Exactly What Do You Mean By “Toxic Chemicals?”
There are few phrases that grate on my nerves more than “Well, we all lived through it and we’re fine now.” Whatever it is, there are so many things wrong with that statement I can’t even begin to go through every one. My two biggest problems with it are: (1) no, we did not all live through it and come out the other side unscathed, (2) what our children are exposed to now is infinitely changed from our childhoods, what is in our environment, food, water, and air are certainly not the same.
In my lifetime alone, 1000-3000 new chemicals were introduced every year. And what’s more, any health and safety data is available for only 15% of chemicals submitted for approval to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).[1. Going to Extreme Lengths to Purge Household Toxins]
The vast chemicals that our children are exposed to, many before they are even born, have reached well beyond being able to say that we, too, lived through it, let alone previous generations.
This doesn’t even speak to the fact that we didn’t all live through it, and if we did it was not always without incident. I have written before about the problem of determining causation, not just a proven correlation.
This really shows how we think and react to research linking exposure to potentially toxic chemicals and health effects. We need a new philosophy on chemicals and chemical safety.
Water is a chemical, oxygen is a chemical, but so, too, are lead, BPA, methylparabens, and PVC, plus a whole lot of nasty sounding chemicals that can be difficult to decipher whether they are harmful or benign. When we are making choices for our children it makes it that much more important and that much more overwhelming to manage.
Health Effects and Health Costs of Environmental Toxins
A recent paper published by Dr. Leonardo Trasande and Yinghua Liu found:
“[We] found that the costs of lead poisoning, prenatal methylmercury exposure, childhood cancer, asthma, intellectual disability, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were $76.6 billion in 2008.”
Our society is bearing the cost from what could be prevented through systemic change. All of these childhood illnesses and their associated costs could be eliminated, or at the very least greatly reduced, if we could:
“[I]nstitute premarket testing of new chemicals; conduct toxicity testing on chemicals already in use; reduce lead-based paint hazards; and curb mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.”[2. Reducing The Staggering Costs Of Environmental Disease In Children, Estimated At $76.6 Billion In 2008]
That doesn’t sound like too much to ask to me. Unfortunately, not everyone, particularly regulating bodies and corporations, are not on that same page. Children and babies are more susceptible to environmental toxins because of their relative size and habits (putting everything in their mouths and spending a lot of time on the floor), but adults are also at greater risk of a whole host of diseases and conditions (infertility, endometriosis, cancer, heart disease, asthma, birth defects, and reduced IQ, to name a few) that have a proven link to exposure to certain chemicals.
Reducing Toxic Exposure While Living In The Real World
We can, and should, keep working toward chemical safety reform and emissions reduction, but we can also make changes to our own homes that can limit the toxins in a place that where we largely spend a proportional amount of time.
1. The first step is to consider what are the areas of your home you and your family spend the most time in and what your activities are in each room.
The kitchen is a place that we spend a lot of time. We prepare meals, store food, wash dishes, and clean here.
The playroom is where my children spend much of their time that isn’t spent at school. They play games, roughhouse, watch television, read, and play with their toys.
The bedrooms are such an important area. My children spend at least 12 hours in their bedrooms within a 24 hour period. They build Legos, make forts, and sleep here. My husband and I sleep for 7-8 hours a night, plus reading and lounging.
The bathroom is where my children bathe, where I use an inordinate amount of products for a green mama, and where it needs cleaning regularly. For a room we don’t always want to spend a lot of time in, it really can add up.
2. Second, think about what can be changed in those spaces to make them healthier and safer. Right as you even enter your home, remove your shoes to prevent tracking the environment (clean or dirty as it may be) throughout the entire house. And when weather allows, open windows and let the fresh air and sun come in.
The kitchen generally means food and cleaning. Food should be whole, fresh, and organic whenever possible. Cleaners like dishwasher detergent or dish soap, countertop and sink cleaners, and floor cleaners can be homemade or store-bought, but with careful attention to the ingredients.
The playroom means playing and cleaning up after that play. Bring safe, eco-friendly toys into your home for your little ones. Materials like wood, organic cotton, organic wool are all good choices. As they get older the options become more limited without some plastic, but choosing quality over quantity is a good thing for your children and keeps clutter at bay!
Cleaning comes down to what type of room it may be, but baking soda and vinegar are your friends in every room. If a cleaning product is not something that would be safe to go in a mouth, don’t use it here. Keeping dust down by using a damp cloth will also keep any harmful toxins from being swept into the air.
The bedrooms will benefit from eco-friendly furniture built to last, organic cotton sheets, organic mattresses, and our favorite eco-friendly cleaners. It is amazing what kinds of chemicals go into a conventional mattress, pillow, and sheets. You and your family are touching these for hours at a time. This is not inexpensive, but starting slowly, it can be greatly beneficial.
The bathroom is a place we don’t always think about in terms of length of time spent, but within these walls we do so many things and use so many products that it should always be near the top of the list when thinking about exposure to toxins. Bath and beauty products can contain the most confusing ingredient lists of all, and yet these are what go on our largest organ. Keep it simple and opt for the safest ingredients possible, especially for children.
Bathrooms are also where people have the tendency to use the harshest cleaning products. Bleach for the sink and tub, toilet cleaners, and tile cleaners are all notorious for harmful ingredients. Anything you would want to put a Mr. Yuck sticker in should not be a part of your cleaning routine. Vinegar, baking soda, and a little Dr. Bronner’s go a long way, even in a bathroom.
3. Last, make the changes one step at a time. This post is not a comprehensive how-to manual for how to eliminate all toxins for your home – that information fills books – but think about this as a starting place. Use common sense, my growing Going Green Series, and the amazing books that are available to guide your choices.
What changes have you made recently to reduce toxins in your home? Which would you love to do, but find challenging?
I wrote this post for inclusion in the Green Moms Carnival hosted by Lori at Groovy Green Livin. Be sure to check out all the great green mamas’ articles!