GOOP - Nourish the Inner Aspect
A couple of years ago I was asked to give a quote for a book concerning environmental toxins and their effects on our children. While I was reading up on the subject, I was seized with fear about what the research said. Fetuses, infants and toddlers are basically unable to metabolize toxins the way that adults are and we are constantly filling our environments with chemicals that may or may not be safe. The research is troubling; the incidence of diseases in children such as asthma, cancer and autism have shot up exponentially and many children we all know and love have been diagnosed with developmental issues like ADHD. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but perhaps we can do things to reduce illness in our children and ourselves. Below you will find some of the most prevalent facts and also easy, affordable ways to reduce exposure to substances which may be harming us.
Chemicals in Everyday Products and Children’s Health:
A Small Dose of the Facts
By Philip J. Landrigan, MD
Our children are our future. Our sacred responsibility as parents, grandparents and elders in society is to do all that we can to protect our children’s health, to ensure they reach their full potential and to empower them to be happy, productive and caring individuals.
But the reality is that patterns of illness in children have changed dramatically in the past century. Ancient infectious diseases such as polio, cholera, measles and malaria, have largely been controlled in the United States. The major diseases now confronting our children are chronic and disabling conditions:
- Asthma incidence has nearly tripled in the past three decades. It is the leading reason children are admitted to hospitals and the leading cause of school absenteeism.
- Cancer, after injuries, is the leading killer of children in the United States.
- Leukemia and Primary Brain Cancer have increased in incidence – brain cancer by nearly 40 percent in the past three decades.
- Developmental Disabilities are now commonplace, with ADHD, dyslexia, other learning disabilities and mental retardation affecting one of every six American children.
- Birth Defects such as hypospadias, a birth defect of the reproductive organs in baby boys, have doubled.
- Autism is now diagnosed in one in every 150 American children.
- Childhood Obesity has quadrupled in the past ten years.
- Type 2 Diabetes, previously unknown among children, is becoming epidemic.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To me, as a pediatrician and epidemiologist, these increases in the rates of chronic disease in our children are a stark warning that something is going very wrong. Many toxic chemicals are known to contribute to these diseases. They deserve special attention because most are preventable sources of harm. Children are at risk of exposure to 80,000 chemicals, 3,000 of which are high-production-volume synthetic chemicals produced in excess of one million pounds per year. Nearly all of these are new chemicals developed in the past 50 years and never before seen on the face of planet earth. These chemicals are used widely in consumer and household goods like personal care products, cleaning supplies, pesticides, paints, toys, home furnishings, carpeting and electronics. Most disturbing to me as a doctor is that nearly 80 percent of these chemicals have never been tested for toxicity or examined for their potential to damage children’s health.
We must understand an important fact: Children are especially sensitive to environmental toxins. They are much more vulnerable to toxic chemicals than adults.
- Pound for pound of body weight, children have greater exposure to chemicals because they drink more water, eat more food and breathe more air than adults.
- Children’s unique behaviors put them at higher risk. They live and play close to the floor; and they constantly put their fingers into their mouths.
- Children’s metabolic pathways, especially in the first months after birth are immature. Generally they are less able to metabolize, detoxify and excrete toxicants than adults and thus are more vulnerable to them.
- Children are undergoing rapid growth and development, and their developmental processes are easily disrupted. From conception and throughout fetal development, toxic exposures can cause permanent impacts.
- Since children have more years ahead of them than most adults, they have more time to develop chronic diseases that may be triggered by early and repeated exposures.
In addition, we’ve learned that if a young child who is still developing (unlike an older child or an adult) is exposed to toxins like lead or pesticides during a critical early window of development, this exposure can affect their health for years to come. In fact, many prenatal exposures have a larger impact on the health of a fetus than on the health of the mother.
The growing brain is an organ that is especially sensitive to toxins. Scientists are also extremely concerned about the newest animal research which suggests that chemicals can alter gene expression in cells throughout the body. In essence, repeated chemical exposures during early development can change how genes function and subsequently increase the likelihood of disease. Suspicion is rising that toxic exposures during moments of heightened susceptibility in early life can cause disease and disability in childhood and possibly contribute to diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease later in life. Tests for developmental effects are not routinely required before a chemical is used in everyday products.
What can you do to protect yourself and your children? My advice is that you take simple steps to reduce your exposures to toxins and chemicals in the environment, and that you work together with other parents in your communities to push for safer alternatives where your children live, eat and play!
Dr. Philip J. Landrigan is a pediatrician and the Ethel Wise Professor, Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine; Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is a Founding Board Member of Healthy Child Healthy World.
Top 10 Easy and Affordable Steps to Creating a Healthier and Nontoxic Life
By Christopher Gavigan
It’s hard to get those recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Five days of exercise would be the greatest luxury. Your leisure reading pile consists of books like Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny. But your sacrifice is for the best smile and hug in the world – from your child. Welcome to parenthood.
Yet, we are a new generation of parents. We strap helmets on our kids as they skateboard and bike, we strain our necks putting on outlet covers, but there are new realities when it comes to keeping your children safe and healthy. Parents are beginning to understand that protection from harmful chemicals in everyday products is equally important. For example: hormone disruptors in baby bottles, toxins in cleaning products and pesticides on strawberries. The good news is that you can do something today about these chemical hazards in your homes, and be, as my grandmother often said, “better safe than sorry.” There are many easy nontoxic solutions and precautionary measures (like that bike helmet) to prevent harm and ensure a safer, cleaner and healthier future for your children.
And remember, no one can do everything but you can do something. Your children, your family and your planet will all thank you.
1. Eat intelligently. Organic foods are the best investment you can make for your child’s health. They can be more nutritious, sourced closer to home and are typically in season, but can cost a bit more. Prioritize wisely. Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene recommends purchasing varieties of these organic foods in order to most effectively reduce chemical exposures: milk, potatoes, peanut butter, baby foods, ketchup, apples, beef, soy and corn.
2. Drink plenty of pure water. Bottled water is completely passé. It’s overpriced, unsustainably overpackaged, and not necessarily cleaner than regular tap water. Invest in a water filter (a simple pitcher option is fine) and a reusable stainless steel water bottle. Over time you’ll really see a big savings, plus you’ll be keeping countless plastic bottles out of landfills and oceans.
3. Embrace natural beauty. Ever read the chemical ingredients list on your shampoo or lotion? Not an easy task. Sixty percent of what goes on the skin is absorb into the body – so avoiding chemicals here is super important, especially for pregnant moms. You will reduce your family’s chemical exposure by opting for products made with natural and organic ingredients, like those from Care (Stella McCartney), California Baby, Perfect Organics, Aveda or Dr. Hauschka. Or you can even make your own! For a rich body moisturizer, combine ½ cup coconut oil with a ¼ cup cocoa butter and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Protect your baby’s skin with a little olive oil, which also prevents rashes on his bum. At the first signs of redness, bathe your baby in warm water with a little baking soda or apply a small amount of aloe vera gel.
4. Detox your nest. Home cleaning products often have harsh chemical ingredients that require words like “warning” or “danger” on the label - totally at odds with maintaining a healthy home. Safely opt for effective, nontoxic cleaning products for laundry, surface, dish and bath – many are no more expensive than their conventional counterparts. I’m a fan of 7th Generation. Or go old school and clean the way our grandparents did with common kitchen ingredients. Baking soda is great for scouring. White vinegar diluted with water magically cleans windows and countertops (killing bacteria and odors, as well). The acid in lemon juice fights grease and mineral scum.
5. Breathe clean air. Many people associate the smell of bleach or synthetic air fresheners with cleanliness. But, the smell of clean is actually scent-free. According to the U.S. EPA, indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors. In addition to using nontoxic cleaning products, just opening your windows for a few minutes every day to let in some fresh air will do wonders. Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filtered vacuum. Growing houseplants also helps filter and detoxify your air while bringing a bit of the outdoors in. Turn on the exhaust fan or open the window when showering and cooking at the stovetop with gas. Remember to clean and replace your heating and AC filters regularly – these trap the germs and chemicals you don’t want recirculated in your home.
6. Take playtime back to the basics. Having a child shouldn’t mean turning your whole house into a toy box. Kids are better off without piles of plastic play things, battery powered gizmos and all sorts of complicated gadgets that profess to make them smarter. Simplicity is better for your child’s imagination, intellect and health – and, yes, much better for the planet. Stick to toys made from natural materials like solid wood and organic textiles, and opt for nontoxic art supplies and recycled paper. Use items you already own as playthings, like cookware drums or sock puppets, and visit our website (www.healthychild.org) for a quick video on how to make homemade play dough.
7. Ban bugs and whack weeds using common sense instead of chemicals. Pesticides are harsh poisons designed to kill rodents, bugs and weeds. Pesticide residues can end up on your grass, in your home and eventually on your child’s hands (which every parent knows will end up in his or her mouth). Prevent pests by keeping your home clean and removing their source of food. Distilled white vinegar will eliminate any weed. Be sure to wipe your feet on a doormat, or better yet, remove your shoes at the door to prevent tracking in dirt, dust, grime and other contaminants like lead or pesticides (and clean less!).
8. Go on a diet. I don’t mean cutting calories, but rather a diet from stuff. Reduce consumption. In the US, 90 percent of purchases end up in the trash within six months. We’re all familiar with the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” and while most people have embraced recycling, reducing is the first and best step. And it means saving money. You will also reduce your children’s exposure to unnecessary chemicals, consume less of the earth’s resources, and decrease the amount of pollution generated by manufacturing and disposing of all the stuff your family uses. Convert the money you save from scaling back on the purchases toward investments in the higher ticket green items like organic food, sustainable clothing and healthy furnishings.
9. Reuse, reclaim, repurpose, recreate, rethink. In the same vein as above, consider buying the things you need from secondhand stores, designer consignment shops, Craigslist, Etsy and eBay. You can host your own “swap your swag” night with your friends, or look for items on FreeCycle or similar swapping services. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, right? Give something old a new look with organic textiles or no-VOC paints and stains. For older children’s items, look into the latest safety standards and recalls at CPSC.gov.
10. Spread the word. Now that you have some information, inspire and empower others in your tribe. They will appreciate the information if you offer it as a good friend and parental ally. And if you are like me – unrelentingly self-critical – give yourself a break and know that each small step will help your family.
For a complete parenting and lifestyle guide, get the new paperback on Amazon today: Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home
Christopher Gavigan is the author of Healthy Child Healthy World and CEO / Executive Director of the nonprofit of the same name: www.healthychild.org.
Q and A with Jesse Johnson
Jesse Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of Q Collection Junior, an eco-friendly and nontoxic line of baby bedding and furniture.
GP: What is the ethos of Q collection Junior?
JJ: The ethos of Q Collection Junior is simple – in every thing we do and make, we are focused on three things:
- Our children: Most baby furniture and bedding are made with paint, glues, wood and cotton that give off toxic fumes and contain harmful chemicals. Our materials don’t do either and are the only ones certified to ensure that your baby’s room will be free of indoor air pollution.
- Our communities: Our furniture is handmade in the USA. That means we’re creating jobs for people right here at home.
- Our planet: Just because your baby will be done with the crib one day doesn’t mean our planet will be. That’s why we use only biodegradable materials and packaging. And all of the wood for our furniture comes from within 150 miles of our factories. Using local wood helps protect our forests and climate by reducing our carbon footprint.
GP: How did you come up with the idea?
JJ: We started Q Collection in 2002 as a collection of adult furniture and textiles. It didn’t take long before parents started calling us asking if we also made children’s furniture and bedding.
At the same time, my wife was pregnant and we were looking around for nursery furniture. I was incredibly surprised to see what a striking lack of choice existed. If you were looking for great design, USA-made quality and ALSO nontoxic, healthy options you were out of luck.
GP: How important is it to have toxin free furniture and organic bedding?
JJ: Infants and small children spend the majority of their hours sleeping in a crib or bed.
Indoor air pollution is a growing concern for infants. The EPA names it as a top five area of concern and states that indoor air quality is three times worse than outdoor air quality. Home furnishings are always near the top of the list items of contributing to indoor air pollution, along with paints, cleaning materials, carpeting, etc.
There are also material toxicity concerns surrounding children chewing on crib rails and sleeping on certain types of bedding. In everything we design and sell, we have completely eliminated problematic materials that are commonly found in furniture and bedding including formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants, polyurethane, etc.
For more information visit www.qcollectionjunior.com.