Monday, June 29, 2015

The Car Seat Dilemma: They Save Lives but Could They Be Making Kids Sick? How To Choose the Least Toxic Car Seat in 2015

(in December 2016 a new study tested 15 car seats for flame retardant chemicals.   To read the results, read our blog post ' FLAME RETARDANTS CHEMICALS STILL USED IN ALL BUT ONE CAR SEAT BRAND TESTED (NEW STUDY)

Few posts have garnered as many views, questions and comments in this blog as our posts on choosing the least toxic car seat. 


As parents, many of us are clearly frustrated that a product that so obviously needs to be used every single day and that keeps our children safe inside a car is also, at the same time, exposing them to some pretty bad toxic chemicals.

What is worse?

There is just no reliable way of telling which seats have which chemicals, or how much of them. Even companies who claim to be using "safe flame retardants" (according to the study I will mention below) it turns out use potentially toxic chemicals in their car seats. Company websites and even customer service representatives are often times giving out incorrect information to concerned consumers.

What is a concerned parent to do?

We all have to use car seats. Period. They save lives. So the question really is: how do you choose the least toxic option?

New Study

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How To Keep Your Berries Mold Free

Does your family love berries as much as mine does?  Seriously - my kids (ages 2 and 5) will each eat a package of (organic!) blueberries or raspberries or blackberries in one sitting and ask for more.  They will have berries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks too. 

  It is great for their health, so no complaints.  However, at an average cost of 4.99 a package (for blueberries, rasberries or blackberries), I do get really annoyed if after 2 days they grow mold and I have to throw them out.   GRRRRRRRRR

 It has probably happened to you - it happens to us on occasion so I have resorted to buy less quantities and return 3 times in a week to the store to refill. 

Today, however, I ran across an article in Time magazine (authored by @Food52) that promises a solution to moldy berries.... a non-toxic solution!

  1.   Wash your berries when you get home from the store. Place them in a large bowl  with one cup white vinegar: 3 cups water.  According to Time, if you wash your berries in a vinegar solution you can "extend their shelf life by days (sometimes even weeks)" because the vinegar eliminates the mold and bacteria (which is why we ALWAYS recommend cleaning the house with vinegar and water).
  2.  Drain the vinegar solution well and rinse the berries  under cool water so that your berries won't stay with a vinegary taste.
  3. The next really important step is to dry your berries well. If they remain humid, mold will return quickly so make sure they are well dried.   One recommendation is to place them in a salad spinner lined with a couple of layers of paper towel (to protect the berries from squishing) and spin the berries until dry. 
  4. Finally, place them in a -preferably glass- container (not in the tight plastic boxes they come in) and leave them uncovered or partially uncovered so as not to trap any sneaky moisture.

This is a great non-toxic and inexpensive way to clean fruit and veggies and make them last longer and, more importantly, enjoy every last one of them!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Its a Bugs Life: Safest Options In Order To Avoid Getting Bitten This Summer

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Summer fun = long days, sun, picnics, hikes, water activities, outdoor time and, yes BUGS.   Mosquitoes, ticks -  they all love the summer months and there are few things worse than a child that has been bitten by a couple of mosquitoes and can’t. Stop. Scratching.   What is worse, though?  The illnesses many of these bugs can spread.  Lyme disease affects about 300,000 people each year.  Dengue, West Nile and  Chikungunya are increasingly common.  

Guess what? May through August is peak period for ticks and mosquitoes in the US - so we are in the heart of it in most places around the country.  So, in addition to putting on sunblock, you need to think about bug repellent.... but which is the most effective and which are safe to use on children?

DEET works.   There is no doubt about it, however it is a very strong chemical with serious potencial side effects like seizures, disorientation and slurred speech.  If for some reason you have to use DEET (if you live in an areas infested with disease-carrying pests), use it but do not abuse it.   Always choose a product with less than 30% DEET (increasing concentration does not increase efficacy) and try not to overuse; this should NOT be used on a daily basis, especially on children.  Canadian authorities suggest  children ages 6 months - 2 years who live in infested areas should only use products with concentrations of  5-10% and limit application to once per day (children 2 years- 12 should limit to 3 times a day)

The good news is that the CDC, Environmental Working Group and Consumer Report has found that lemon eucalyptus oil is just as effective as DEET and a much safer alternative.   The bad news is that it is not advisable to use in children under 3 years of age.  Additionally, lemon eucalyptus can cause “severe but temporary eye injuries”  so you need to keep it away from eyes.  The most effective of the bunch that Consumer Reports found was  Repel with Lemon Eucalyptus, however the company does not disclose its ingredients.   It only says the product is 30% Lemon Eucalyptus.   A company that will not disclose what 70% of its ingredients are is shady, so I would not recommend. 

This is still a chemical, but if you are facing massive tick infestations it is a better alternative to DEET.  30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus (p-Menthane-3,8-diol) warded off mosquitoes for at least 7 hours and kept deer ticks away for at least 6 hours.  If using on kids (age 3 or older) try to spray on clothing instead of skinAt the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, and wash treated clothing in a separate wash before wearing again.

This is a synthetic chemical made to resemble piperine, the natural compound found in plants used to make black pepper.  In order for it to be effective the spray must contain at least 20% picaridin.  

The Environmental Working Group considers Picaridin  to be a good DEET alternative with many of the same advantages and without the same disadvantages- however recognizes longer term studies are necessary.  

This is a good alternative for those days when you need full coverage (walk in the woods etc) but, ideally, not on a daily basis.  

Although they have been found to be less effective than the chemicals listed above, depending on where you live if there are no serious illnesses threatening, it might be worth it to try these products first since they are much safer for young children.  
Among them:
  • Carnip oil:  7% and 15% concentrations offer 7 hours of mosquito protection, no tick protection
  • Citronella: 4.2% concentration  provides 1 hour of mosquito and tick protection.  Citronella may cause allergic skin reactions , so use with caution
  • Castor oil
  • Cedar oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Pepermint oil (might contain limonene, a known allergen )

Ingredients: Oil of Soybean 11.5%, Oil of Citronella 10.0%, Oil of Peppermint 2.0%, Oil of Cedar 1.50%, Oil of Lemongrass 1.00%, Oil of Geranium 0.05%, (73%) Water, Glyceryl Stearate, Beeswax, Vegetable Glycerin, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid.
Comments: I would recommend this only against pesky mosquitoes and not against ticks or if disease carrying mosquitoes are a problem (ie:  West Nile or other diseases)
Ingredients: Active Ingredients: 23% Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, 10% Ricinus Communis (Castor) Oil, and Essential Oils of 4%, Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella), 2% Cedrus Atlantica (Cedar), 2% Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass), 1.5% Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), and 1% Mentha Piperita (Peppermint).  Inactive Ingredients: Water and 0.5% Gaultheria Procumbens (Wintergreen)
Comments:  this is the one we are currently using and, so far, has worked well. Dries quickly and has a nice smell. Once again, I would recommend this only against pesky mosquitoes and not against ticks or if disease carrying mosquitoes are a problem (ie:  West Nile or other diseases)
Ingredients: glycine soja (soybean) oil, ricinus communis (castor) seed oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil, cymbopogon schoenanthus (lemongrass) oil, thuja occidentalis (cedar) leaf oil, mentha piperita (peppermint) oil, cymbopogon nardus (citronella) oil, eugenia caryophyllus (clove) flower oil, geranium maculatum (geranium) oil, tocopherol
Comments:   Its easy to find at most drugstores, which is convenient.  Its a bit oily, but works well against mosquitoes. Once again, I would recommend this only against pesky mosquitoes and not against ticks or if disease carrying mosquitoes are a problem (ie:  West Nile or other diseases)
Active Ingredients: Citronella, lemongrass and cedar essential oils, Inactive Ingredients: water, lecithin, soap bark, vegetable glycerin USP
Comments:   I have used this for short walks during mosquito season- not sure about how effective it would be in the woods- and I would not recommend where there are ticks. However, it worked for us when we did use it against mosquitoes. 
Ingredients: 23% Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil*, 10% Ricinus Communis (Castor) Oil*, And Essential Oils Of 4% Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella)*, 2% Cedrus Atlantica (Cedar)*, 2% Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass)*, 1.5% Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary)*, 1% Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium)*, 1% Mentha Piperita (Peppermint)*
Water, Essential Oil Of 0.5% Gaultheria Procumbens (Wintergreen)*
Comments:  I haven’t tried this one yet but I might next time I order from them.  The ingredients look good and, generally speaking, I like the company.   Once again, I would recommend this only against pesky mosquitoes and not against ticks or if disease carrying mosquitoes are a problem (ie:  West Nile or other diseases)
Similar effect to DEET, yet it won’t harm gear and equipment. Picaridin repels mosquitoes and ticks like DEET and it also repels biting flies, stable flies, black flies, gnat, chiggers, and sand flies. At 20% active ingredient Picaridin; this long lasting topical insect repellent is effective up to 14 hours (lotion) and 12 hours (spray) against mosquitoes and ticks, and up to 8 hours against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies.

Comments: Consumer Reports recently rated this their #1 repellent.   Similar to the Lemon Eucalyptu product mentioned before, I could not find disclosure of the ingredients other than picaridin in the spray (wich make up 80% of the formulation).   I would use with precautions.   Experts say it is a safer option than DEET.

  1.  Protect infants under 2 months from mosquitoes by using an infant carrier covered with mosquito netting with elastic edge 
  2. Use long sleeve clothing and pants
  3. Set up a fan on your back patio, or outdoor play area
  4. Keep peak feeding hours in mind and try to avoid when possible (dusk to dawn for most mosquitoes).

  • Don’t use: Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD on children younger than 3 years old.
  • Only resort to DEET in extreme circumstances. If you must use DEET products stick to concentrations less than 30 percent
  • Avoid repellent mixed with sunscreen:  sunscreen needs to be reapplied often- which could result in overexposing yourself to the bug repellent. 
  • Avoid aerosol sprays in pressurized containers:  you and your young children can inhale chemicals.  instead, stick to lotions or sprays which are easier to control and apply

Thursday, June 4, 2015

New List of Which Canned Foods Contain BPA and Which Don't - How Do the Cans In Your Pantry Stack Up?

BPA.  We know it’s bad for us.   Most parents know enough to avoid BPA in baby bottles and other baby items- in fact BPA-free products are frequently found in the baby aisle (although, please note, BPA free plastic products are proving to be just as bad as those with BPA.  For more information please read our post Stop Messing With My Hormones:  Why Not Even 'BPA Free Is A Safe Alternative)

Yet, most Americans still have significant levels of BPA in their blood.

Why is BPA bad for us?
Bisphenol A is one of the worse endocrine disruptors on the market, linked to a variety of serious disorders.  California even added it to its list of toxic chemicals this year.   It imitates thyroid and reproductive hormones and has been linked to cancer, reproductive damage, obesity and heart disease. 

No doubt about it this is one chemical that everyone agrees you should be avoiding.  The problem is, it is still quite prevelant in every day items.

BPA is especially dangerous for small children and developing fetuses, since children do not metabolize and excrete BPA as quickly and efficiently as adults (Edginton 2009, Ginsberg 2009), and it can pass from the placenta to the fetus with ease.

How are we being exposed to BPA ?
Most people think of BPA and they thing of plastic, however BPA is found in a number of  other items - including the lining  of canned foods.   And in the US, people rely heavily  on canned foods - in fact the canned food industry is booming- people are eating  canned food at an increasing rate ( the canned food market was worth $77 billion in 2013 and is estimated to reach $100 billion by 2020).  

The problem? BPA in the can linings will leach into the food you eat.  

One of the most frustrating things about healthy food shopping is that many family’s choose canned fruit, vegetables, sauces and soups when trying to serve healthy, quick budget friendly dinners at home. But instead of healthy vegetables or sauces they are serving their families food with quite the dangerous chemical.  The worse part? It is really hard to know which company’s have BPA in their canned food linings and which don’t.  

The good news is that this week, the Environmental Working Group has shed some light on the topic when they released there latest study:   BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain.  The bad news?   78 well known brands are still using cans lined with BPA in their epoxy linings for all of their products -  another 32 still use BPA on some of their metal cans  and an additional 100 companies did not respond to the survey at all.

Wondering which canned foods are BPA free?   EWG posted their list of 31 brands  (12%) they found to be using BPA free cans for all of their canned products.  Unfortunately, we still wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying these because these companies were vague and most did not provide what the substitute chemical used is - so no one really knows if alternatives being substituted for BPA-based epoxy are safe.

What to do?
Since there is no federal law requiring food manufacturers to label their products that contain BPA linings, it is up to you as the consumer to protect your family.

  • Choose glass containers and carton/tetrapack containers whenever possible.   Everything from tomato sauce, to soups, to beans can be found in glass or tetrapack containers in most supermarkets and this will always be your safest option.
  • When you have no other choice than to buy canned food, choose from EWG’s list of ‘BPA free’ canned foods, but try to keep these foods at a minimum.   
  • Another option might be choosing frozen vegetables in lieu of canned vegetables.
  • Finally, always opt for fresh fruits and vegetables when these are an option! Especially for children and pregnant women.