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.

House Members, Witnesses Clash Over Chemicals Regulation

Things are heating up. The following excerpts are taken from the full article that was posted on the EWG site by Nils Bruzelius in Featured Articles, House status, Legislation on July 30, 2010.

"At a packed hearing before a key House subcommittee, Environmental Working Group President and co-founder Ken Cook called on Congress yesterday (July 29) to pass tough new legislation to repair a “broken toxic chemicals policy” that is currently so weak “the American public has lost confidence that the products they are using, the chemicals they are being exposed to, are safe.”

Reps. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), the subcommittee chairman, and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the parent Committee on Energy and Commerce, co-sponsored the pending bill along with three other House members.

“Americans are exposed to a staggering number and variety of chemicals – even before birth,” Waxman said in his opening remarks, “yet consumers lack even basic information about these chemical exposures. And the federal government is no less in the dark.”

Ranking Republican member Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) set the contrary theme voiced by a number of Republicans, scoring the bill with words including “cumbersome,” “unworkable,” “ineffective,” and “overly broad.”

Perhaps the most unexpected testimony of the day came from Howard Williams, vice-president and general manager of the Pennsylvania Division of Construction Specialties, Inc., a maker of building products for commercial construction. Williams described his firm’s difficulties in obtaining detailed information about the chemicals in the materials it buys, focusing particular on PBTs (persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals) and carcinogens.

“Environmentally preferable and green building standards reward those whose materials have high amounts of recycled content,” Williams noted, but if the original materials contain long-lasting PBT chemicals, this has the unintended effect of recycling these toxic materials “from one generation to another.”

Describing himself as a Republican from a conservative area of Pennsylvania, Williams said:

“Given the economic and population multipliers, coupled with America’s global reach, H.R. 5820 becomes one of the more beneficially impactful pieces of legislation of our generation.”

Thank you, Environmental Working Group!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Susan Shaw, Marine Toxicologist

Check out this amazing talk by Dr. Susan Shaw that addresses the dangerous levels of toxicity already in our bloodstreams, as well as the added threat posed by the chemical dispersants being used to 'solve' the oil spill in the gulf.

"We are not regulating chemicals properly in this country. We are hardly regulating them at all," says Shaw. "'Big Chemical' is what we are dealing with here. They're allowed to keep trade secrets so they don't even give the ingredients out, plus they don't give out health and safety data. So consequently they cannot be regulated before they go to market. So it's a case of innocent until guilty. The burden of proof is not on the producer."

It is on us, the consumers.

Partnered with companies that include the Marine Environmental Research Institute, The Wadsworth Center/NY State Department of Health, Mission Blue, CIESIN/Columbia University, the Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and Google Earth, Dr. Shaw is trying to get information to the public at large and find a solution to the environmental impact of the oil spill. Together, they are launching an independent study that will counter "the kind of crime scene secrecy that is going on in the Gulf now" to assess toxic impacts on our future health.

"My wish for the Gulf project is that we have the truth. Whatever it is, please let us have the truth - and to get there we need to do the assessment."

She is my new hero.

Thank you so much for sharing this with me, Bridget!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Our nation's toxic chemical policy: Time for a little sanity

Op-Ed as published in the Danbury News Times on Sunday, 14 March

I grew up in Danbury, famous for its thriving hat-making industry and notorious for its "Mad Hatters." As anyone growing up in Danbury knows, the hat factories used mercury nitrate to make felt hats, and as a result many workers suffered from mercury poisoning.
Their symptoms included uncontrollable muscular tremors and twitching limbs, distorted vision, and confused speech.
I always thought it was bizarre that people "back then" would allow such a dangerous substance to be used. I thought the workers were crazy to expose themselves to it.
I didn't understand why people would even buy these hats, knowing that dangerous chemicals were used in their production. What a good thing, I thought, that humankind has come so far.
Or so I thought.
Years later, as a pregnant mom-to-be, I was anxious to provide the safest possible environment for my child. I assumed this would be a fairly straightforward task -- I took recommendations from friends, conducted Internet research, checked labels -- the basics.
I soon learned there was nothing straightforward or basic about it.
BPA in bottles. Phthalates in teethers. Parabens in baby lotions. Hormones in meat. Lead in toys. Questionable plastics in, well, just about everything. And nothing labeled clearly enough to help me make a good decision.
It seemed impossible that these potentially harmful items were being sold to the unknowing public and no one was doing anything about it. I was truly shocked. I still am.
It isn't just our children we need to protect.
Everyone knows someone afflicted with one of the many, many conditions that can be linked to exposure to toxic chemicals -- from cancer and autoimmune disease to allergies and asthma.
In addition to the terror of pediatric cancer and the threat of early puberty, I am spurred on by my family's propensity to autoimmune diseases, ranging from diabetes and allergies to rheumatic conditions.
I'm convinced that controllable factors in our environment greatly increase our risk of these diseases. I don't want my children -- any children -- to experience any of these pains firsthand.
It's like the story of Danbury's poor "Mad Hatters" all over again, but on a grand scale.
So how do we move on to a new era of safer, saner chemicals? It's not as simple as shopping smarter -- or turning down job offers at the hat factory.
Today, we encounter many more toxic chemicals than the "Mad Hatters" did -- chemical production has increased twenty-fold since World War II, which means chemicals are in our air, water, food and everyday household items.
The law intended to protect us from toxic chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), is woefully out of date.
Under TSCA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required testing on only approximately 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been on the market since the law passed in 1976.
Clearly, TSCA is not keeping our families safe. Wouldn't it be great if, in years to come, we could refer back to this insane period of uncontrolled toxic chemical exposure as a sinister story and cautionary tale?
Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, and his colleagues in Congress are doing their best to fix our broken chemical management system -- they are expected to introduce a bill to reform TSCA in the next few months.
Passage of the bill would put common sense limits on toxic chemicals, and issue in a sane new era of chemical safety.
I sincerely hope that my hometown community will work together to support these critically needed reforms.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Navigating the grocery store - Part Two (of trillions)

Around and around I go on food issues – not unusual.  I am MOST concerned about pesticides, hormones and chemicals in the packaging of food.  I also vacillate over my distrust of dairy vs. my kids’ need for calcium, my own preference for vegetarianism vs. they ‘right’ amount of safe protein for their little bodies, etc.  It is never-ending.

For now, this is a list of some things that I am comfortable buying weekly.  As I learn more, this list is subject to change! 

·         Barilla Plus pasta – I actually cannot find this at Whole Foods!  The kids love it, and I love the significant amounts of protein, fiber and ALA omega-3 fatty acids.
·         Organic pasta sauce (as long as it is in a glass jar)
·         Earth’s Best baked chicken nuggets with whole grain breading
·         Nathan’s Alpha-Tots baked French Fries
·         Alexia Sweet Potato French Fries
·         Organic ketchup (I’m on the hunt for a brand in glass)
·         365 Brand Four Cheese Pizza
·         Van’s waffles – usually the wheat-free flax or buckwheat.  This started off as a ‘mommy food’ but Anna loves them!  I noticed that they voluntarily recalled some wheat-free pancakes that actually DID contain gluten – I didn’t love seeing that, but I am sticking by this brand.
·         Organic milk – we alternate between 1% and 2% for our 2 and ½ year olds.
·         Greek yogurt
·         Organic lettuce
·         Hormone-free cheese, turkey from the deli – all of Whole Foods’ deli items are hormone-free (or so I have been told repeatedly – and I double-check, repeatedly).  The cheese is cheaper than packaged ‘singles’, plus you avoid the additional plastic wrapper.
·         Hormone-free, free-range, grass-fed, antibiotic-free (whew!) chicken and meats.  I prefer to buy meat at Whole Foods – most (all?) of their meat meets my hormone-free requirement, and there is a high turnover so it is always fresh. 
·         Fresh veggies + 365 Brand frozen (no cans).
·         Thin rice cakes – they are more like crackers and a big hit here.
·         Hummus!  The girls love it. 
·         Earth’s Best Apple cereal bars – ok, this isn’t exactly at the top of the ANDI index, but they love them and they are less preservative-laced than the competitors.

So, see?  I am not that ambitious really.  A lot of these are convenient, quickie foods.  I know that I’d save the most money and probably get the highest health benefit if I concentrated on trying to make everything from scratch – but I’m still learning to cook things that are both kid- and husband-friendly.  Cooking at all is an event – kids running around in circles, begging to stir, while I yell ‘Hot! No touch!’ over and over...  This is still a work in progress.

All of this said, although I try to stick to certain guidelines the majority of the time, I don’t (try not to) freak out when we veer off course.  When we order pizza from a local restaurant, I know it is not hormone-free cheese, not organic sauce, not whole grain crust etc – since we do it rarely, that is ok.  When we go out to eat it is hard to find ANYTHING that appeals to my kids apart from fries – and since that is a rare event, that is ok too.  So although I try to be strict in the grocery store, I am also trying to find balance in everything we do. 

The area that concerns me most is the chemicals that we are all exposed to in just about everything we touch.  I can get pretty close to BPA-free grocery shopping – until I’m handed the BPA-filled receipt.  So no matter how hard we as consumers try to do the right thing, we need and DESERVE help from the organizations who are supposed to protect our health!  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Navigating the grocery store - Part One

A very good friend and fellow trying-to-figure-it-out mom asked me to post my grocery shopping list. She is assuming I’ve already figured it out, which is a big assumption. I am definitely still working on that. There are a lot of factors that influence that list.

I am very lucky to have a Whole Foods close to home – that has made my job much, much easier. Yes, I know they have a reputation for being expensive (“Whole Paycheck” yeah, yeah...) but it doesn’t have to be the case. When I was single I could easily spend my current monthly budget in one trip, just buying specialty items and gourmet foods. I no longer have a gourmet budget, but I’ve found ways to make it work and still buy the foods I want my family to eat.

This didn’t happen right away – there were a few ‘Honey, let’s talk about the grocery budget’ conversations as I learned how to get the best quality and the most quantity for the least amount of money. (Thanks for hanging in there, DH!) I’ve also had a lot of luck with my ‘regular’ grocery stores, Giant and Safeway, who have also introduced organic lines. But when shopping with 2 2-year-olds, it is all about making it simple – and I simply have the easiest time at my local Whole Foods.

Regardless of the store, these are just a few of the main things I focus on.  I'm sure I am leaving out important points here, but that is the beauty of online communication - I'll add later!

Hormone-free meats and dairy. I know that there are a lot of things to consider when buying meat (grass-fed, free-roaming, antibiotic-free, etc), but with 2 little girls I am especially strict about hormones in food. Added hormones have been linked to early onset puberty and breast cancer.
Organic juice in glass containers (not plastic). Sippy cups at our house are only about 10% juice (90% water) but even in small amounts, I like to keep it as safe as possible.
Fresh or frozen organic vegetables. I used to use canned veggies, but then we learned more about the concentration of BPA in most cans. The only canned veggie brand I know of that does not have BPA is Eden Foods.
Whole grains, high fiber breads, crackers, cereals, etc.
• Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) foods. I just learned about ANDI and I think it is a useful frame of reference. Developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, foods are given a score from 1-1000 – the higher the score, the more nutritious the food. Who knew we’d end up liking bok choy so much?! You can find much more information about this through Dr. Fuhrman’s book and his website and you can see an abbreviated chart via Whole Foods’ site.
Items that are cost-effective. Whole Foods 365 Brand helps a lot. At Giant (also Stop and Shop in the Northeast) I like Nature’s Promise.
Things my kids will actually EAT! It doesn’t make sense to buy a dozen healthy foods that they will simply not touch, so while I do introduce new foods continually, I also try to be realistic (hence the healthy forms of french fries on my weekly list!).
Foods that are convenient. Two 2-year-olds – enough said.

Then I reach the point where I drive myself crazy. Even the most ‘healthy’ foods are of concern because of the chemicals in the materials used to package them. I mentioned BPA in cans, but there are so many other toxins lurking in our groceries! I switched to frozen veggies to avoid BPA, but what about the plastic bags the veggies come in? My organic, hormone-free, whole grain pizzas, nuggets, fries, etc are all encased in plastic. Are the plastic yogurt containers ok? I know that one of the answers is to avoid the packaged foods, but shouldn’t there be a way to make the delivery of these foods safe? In the meantime, what are the best choices? And what can we do about it?

I still don’t know all of the answers, but I’ve found a number of organizations focused on change so I am trying to divert my energy in that direction. I am a huge fan of “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families”. They are working to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and achieve a “sound and comprehensive chemicals policy that protects public health and the environment, while restoring the luster of safety to U.S. goods in the world market.” This simply has to happen! If you support this, even a little, please go to their site and take a look.

There are other efforts, and frankly I am confused by the amount of pending legislation under various names. I’ll tackle that, plus post a list of actual foods and brands this week – I have officially used all of my ‘me time’ and the troops need attention.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bottles, bottles, bottles

By now I think we are all aware that plastic bottles are generally unsafe. I try to avoid buying any liquid unless it is in a glass bottle (of course, then there is BPA in the lid, sigh...). Today I saw that there is yet another new study from the Journal of Environmental Monitoring to reinforce that habit.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen detected high levels of antimony in some commercial juices. Testing was done on various juices packaged in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, glass bottles and Tetra Pak cartons. Antimony concentrations up to a factor of 2.7 above the EU limit for drinking water were found and may have leached from the packaging or may have been introduced during manufacturing process. The chemical of concern in this situation, antimony trioxide (a suspected carcinogen) is used as a catalyst in PET production.

You can read more here:
The danger of antimony is described as follows: "Antimony and many of its compounds are toxic. Clinically, antimony poisoning is very similar to arsenic poisoning. In small doses, antimony causes headache, dizziness, and depression. Larger doses cause violent and frequent vomiting, and will lead to death in a few days." The article goes on to say that, "More recent research suggests that antimony may have endocrine-disrupting effects at concentrations lower than the limits noted above; if so, then leaching of antimony from PET containers may have a significant impact on human health." [Sax, Leonard (2009). "Polyethylene terephthalate may yield endocrine disruptors" (free access). Environmental Health Perspectives.]

Antinomy compounds are used in such applications as flame-retardants - exactly the kind of thing you do NOT want to pour into your child's sippy cup. So, we'll stick to glass.

Friday, February 19, 2010

So - where to start? How about the bathtub...

BPA, phthalates, pesticides… Books, blogs, articles… Petitions, fundraisers, legislation… I get so overwhelmed by it all that sometimes I just turn off and move on to something else (exciting things like folding laundry or scrubbing floors/faces).

I have a constant to do list running in my head – find non-toxic paints, figure out the pending legislation on all chemical safety activity, get a lead detector kit for questionable items and old toys, organize a local event where other concerned parents can use XRF scanners to test items for safety… Sometimes it seems insurmountable.

So at least for today I’ll plunge in and start with an easy one. Bath tub safety. I need something to cover the faucet that will protect little heads from injury without adding chemicals to the water. I had one, but instead of phthalates, it added mold – it was impossible to clean. So, I asked one of my online favorite stores, The Soft Landing (, for advice and within minutes I had an answer and placed an order. They recommended the Boon Flo ( - I'll let you know how it works!

If you haven’t tried The Soft Landing yet, check them out. They evaluate products for exactly the issues that worry me, so I feel safe when I buy from them. They are a pleasure to interact with too – always a plus! I came across The Softer Landing when I was trying to figure out sippy cups on another fantastic site, SafeMama ( Safe Mama keeps cheat sheets online – that takes the mystery out of the process. Shopping with kids is tricky enough as it is. I print and carry them when I am shopping for anything kid-related.

I didn’t exactly solve our nation’s chemical safety problems today, but one baby step (well, 2 preschooler steps) at a time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The MollyAnna Approach

Remember Pollyanna? The ever-optimistic dreamer who always knew that things were going to work out? When it comes to chemical and consumer safety, I’ve reached a mindset that I am calling ‘MollyAnna’. I am discouraged, frustrated and even a bit cynical these days, but I have to believe that there is something I can do to make a difference when it comes to the health and well-being not only of my own family, but of all of the consumers in the US who should be able to buy products without wondering about their lethal side-effects.

I’m not talking about medications or heavy machinery. I worry about lotions, food, toys, clothing, packaging… You name it – there are untested chemicals in just about everything we touch. Some chemicals – such as BPA, PVC and phthalates – have been tested and are clearly dangerous toxins but they are still sold as innocuous and seemingly safe items by companies we have grown to trust. How can we even know where to start? And since most of the chemicals in our environment have not even been tested, what really IS safe?

I’m not a scientist, chemist or a doctor. I’m not a politico, an extremist or a lobbyist. I’m a mom. I have big worries and a small budget. I have great ideas and next-to-no free time. I have a million questions and only a few answers – and even those answers are suspect at times. I feel like I am going around in smaller and smaller circles. I’ll research an issue, reach a decision and then hear a new piece of research that makes me question everything at which point I start all over again. And with two 2-year-olds (yep, Molly and Anna) I really don’t have the time to waste.

By no means do I have the answers here, but I thought it might be of value to document my efforts to navigate this minefield. In the process I’ll be asking for tons of help from people who ARE experts – and I’ll share that info here. I’ll also share info about some of the great strides certain organizations are making in this effort – and the fantastic websites that help by evaluating and selling safe products. There are probably a few million different ways to juggle all of this, but this is my approach. The MollyAnna approach.