Protecting our children from the chemicals in their environment

Protecting my children from the chemicals and toxins in their environment is the passion that caused me to launch this blog 2.5 years ago.  After researching BPA and phthalates and working hard to eliminate them from our home, I decided to start this blog to share what I had learned.  Now that it is almost 2010, I feel like these subjects are much more common knowledge than they were when I stared looking (2005) and I’m even finding some well written books about the matter.

One of those books that I recently read is The Toxic Sandbox (2007).  It is a quick read at only 175 pages.  The format of the book is ideal for parents–highly organized with subject matter separated into chapters and sections and often easily ID’d by bold questions.  The book is also based on solid research and written by a mom who has personal experience with toxins affecting her child (in her case, lead).  You can skip to exactly what interests you and get the basic information you need to know about the dangers and how to protect your children.  This book could easily be read or skimmed by a busy parent in a day or two.

The author, Libby McDonald, covers six toxins in six chapters:  lead, mercury, plastics (including BPA and phthalates), PCBs and flame retardants (PBDE’s), air pollution, and pesticides.  I found the PCB/PBDE chapter especially interesting, as it’s something I’m not as familiar with.  Here are some of my favorite excerpts and facts from the book:

  • Lead is so dangerous because it masquerades as calcium, allowing it to cross the blood brain barrier.  Because babies’ and toddlers’ brains crave calcium in their effort to develop, until children are around six years old they can absorb three to four times more lead than an adult.
  • Rats exposed to phthalates in EPA studies have contracted liver cancer and developed damaged kidneys.  In addition, male rat pups exposed to the chemical in utero experience dramatic reproductive mutation, including smaller scrotums, undescended testicles, hypospadias (urethra opening is not on tip of penis), and reduced penis size.  This cluster of abnormalities frequently results in lower sperm counts, infertility, reduced testosterone, and testicular cancer.
  • The three most potent phthalates (there are 8 total) are diethyl phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP–found in nail polish, cosmetics, and insecticides), and benzylbutyl phthalates (BBP–found in adhesives, paints, sealants, car-care products, vinyl flooring, and some personal care products).  Not only do they adversely affect healthy by themselves, but even in small doses they interact with one another in ways we don’t understand.  The dominant phthalate, DEHP (found in shower curtains, cable sheathing, garden hoses, medical devices, vinyl products, floor tiles, rain-wear, some food containers, and some toys), has been used so widely that it can now be found literally all over the world: in subsurface snow in Antarctica and in jellyfish more than 300 feet below the surface of the Atlantic.
  • Although the EPA banned the production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in 1977, they persist in the environment and in our food chain.  They are not only persistent but also fat soluble, which means they can linger for decades in the fatty tissue of virtually every living organism on the planet.
  • Because PCBs accumulate in our bodies more quickly than they are excreted, the older we are when we have children, the more PCBs we expose are babies to.  Part of this is through breastfeeding, as PCB levels in breast milk are found to decrease as we nurse our babies (meaning we are passing the PCBs onto our children).
  • Flame retardants, PBDEs, are structurally and toxicologically like their chemical-cousin PCBs.  They are also persistent and bioaccumulative.  Scientists believe they harm children much as PCBs do, by affecting learning, memory, attention, and behavior.
  • PBDE concentrations in North American women’s breast milk has been measured at 75 times higher than levels in the breast milk of European women.
  • In animal studies, PCBs and PBDEs are linked to low birth weight, decreased intelligence, problems with short-term memory, attention deficit disorders, impaired immune function, hypothyroidism, various cancers, and disruption of sex hormones.
  • Ninety percent of a child’s PCB intake is through food (especially fish).  You can greatly reduce the amount of PCBs and PBDEs your children consumer by serving low or fat free dairy products, low fat meats, or by avoiding animal products all together.  Avoid farmed salmon and fish.  Wild Pacific slamon have much less PCBs than farmed, because they eat lower on the food chain and are more active so they have less fat that stores PCBs.
  • The Swedes were the first to detect PBDE in mothers’ breast milk by analyzing stored suplies from 1972 to 1997.  They found that PBDEs were doubling in breast milk every five years and banned some PBDEs in 2003.  Since then, PBDE levels in Swedish mothers’ breast milk have decreased significantly.   US levels are far higher than those that warranted banning the use of PBDEs in products in Sweden.
  • PBDE levels in breast milk in 2002 found that they were 10-100 times higher in the U.S. than in Europe.  Median blood levels in the US population show an exposure of PBDEs similar to that of Swedish laboreres who actually worked in factories that manufactured PBDE-treated rubber.
  • The half life of PCBs and PBDEs (also known as persistent organic pollutants or POPs)  in your body is ten years!
  • Levels of PBDEs are 2-15 times higher for children than adults.  The levels found in children are uncomforatably close to those associated with advers effects on reproduction and neurodevelopment in laboratory animals.  Children may be exposed to more PBDEs through household dust that contains PBDEs (the EPA estimates that children from age 1-4 ingest 100 mg of household dust each day compared to 15 mg for adults).  Babies also get PBDEs from breast milk.
  • Grass-fed animals have fewer PCBs and PBDEs than factory farm-raised animals.
  • From 1980 to 2003, the prevelance of asthma in American children rose from 3.6% to 5.8%, or about a 60% increase.
  • Children riding to and from school in school buses manufactured between 1985 and 2002 inhaled 34-79% more air pollution than the average weekday commuter did on the same day.
  • The EPA estimates that about 80% of our total pesticide exposure comes through the food we eat.  The remaining 20% comes from drinking water and pesticide use in the home to control insects and rodents.
  • Americans have more perflourochemicals (PFCs–chemicals used in nonstick cookware, clothing stain repellents, fast-food wrappers) than any other population on earth.  PFCs remain in our bodies and in the environment for a years.

The author maintains a nice website with additional information about toxins in our environment.

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