Friday, December 30, 2011

Relax To Reduce Harmful Effects of Toxic Chemicals


A new article published in the Environmental Health Perspectives and brought to my attention by Dr Alan Greene’s blog , talks about an emerging issue in Children’s Health Research: How stress and pollution interact and how stress can potentially increase the impacts of chemical exposures on our bodies.  


How Does Stress Affects Us? 
When stress becomes chronic (too prolonged, too severe or too frequent) the immune system is affected (it can even shut down) in ways that may increase the impact of chemical pollution on our bodies...it has to do with the increase of hormones that are pumped through our bodies when they are under stress.

The problem is greater when chronic stress shows up at a critical stage of development when rapid changes are taking place—like pregnancy, early childhood or adolescence—during this period, mixing stress with chemicals could have particularly worrisome and acute as well as lasting effects on a born or even unborn child.

Studies
-The article from the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives mentions research findings from 1998, 2005 and 2006 which all came to similar conclusions: namely that when pregnant women were exposed to prolonged stress (and thus elevated levels of cortison in the mother) the fetal brain was negatively affected.  The  2005 published investigation claimed to have "exposure to excessive cortisol in utero can disrupt early brain development by interfering with the buildup of neurons and with the maturation of synapses in some brain regions."

The first main study was published in June 2010, and found respiratory effects of laboratory rats’ exposures to air pollution were exacerbated by stress 

Links have also been found  between  children living in urban populations with relatively frequent exposure to neighborhood crime and violence (and, thus, chronic stress) and exacerbation of asthma symptoms.

-New studies are being conducted to investigating whether chronic psychological stress might be a factors, enhancing a child’s vulnerability to certain chemical exposures and contributing to effects that later show up as asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and other problems  (the EPA gave over $7 million in grants for this purpose in 2011!) 


THE GOOD NEWS?
It is primarily chronic stress that is hypothesized to increase individuals’ susceptibility to toxic chemicals...so don't worry about sweating the small stuff because, in fact, a little stress can actually be good for you.  If you are exposed to chronic stress (especially if you are pregnant or have young children) try to learn how to deal or eliminate chronic stress from your life (yoga, meditation and exercise are all great ways to relieve stress).


If your New Year Resolution happens to be to live a more Non-Toxic life and have a Non-Toxic Munchkin, don't stress too much.  Remember that you can't live in a non-toxic bubble so do what you can, together we can take small steps that can make a huge difference !  Happy New Years!





Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE ABC's of SMELLY AREA RUGS

* due to its popularity this article has been updated.  Feel free to click over to our newest post "WHAT'S THAT SMELLY (AND TOXIC) NEW RUG SMELL AND HOW TO AVOID IT"


I really do like area rugs.  I like how it feels to walk on them with my bare feet when I wake up in the morning (much nicer than walking on a cold floor!) and I like how they can immediately decorate and make an impact on a room.
Our new lovely (but smelly) rug

Recently my husband and I  were lucky enough to receive a brand new bedroom set that was given to us on the Nate Berkus Show by Gilt Home  (to have a little laugh and see the rug, you can check out the link and see how excited we were).  The furniture arrived last Friday and it is gorgeous.   We are super happy and recognize how fortunate we were to have received an entirely new bedroom set, designed by a professional designer, no less! 

When the delivery people left, however. we realized that a very strong order lingered in our bedroom.  REALLY. STRONG. ODOR.  As I have said a couple of times in this blog, I usually follow my nose when it comes to chemicals... if it smells strong, it usually involves a chemical.  This time I new exactly where it was coming from :  our new area rug.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

TOY SHOPPING 1,2,3’s


NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN TOY SHOPPING  1,2,3’s

As soon as you start learning more about toxic chemicals and what they can do to the health of your kids and family, there is always a moment when we as parents look around our chlidren’s toy area (or toy store) and realize that a good percentage of toys are plastics (phthalates you start to wonder?) or brightly colored (lead?) and made in China (among other questionable places).  Many an informed parent can easily break into a sweat (um, at least that is what has happened at various moments in the last 2 years to me!) .

With the Holidays around the corner, I have had a couple of friends ask me how I deal with the  toy issue..... Do i stay away from plastics?  Do i research evey single toy before my son is allowed to play with them?  No.  I do what I can in trying to buy non toxic toys for my son at home, and I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve (which i will share with you!) which makes it easy, but if my Munchkin really wants a plastic race car and if Santa brings a plastic race car play set I still do enjoy seeing my son play with it for hours......  its all about balance, and I understand that as long as most of his toys I have been able to label as non toxic, that in itself is a great start.

Here are a couple of tips to choosing non toxic toys:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

HOW TO REDUCE EXPOSURE TO PHTHALATES

NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN’S PHTHALATES 1,2,3’S

(Click HERE for a description of what PHTHALATES are and why they are dangerous)

Oh where to start?? Phthalates really are everywhere.  In the air (in dust particles, building materials, paints etc), in dust, on food, on personal care items, on toys, on hospital equipment, on the plastic gloves used at your local deli, car dashboards,plastic tubing used at dairy farms (so in your milk and other dairy products) ... and the list goes on. 

Children, by virtue of being physically closer to dust (crawling etc), licking their fingers and chewing on phthalate containing products, in addition to having smaller body masses, tend to have higher levels of phthalates.

Here are really EASY and QUICK room by room guide with changes you can make in your house to reduce your family's exposure to these dangerous chemicals...


IN THE KITCHEN: r
educe usage of plastic:
1. Use glass or stainless steel bottles to carry water around,
2.  NEVER use plastics in the microwave (especially when heating up baby foods or a bottle).  Instead, use glass or ceramic containers.
3. Opt for items that are not sold in plastic bags or containers (like peanut butter, juice,or ketchup - try buying them in glass containers)


IN YOUR BATHROOM
1. USE YOUR NOSE: if a product smells like something (think:  flowery scents , fruity lotions or shampoos, or even strong smells like in nail polish ) consider switching to fragrance free alternatives.   Pretty much all products that contains ‘fragrance’ in its ingredient list and that smells like something  have phthalates ( except SOME products that use essential oils).   This goes for everything from shampoos, baby shampoos, baby and adult body washes, conditioners, hand cremes, deodorants, hairspray, nail polish, lipsticks,  etc)
2. Switch to a non toxic shower curtain (versus the traditional vinyl kind)
3. Rubber Ducky?  Make certain that your munchkin’s rubber ducky, and ALL toys are labelled phthalate-free (and PBA free too while we are at it)

IN YOUR LIVING ROOM
1.  Clean should not smell like anything, switch from chemical doused house cleaners that claim to smell ‘lemony fresh’ or like ‘pine’ to known eco-friendly nontoxic cleaners (I trust Seventh Generation the most) or, even better, make your own cleaners!  Did you know you can clean and disinfect almost any surface with white vinegar and water (50% vinegar mixed with 50% water).   This is what I use at home, in the kitchen and in my son’s room. 
2. Say NO to artificial fragrance (candles, plug ins, fragrance sprays and disenfectants all contain phthalates)

MUNCHKINS ROOM
The reality is that USUALLY its the plastic toys that are the funnest for our kids.   HOWEVER:
1. Try to limit the toys at home to toys that are phthalate free. You wont have control about toys at friends houses or daycares or preschools, but if you can reduce the chemicals at home you are making a huge difference.
2. Pay special attention during teething periods when everything will be chewed on for hours by our little munchkin.  There are great eco friendly phthalate free teethers.  IF THEY DO NOT HAVE PHTHALATES IT WILL USUALLY SAY ON THE PACKAGING .
3.  Please do not clean your child’s bedroom and toys with clorox wipes.  The air inside our homes are usually more polluted that the air outside and its because of what most people use to clean.  Seriously:  water and vinegar in a spray bottle, or good ol’ (fragrance free please) soap and water will disinfect and clean perfectly.


Phthalates ABC's

NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN’s  PHTHALATES ABC’s



WHAT ARE  PHTHALATES?
(pronounced tha-lates) They are a group (over a dozen!) of chemicals found in many common household products.  Unfortunately most of the names are hard to pronounce and even harder to remember... but four of the most common pthalates you want to look out for are:

1. DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate)
2. diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP)
3. di-isononyl phthalate (DINP)

As your eyes start to glaze over, all you really need to know about these listed above are that they are what give plastics its soft and rubbery  texture (think vinyl, squeaky toys etc)

Another VERY common phthalate is:
DEP (diethyl phthalate).

DEP is found is a very large percentage of personal care products, as its functions include:  allowing lotions to penetrate and soften the skin and helps fragrance in scented products ‘bond’ to the other chemicals in the product.

HOW BAD ARE THEY?

The main problem with phthalates and children is that our munchkin’s bodies are immature and lack certain detox mechanisms that could otherwise help them rid themselves of nasty toxin.  In addition, their cells are dividing at an amazing rate (from the moment of conception, as these chemicals cross the placenta and can damage the fetus), their organs are developing, and thus during these periods of growth and development children are especially in danger of damage or disruption by chemicals.  SO CONSTANT EXPOSURE TO PHTHALATES CAN BE VERY BAD.

A recent study by Dr Shanna Swan, PhD (from Mt Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center) studied the levels of phthalates in a group of pregnant women with the health of the baby boys they gave birth to. Among her findings:

1. She found that the higher the level of phthalates in the mother's urine during pregnancy, the greater the likelihood of “demasculiniztion” in baby boys.. we are talking about a broad range of birth defects and changes in the genitals of these baby boys (un-descended testicles, smaller penis size etc)
In a 2009 study  she found that phthalate  exposure affects the play behavior of young boys (International Journal of Andrology, 2009)

2. Another recent study done at Mt Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center found phthalate exposure affecting the neurological development of both boys and girls in different ways and throughout early childhood: 
       IN BOYS
       -5 days after being born boys whose mother’s had higher levels of phthalates in their urine        showed decreased orientation and alertness
       - these boys at 5 weeks showed poor reflexes
       - at 3-6 years decrease masculine play behavior
       - after 3 years those same boys showed a decrease in mental scores
 
        IN BOYS AND GIRLS
       -At 9 years decrease vocabulary scores and IQ scores
       - Increase in childhood ADHD
       - children aged 4 to 9 who were exposed to phthalates in the womb showed an increase in    depression, aggression and conduct disorders

- a 2009 study of Korean children between the ages of 8 and 11 also associated phthalate exposure during childhood with ADHD


WHERE ARE THEY and HOW CAN WE GET RID-REDUCE THEM?

Follow this link to Non-Toxic Munchkins Phthalates 1,2,3’S

CRITICS and CHEMICAL LOBBYIST CLAIM THAT THE LEVELS OF PHTHALATES FOUND IN THESE PRODUCTS ARE TEENY TINY.. CAN THEY REALLY AFFECT US?

Well, to give critics SOME merit it is probable that if we were only exposed to ONE product with phthalates in our lifetime. .... if we only used ONE hand creme that contain phthalates in our life, or if our children only played with ONE toy during ONE week of his/her young childhood that contained phthalates then the amount of phthalates in their and our body would be quite small and probably not not have long term effects on us or our children’s development or health.   Lucky for us all phthalates, unlike most toxic chemicals that are found in commonly used products, actually break down quickly and potentially could exit our bodies relatively quickly if we stopped having contact with them.

However, phthalates are pretty much permeated in the environment.  The CDC has found them is just about every single blood and urine sample they have checked for pollutants for the past decade....

They are everywhere, in hundreds of products we are in contact with every single day...   so the problem (especially for pregnant mothers and small children who are still developing) is that the “tiny levels” of phthalates add up.  If you are exposed to 5 or 6 of them constantly at very low levels, together you get a substantial effect... ESPECIALLY on the TEENY TINY bodies of CHILDREN!


BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS!
Congress recently passed a law that bans certain phthalates from children’s toys!
Realistically it is impossible to cut all contact with phthalates BUT the GREAT NEWS IS that, because phthalates break down relatively quickly, to reduce contact with some results in a huge positive impact for ourselves and our munchkins health.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN  EASY TIPS ON HOW TO REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE TO PHTHALATES AT HOME

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Scary Statistics Backed By New Studies


Early this week I had the privilege of attending a symposium at the New York Academy of Medicine hosted by Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center in NYC.  The focus of the symposium, which was titled ‘Birth Defects, Learning Disabilities, Obesity and Breast Cancer: How can we avoid the effects of Toxic Chemicals?’ was to inform the attendants about new studies that have linked toxic exposures during pregnancy and early childhood to ADHD, autism, obesity, breast cancer and other common conditions in early childhood and throughout life. 

The symposium was yet another urgent wake up call as to the dangerous effects that common chemicals in everyday things can have on our kids... even before they are born.  FINALLY there are scientific studies that are backing what many suspected for years:  these chemicals are hurting our children's health in potentially horrifying ways.

The symposium presented so much relevant information for parents that I want to break it up in 3 (future) posts, to address and briefly describe each of the 3 studies that were spoken about.  All the studies focused on chemicals that are endocrine disruptor's and their links to:

1. Neurodevelopmental disorders (ADHD, autism etc)
2. Early puberty and breast cancer
3. Obesity and diabetes

Please stay tuned to my news briefs on these studies!

In the meantime, I want to include some downright scary statistics that were provided by Mt Sinai's Children's Environmental Health Center, that put into perspective, once again, what a big deal this is and how important in is to transition to a more toxic-free life.....


- Both childhood leukemia and brain cancer have increased in incidence by about 40% since 1970. Childhood cancer has become the leading cause of death among children under the age of 15

- One in every 110 children is affected by autism.  Neurodevelopmental disorders -autism, ADHD, dyslexia, mental retardation, and other learning disabilities now affect 10 - 15% of the four million babies born in the US each year(While genetics and better screening play a large role in this increase, new studies are also shedding light on the links that environmental pollutants have)

-Today's children are at greater risk for breast and testicular cancer.  In young men, incidence of testicular cancer has increased by over 50% and is being diagnosed at younger ages.  In  young women , 13% of girls are reaching the onset of puberty by age seven, putting them at greater risk for lifelong breast cancer ... both these diseases have been closely linked to  phthalate exposure (chemicals found in fragrance, soft plastics etc)

- Our munchkins are at risk of becoming the first generation in over a century to live shorter less healthy lives that their parents.

-In the US, there are over 80,000 chemicals used in commerce of which only 200 have ever been studied on humans.    That leaves 79,800 chemicals being used everyday that have never been tested for toxicity on humans... (they are in your lotions, shampoos, creams, air fresheners, sofa upholstery and children's pijamas, toys, cleaning products, paints, food etc).

These figures are not meant to overwhelm you, just to remind you of what an important job you have:
our laws don’t protect us nor our munchkins, so it's our job to stay informed and learn how to decrease our and our children's exposure to harmful chemicals.

REMEMBER: lots of small easy changes can make a HUGE impact... just reading this and becoming informed is a step in the right direction!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New study focuses on arsenic in rice

New Source: ConsumerReports.org
Date: December 6, 2011
Article: New study focuses on arsenic in rice
Click to read the actual study: Rice consumption contributes to arsenic exposure in US women

Click to read an Environmental Health Perspective from 2007 Food Safety: U.S. Rice Serves Up Arsenic


 SUMMARY
Its been just over a week since news exploded about arsenic in both organic and non organic apple  and grape juices, and today a new Consumer Reports investigation has come out with an alarming study that found a link between rice consumption and elevated arsenic levels in pregnant women.

It turns out that arsenic is common in foods, but is not regulated in the United States... so there are no limits of how much arsenic is too much.
 
The study mentions that rice in the US actually has some of the highest levels of  inorganic arsenic in the world (contains an average of 1.4 to 5 times the amount of arsenic found in rice from Europe, India, or Bangladesh.!!).  Inorganic arsenic is known to cause skin, lung and bladder cancer in humans.  The main reason the levels are so high in the US is due to the fact that rice is mostly grown in formally cotton growing states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas who treated cotton with arsenic based pesticides...)

* While there are studies about the effects of high amounts of arsenic (both organic and inorganic) on humans, there are no real studies about the effects of  of low dose over a lifespan... or low dose exposure on the developing fetus and young children.

WHY IT AFFECTS YOU
-The average  American consumes an average of half a cup of rice a day (higher for Latinos and Asians), kids tend to love it and many pediatricians recommend rice cereal as a first food for infants. Rice is eaten directly or  processed into breakfast cereal, rice cakes, package mixes, pet food, and beer. .. so chances are it affects you.

- Elevated arsenic levels are especially scary in pregnant women because this period of fetal development is a period of heightened vulnerability to environmental toxins.  Fetal exposure to arsenic has being linked to problems ranging from low birth weight and infant mortality to hampered immune function and increased death rates from lung cancer later in life. 


WHAT YOU CAN DO
-Study mentions that rice grown in the south-central United States had a substantially higher average total arsenic concentration than rice grown in California, so ideally look for rice grown in California or outside of the US.

- BUY ORGANIC RICE?  Since the levels of arsenic were directly related to the soil they were grown in, if the organic rice was grown in contaminated soil it still will have elevated arsenic levels.  The ideal would be organic rice from California, it seems.

- I personally enjoy rice, and don't plan on eliminating it from my diet ... however I will continue to reduce the amount of rice we eat at home (right now we eat it about once a week), continuing to look for other grains such as quinoa.

- Perhaps opt for another first food for your little munchkin, try oatmeal, wheat or barley instead of rice cereal.



 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bloomberg.com's Ten Most Toxic Cosmetics: What's on Your Face?

New Source:  Bloomberg.com
Date: December 5, 2011


Summary: 
Just because a cosmetic is popular and being sold around the world does not mean that it is safe.  In the United States no one regulates cosmetics and thus many contain harsh chemicals with links to serious diseases.  Among the brands cited in this article?  Almay, Aveeno, Avon, Revelon, Smashbox, Nars, Estee Lauder brands and Johnson & Johnson

WHY IT AFFECTS YOU
- The Average American woman uses up to 12 products on her face every single morning (cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen, foundation, concealer, eyeliner, eye makeup, bronzer, blush, lipgloss, mascara, powder... oh and let's not get started on your nightime routine!!!) ... do you have any idea what is in the products you are using? Actually no one really does because NO ONE is regulating what chemicals are used in beauty products... no one.

- Eighty-nine percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the FDA

- Companies do not have to disclose their 'secret recipes', even when commonly used products from the brands that women rely on the most contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer, organ failure and birth defects.

WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Look up your favorite products in the   Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database to see how it rates and what chemicals it could possibly contain.

- Next time you go shopping for a beauty product take a look at the Environmental Working Groups highly rated cosmetics listed at Body Sense

  -Limit the amount of products you use on a daily basis, especially if it contains FRAGRANCE  (this is another word for phthalate an endocrine disruptor that causes reproductive  disorders in boys, early puberty in girls associated with increase risks of breast cancer, among other things)






Saturday, December 3, 2011

ANATOMY OF NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN BLOG

Hello! Welcome to the Non-Toxic Munchkin Blog!

This blog is meant to make transitioning to and living a non-toxic healthier life fast and easy... after all, let's face it, our munchkins already take up a lot of our time!  My 'munchkin' is almost 2 and it is thanks to him that I am so committed, not only to making sure he is protected from toxic chemicals so he can live a long healthy life, but also committed to sharing my research and knowledge with friends, families and other munchkin moms!  The key to successfully raising a non-toxic munchkin in a non-toxic house?   It can't be overwhelming and it must be EASY and  FAST

Our blog will be divided into 3 sections, that will hopefully make navigating it easy and, more importantly, help YOU stay informed and get tips on how to transition and live a non toxic life!

NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN's ABC's
Making the transition to a non-toxic life can be overwhelming and confusing.   Let's face it, most of us are not trained to pronounce, much less know the difference between polytetrafluoroethylene, Phthalates and polybrominated diphenyl ethers  (known and/or suspected carcinogens commonly found in most households in, among other places, non stick pans, air fresheners and our mattresses - eeck!).   The Non-Toxic Munchkin's ABC's will serve as an easy to follow dictionary that will allow you to understand what is behind a name and how it can potentially affect you... the idea being that slowly you will become familiar with many of these terms and be able to avoid them in your life ... after all every non toxic munchkin needs an educated mom!

This section will grow with time .. and if you come across  a word or chemical or concept that you are not clear about feel free to submit it to us!  we can do the research for you and include it here !

NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN'S 1,2,3's
Like I mentioned, making the transition and continuing to live a non toxic life can seem like a HUGE overwhelming challenge..... where do you start when it seems like everything we have contact with on a daily basis is exposing you to a potentially toxic chemical? Never fear!  The Non-Toxic Munchkin's 1,2,3's are here!   The only way that you will stick to a non-toxic lifestyle (after all, this can't just be a phase!   If you want to have a non-toxic home you will be facing decisions every single day for the rest of your life!) is if it can be easy and fuss free.   The good news is that any little step you take will help make your home healthier... and in this section you will find lots and lots of 3 easy steps (Special Agent Oso would be proud!) to take -fuss free- to make your family healthier today and tomorrow!  

Living a non-toxic life (for your munchkin and yourself! ) can be as easy as 1,2,3!

NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN'S NEWS BRIEF
We are all busy moms and, lets face it, some of us have the attention span of a ... well, er, munchkin, when it comes to reading long scientific articles or studies...especially when the studies and news articles almost require a PHD to understand!  Never fear!  I am a trained journalist and nerd at heart so I will read all these studies for you and include a couple of short bullet points with the most relevant points, along with a short explanation of how this or that affects you and your munchkins ... almost like the cliff notes for GREEN related news!  Expect constant updates on the latest studies, legislation that affects you and all toxic chemical related news and information as it comes out.   Fast, easy and informative for non toxic munchkin moms who want to stay informed!

As a mom I really do hope that this blog is able to help other moms raise healthier kids... if you have any ideas, suggestions or questions please contact me!   Enjoy!