Friday, April 27, 2012

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Chemicals Suspected of Causing Autism: NTM 123's

Now that Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center has released their top 10 chemicals suspected of causing autism and other learning disabilities (to read what these chemicals are go to our blog entry 10 Common Chemicals Suspected to Cause Autism) , what is a parent to do?   Just how common are these chemicals.... and do you have them lurking in your house?

The answer is, unfortunately,  yes.  Most people come into contact with these chemicals  a couple of times a day if you don't make it a point of avoiding them.  Considering the possible dangers behind them pregnant women, especially, should take extra precautions.   Even I , who take great precautions to live a non-toxic life, learned a thing or two and will be making some changes (in my case in my diet since we eat a lot of fish at home!) ... here are easy steps to reduce you and your munchkin’s exposure:

 1.     Methylmercury:

  •  Avoid fish high in mercury, such as king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish, orange roughy, and marlin. Limit consumption of tuna, especially steaks and canned ‘white’ albacore.
  • Fish with lower-mercury  levels include:  wild (NOT farm raised!)  salmon, sardines, anchovies, Atlantic herring, Dungeness crab, Pacific cod, Alaskan black cod, farmed striped bass, tilapia, farmed catfish, clams, mussels, and Pacific oysters.

    2.    Lead:
  • A. If you live in a home built before 1978, it is likely to contain lead-based paint. If you see paint chipping, peeling, or otherwise deteriorating, or if you want to remodel, hire a certified abatement worker to remove or contain contaminated paint.  
  • Because lead can accumulate in dust and breathed in,  use door mats, remove shoes at the door, and vacuum and clean regularly to reduce lead that accumulates in house dust.
  • B. Watch for lead in dishware. Do not use old, imported, or homemade ceramic dishware, unless you know that the glazes do not contain lead.

   3. PCBs:

The most important actions you can take to reduce the PCBs and DDT in your diet are to cut back on animal fats and watch the type of fish you eat.
  • A. Choose fish wisely. S port-caught fish or shellfish are often high in PCBs and DDT. Commercial fish that are high in PCBs include Atlantic or farmed salmon, bluefish, wild striped bass, white and Atlantic croaker, blackback or winter flounder, summer flounder, and blue crab.
  • B. PCB, as well as other toxic chemcials,  accumulate in fat tissue.  When preparing fish, remove the skin, trim the fat, and broil, bake, or grill the fish so that the fat drips away. Fish are an excellent source of nutrients including protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D, so don’t remove fish from your diet—but do be selective about the fish you eat

  4.  Organophosphate pesticides:
  Buy Organic!
  • Choosing organic produce, including frozen organic produce. A 2008 Emory University study found that in children who switched to organically grown fruits and vegetables, urine levels of pesticide compounds dropped to undetectable or close to undetectable levels.
  • For a list of fruits and vegetables that have the highest levels of pesticides and are most important to avoid read out post on HOW TO REDUCE PESTICIDE EXPOSURE AT HOME AND IN OUR DIET: NON-TOXIC MUNCHKIN 123'S

5. Organochlorine pesticides:
  • Since these are commonly used in gardens and parks, wipe shoes on doormats and leave them at the door to avoid tracking in pesticide residues.
  • Control dust which can also contain pesticide residues in your home. Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum if possible. Use damp dust rags instead of feather dusters which stir up dust and disperse it into the air;
  • Avoid all use of pesticides on your lawn and garden and in your house. Opt for natural remedies for your home and garden and to control pests.
  •  If your children  contract head lice, avoid lindane, a pesticide in head lice treatments for children.

   6. Endocrine disruptors:
Oh where to start?   There are so many endocrine disruptors that it is hard to spell out everything you have to do to avoid them.... but here are some easy tips!

  •  Opt for glass, ceramic or stainless steel instead of plastic (to hold or heat food, for water bottles etc)
  • Avoid plastic toys.  The softer the plastic (think:  squeaky toy) the more endocrine disruptor's it probably has
  • Never microwave food in plastics
  • Avoid plastic cling wrap
  • Look for BPA free, Phthalate free products
  • When possible give children natural materials like wood or clothes to play with instead of plastics (especially is they are putting these toys in their mouths)
  • Avoid touching (or letting your child touch) store receipts which have been found to have BPA. 
  • Avoid dust buildup in your home:  dust regularly, use a vacuum with HEPA filter, clean your children’s toys regularly. 
  • Avoid fragrance.   Just about every product that has an ingredient that reads “fragrance”  has phthalates and thus endocrine disrupting chemicals.   These can be found in beauty products, hand cremes, shampoos, makeup, room sprays, perfumes, cleaning products etc

   7. Automotive exhaust
Not only is this linked to autism but a recent study found that children born to mothers with the highest PAH (chemicals found in tobacco smoke and automobile exhaust) levels during their third trimester had a 79% greater risk of becoming obese, compared with children born to moms with the lowest PAH levels. By age 7, the risk was even higher — more than 2.25 times greater.
  • A.  Close your car windows during heavy traffic
  • B.  don’t allow your car to stay turned on inside a garage.

   8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons:

  • One of the greatest sources of exposure to PAHs is through tobacco smoke. Stop smoking and encourage family members to not smoke, at least not inside the house or near you.   
  • Decreasing consumption of smoked and charbroiled foods.
  • Decreasing the use of coal-tar-based cosmetics and shampoos.
  • Substituting cedar shavings or aromatic herbs for mothballs, moth flakes, and deodorant cakes.

 9. Brominated flame retardants
  • Most upholstered and foam containing furniture contains PBDE (a common fire retardant). Buy PBDE-free furniture. IKEA does not use PBDEs in its products, and Serta states that their mattresses produced after 2005 do not contain PBDEs.
  • If you already own furniture that contains PBDEs, cover and seal any rips in upholstery, and consider replacing old items where foam is exposed,
  • Since most conventional mattresses contain, by law, PBDE’s cover them with allergen-barrier casings to reduce the amount of PBDE-laden dust that they release.
  • Buy organic mattresses for your children!
  • Choose electronics made with alternatives to PBDEs, available from Canon, Dell, HP, Intel, Erickson, Apple, and Sony. 
  • Avoid farmed fish. European and U.S. farmed salmon have particularly high levels of PBDEs. Choose wild salmon instead.
10. Perfluorinated compounds
  • Avoid  microwave popcorn bags, french fry boxes, and pizza boxes
  • Choose furniture and carpets that aren’t marketed as “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments such as Stainmaster to these or other items.
  •  Avoid beauty and personal care products with ingredients that include the words ”fluoro” or ”perfluoro.” PFCs can be found in dental floss and a variety of cosmetics, including nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.
  • Beware of nonstick pans, like Teflon.  If you choose to continue using non-stick cookware, be very careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF.   Throw away non stick pans with scratches or signs of deterioration.  Opt for stainless steel pans.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

10 Common Chemicals Suspected to Cause Autism

The  Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center (CEHC) just published a list of the top ten toxic chemicals suspected to cause autism and learning disabilities.

This comes after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published a report last month where it was revealed that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) now affects one out of ever 88 children.... a 78% increase from 2002 and 14% of American children.

While part of the increase is due to the broader definition of what falls into Autism Spectrum Disorder, researchers and parents are asking what is causing these dramatic increases, since the rapid increase is considered far too fast to be of purely genetic origin or purely due to the broader scope.

According to the National Academy of Science, there are multiple probable causes of all neurobehavioral disorders in children (including autism, ADHD etc).  They estimate:
  • 3% :  caused by toxic exposures in the environment
  • 25% caused by the interactions between environmental factors and genetics

Considering the evidence that exists of the vulnerability of the developing brain to toxic chemicals, especially during “windows of vulnerability” (i.e. fetal life and early childhood), it is most probable that early exposure to toxic chemicals can cause damage in early brain development.

So what ‘environmental’ factors, which of the thousands of chemicals that we are exposed to in daily life, are guilty of causing autism? 

The answer is that no one knows with certainty, but in order to help the scientific community figure this out,  Mount Sinai’s Children’s  Environmental Health Center generated a list of 10 chemicals widely used that are already suspected of causing developmental neurotoxicity, including autism.
  1. Lead: 
Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in the U.S.   Although banned in 1978, lead-based paints are still  found in houses built before 1978.   Additionally, though, lead continues to be found in a large array of consumer products, from art supplies and automobile components to specialty paints, some hair dyes, and even candy.

2.  Methylmercury:
Predatory fish and sea mammals have the highest levels of mercury and are the main source of exposure in pregnant women and children.

3. PCBs: 
Widely used as coolants and lubricants, this chemical does not break down in the environment and can have severe health effects on humans.  PCBs in the air eventually returns to our land (crops) and water through snow and rain. In our water, PCBs build up in fish.  The main routes of contamination are through eating contaminated fish

PCBs have recently been found in older schools in NY  in diverse building materials such as caulking, adhesives and sealants used in construction.

4. Organophosphate pesticides:
Used extensively in agriculture.  The main reason to eat organic food.

5.   Organochlorine pesticides:
While some have been banned in the US (like DDT) others are still in use as insecticides... many times in our own backyards and parks where our children play.

 6.  Endocrine disruptor:
Endocrine disruptor interfere with real hormones in one of three ways. They can mimic , block, or triggers the delicate hormone balance our bodies need to function.  There are MANY kinds of endocrine disruptor, some of the most common ones are: PCBs,  Dioxin, BPA and phthalates.

Endocrine disruptors have been shown to cause learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs); sexual development problems, feminizing of males or masculine effects on females, etc.

 7. Automotive exhaust

 8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: 
Most people are exposed to PAHs when they breathe smoke, auto emissions or industrial exhausts. People with the highest exposures are smokers, people who live or work with smokers, roofers, road builders and people who live near major highways or industrial sources.  They are also found at low concentrations in some special-purpose skin creams and anti-dandruff shampoos that contain coal tars.

 9. Brominated flame retardants: 
These flame retardants (PBDEs) are used in televisions and computers, electronics, carpets, lighting, bedding, clothing, car components, foam cushions and other textiles. PBDEs have the potential to disrupt thyroid hormone balance and contribute to a variety of neurological and developmental deficits, including low intelligence and learning disabilities.  Many of the most common PBDE's were banned in the European Union in 2006

 10. Perfluorinated compounds: 
Are chemicals used to make materials stain and stick resistant.  The most common are those found in non stick pans with Teflon and products like Scotchguard,  they can be found in microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, all of  DuPont's Teflon non-stick cookware (if Teflon-coated pans are overheated, PFOA is released).  PFCs are also  in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and denture cleaners.  They are even found in Gore-Tex clothing.

What can you do to reduce you and our munchkin’s exposure to these chemicals?
Read our blog entry Non-Toxic Munchkins 123’s:  How to Reduce Your Exposure to the

Monday, April 23, 2012

Non-Toxic Munchkin Approved!

I have been busy these past two weeks and haven't had time to write in my blog BUT I have been collecting some  ‘new’ fun eco friendly and non-toxic products for our munchkins. 

What makes me really excited is that every day it gets easier (and more stylish) to find non-toxic products for the whole family!  Non-toxic munchkin approved!

Boon Wrap Protective Bowl Cover  

Boon has great products... and this latest one (that I LOVE) is no exception.  The “wrap's adaptable shape slides over most standard bowls, suctions to the table, and acts as a bumper between the dish and hard surfaces. No bowl is getting shot-put across the dining room on your watch”

The design is -of course- uber cool and it solves an issue I have had for a while: how can I use glass or ceramic bowls to serve my son food without the risk of having them break? I have been using melanin  and bpa-free plastics which are fine but, quite frankly, I prefer and believe in glass and ceramic much more than plastic. Who knows what chemicals in the plastics i am using can come up in 10 years to be toxic.....  Problem solved!

** the design is oh so stylish  BUT be warned it is a bit of a pain to take the sleeve on and off... but after a couple of tries it gets easier!


On a similar  note, and equally as adorable, there is Brinware! Made out of tempered glass and with a removable silicone sleeve for added protection and slip resistance, it is a great alternative so that you dont have to choose between your bone china and potentially chemical leaching "BPA free"  plastic (even BPA free shouldnever be placed in the microwave or in dishwasher!!) tableware.  Need another reason to be convinced?  They dont leach toxic chemicals when exposed to microwaving or dishwashing!  

Clementine Art (natural paint, glue, dough, crayons)

My son loves art..... actually he is pretty obsessed.  Play-dough, finger paints, crayons he plays with these almost on a daily basis.  I know the labels on most brands say non-toxic, but it still worries me when I can't pronounce most of the ingredients (or even worse when I cant find the ingredients anywhere).  This is why I love Clementine Art products!  All of their ingredients are natural  (like ground spinach and tumeric for the green and yellow color) so I don't have to worry when my munchkin sneaks in a taste!

BKR Glass Water Bottles

I am a big fan of  Lifefactory water bottles (they come in baby bottle version and sippy top versions for kids too) but much to my surprised I walked into my local Gap in NYC last week and found these adorable glass water bottles with silicon sleeves.  The bright colors and minimalist design make you happy to tote them around ( they are also available in black and brown if you are more low key).  They are fun, stylish, nontoxic and 100% recyclable.


This is a 'why didnt I think of this ' product.....  How brilliant is this? No more excuses at the playground or beach this summer for sunburns!  Not only are they super convenient and ideal for munchkins like mine who I can barely get to hold still long enough to put sunscreen on, BUT they are free of parabens, petrochemicals, fragrances, and phthalates... plus they are approved by Healthy Child Healthy World and rate very low for toxicity on the Environmental  Working Groups Skin Deep Database.  The only thing is that they are a bit expensive (about $34 for 40 wipes) so may be a good idea to have them as a back up for when you forget or when you need to reapply a hyper toddler!

Dr Robin for Kids, Chemical Free Sunscreen for Kids, SPF 30+

While on the topic of sunscreen, now that summer is around the corner, most parents know how important it is to put sunscreen all over our children's bodies.  Obviously you want to make sure that what your putting all over your munchkin's body is not full of toxic chemicals and, sadly, most sunscreens ( even some marketed to babies and children)  are.  My personal experience with non toxic sunscreens has not been great.  They are either very thick and leave a white film all over your body or wash away easily with water and/or sweat leaving you or your munchkin vulnerable to the sun’s rays. This is why I like Dr Robin for Kids.  It goes on relatively smooth and is made especially for baby's sensitive skin ( moms and dads can use it too!).  At home we all use it daily.  And yes, it rates very low on EWG’s Skin Deep database too!

Zoe B Biodegradable Beach Toys

I might dislike and distrust plastic, but I understand there are places when plastic really is the best option.  Example?  Beach toys.  Obviously glass and stainless steel simply will not work in this setting!  My new alternative?   Zoe B Biodegradable Beach Toys! These toys are made of ‘bioplastic’ (made from corn grown in the US versus oil and natural gas used in 'normal' plastic).  Not only are they non-toxic, but they fully biodegrade in 2-3 years if buried in the soil, immersed in water or composted (  ordinary plastic takes up to 500 years to degrade, and even then it only breaks down into tiny particles that are toxic to wildlife and the environment).  Oh yeah and they are fun and stylish too!


Up to now I have mostly used bpa and pthlalate free plastic containers to carry around my sons snacks, but finally I purchased a set of lunchbots stainless steel containers and I love them.  Small, compact, cute colors and no chemicals or potential chemicals to worry about.   I am still looking to find some toddler friendly designs to avoid spillage of cheerios, but for larger food items like cheese or crackers or carrots or sandwiches these are perfect!

Eco Baby Buys

Most of us have heard of Gilt or Groupon or Zulily for kids, well let me introduce you to  Eco Baby Buys.  They make buying eco friendly (non toxic or organic) shopping for our munchkins easy and affordable. Sign up and receive a daily deals  via email every day.