A study from UC San Francisco of 25 pregnant women living in California found the highest levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s) ever reported in expecting women. PBDEs were banned in 2004 in California, but for decades before that were used in anything with polyurethane foam (couch cushions, crib mattresses, etc.), as well as electronics. PBDE’s affect the development of baby’s brain, liver, and thyroid. While PBDE’s may be banned, they persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in people. Chemically similar substitutes are currently in use.
The best way to avoid inadvertent consumption of PBDE’s is to wash your hands frequently (especially before eating), dust/mop your house frequently, and avoid foam products. Also look for electronics made by companies who have phased out PBDE’s, like Apple and Sony. For more about this study, see this article.
Any baby product made of foam is likely to contain fire retardants, since the foam is petroleum based and highly flammable. Here is an interesting article about the toxins in baby products like carseats and nursing pillows. This is one of the main reasons why we recently bought an organic crib mattress.
This is a good time to remind parents that flame retardant chemicals are often found in household dust. Since children are on the ground touching the dust and then sticking their hands in their mouths, their exposure to flame retardants is much higher than it is for me or you. Be diligent about washing your children’s hands. I didn’t wash my first born’s hands before eating because I washed them after and it felt like too much hand washing. But now I have three children and I make the time to wash my baby’s hands before every meal/snack as well as after. Also, make sure you sweep and vacuum (with a HEPA filter) regularly too!
The book Slow Death by Rubber Duck doesn’t sound like a pleasurable read, but it is! Well, at least as much as could be given the subject matter of toxins that are slowly poisoning us and our environment.
The two Canadian authors, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, decide to experiment with phthalates, BPA, mercury, and PFC’s (non-stick chemicals) to see what their personal levels were and whether they could increase them via normal, daily activities (like using personal care products, eating canned foods, or eating lots of sushi). In addition to describing these mini-experiments (n=1), they elaborate on the history of these toxins, the science behind them, and why they are dangerous. Particularly interesting to me was the research showing that even infinitesimally small amounts of certain chemicals, like BPA, have measurable effects. Slow death indeed!
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We have been in need of a new crib mattress. While we are expecting our third baby (and you’d think we already had a crib mattress), we have decided to keep our 2 year old on it in his crib for now. We bought a second hand crib from a neighbor but didn’t want to use the mattress. Conventional crib mattresses are filled with petroleum based polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable. This usually leads to the mattress being covered with flame retardant chemicals (PBDEs) that we are trying to avoid in our home when possible. Traditional mattresses can also have other chemicals in them, and many of these chemicals off-gas (see What’s the Problem with Conventional Mattresses below). This is really not something I want my newborn spending 2/3 of his life on. The crib mattress we used with my older two children is more than a decade old and I figured it had off-gassed most everything already. We wrapped it in an organic wool mattress pad and organic cotton sheets and felt good enough about it. But with this baby, I know more and am less comfortable using a traditional mattress. So I was on the market for a healthier alternative.
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On December 15, 2009, legislation to phase out the fire retardant named Decabromodiphenylether (or Deca for short) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Chellie Pingree (D-Maine). This Decabrominated Elimination and Control Act would ban Deca in all products by the end of 2013. Two days later, three large chemical companies (Chemtura, Albermarle, and ICL Industrial Products) and officials of the EPA agreed on a deal to phase out the use of Deca by the end of 2012, a full year before the ban. Deca is heavily used in consumer electronics, wires/cables, and furniture, and is a potent neurotoxin and possible carcinogen. It is also suspected of breaking down into other toxic chemicals that have been found contaminating animals and humans all over the globe.
PBDEs are structurally related to PCBs, which were banned decades ago in the U.S. PBDE levels in the U.S. population are found to be 10-100 times higher than levels observed in Europe, Asia, and New Zealand.
Until 2013, you can try to reduce your family’s exposure to Deca and other flame retardents (PBDE’s) by taking a look at the EWG’s three tips.
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As you can probably tell, I’ve been reading a lot lately. I just finally have the time to tackle some subjects I’ve always wanted to read more about. One of those topics I’m very passionate about is toxic chemicals in our environment and how to best avoid them. If that is interesting to you too, then I highly recommend you read The Body Toxic. The 230 page book was written by a journalist in 2008 and covers five major chemicals in a chapter each:
- Atrazine — most commonly sprayed agricultural pesticide/herbicide, commonly found in ground and stream water.
- Phthalates — a group of chemicals that make plastics like PVC flexible, also found in personal care products, detergents, soaps, food packaging, building materials, inflatable toys, and medical equipment like IV tubing.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) — a family of flame retardants used since the 1970s that are chemically very similar to the now banned PCBs, found in upholstered furniture, mattresses, carpet padding, vehicle upholstery, and electronics.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) — a chemical building block for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, found in canned foods, food and beverage containers, PC (usually #7 plastic), and even some dental sealants/composites.
- Perflourinated chemicals — chemicals that resist water, grease, and stains, found in products with names like Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster, and GORE-TEX, and also found in nonstick cookware, stain resistance clothing/shoes/furniture, waterproof outerwear, some dental floss, microwave popcorn bags, and fast-food packaging. Continue reading »
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. Continue reading »
There was a nice video clip on NBC’s Today show last week that discussed some concerns with brominated flame retardant chemicals called PBDEs. These chemicals cover many household products in an attempt to keep you safe from fires, but the chemicals are turning up in our blood and more worrisome, in the blood of our children–at a level higher than that found in their parents living in the same house (via the good old hand to mouth or toy to mouth contact that gets not only PBDEs into our children, but also lead and other risky heavy metals and chemicals). You can see the video on msnbc.com or ewg.com. You can also read this EWG article about it, or this one from Web MD.