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Top Chemicals Polluting Our Children

Did you know that on an average day your child may consume food or water laced with traces of rocket fuel? Your baby may also be drinking formula or breast milk that would test positive for a cocktail of chemicals including PCBs? No, this isn’t a rant from a hysterical and paranoid mother. These are facts in today’s overly-polluted world, according to recent studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and many environmental groups across the country. For instance, all participants in a recent survey by a coalition of environmental groups had traces of three major chemicals in their blood and urine.

Newsweek reported recently in an article titled, “The Chemicals Within,” that most toxins found in the blood or urine of Americans tested in the survey “Is It In Us?” can be found in everyday household products like baby bottles, tin cans, shower curtains, and upholstery. As a contributor to Fit Pregnancy magazine for many years, I have reported on toxins such as lead, mercury, and PCBs that have been found in breast milk and cord blood. It’s frightening to feel that the health of your family is, to a large extent, out of your control. Last year the thousands of toy recalls frustrated millions of parents who were terrified their children were exposed unnecessarily to high levels of lead. To get a better picture of the chemicals that are likely in our children’s bodies, I spoke with Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, whose recent studies found PCBs in infant formula and traces of rocket fuel in many food sources and in the drinking water of twenty-eight states. 

“I’ve been working in this field for ten years. Chemicals in household items is a common story. When I was a kid we were spraying chemicals out of trucks to kill mosquitoes until we realized it was harmful. What’s important for parents is to find a balance,” says Lundar.  

With awareness, parents can do simple things to lower their children’s exposure. Here is a list of the top toxins polluting our families and ways to try to avoid them:

bisphenol A (BPA).
This plastic hardener is found in baby bottles and in the lining of formula cans. BPA has estrogen-like effects on the body and may increase the risk of cancer. (For more information read: Plastics and Your Health.)

What You Can Do:
Parents should use glass bottles and not heat foods in plastic containers as heated plastic leaches chemicals. If possible, breastfeed.

Phthalates.
This softens the plastic in toys such as rubber duckies. Phthalates have been detected in vinyl kids’ toys and can affect reproductive development.

What You Can Do:
Encourage your teething toddler to chew on a frozen washcloth or even a silicon kitchen spatula.

PBDEs.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are used in many products from upholstery, couch, or carpet padding to computers and TVs. It is a flame-retardant agent. PBDEs, which enter our systems via the air we breathe and animals we eat, may impair brain development and cause thyroid problems. It is most concerning to developing fetuses and babies as it may hinder learning, memory, or motor skills.

What You Can Do:

  • Buy furniture that is PBDE-free. Some countries like Sweden have banned its use, so buying from IKEA, for instance, insures your furniture is free from this.
  • Consider re-upholstering your furniture with wool
  • Consider purchasing an indoor air cleaner with a HEPA filter, buy a good HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner, and dust often
  • Visit Mother’s Milk for names of manufacturers of PBDE-free products


Lead.
Everyone remembers the lead found in Chinese-manufactured toys, but lead has been around for ages. It is still in old paint used before the 1970s—so the windowsills of old homes and the cabinets of old kitchens contain lead that can leach out in the form of invisible dust during renovations. Many bathroom and kitchen tiles have high lead levels.

What You Can Do:

  • Get your child’s lead levels checked at his first birthday
  • Have your water tested for lead (free of charge) by your local water agency
  • Move out of your house when you renovate and hire a lead-certified contractor to oversea your project
  • Buy lead-testing kits from Home Depot or Lowes and test toys or surfaces you are concerned about
  • Do not allow your baby to suck on windowsills or playground equipment that has chipped paint
  • Use a HEPA-filter vacuum to reduce the concentrations of contaminants and allergens in your house. “Studies detect low levels of lead from paint, chemical fire retardants, allergens, pesticide residues, and even arsenic tracked in from pressure-treated wood decks. A bad vacuum doesn’t trap these things effectively, and could instead recirculate them in the air,” Lundar says.


Mercury.
    
Sadly, methyl mercury now pollutes our oceans and streams due to coal-burning plant emissions. Large fish contain higher levels of mercury, and some tuna fish cans have been found to have levels unsafe for pregnant women. Mercury can arrest brain development and has been linked to neurological disorders. 

What You Can Do:

  • Pregnant women should avoid fish with high mercury levels such as tuna, swordfish, shark, tile fish (like bass or snapper), and King Mackerel
  • Ensure that the Omega 3 supplements you or your child takes are steam distilled and tested for mercury and other contaminants
  • Ask for mercury-free flu shots for your children. “Mercury is still used in many flu shots (some states have banned it in children’s shots). Mercury-free shots are available at little additional cost,” explains Lundar.


Perchlorate.

Perchlorate is a toxic rocket fuel ingredient now found in some drinking water and in foods like milk, lettuce, and other vegetables. It can affect the thyroid and may cause brain damage to growing fetuses or children.


What You Can Do:

  • Moms—take an iodine-containing pre-natal vitamin while pregnant and nursing to thwart the effects of perchlorate on your thyroid, insists Lundar
  • Use iodized salt in food you prepare
  • Ask your local water company if they test for perchlorate and if they do, request a test. If your water contains it, buy bottled water or consider a water delivery service so no vegetables or foods are washed with tainted water.
  • If your water is polluted, write to your mayor and ask that this issue be brought up in the next council meeting


Pesticides.
Conventional fruits and vegetables have a variety of pesticides on them that are currently being tested for links to cancer.

What You Can Do:

  • Try to buy organic when you can. If you can’t buy organic, know which fruits and vegetables have the least amount of pesticide residues. For instance, the EWG reports which crops have the most and least pesticides. Since peaches have the highest levels, you may want to buy organic. Avocados and onions, for instance, have the lowest, so save some money and buy conventional.


Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and particulate emissions.

Many of today’s cleaners have been found to contain VOCs that irritate kids’ lungs and can contribute to asthma and allergy attacks.

What You Can Do:

  • Use safe/green cleaners such as vinegar in lieu of bleach or baking soda to scrub your tiles. For a list of ideas, see: Asthma Friendly Cleaning Solutions.


Read Toxins in Our Babies

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