Friday, May 29, 2015

5 Hacks for Non-Toxic Parenting



Our children are exposed to  hundreds of chemicals on a daily basis;  the average newborn has over 200 chemicals in their umbilical cord blood.   Why is this scary?

   Well, many of these chemicals have never been tested for safety on humans, let alone young children or fetuses.   Once they are born, children will continue to be exposed to a cocktail of chemicals on a daily basis, since everything from mattresses, clothing, bath products, sofas, toys, plates, baby bottles, flooring, and food harbor some nasty chemicals.  Are many of these chemicals dangerous to our children’s health?  Most would say yes, since constant exposure (even in small amounts) over long periods of time to the most common chemicals like BPA, phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, VOCs have been linked to a number of ailments (some won’t show up for years) including developmental disorders (autism, ADD etc), endocrine disruption, respiratory disorders and even cancer. Due to their small size, pound for pound, children get higher doses of chemicals than adults.  So while genetics play a big role in your child’s intelligence and health, so can toxins.

The key to non-toxic parenting, however, is to avoid being overwhelmed.  The goal is to achieve a life style change and not a quick fix.  Thus, small, constant changes can have a big impact on your family’s health.

Here are 5 tips for non-toxic parenting that you can implement today

1.  Ditch the plastic.   
At some point in history, it seems,  everything child related became synonymous with colorful plastic.  Our children are surrounded by plastic everything:  toys, baby bottles, sippy cups, plates, play jewelry. Why are some plastics bad?  Some plastics can expose your child to chemicals like BPA and phthalates which are proven endocrine disruptors. Even BPA free products are proving to be just as bad to your child’s health as those with BPA.  

The reality is that, even if you wanted to, you would not be able to eliminate 100% of plastics in your children’s lives.  BUT if you stop buying plastics at home, you can relax a bit about what happens outside of the home.

Alternatives? Choose wooden toys, stainless steel or glass (with silicon protectors for the little ones) bottles, cups, plates and utensils.

2. Dust.  Like a judgy mom is coming over this afternoon.  
I know moms and dads have our plates full and keeping a tidy home is not always entirely possible, however your house’s dust is most likely pretty toxic.   Toxic chemicals like flame retardants (which can be found on most upholstered furniture and electronics) migrate easily from the product they are sprayed on to your house’s dust.  The toxic dust then makes its home in the most child friendly spots in your home:   on the floor and amongst toys that are rarely cleaned.  When we don’t dust, our young children lay, crawl or play with the dusty items - thus exposing themselves to the chemicals.   Keep dust to a minimum around the house, vacuum often (ideally with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter) and throw toys in the bathtub for a quick scrub down.

3. Choose the right jammies.  
Most parents don’t like the idea of tucking their children in at night with jammies full of flame retardants- unfortunately, many are.   Why?  The US’s Federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) children’s sleepwear flammability standards require manufacturers of “Children’s Sleepwear such as nightgowns, pajamas, or similar or related items, such as robes”  to use flame retardants.  

The flame retardants currently in use, such as tetrakis phosphnium chloride, have been linked to health effects including tumor promoting activities, liver, nervous and reproductive system damage.

The good news is that not all PJ’s are created equally.  The pajamas that usually do contain the flame retardants are warm ones made out of fleece and other warm material.  Instead, choose tight fitting garments that do not have flame retardants.  These do, however, have to be labeled  with a hangtag that clearly states that the item should be worn tight fitting and does not have flame retardants.  Also exempt from the standard are PJ’s smaller than 9 months and larger than size 6x.

4. Wash Wash Wash their hands... with soap not gel
In an effort to avoid having your children continuously come home from the playground with a new virus (which, will always then contaminate the entire family) many well intended parents rely heavily on antibacterial gels to ‘wash’ their children’s hands- at the park, after class, throughout the day, every day.  In fact, at many preschools, teachers ‘wash’ the student's hands with hand sanitizer gel before lunch.

Many of these antibacterial products (including body wash, hand soap, wipes and gels) contain chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban which, with constant daily use,  could be increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics and disrupting thyroid function in the user.  Additionally, no evidence has been found that they are more effective in preventing the spread of germs than washing your hands with soap and water. 

Your alternatives?  Hand washing is really important- not only to avoid the spread of germs but, also to decrease the chemicals transferred from your children’s hands to their mouths.   Plain old soap and water work best (read the label and avoid fragrance in addition to triclosan and triclocarban when buying soap) but for those situations when these are not available, choose gels that are alcohol based.   Avoid products that claim to be “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial”.


5. Make sure the color in your child’s diet is natural not synthetic 
When a nutritionist recommends you eat a colorful diet he/she is referring to colorful fruits and veggies.  Unfortunately, many kids today eat a different kind of colorful diet :  one produced by a variety of artificial colors.  The problem with artificial colors?   They have been found to increase hyperactivity in most children and the most common dyes ( Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) have been found to be contaminated with known carcinogens; Red 3 in itself is a known carcinogen.

Considering over 5.8 million children in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD and 69% of those are taking medication, artificial dyes in our children’s diets are indeed a big deal.  Study’s have found that hyperactive children’s behavior improves dramatically when these artificial colorings are removed from their diet- no medication necessary. 

Does your child regularly eat peanut butter crackers, cereals, soups, chips, granola bars, candy, soft drinks, fruit roll ups, frozen meals or cupcakes? Well known brands like Kool Aid, Sunny D, Kraft, Cap’n Crunch, Betty Crocker, Cheerios, Aunt Jemima,  Keebler among many others, all contain high levels of food coloring

As parents, the tricky part is that it is not always obvious which foods contain food dye, nor how much they contain.  For example, a bowl of prepackaged macaroni and cheese or a bowl of children’s cereals could have 30 mg of dye which is the amount found to cause behavioral problems in some children. 

The EU requires food manufacturers to label foods containing dyes stating “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention to children”- this regulation has resulted in many manufacturers switching from artificial food dyes to natural food coloring in the EU.  Most, however, kept the artificial colors in the food they sell in the US.  Kraft is one company that recently agreed to remove all artificial food dyes from their mac & cheese sold in the US by 2016 (this had been available in Europe for years).

How to remove these chemicals from your children’s diet?  Look for natural, unprocessed food (ideally organic) or turn to the food label and search for  natural food coloring like Beet juice, beta-carotene, blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, grape skin extract, paprika, purple sweet potato or corn, red cabbage, and turmeric are some

Monday, May 18, 2015

Not All Sunscreens Are Created Equal - Where Does Yours Stand?



PLease note:  EWG's sunscreen guide link has been updated to reflect 2016 changes! 
Memorial Day weekend is this weekend;  the (unofficial) start of summer - so lets talk sunscreens!

Everyone should be wearing sunscreen on a daily basis, especially during summer.   We should not only be wearing it daily, but if we spend time outdoors we need to be reapplying throughout the day- that is a lot of sunscreen you and your family will be using!

It makes sense, then, to buy a sunscreen that will protect you and your family from the sun's dangerous rays and not expose you to numerous dangerous chemicals.   The good news?  Today, there are is a plethora of safe, non-toxic alternatives available.   There is no reason NOT to buy a safe non-toxic sunscreen; you just need to know what to look for and which to choose, because the one you have been using since you were a little child might not be the safest option.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Tried & Tested Non-Toxic Cleaning Guide

The birds are chirping, the snow has melted, the flowers are growing:  it's been Spring for a while now.  Have you tackled Spring Cleaning? If not, its a great time to make a transition into non-toxic cleaning this Spring!

WHY?

Ask yourself: are your cleaning products cleaning your house or contaminating it? Your family will touch, breathe & absorb the ingredients used in your cleaning products - for days after you cleaned, and continual exposure to hundreds of cleaners, even some of those labelled as "green" or "natural," can have serious health effects, especially on children.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

THE ORGANIC EFFECT: What Happens When a Family That Doesn’t Eat Organic Food Suddenly Starts Eating Organic?



A lot has been written about how beneficial, or not, buying organic food for your family is.   After watching this video, it is hard to deny that conventional food is exposing you and your family to pesticides.   

The Swedish Environmental Research Institute IVL was commissioned by the Swedish supermaket chain COOP (who sells mostly conventional foods but also offers organic products) to find out exactly what happens when you switch from eating conventional food to a 100% organic diet. 

The family of 5 that was chosen cannot afford to eat an organic diet.  The researchers provided 2 weeks worth of organic food and measured their pesticide levels before and after.  The result? Watch this 90 second video - because they are truly incredible.



THE STUDY AND ITS RESULTS
After watching the video you will be able to see the drastic drop in pesticide levels in every member of the family.  There is no denying that food is one route of exposure to some really bad pesticides. This is particularly true for children who eat and breath more in relation to their body weight and thus, have higher concentrations of any given chemicals in their body after similar exposure rates than the adults. 

If you live in the United States, the pesticides you are being exposed to are even more worrisome, since the US allows pesticides to be used that are banned in Europe (for more on this read our post 

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


Although the highest levels of pesticides (when the family was eating a conventional / non organic diet) are still lower than the European Union's " acceptable daily intake" - as the scientist in the video mentions, there is no method for calculating  the effect of multiple chemicals simultaneously over a long period of time (the combination effect ).

Eating organic foods reduces the levels of a number of chemicals and substances that we are exposed to through what we eat. This in turn, reduces the risk of a long-term impact and combination effects they could potentially have on our health.


NOT JUST FOOD
Interestingly enough, the study took into account that other household products such as personal hygiene products, detergents, and new clothing may contain ingredients which break down into a pesticides. Consequently, laundry detergents were changed during the organic weeks.   Additionally, the family was also asked not to wear newly purchased clothing, bedding, or towels and use "environmentally friendly" personal hygiene products such as shampoo, conditioner, and skin care products during the experiment.


WHY ARE PESTICIDES BAD FOR US?
By design, pesticides are meant to kill living things. It makes sense (and there are years of research that show)that pesticides not only kill bugs and fungi in crops, but that they can do damage to human beings, especially children and pregnant women.  Pesticides are linked to health problems including: 

  • Cancer
  • Hormone Disruption
  • Abnormal brain and nervous system development
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has pointed to science linking pesticide exposure to a range of childhood health issues including reduced birth weight, ADHD and impaired mental development.  

CONCLUSION
 As I mentioned, no approved method exist to study the effect of multiple chemicals simultaneously, i.e. the possibility that chemicals interact with one another to give a stronger or weaker effect than they would have individually. However, the report says it best:

"Given how little we currently know about the combination effects of all the different chemical substances that people are exposed to in their day-to-day lives, it may be wise to apply a principle of caution in this regard."

This study clearly shows that one effective way of reducing your family's chemical exposure is by choosing organic food.  Choosing organic foods not only reduces the levels of a number of pesticides that we are exposed to through what we eat, but also reduces the risk of a long-term impact and combination effects.

This is not the first time a study of this type has been conducted.   The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study titled "Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages" in 2012 .  In it it talks about one study where children switched to an organic diet for 5 days, after which the levels of pesticides in their bodies dropped to almost undectectible levels.  





Thursday, May 7, 2015

Removing Water Stains From Wood Furniture Without Using Chemicals

In the course of 5-10 minutes while I finished getting ready in my bedroom this morning my two mischivous munchkins got into what appeared to be an epic water fight - and our new wooden dining room table got stuck in the middle.  I didn't think too much of it  (the table, not the water fight) as my sons and I wiped up the wet mess.  That is, until about an hour later, when I realized a large corner of the table had been overlooked by us and some pretty big water stains had formed.


&$#*!.  I mean, it is a brand new table... but, when you live with little kids these things are bound to happen....... then I came across a non-toxic quick fix for getting rid of water stains using my #2 favorite ingredient :  baking soda (#1 goes to vinegar!).  Why not?  so I gave it a try

Here are pictures of the water stains- 


According to the recipe you mix 1 Tablespoon of baking soda with 1/2 tsp of water and form a paste.   place the paste on top of the water stain and rub it in until the stain has disappeared.



Not only did it work- my little munchkin helped me.   

I did a bit more research and it seems like this method really only will work on recent water stains or white/ light colored stains because the light color is a sign that the moisture hasnt reached the actual wood- it is just trapped in the finish.  If you have a dark colored stain you usually would have to refinish the piece.   

In any case, baking soda paste definitely is an easy and non-toxic place to start if your battling water stains of your own.






Monday, May 4, 2015

Non-Stick Pans, North Face & Patagonia Ski Jackets and Microwavable Popcorn May Be Quite Hazardous To Your Health

photo credit: http://prospect.rsc.org/

Want to make one change in your kitchen that will have the biggest impact on your long term health?   Get rid of your non-stick Teflon pans.   Here, at Non-Toxic Munchkin, we have said it over and over and the reason is best described by a recent investigative piece by the Environmental Working Group describing the battle to rid us of the highly toxic chemicals called Per-or poly-fluorochemicals, or PFCs.  PFC’s, are used to make water-, grease-and stain-repellent coatings, in addition to Teflon pans.

Internal documents revealed DuPont had long known that C8, also known as PFOA, (a type of PFC)  caused cancer, had poisoned drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley and polluted the blood of people and animals worldwide. But the company never told its workers, local officials and residents, state regulators or the EPA. After the truth came out, research by federal officials and public interest groups, including EWG, found that the blood of almost all Americans was contaminated with PFCs, which passed readily from mothers to unborn babies in the womb. In 2006 the EPA confirmed that PFOA is a likely human carcinogen.

DuPont was fine in 2005 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- this fine actually remains the largest ever levied by the organization. DuPont did not admit guilt, but promised to phase out production and use of C8/PFOA by this year – 2015.

(That same year, DuPont settlement a lawsuit with about 70,000 West Virginia residents who lived near the plant that dumped the chemical into the waterways and landfills- is was valued at $300 million.  According to EWG DuPont has fallen short of its agreements in this settlement)

Why do we care about PFC’s?  

  • Well,  these chemicals are inside every single American - even unborn babies in the womb
  • They are found in the water supply of 29 states.  
  • This week, a group of 200 international scientists, representing 38 nations, published a call to action for more regulation of these chemicals. 
  • And, the fumes emmited when cooking on a nonstick Teflon coated pan on high heat can kill your pet bird (“Teflon toxicosis has killed hundreds of birds)


What are their effect humans?  These chemicals have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, obesity and low birth weight

How can I avoid PFC’s?
  • Get rid of your nonstick cookware and switch to stainless steel or cast iron
  • Skip optional stain treatment on new carpets and furniture (ie: Scotch Guard and others)
  • Be cautious when buying outdoor clothing. Choose clothing that doesn’t carry Gore-Tex or Teflon tags.  Greenpeace has found PFC in jackets made by:  North Face, Patagonia, Adidas, Columbia and Jack Wolfskin
  • Stain- or water-repellent fabric also tends to make use of these chemicals.. Greenpeace also found PFCs in swimwear by: Disney, Burberry and Adidas.
  • Microwaveable popcorn bags are often coated with PFCs on the inside- pop popcorn on the stovetop instead 
  • Stay away from “PTFE” or “fluoro” ingredients in personal care products (ie: Oral-B Glide floss, is made by Gore-Tex, and should be avoided.)


Can I switch to other nonstick pans?  

Probably not.  New chemicals used, seem to not be much better.  These next-generation PFCs are are now being used in greaseproof food wrappers, waterproof clothing and other products, yet their  names, composition and health effects are hidden as trade secrets.

Your best bet is to switch to safer options, namely stainless steel and casti iron for cooking