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North grad takes aim at toxins

by Amy DeMeliaThe Sun Chronicle
January 16th, 2012

NORTH ATTLEBORO - Darylle Sheehan is on a mission to rid everyday products of toxic chemicals.

Sheehan, a 2006 graduate of North Attleboro High School who now lives in Boston, works for Massachusetts Clean Water Action on a variety of campaigns against toxic chemicals.

"Basically, I'm working to encourage manufacturers to find safer alternatives to replace toxic substances in everyday items. They're literally in thousands of products and can be easily replaced," Sheehan said. "Chemicals are innocent until proven guilty - they're used until someone can prove it's not safe. It shouldn't work that way."

Sheehan is the organizer for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, designed to remove harmful substances from toiletries and cosmetics.

For example, the campaign's efforts to halt the use of a formaldehyde-releasing chemical in shampoo has led Johnson & Johnson to phase out the chemical in its baby shampoo. "It's only out of their baby shampoo, not the shampoos adults use, but it's a step in the right direction," she said.

The safecosmetics.org website has information about chemicals found in products and can help steer people to alternatives.

After graduating from Emerson College with a degree in print and multimedia journalism, Sheehan decided to follow her passion for environmental causes as she moved into the job market.

In addition to the safer cosmetics campaign, Sheehan is working on several other issues through her work at Clean Water Action.

She is active in the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow's efforts to eliminate flame retardant chemicals from popular baby products. The toxic chemicals, which are linked to cancer, were banned from children's pajamas in the 1970s, but are found in other products, including nursing pillows and car seats. She is also working on an effort to create uniform procedures statewide for disposing of mercury light bulbs and thermometers.

"It can be really tricky because every municipality handles it differently," Sheehan said. "We need to make sure these products don't end up in the landfill, because the mercury seeps into the groundwater."

Sheehan is also working to encourage dry cleaners to switch from using dry cleaning fluid to wet cleaning, a process that uses biodegradable soap and specialized machinery, instead.

Local residents can hear Sheehan talk about some of her prior work this month at the Green Reel's Winter 2012 Sustainable Film Series, which is shown at Congregation Agudas Achim, at 901 North Main Street in Attleboro. The films are free and begin at 7 p.m.

On Jan. 22, Sheehan will give a talk after the showing of Bag It, a film about the effects of plastics on the environment, the ocean and the human body.

AMY DeMELIA can be reached at 508-236-0334 or at ademelia@thesunchronicle.com.