. "Having the division pass a policy was very important. It meant that if there was going to be an extra cost, the division was committed to paying that cost."

Jones had the magazine's printer search for a source of paper. She chose processed paper over 100 percent chlorine free because of a mandate that recycled paper be used. Totally chlorine-free paper is made from virgin timber.

Another benefit to the switch, she said, is "when you go with a company that's doing chlorine free, they're also going to be doing other things for the environment."

Tom Torti, a Vermont state commissioner, described how the state government made the transition from traditional paper to processed chlorine-free paper. It helped, he said, to have a long history of environmental concern and to have a governor, Howard Dean, "who is an unashamed environmentalist," outdoorsman and medical doctor.

Problem areas included issues of quality, availability, price and politics. "This stuff is more expensive," Torti said. "But doing what's right for the environment … is not about whether you pay 15 to 20 percent more for your paper."

Once the state legislature was shown the environmental benefits of the changeover, "there was not a question in the legislators' minds" about approving the measure, he added.

Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, told the group that "nature is the ultimate source of all value in our economy. Your purchasing decisions affect our ability to survive on the planet."

He noted the negative environmental impact of the paper and pulp industry and said the defense council is suing the Environmental Protection Agency because it considers the industry's use of chlorine to be a violation of the Clean Water Act.

"But that is not enough," he declared. "We cannot litigate our way to (environmental) sustainability. We cannot regulate our way to sustainability."

Consumers must take action, he said, first by reducing paper use "to the maximum degree possible," and then by using processed chlorine-free paper.

"When you make paper from paper, you don't need to use as many chemicals," Hershkowitz said. "Shift your purchasing patterns as if your children's lives depended on it."

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