Monday, March 30, 2015

If A Product "Might" Cause Cancer - Would You Feed It To Your Kids While Waiting For More Definite Studies?

picture source:

Last week news broke that the United Nation’s World Health Organization (otherwise known as the WHO) was classifying a chemical called glyphosate, as  “ probably carcinogenic to humans”.

The reason we should all care about this particular finding is that glyphosate is the active ingredient in the Monsanto Company’s herbicide Roundup, which happens to be the  world’s most widely-used weed killer

Interestingly enough, 30 years ago the United State's EPA determined that Roundup could cause cancer.  Six years passed and, after reviewing more studies,  the EPA changed its mind and said Roundup did not cause cancer and was indeed safe.  

According to the New York Times, when determining what is or is not a carcinogen, the WHO and the EPA look for different things.  The WHO ” looks at a very narrow question: whether a substance or behavior might cause cancer under some circumstances, even if those circumstances are unlikely to occur. The agency classifies alcoholic beverages as human carcinogens, along with tobacco, arsenic and asbestos. .. Being a hairdresser is classified as probably cancer-causing, the same as glyphosate, because one job involves exposure to dyes.”  

The WHO report did not claim definitely that glyphosate causes cancer, but rather that multiple scientific studies have suggested a link.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Maybe its a good idea to avoid glyphosate
Personally, I rather be safe than sorry.   I prefer to not ingest a chemical, that “could potentially cause cancer,” if I can avoid it until it is absolutely cleared of any connection with cancer.  If you want to avoid glyphosate, read on. 

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world.  It is commonly sprayed on farms,  forests, road sides and in gardens.   

Its main use is on crops such as corn and soybeans that are genetically modified to survive it (Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops), and that account for most corn and soybeans grown in the US.

In California alone, the use of Roundup has increased  65% in the last 10 years:   About 20 percent of it went to almonds alone.

 It can also be found in a generic form and is thus used in many products besides the well known
herbicide Roundup. In fact, it is commonly used in parks and homes.

Make sure you know what, if anything, is being sprayed in your own backyard.  This might be the easiest way to reduce some exposure to this chemical.

Avoiding genetically modified foods is the next  best way to avoid glyphosate (more on that below) , however GM foods do not have to be labelled as such under US law, so this can prove quite tricky.  A couple of states, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have passed local laws requiring mandatory labeling for foods that are genetically modified- but most states do not require labeling.

Unfortunately, according to the WHO report, the chemical has been detected in food, water and in the air after it has been sprayed.  

Glyphosate has already been banned in Ontario, Canada (for home use), Sri Lanka and it is about to be banned in Netherlands.   Brazil is considering banning the chemical because of its links to kidney disease among agricultural workers

At the end, the WHO is telling us that the chemical most likely can cause cancer.  It is not, however, addressing how likely a person is to get cancer from this chemical.  This is why more studies are needed to find out if the chemical can indeed cause cancer in real world situations.   In the meantime its your choice whether you want to take the findings seriously or not.

Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, said scientific data do not support the conclusions. 


As I mentioned, avoiding genetically modified foods is one of the best way to avoid glysophate.  Although buying certified organic food is currently the only way to really know you are not purchasing GM products, make sure is it officially labelled as such.  Another label you want to look out for is the 'Non GMO project Verified' label.   The folks at Healthy Child Healthy World published these tips to help avoid GMO’s 

Avoid high-risk ingredients like soy and corn. The vast majority of the soybeans and corn grown today are genetically modified. This puts food items like tofu, miso, tempeh, and soy sauce as well as corn tortillas, tamales, grits, polenta, and corn meal off limits. 
Find out what oil is used in the kitchen. Unless explicitly labeled, most corn, soybean, cottonseed, and canola oils are probably genetically modified. The same goes for generic “vegetable oil.” Try choosing a cuisine known for using olive oil, like Greek or Italian, or ask that your food be prepared without oil. 
Skip the soda. Most are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (see, corn is truly everywhere!) and diet drinks are typically sweetened with aspartame, an artificial sweetener that can be derived from GMOs.
Choose vegetarian foods. While (most) meat is not genetically engineered at this point in time, it was likely raised on GMO feed. Organic meat, however, can’t be fed GMOs. If you’re eating at a restaurant serving organic meat, you’re good to go.
Choose wild-caught salmon. While the FDA has not yet okayed GMO salmon for sale, it recently concluded that such fish is safe to eat and would have “no significant impact” on the environment. It’s widely believed that final approval will come very soon. These GMO salmon will contain a foreign gene that allows them to grow twice as fast as natural salmon, and labeling will not be required.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why Europe Rocks and the US is Lagging in Chemical Safety Reform

New research out of the European Union found that exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals (also called endocrine disrupting chemicals)  result in health problems that cost the EU more than $175 billion USD a year.  Yes:  BILLIONS a year.  

While researching the health and economic effects of 3 specific health issues linked to endocrine disrupting chemicals, the researchers conclude  that they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems (ADD), diabetes, other health problems.

Of interest to parents and parents-to-be is that the biggest estimated cost (ie the biggest health hazard) were associated with these chemicals’ effects on children’s developing brains - a possible explanation for the large increase, in recent years,   in children with lower IQs, learning and/or behavioral disorders.

Roughly 5% of endocrine disrupting chemicals were included in the study.  Endocrine disrupting chemicals are chemicals that mimic or block estrogen or other hormones.
  •  Bisphenol-A (BPA):  used in hard plastics, linings of canned food containers and thermal store receipts.  These were examined for their links to obesity and diabetes.
  • 2 phthalates:  used as plasticizers in vinyl products.  These were also examined for their links to obesity and diabetes as well as male reproductive effects
  • DDE, which is what the infamous and now banned insecticide DDT breaks down into.  These, too, examined for their links to obesity and diabetes
  • Organophosphate pesticides, including one called chlorpyrifos used on grain, fruit, and other crops.  These pesticides were examined for neurological effects
  • Brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) commonly used in furniture foams until they were banned in Europe and the United States.  Although banned, they are still commonly found in many people’s older home furnishings.  Like the pesticides, PBDEs were also examined for their neurological effects
As I mentioned earlier, the scientists concluded that they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems (ADD), diabetes, other health problems.

Evidence linking the pesticides and flame retardants to neurological effects  (ie:  lower IQ and increase in behavioral problems) was the strongest, showing "near certainty of causation".  The worse (and most costly) period to be exposed to these chemicals proved to be the prenatal period when a child’s brain is developing.

The study was conducted because the EU is debating whether and how to enact the world’s first regulation specifically targeting endocrine disruptors.  If this passes, European citizens would be protected like no where else on earth from chemicals which are so clearly creating havoc among society,  leading to serious (and expensive!) diseases.

Clearly, the evidence is mounting that people's health is being jeopardized by an array of commonly used chemicals- hopefully this new information coming out of Europe will be a wake up call for US policymakers.

- The last time a chemical safety reform bill became law in the US was 39 years ago.
- In the EU a chemical company must show proof that a chemical is not dangerous to human health before getting the go ahead to use said chemical in a consumer product.   In the US chemical companies have carte blanche to place any new chemical in any product they want without ever being tested for safety (many times without having to disclose thepresence of the chemical in the producT) .... in fact over 82,000 chemicals are currently being used in consumer products - and they have never been tested for safety.

Ironically, this latest resarch from Europe shows how costly this pro chemical policy in the US can be; if $175 billion usd in yearly health care costs have been attributed to endocrine  disruptors in the EU, the healthcare cost in the US for these same chemicals would, arguably,  be even higher than that.  What does this translate too?  According to National Georgraphic, “it is more than the combined proposed 2016 budgets for the U.S. Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, National Park Service, and Environmental Protection Agency combined.”  Its a lot of money!  

What is the United States doing?  There was some promise coming out of Washington as a two year effort to update the 39 year old federal law that regulates (or doesnt regulate, as is the reality) toxic substances. 

However, according to the San Francisco GAte newspaper,  “The draft bill,  is in the form of a Microsoft Word document. Rudimentary digital forensics — going to “advanced properties” in Word — shows the “company” of origin to be the American Chemistry Council.”  

Who is the American Chemistry Council? It  is the leading trade organization and lobbyist for the chemical industry.  So basically, the law intended to protect the American people by regulating toxic chemicals was written by the chemical companies.  

I havent read the bill, and I understand how badly the US needs chemical reform, yet the new bill falls way short......  then again, what can you expect from a bill that was written by members of the chemical industry (introduced by Sens. Udall and Vitter).

If ever you feel the need to protest or take action - this is really the time.   TODAY.   Call your Senator and tell them this bill cannot pass since it is written to protect the chemical company interests and not the American people.

No time to call?  Click on EWG's link and send out a prewritten letter to President Obama and your local senators

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Just One Small Change In Each Room = Big Impact On Your Health

A client recently challenged me to giving her ONE easy change per room that would make a difference in decrease her family's exposure to toxic chemical.  She new it was important to make some changes, but was overwhelmed by all the literature she found online and, quite frankly, did not have a lot of time between work and being a mom and wife to go crazy overhauling her life and home.  At this point, she wanted easy-breezy & healthy.

Challeng accepted. 

Little changes can have a huge impact on your family's chemical exposure.   Stop eating canned foods and your family's BPA levels will fall drastically.  Switch to non-toxic natural cleaning products and you are probably doing the single best thing to decrease your home chemical exposure. Small changes do make a difference, and the best thing is that these small changes dont always have to cost a lot of money. 

ROOM:  Foyer/ entryway
Change THIS: Adopt a no shoes policy inside the house
Why?: Think about where you walk every day; over grass in the park, sidewalks, streets, gas stations, supermarkets,  parking lots, well the list can go on and on.  What you normally don't think about is that everything you step on (pesticides at the park, rodent poop, garbage, petroleum products and on and on.) you bring home with you.  If you have toddlers they are crawling around and touching and tasting (come on, they spend the day with their hands in their mouth) all that nasty stuff your shoes brought home.   Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) specifically recommends shoes remain outside to avoid lead exposure in children.  

Room:  Living Room
Change THIS:  Vacuum frequently with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter
Why?: Most families spend a large part of the day in the family room.  Kids play on the floor, and people walk through the living room constantly.   Most electronics (tv's, cable boxes, gaming consoles, entertainment systems etc) are located in the living too, and most of these are treated with flame retardants.   Most upholstered furniture (sofa's, armchairs etc) are treated with flame retardants (although if you are in the market to change sofas this is a great time since laws requiring flame retardants on upholstered furniture have recently changed.   Read more).  Flame retardants are know to migrate out and into dust particles which you breathe in and which younger children who are all over the floor ingest.  The cleaner your living room is, the easier you can breathe knowing that chemicals related to   thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, behavioral changes, hearing deficits, delayed puberty onset, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations and, possibly, cancer. are not entering your little munchkin's bodies.

Room: Kitchen
Change THIS: This was a hard one, since there is a lot you can change in the kitchen, however I am
going to say get rid of non-stick teflon pans.   I have been in so many kitchens that only have non stick teflon pans - if this is your case STOP USING THEM NOW.   RIGHT NOW. 
Why?:  Teflon is so toxic that it is being phased out of cookware (and let me tell you that chemical companies are so powerful that it takes a lot of proof that a chemical is toxic for chemicals to be taken out of products that are so popular!!) .  Switch to cast iron, stainless steel (my choice) or ceramic.  

Room: Bathroom
Change THIS: Switch to a natural non-toxic body/shower gel /soap
Why?:  Most of us shower with warm water - warm water opens our pores.  When we shower our bodies absorb a good amount of what is slathered all over our skin- including 2 especially bad chemicals that are found in most conventional shower gels:  phthalates and parabens.  
  • Phthalates:  Most shower gels and soaps smell. This is probably why you like them and buy them, however chemicals called phthalates are used to bind fragrance molecules to different products.  Every time you read (or smell) the word 'fragrance' in the ingredient list, it is code for phthalates.  Why are phthalates bad? These hormone altering chemicals are considered 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" and have been also linked to human reproductive problems, decrease sperm counts, damaged sperms, behavioral problems, premature birth, birth defects and respiratory difficulties in children  (potentially linked to asthma).  Switch to natural nontoxic options.  Castille soap is by personal favorite
  • Parabens:  Parabens are used as preservatives to lengthen the life span of your beauty products - yet they might be shortening yours. They have been found to provoke the growth of breast cancer cells in lab studies.

To find a body wash that is free of these chemicals search the Environmental Working Groups 'Skin Deep' database

Room:  Bedroom
Change THIS: Open windows every day.  Even in winter!
Why?:  Indoor air is usually more contaminated than outdoor air - even if you live in a big city.  How is this possible? You can thank contaminated dust (with flame retardants from furniture and electronics, among other chemicals) volatile organic compounds (VOC's are found in new carpets and new furniture, paint, particle board, plywood and pressed wood, new plastics and electronics, cleaning fluids, varnishes, shampoos, dry clean clothing, air fresheners etc) and the very products you use to clean your house.   Clorox fumes, phthalates in that pine/lemon  fresh smelling floor cleaner etc make cleaning products one of your house's biggest contaminates.  Opening windows every day allows these toxins to escape and allows your family to breathe cleaner, fresher air.

Room :  Baby's Nursery
Change THIS: Invest in an organic mattress.
Why?:  While new laws have made selling upholstered furniture without flame retardants easier, these efforts have not been extended to mattresses.  This is unfortunate, especially considering that cribs are said to be the primary source of toxic exposure during the first year of life.  Parents might think the government regulates what is used inside crib mattresses, but it doesn't. In fact, there are no regulations regarding chemicals in mattresses.  

What can we find in a non organic mattress? Many conventional mattresses have polyurethane foam, which is very flammable and thus ends up being doused in flame retardants.  They also might be exposing your baby to phthalates, PVC and other chemicals.  The first years of a baby's life is when they develop the most and thus are the most vulnerable to chemical exposure- this is why choosing an organic crib mattress, while expensive, is really the safest option for babies who spend such a large part of their first years sleeping.  As a reminder, flame retardant chemicals have been linked to neurobehavioral issues, developmental disorders, endocrine disruption, reproductive health problems, diabetes, and even cancer. PVC, which can make up to 30% of non organic mattresses, has been linked to asthma, lung damage and allergies. 

Room:  Laundry Room
Change THIS: Stop using fabric softener
Why?: I grew up loving the Snuggle fabric softener bear commercials.  Every time he bounced on that pile of oh-so-fluffy (and sweet smelling, no doubt) towels I wanted to cuddle there too.  The reality?  Fabric softener is not something you want your little kids, or anyone, cuddling close too.   Why?  Fabric softeners and dryer sheets coat our clothes with a subtle layer of slimy chemicals, called quats, which are made up of a cocktail of hard to pronounce and not really healthy chemicals (they are also found in antibacterial wipes), These quats are known to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy people.

As for the flowery smell?  Yes, you probably guessed it:  it is loading your crib sheets, towels and cute children's clothes with the endocrine disruptor phthlates (read above for why they are so bad).

Alternatives?  1/2 cup of white vinegar per load during the rinse cycle  is said to help.  I use rubber balls that are sold in some stores to help alleviate static in the laundry.

There you go, small steps - as little as one change in each room of your house, can and do add up. Make these easy, quick, small changes and you can feel good about making your home less toxic for your family and still have time to finish up your weekly to do list !