Friday, August 13, 2010

Healthy Child Healthy World asked for simple tips - so...

Now that we know so much more about the toxic chemicals found in consumer goods, especially those designed for our children, we really only have one choice - if in doubt, check it out!

Who would have thought that established skin care brands marketed so specifally to our babies, could contain so many dangerous chemicals?  Yes, J&J, I'm talking to you (among others).

I rely heavily on the wonderful team at Safe Mama to screen products before I buy them or to find better, safer alternatives - the wealth of information on their site is outstanding and their cheat sheets are invaluable.

Another go-to resource for lotions, creams and cleansers is the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database maintained by the Environmental Working Group.  The database contains highly detailed information on personal care products for kids AND their parents.

For safe, quick and stress-free shopping, visit The Soft Landing.  They've already done the research and only sell products that are 100% BPA, PVC and Phthalate-free. In addition to skincare, they have tons of other products - bottles, cups, bibs, toothbrushes, toys - even pet gear!

Hopefully in the (near?) future the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 will save us from having to put so much effort into researching every single thing we buy.  But until then, this list is essentially my first line of defense when it comes to fighting the chemical war on the homefront - in combination with the fantastic updates provided by Healthy Child Healthy World, of course!  I'm sure that other readers will find them as valuable as I do.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

School Safety

I was stunned to read recently that schools systems in most states (45 to be exact!) are not obligated by law to avoid building new schools in areas that contain known toxins.  The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has some excellent information in the “School Sitting” section of their website, complete with background data and steps that people can take within their own communities.

I should not be surprised.  But I am.  Again.

Unfortunately, even areas that seem the safest and most natural environments still pose a threat.  We are currently looking for preschools in our area (for NEXT year – I’m not ready to part with my twosome just yet…).  I found a small school with a wonderful reputation for providing a nurturing but solid education to the littlest scholars.  The school is tucked behind a beautiful old church in an idyllic setting, surrounded by fields and farms as far as the eye can see.  Perfect, right?  But all I could think of when I looked over those beautiful fields right next to the adorable miniature playground, was the chemical threat of the generally unregulated pesticides being used within yards of the swings.  I’m not ruling out the school – there are other more obvious dangers anywhere we go.  I get that.  But is it really too much to ask that we are better protected from  the pesticide drift that even the stuck-in-the-mud EPA recognizes as a problem?

I’ve learned a lot from Kristen Hayes-Yearick whose family has been horribly affected by pesticide use in her area.  Exposure to organophosphate pesticides killed her 7-year old Golden Retriever, Tanner, and she describes her family’s health in detail on her Facebook page:

“All three of my children have moderate to severe allergies. Two of my children developed Asthma. One of my children has evidence of Endocrine Disruption. She has a cluster of crystal filled cysts around her Thyroid. She also had chronic bleeding issues controlled only by medication. She has Raynaud's Disease and Vitamin D deficiency. My husband has severe respiratory issues, Asthma, Allergies and an enlarged right side of his heart. We were told the enlargement was due to Oxygen deprivation issues. My husband’s lung function has been so poor he couldn’t have lung function tests at various times because his lungs were too weak. He has been in and out of the Emergency room for Respiratory problems. November 2009, I had to call 911 because he couldn’t breathe, he was unresponsive. None of which was present before, spring of 2005. I have Essential Tremors, muscle degeneration, gait disturbances, allergies, severe Vitamin D deficiency and lesions on my brain. Each of us has different chemical sensitivities.”

So – as another school year approaches, these thoughts are on my mind.  I hope they are also high on the mind of policy makers who can make a much needed difference.

Just in time for back to school shopping - a PVC Guide from CHEJ!

Visit for more information and great tips for doing safer school prep this year.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sanity, Hope AND Chemical Reform - too much to ask for?

I'm very lucky to have such good friends.  Even luckier when they check in to make sure I am not making myself too crazy in the quest to identify and control at least some of the chemical dangers that threaten the health and safety of all Americans, especially our children.  It is a crazy situation - no doubt about that.  But knowing more about what is happening (the good and the bad) is empowering.  Having information allows us all to make more informed choices.  That is exactly why The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act (HR-5820 Waxman/Rush) is calling for clear labeling on consumer goods, in addition to more thorough testing. 

I'll admit that there have been times over the past few years when I felt fairly hopeless about the reality of navigating the chemical jungle safely.  Everywhere I turned, something was wrong with something – and the rising pediatric cancer rates are enough to feed any parents’ nightmares.  The reason I’ve picked it up again with such enthusiasm and commitment, is because of the pending legislation and the fact that there is a huge wave of support for change.  In the words of Andy Igrejas, Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, "There has never been more momentum to reform our federal chemical policy."  He has also observed the "unusual diversity of support for reform. It is both broad and deep."

Chemical regulation policies are being reviewed for the first time in 30 years, so there IS hope.  The new regulations will probably not be perfect – the 'Big Chemical' lobby that they we fighting against will take years to conquer.  I am optimistic, however, that it will be a good starting point and that it will keep the door open to start making some serious changes.

So if ever you were inspired to make a change for the better, NOW is the time!  Please check out the "Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families" website to see how you can get involved.  They make it very easy for you to add your voice to the growing number of individuals and organizations who are determined to ensure that chemicals are safe before they are sold, purchased and consumed by the American public.  Join us!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

BPA for sale...

There has been a lot of news lately about the overwhelming amount of BPA in store receipts. Just when a lot of us thought we'd cleared that hurdle by using BPA-free plastics, canned goods, etc, BPA shows up in a form that is very hard to avoid. Once I heard this, I was extra vigilant about using my hand sanitizer (yep, that again) as soon as I got to the car - a stopgap precaution before I could get to the sink at home. And then THIS. In a recent article, The Environmental Working Group, "...warns not to use an alcohol based hand sanitizer after handling a receipt as it causes greater absorption of the chemical." Sigh. This is a tough one.

There are strategies to minimize the exposure - I'll try carrying an envelope for receipts and having the cashier (poor exposed cashiers!) place the receipt directly in the envelope without touching it.  Not ideal, but a start.

My hope is that some of the many phone apps geniuses out there will develop apps that enable consumers to get a digital copy of the receipt before it is even printed. There is a barcode on the bottom of each receipt after all - and I scan all kinds of barcodes with my (beloved) Droid. So - can it really be so hard to do? I’d be equally thrilled with a receipt that was available online, or via email. Anything to keep these dratted pieces of paper out of my hands – and my kids reach – while still enabling me to document transactions (see Honey, I do try to stay organized!). I can tell you this - I would go out of my way to shop at a store that offered these types of options. Would you?

Monday, August 2, 2010

I'm anti-antibacterial products - read on to see why you might want to be, too.

I’ll start by admitting that I am an obsessive hand sanitizer and wash my hands religiously.  Anyone who knows me, knows that germs are the stuff of my nightmares – and with 2 small children it is a daily concern.  It didn’t help that their first few winters were full of exciting threats like H1N1 and bird flu epidemics.  A quick and easy way to clean hands on the go seemed like a no-brainer safety precaution.  After all, they are used throughout hospitals, schools and even grocery stores these days.  Must be perfectly safe, right?  In addition, I felt 'safe' getting home and using antibacterial soap to further clean off any pesky germs collected on forays to the grocery store, mall or playground.

Then the downsides started cropping up...

I didn’t mind that hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps killed the ‘good’ bacteria along with the bad.  I could live with that.  

It was the better understanding of ‘antimicrobial’ that first sent up a red flare for me.  I thought the term antimicrobial just meant ‘germ killer’, but antimicrobial agents actually inhibit cellular reproduction.  In essence, it mutates the bacteria and while, yes, that kills it, it also changes it.  Bacteria are smart little critters – how long before they find a new and better way around our attempts to alter their structure?  I’m not foolish enough to get out of my depth on this one.  I’m not a scientist and a Master in Public Health in Environmental Health is just a Lotto dream for me – but suffice it to say, this has concerned a number of people with a much better grasp of the subject matter.  I started to question my faith in antibacterial products.

Then the issue really spoke to me.  Nearly all antibacterial soaps and some hand sanitizers contain triclosan and triclocarban – PESTICIDES that can damage reproductive organs, sperm quality and the production of thyroid and sex hormones.  So I have been coating my hands – and so much worse, my CHILDRENS’ hands – with a PESTICIDE???  I won’t even let the bug guy in our house.  I try ‘deterring’ spiders with lemon scents.  I spread cinnamon and cayenne pepper all over our foyer in an attempt to chase away ants.  But I am regularly and liberally using a pesticide-laced soap on our skin?  Not anymore.

How is it possible that products containing such a potentially dangerous ingredient are so readily available without any kind of warning?  It all comes back to the refrain – we desperately need reformed federal policies to protect the public from toxic chemicals.

Apparently the FDA is looking into the safety of antibacterial products containing triclosan and triclocarban now that they have been sued by the National Resources Defense Council – a fact I learned today while researching this topic.  I’m not waiting for their verdict to ban all antimicrobial and antibacterial products, especially those containing triclosan, from our home.

As for alcohol-based hand-sanitizers, the jury (MY jury, anyway) is still out.  When I buy non-alcohol 'kid safe' hand sanitizers, they describe themselves as 'antimicrobial' – not something I want to continue.  Maybe the alcohol-based hand sanitizers are still our best bet when we can't get to plain soap and water.  I'm off to find options that I can live with – ideally without having to dangle 2 2-year olds over the sinks in public bathrooms on a regular basis.  One thing is for sure – although we'll still be big hand washers whether at home or away, we will never use antibacterial soaps again.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Help Dr. Susan Shaw and MERI

Even though it isn't technically part of my usual consumer product safety focus, I can't get Dr. Shaw's speech out of my head. The dangerous toxins in our ocean and the terrifying impact that the oil spill will have on our already chemical-drenched environment are enough to give anyone nightmares. It is too easy to feel powerless and immobilized by the enormity of it all.

Short of moving to Maine and volunteering for the Institute on a daily basis, there are some things that we can do to help.  I found a wishlist on the MERI Center for Marine Studies/Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI) website.

While some items are a bit specific (liquid nitrogen portable container, stainless steel sink, oars...), there are a few simple items on the list that could be shipped fairly easily - I'm going to start with children's books and fish food.  For more information, contact Sarah Curts at 207-374-2135 or

Dr. Shaw and her site are inspiring.  Visit MERI online when you need to be reassured that someone is working around the clock to make a positive difference in this unthinkable situation.

Wish List
MERI needs the following items:
For Education Programs:
  • Microscopes
  • Test Kits for pH, dissolved oxygen, and nutrients
  • Dissection tools
  • Macro lens camera
  • Aquarium Supplies
  • Tanks (90 gal. or more)
  • Canister filters
  • UV sterilizers
  • Chillers
  • Aquarium stands
  • Tank hoods
  • Lighting
  • Aerators
  • Substrate
  • Sea salt/marine mix
  • Fish food
Library Resources
  • Science text books
  • Children’s books
  • Nautical charts
  • Natural science VHS tapes and DVDs
  • 36” or larger TV
Education Volunteer Needs
  • Librarian to re-organize our substantial collection and catalogue it.
  • Aquarium maintenance.
  • Ocean Video Night assistant (every Friday from January 10 through March 28).
  • Reader for children’s program (Fridays from 10-11).
For The Resource Center:
  • Small table / writing desk
  • Comfortable chairs for library
  • Sturdy folding tables
  • File cabinets
  • Floor lamps
  • Video camera
For Eco-Trips:
  • Mini Van
  • 16' long flat-bottom work skiff with aluminum or fiberglass bottom
  • Oars
  • New Global Positioning System (GPS) Plotter
  • Bushnell 7x35 AOS Binoculars (2 pairs)
  • Sediment sieves
  • Plankton nets
  • Multiparameter water sampling system
For Research:
  • Refrigerator
  • Microscope
  • Double or triple stainless steel sink
  • Cell counter
  • Liquid nitrogen portable container
  • Industrial freezer
  • Centrifuge
  • Flat bed truck

Need Help with your Donation?
Contact Sarah Curts, who will be happy to help you out. She can be reached at 207-374-2135 or

Donating and Tax Deductions
Your contribution to MERI is tax-deductible. After donating, you will receive a receipt by e-mail. Please print and keep this receipt for your records.