A decade ago, I co-wrote a book called The Complete Organic Pregnancy, drawing heavily on my experience waddling around incubating my oldest daughter. I spent those nine months trying to figure out how to protect her little self in an increasingly toxic world.
If I had to re-title that book today, I’d swap in “common sense” or “smart” for “organic.” The science is increasingly clear that, in the absence of solid government regulation, it’s imperative for parents to take simple actions to safeguard their kids from common toxic chemicals linked to a whole host of health issues.
This kind of modern protective parenting — I think of it as defensive driving but for the health of our kids — has become (a little) more mainstream in the past 10 years. Parents have grown increasingly aware of these hazards in our everyday products and are interested in precautionary measures. Sadly, many parents still eschew organic foods, ignore unsafe plastics, and cling to the unscientific notion that they and their parents before them grew up with toxic chemicals and are “just fine.” But even these parents have toxic chemicals on their radar; they’re the talk of the town at birthing class, the playground sandbox, even the preschool spring fair committee.
The list of childhood-related stuff containing harmful substances is long and scary. I’ll rattle off a few, in no particular order: face paint, temporary tattoos, and dyed-cupcake icing at that school fundraiser; things lurking in the nursery like flame retardants in mattresses and upholstered furniture, plus carcinogenic formaldehyde in the pressed wood crib; unsafe plastics in everything from toys to lunch boxes to Halloween costumes; chemically-laced food packaging; hormone-disrupting fragrances in everything from diapers to bubble bath to orange juice; genetically modified ingredients; lawn and garden pesticides; toxic fake plastic grass on playing fields; killer strawberries, plus arsenic in apple juice and rice. All of this comes on top of the old school, well known bad boys like cigarette smoke, asbestos (in crayons and talcum powder, as well as wrapped around the basement pipes), lead, radon, and cadmium. I could go on.
Our kids are so surrounded. Adults are, of course, also at risk. But less so than our offspring; they’re uniquely vulnerable due to size and rapid development (which creates opportunity for mutations). Scientists and doctors everywhere from the CDC to non-profit environmental health organizations are busily conducting study after study and finding plastic chemicals, pesticides, flame retardants, and even some toxicants that have been banned for decades (hi, PCBs!), in cord blood, urine and blood. Of the 80,000 to 100,000 chemicals in commercial use at the moment, we know the health effects of less than 5 percent. Chemical legislation is a total joke; it has not been updated in 4 decades (since I was born!). Legislators and orgs alike are trying for new law, but it’s not going smoothly to say the least. Meanwhile rates of childhood diseases are on the rise — cancer, ADHD, autism (now affecting 1 in 68 children), plus early puberty and obesity. And researchers are linking the uptick to environmental factors.
Primal scream therapy moment: AAAAAAAAH.
Composed? Now it’s time to think about what it all means. Well, no one knows entirely what happens when we’re all guinea pigs, especially in this age of multiple exposures to broad mixes of toxicants day in and day out. As in: What happens when kids are exposed to several hormone disrupting chemicals plus several carcinogens every day over a period of years? Oh and: scientists are now saying low dose exposures of endocrine disruptors can have serious health effects.
Parents can’t stand by and pretend nothing is going on as researchers work to find answers, and politicians work to protect our kids and us. It’s our job to try to avoid toxicants, but it’s impossible to steer completely clear. The name of the game is to minimize exposure to what we know or suspect to be harmful when and where we can. Some people find this overwhelming. Personally I find it empowering. It’s not hard. It’s not a chore. It’s good parenting.
Need help? I urge you to ask your elected officials for a real reform to 1976’s Toxic Substances Control Act.
Isn’t it absurd that this kind of protective parenting is a necessary new normal?