As parents we strive to make our homes safe havens for our children. When they are toddlers, we invest in gates to prevent falls down the stairs and plugs to keep fingers out of electrical outlets. These are visual hazards that we are all well aware of, but our attention to the stealth environmental hazards of modern household products is recently gaining greater attention. The latest research indicates that many common household products are made with toxic chemicals that are capable of harming our children’s health and well-being. There is a direct relationship between our environment and our health. These health effects include birth defects, cancer, and psychological disorders which emerge later in life.
Hazardous chemicals are making their way into babies before they are even born. A study by the Environmental Working Group tested the umbilical cord blood from 10 American babies for 300 chemicals. An average of 200 chemicals and pollutants were found, including known carcinogens, neurotoxins and hormone disruptors linked to birth defects. Imagine if the blood was tested for the 80,000 chemicals used today in manufacturing consumer products. What would have been found then?
Parents often assume that if a product is available on a store shelf for consumers, it has been tested and proven safe for our families. Unfortunately the out dated Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 has allowed manufacturers to self regulate their products for consumer use. In its 34 year history, the TSCA has resulted in safety assessment of only 200 chemicals out of the 80,000 chemicals used to date. Additionally, safety guidelines are based on toxicity levels for a 155 pound man and don’t consider the lower tolerance levels of children and unborn babies.
Children are biologically and behaviorally more vulnerable to household toxins. Children ingest three times more food, and drink seven times more liquid than adults do in proportion to their body size. Their organs and blood brain barrier are not fully developed leaving their bodies with limited defenses against chemical hazards. Children also spend a great deal of time on the floor, where pesticides can be tracked in by our shoes. They place a variety of household items from toys to shoes in their mouths. A new law, the Safe Chemicals Act, is attempting to reform our chemical laws to better protect children. To find out more about the Safe Chemicals Act and encourage support from your state representatives, go to www.ewg.org and join the Kid Safe Chemicals Campaign.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 80% of diseases are due to environmental hazards. Changes in our home environment can lessen our overall body burden of harmful chemicals. Since young children spend more hours a day in the home than most adults do, simple changes in the home can have significant benefits. To eliminate environmental hazards in the home, start with the most common ways that toxins make their way into the body: through what we eat, what we put on our skin, and the air we breathe. Focusing on these 3 Gates of Entry can help parents monitor and reduce exposure to many household hazards. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help parents though this process. Here are a few suggestions:
Certified organic and natural foods provide the highest concentration of nutrients with the lowest exposure to pesticides, herbicides and fungicides Research has found that organically grown foods have up to 30% more nutritional value than conventionally grown versions. Choosing organic foods from the The Dirty Dozen list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables can eliminate up to 80% of the pesticides ingested by food. For more on The Dirty Dozen list of most contaminated foods visit www.foodnews.org . Filtering water with activated carbon systems will remove most organic carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone disruptors, and many other contaminants that our municipal water purification centers were never designed to remove. Choosing safer cooking methods like stainless steel pans rather than non-stick, and microwaving with glass rather than plastic can also help eliminate such chemicals as hormone disrupting plasticisers and perfluorinated compounds from invading our foods.
A chemical used on the skin can end up in our blood three times faster than if it was ingested. Our skin is not only the largest organ our body uses to eliminate toxins, but also a highly absorbent membrane that allows chemicals an open path to our blood, organs and fat cells. Children’s skin is more permeable than adults with a larger surface area per pound of body weight. Personal care products utilize over 10,000 chemicals and only 200 have undergone any type of safety testing. Tests have found both formaldehyde and 1-4, dioxane (known carcinogens) in 61% of children’s bath washes. For safer alternatives, look for personal care products that are certified organic to food grade standards and display a government organic seal such as the USDA. For more on certified organic skin care go to www.MiBetterChoices.com.
EPA studies have found that indoor air quality is worse than outdoor air quality, no matter where you live. Fragrances from air fresheners, soaps, perfumes, fabric softeners and many other products we use in the home place a wide range of chemicals into the air. Ingredients in fragrances are not required to be disclosed because they are considered a “trade secret.” Hormone disrupting phthalates, which have been banned by the EU since 2003, are still prevalent in perfumes and fragrances here in the US. Many products such as plywood cabinetry, plastics, paints, and upholstery foam all release chemicals into the air as they “out-gas” in our homes. To reduce the levels of indoor air contaminants, go certified organic or fragrance free, look for no-VOC products, open the windows as often as possible, and add living plants to your home.
For more on ways to reduce your exposure to household environmental hazards visit these helpful sites:
NRDC – “Simple Steps” is exactly what it sounds like, a great resource providing simple steps towards better health and sustainable living. The page on Home & Garden is especially helpful for removing household toxins. www.simplesteps.org
Healthy Child Healthy World is a leading organization for providing parents resources for protecting children from everyday toxins. Check out their handy pocket shopping guides, Quick Tips, and watch “A Wake Up Story” www.healthychild.org
The Environmental Working Group offers information on the latest research and legislative action. Check your personal care products out on their Skin Deep Database to find out if your products are safe for you and your kids www.ewg.org
Better Choices offers green product & book reviews, information on avoiding toxins, and green event listings at www.better-choices.info For a list of toxic ingredients in personal care products go to www.MiBetterChoices.com
“10 Americans” Environmental Working Group http://www.ewg.org/kid-safe-chemicals-act-blog/kid-safe-chemicals-act-10-americans-video/
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Report: “Toxic Chemicals Found in Kid’s Bath Products’, March 2009 http://www.ewg.org/report/toxic-tub/31209
Chemical Free Kids by Dr. Sarah Lantz, Joshua Books, 2009 http://www.chemicalfreeparenting.com/order.htm
Slow Death by Rubber Duck by: Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie, Counterpoint, 2009
World Health Organization:Preventing disease through healthy environments: Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/preventingdisease/en/index.html
The Organic Center: State of Science Review: Nutritional Superiority of Organic Foodshttp://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/5367_Nutrient_Content_SSR_FINAL_V2.pdf
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