Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Most Toxic Chemical Lurking in Your Kid's Toys

There is a reason these vinyl dinosaurs have been living outside our house for a couple of days now. Both my sons won them at the pumpkin patch we visited over the weekend. Much to my chagrin they were both handed these fun, super smelly, vinyl and super toxic dinosaurs. I was going to tell them to leave it at the pumpkin patch but they looked to happy and proud to have won something and something so 'cool' and big ( both are obsessed with dinos) that we put them in the car and drove them home ( with windows open because of the nasty smell). 

Once home, I put my foot down:  our new pet dinos had to stay outside.  Am I exaggerating? Should I have looked the other way and just let the kids bring the dinosaurs indoors to play with, vinyl smell and all? Well, it's hard to look the other way when you know the facts about vinyl....

What is so bad about vinyl? Vinyl,  is a type of plastic made up mostly of polyvinyl chloride, ( PVC)- and that results in a resistant inexpensive plastic and  that is used in everything from toys to shower curtain to flooring and building materials; PVC is all around us and impossible to completely avoid and yet, unfortunately, PVC is considered by many to be the most toxic plastic.


Oh let me count the ways:
  1. It is a known human carcinogen.  The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labels it a known human carcinogen. 
  2. It is shi**y for your body and for the planet: When you make PVC a bunch of other toxic chemicals are released into nature, polluting the Earth and ending up inside the fatty tissue of many animals that we humans later eat. Many of these cause cancer, birth defects, diabetes, learning and developmental delays, endometriosis, and immune system abnormalities. One of them, dioxin ( used in Agent Orange) is among those released in the making of pvc and is considered the "most potent carcinogen ever tested" and the "Darth Vader of chemicals "  (I kid you not..... !) 
  3. It also exposes you to lead, a known neurotoxin : According to Healthy Child Healthy World " imported PVC products can have disturbingly high lead levels. (One study found levels 30 to 100 times higher than the federal limit for lead in all children’s items.) "
  4. It also exposes your child to dangerous amounts of endocrine disrupting phthalates - especially if your child likes to chew on his or her toys - and which small child doesn't?!   Even phthalates banned in toys by Congress, are often found in PVC. Phthalates released by PVC products are found in indoor air and dust, breast milk, and are most concentrated in children ages 6 to 11 and in women.
  5. The smell gives me a headache. If everything else doesn't convince you, if it makes you feel bad after having it around for a bit that is your body probably rejecting it.
There are so many affordable fun toys made of vinyl - is it especially bad for kids? 
Toys, in particular, are dangerous because of who plays and puts them in their mouth: namely your young kids.

The thing with chemicals and children is that children are not just little adults. Not only are they smaller in size but their brains and bodies are still developing, their metabolism and behaviors (ie: putting things in mouth) make them especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals released by PVC. 

How do we avoid PVC?
Like I always say, we can't live in a chemical free bubble but we can and should take steps to reduce our and our munchkin's exposure to these toxic chemicals.  Here is how:
  •  Avoid soft plastic toys (especially for infants and young children who place them in their mouth)  as they are most likely made from PVC, unless otherwise stated on the packaging. PVC plastics are number 3 recyclables.
  • Look for products made with solid wood (not pressed wood), wool, organic cotton, or stainless steel and that are colored with water-based dyes or non-toxic paints.
Some manufacturers and toys that are PVC free include:

Green Toys –  
Green Toys Dump Truck
 My boy's favorite dump truck these toys are not only non-toxic and great for the planet but they are incredibly long lasting.  Both boys have played - roughly- with this truck and its still in perfect condition.  

Green Toys Dump Truck, Pink
Because little girls like trucks too.  This one is pink for that girly girl who loves pink but also loves trucks! 
Green Toys Tea Set, Blue/Red/Yellow  
Have tea parties inside or outside- this tea set won't have you worried that your child is being exposed to toxic chemicals every time he/she takes a sip of her 'tea' 
Green Toys Ferry Boat with Mini Cars Bathtub Toy, Blue/White 
There is a plethora of vinyl and soft plastic bath toys available.  Finally a nice option that won't expose the kids to harsh chemicals during bath time.

Hape - Beleduc - T-Rex Glove Puppet:  For the dinosaur lover, this is a safe option that also encourages imaginative play.
Hape - Walk-A-Long Puppy:  If its a 'pet' the kids want, wooden pull or push along animal toys like this one are a great alternative

Plan Toys – 
Plan Toys Dinosaur Racer Mini Vehicle
For the little dino and car lover, this is a cute dinosaur on wheels!
Plan Toys Push Along Duck
Push toys have proven to be remarkably popular with my 2 year old.   

Holztiger Wooden Pachycephalosaurus
Made in Europe of 100% maple wood.   This dino will probably last longer than your child's love of dinosaurs (sniff sniff....) 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Teflon in Face Cream? Carcinogen in White Bread? Chemicals Really Are Everywhere...

Two major studies were published this week that found chemicals linked to cancer (and banned in many countries) in a staple of the American diet and a major cosmetic brand's face creams.


The Environmental Working Group published a study that found that the flour used in many commercial baked goods include an additive that has been linked to cancer. Yes, that wholesome yummy bread you use to prepare you child's favorite sandwich could be exposing them to a very toxic chemical.

The chemical is potassium bromate. The reason it is used is to make the bread more white and fluffy in appearance.

What breads were found to have potassium bromate?

EWG found the chemical in over 86 baked goods and other food products, including well-known brands and products such as Hormel Foods breakfast sandwiches, Weis Kaiser rolls and French toast, and Goya turnover pastry dough. The full list can be found at the Environmental Working Group's

If the FDA allows the use of this chemical in bread is it really that bad? Can it cause cancer?

Well, in 1999 the International Agency for Research on Cancer labelled potassium bromate a a possible human carcinogen. The United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and the European Union have either banned the chemical or do not allow it to be used as a food additive. The state of California requires food with potassium bromate to carry a warning label... so the answer seems to be yes.

Animal tests have found that potassium bromate increased incidence of cancer in the thyroid, kidneys, and other organs.

As if that is not bad enough, other studies have found that potassium bromate damaged DNA in the liver and intestines.

Bottom Line

It is insane that a chemical that could potentially be so harmful would be used in a staple of most American's daily diet- just to make the bread look whiter. totally unnecessary and potentially quite harmful.

What can I do?
The best thing to do is look at the list of products found to contain potassium bromite and avoid them. Additionally you should sign the petition that has been started to tell Goya, Hormel Foods and other brands to stop using potassium bromate in their products immediately.


Most women use anti aging skin lotions on a daily basis. It is part of our daily routine. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics it seems some of us might be unknowingly smearing a toxic chemical used in Teflon non-stick pans all over our largest organ: our skin.

Implicated products
Three anti-aging creams from the well known brands Garnier and CoverGirl were found to contain dangerous levels of PFOA.
  • Garnier Ultra-Lift Transformer Anti-age Skin Corrector 
  • Garnier Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisturizer 
  • Cover Girl Advanced Radiance with Olay, Age Defying Pressed Powder

Cover Girl Advanced Radiance with Olay,
Age Defying Pressed Powder
Why is this chemical bad for 
As the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics explains: " Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a probable contaminant of Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a common ingredient of anti-aging products for the sleek and smooth finish it creates. PTFE is also known as Teflon, which is used in nonstick cookware. PFOA is a carcinogen, endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxin. PFOA is ubiquitous in wildlife and can be detected in almost every U.S. adult. PFOA persists in the human body for years"
Garnier Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisturizer

There are very strong links between this chemical and breast cancer. Pregnant women exposed to this chemical also expose their fetuses- and the repercussions for their baby's health can potentially be even more severe since they are being exposed at such a vulnerable stage of development.

Teflon has been found to be so toxic that the company that makes Teflon non-stick pans , Dupont, has agreed to phase it out of their products by the end of this year (2015). Definitely no need to be placing this chemical on our largest organ; our skin.

What can I do?
Due to REALLY BAD laws in the US, the cosmetic industry does not have to disclose the ingredients they use in any personal care product. This means they can, and do, use any amount of any ingredient they want, including chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental harm, hormone disruption and other adverse health impacts, since no government agency requires them to be tested for safety. In essence, the cosmetic industry can use us all as guinea pigs.

The problem in the US is so bad that while the European Union has banned over 1,100 chemicals from use in beauty products, the US has banned about 11.

Using one product with one harmful chemical probably will not harm you, the problem is that we all use many different products (think about it: shampoo, conditioner, body wash/soap, face cream, anti aging serums, body moisturizer, foundation, lipstick, mascara, sunscreen etc) every single day- and are exposed to a host of chemicals throughout the day (flame retardants in furniture and cars, phthalates in fragrance and plastics, pesticides in food, chemicals in water etc). The combination of all of these chemicals is a toxic overload that does lead to long term health effects.

Also, there are plenty of anti-aging creams in the market that do not use the Teflon chemical.... so there is no need to resort to these products.

So, what to do? Avoid the products listed here and try a non-toxic or less toxic face cream. Brands like BeautyCounter, Juice Beauty, Lumene, all of which I have used are all good options that do not expose you to cancer causing, endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Especially important is to not use these products if you are pregnant.

However it is always good to check and avoid if any of these chemicals are listed on the ingredients labels:

  • Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
  • Polyperfluoromethylisopropyl Ether, 
  • DEA-C8-18 Perfluoroalkylethyl Phosphate
  • Teflon

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Because Mold in Your Apple Sauce is Gross: Recall

Most mothers I know have, at some point, fed their kids fruits and vegetable purees that come in those portable, oh so convenient, pouches.  I even know a couple of picky eaters who only eat veggies and fruit from this type of pouch.  At home, I like to have a back up box of the GoGoSqueez Organic Applesauce- which I turn to if (and when) I haven't had time to go to the store or farmer's market, and need a quick portable snack for the kids.   A couple of days ago, though, GoGoSqueez one of the better known and widely available fruit pouch companies issued a voluntary recall. Uh-oh.

After finding mold in some of their products, GoGoSqueez had the mold tested by an "expert microbiologist (who) determined that it poses no known health risk"  (the pouches do not contain any added preservatives which is part of the reason the mold was able to grow).  However, because the company knows that " mold is gross and unpleasant to look at or taste" they have gone ahead to issue the recall. Thanks for that GoGoSqueez because, yeah, it is pretty unpleasant to look at or taste.

How do you know if the GogoSqueez pouches you have at home are affected? Just check their "Best Before date".  If it's between 6/30/16 and 7/26/16, throw them out, call the company at 1-844-275-5841 or visit their website for more information.  Lucky for us ours did not fall in the faulty batch.  I will say that, according to some posts on the company's Facebook page, some pouches with alternate "Best Before Dates" have also allegedly been found to contain mold... so it might be wise to be extra vigilant.

Gross indeed.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The One (easy!) Thing That You Need To Start Doing To Prevent Breast Cancer In Yourself And Your Children

Photo Credit:  Food Matters TV

Every October we are usually reminded to "think pink" in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. For me, it is a very important time since I am reminded that my mother fought and survived breast cancer over 13 years ago!

While buying and wearing pink items could be a nice way to honor the cause, for me the most important thing about Breast Cancer Awareness is that it gives us an excuse to give our own bodies and health the attention it deserves. Let's face it, women, especially mom's, tend to leave their own health for last on their long, long 'to do' lists. This month is our month. Breast Cancer is real and since "known' risk factors like genetics/family history, having children late in life etc account for only 30% of breast cancer cases, the reality is that it is everyone's problem (including men) because just about anyone could potentially get breast cancer. In fact, according to the Breast Cancer Fund, 250,000 men and women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the US each year and 40,000 will die of the disease.

So... what are you doing to prevent breast cancer ?
Most would (hopefully) answer : exercise, healthy diet and self exams. These habits should be ingrained in your daily routine.

But did you know that there is a MAJOR connection between environmental factors (ie chemicals in our environment) and breast cancer? There are over 85,000 synthetic chemicals on the market today. They can be found everywhere, in our lipstick and makeup, on our sofas, in our water, fruits and vegetables, on toys and even on our clothes. Many of these chemicals have been studied and have been linked specifically to breast cancer and yet they are still legally placed in our body lotions, shampoos, makeup, cleaners, hand soaps, perfumes etc.

  • It is time that we add limiting our exposure to certain chemicals to the list of steps we should be doing to prevent breast cancer.
  • It is also critically important we understand that a woman's exposure to chemicals years or even decades before her first tumor appears could very well be the cause of that tumor. This is why prevention should not start in our late 30's or early 40's. Prevention should start when a woman is pregnant and during early childhood. The chemicals a pregnant woman exposes her child to during the +/- 40 weeks of a babies fetal development and in the pre puberty years of early childhood have the possibility to affect that child's health decades later.
What chemicals should I be avoiding?
Ruthann Rudel, Director of Research at the Silent Spring Institute (a not for profit based in Massachusetts that partners with physicians, public health and community advocates and other scientists to identify and break the links between environmental chemicals and women’s health, especially breast cancer) has some good news:

"There are lots of different things you can do to reduce your exposure to breast carcinogens. Here are some of the worst offenders and some tips on how to avoid them:

  1. Flame retardants: Don’t buy furniture or baby products containing flame retardants. When buying, say, a new couch or a new stroller, ask retailers for products that are flame retardant-free. Try to choose bedding, cushions, and upholstered furniture made from naturally flame-resistant materials such as wool, polyester, and hemp.
  2. Solvents: Instead of taking your clothes to a dry-cleaner, find a “wet-cleaner” or one that doesn’t use harmful chemical solvents. Don't paint the nursery if you're pregnant as paint can contain a variety of solvents. Avoid fumes from gasoline and other solvents by storing the liquids in tightly-sealed containers and use only in well-ventilated areas.
  3.  Phthalates: Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften plastics. They're found in plastic food packaging, vinyl shower curtains, and many other consumer products. Avoid plastic food packaging by switching to a fresh food diet, store food in glass containers, and never microwave food in plastic. Get rid of your vinyl shower curtain and replace it with a non-vinyl alternative. In fact, avoiding vinyl products—especially pillow and mattress protectors—is a good idea in general."
Phthalates are also usually found in products that contain artificial fragrance. Switch out that body wash, face or body cream, that smells fruity!

The list of potential carcinogens is longer than three, however by following these easy to follow tips you can make an impact on your long term breast health. Even better news? If you follow these tips while pregnant you are helping your future child prevent breast cancer!

For more information on toxic chemicals in our everyday environment linked to breast cancer read the Silent Spring Institute's 'To Close To Home' feature and follow us, Non-Toxic Munchkin on Facebook and via this blog!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Switching to an Organic Diet Will Significantly Decrease Your Child's Exposure to Neurtoxic Pesticides: and it Doesn't Have To Cost A Lot!

Wondering if eating organic is worth the price tag?

A new study suggests the answer is yes; the cost is worth your investment (and guess what? it doesn't always have to cost a lot more.  Read our tips below!)

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, University of Maryland and Emory University looked at two groups of 3 - 6 year olds, all of Mexican origin, living in California.  Half live in urban Oakland and the other half lived in agricultural Salinas Valley.   Non organic food was switched out for organic food for 7 days.  Both groups saw significant decreases in urine pesticide levels.

How 'significant' was the decrease?  The levels of two known neurtoxic pesticides ( dialkylphosphate and  dimethyl dialkyl phosphate  ) dropped by an average of 40% and 49%.  Levels of a weedkiller, 2,4-D, a possible carcinogen, dropped by 25%.


Organophosphate pesticides, commonly used in agriculture, are neurotoxic at high dosis.  This is a fact.  Residential use of this class of pesticides has mostly been phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency due to healthy concerns for children, however they are still used in agriculture.  The effects of exposure to these  pesticides at low levels over a long period of time are still being studied.  To date, studies have found:

  • Studies have begun to find that prenatal exposure at lower levels could  affect children’s cognitive development (IQ); specifically poorer scores for Working Memory, Processing Speed, Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, and Full-Scale intelligence quotient (IQ).   Even though today's study did not look at prenatal exposure:  a decrease of 40% in levels of dialkylphosphate (one of the organophosphate pesticides looked at) is quite significant and could have an impact on your child's intellectual health.
  • Another study from 2010 found that children with higher dimethyl dialkyl phosphate concentrations (that is the pesticide that dropped by 49% in today's study) were more likely to be diagnosed with  having ADHD
  • Weedkiller 2,4-D has been found in umbilical cord blood and has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma and immune disorders, hormonal disruption and cancer.
  • The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, representing physicians from 125 nations and territories, this week warned that “exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction” worldwide. Among the environmental chemicals they specified pesticides, adding "We are drowning our world in untested and unsafe chemicals and the price we are paying in terms of our reproductive health is of serious concern,”
The good news?  Just as we saw in the video we posted here this summer, you have control of your family's pesticide exposure levels.   Just by switching to organic food, you can drastically decrease the presence and possible health effects in your children's little bodies.

In fact, as this new study's authors state "children consuming primarily organic food in non-agricultural households with no residential pesticide use have minimal or no pesticide exposures".

Not necessarily, if you follow these tips:

  1. The Environmental Working Group's yearly list of fruits and vegetables with highest levels of pesticides ("The Dirty Dozen"  - those fruits and veggies you want to emphasis you buy organic) and lowest levels of pesticides (" Clean 15" - those fruits and veggies you can feel comfortable buying conventional/non organic ) are a great tool that can help you determine when to spend your money  on organic and when you don't have to.  
  2. Farmers Markets all over the country tend to have better prices for organic produce than say, Whole Foods.  Visit your local Farmers Market and get to know your local farmers.  
  3. Stores like SAMS Club, Walmart and Trader Joes, among many other, now carry their own line of organic food at a decent price point.
  4. Online stores like Thrive Market require you to become a member but offer organic food at very low prices