Sunday, June 12, 2011

Getting Riled Up Over Toxic Chemicals (2)

Above, a photo of the objects a German family left for me to recycle. Can you identify some of the chemicals involved? Does "BPA-free" really guarantee a product is safe? Raising healthy children today is a challenge in a world where toxic chemicals rule. Two months ago I wrote about how upset this subject makes me ...

Impossible to protect my grandkids from the BPA and parabens and phthalates in household items, or the bovine growth hormone in a seemingly innocuous glass of milk, or the unlabeled GMOs present in a slice of bread. These hazards slither through modern life like invisible snakes, unregulated and dangerous. Should it be up to citizens to spot them? I think not.

Here’s my list of big baddies:

• BPA. (My son bought baby bottles that are BPA-free. That’s a definite first step. But no one knows yet whether the replacement substance is safe or not. BPA is also present in the lining of canned goods and on cash register receipts.)

• Parabens. (They lurk in shampoo and cosmetics and sunscreen. The only way to avoid parabens is to study labels and make a point of looking up the various brands in two Environmental Working Group databases, ie. we citizens are obliged to play detective in order to protect our health. Is this travesty, or what?)

• Phthalates. (These chemicals are added to plastic for flexibility. Think what makes a rubber duck attractive and makes a kid want to put it in his/her mouth. Do toys need to be flexible if that flexibility brings risk of the hormone havoc called “endocrine disruption?”)

• Flame retardants, present in car seats, mattresses, children’s clothing. (These chemicals get into household dust. Babies, crawling on the floor, get the dust on their hands. They put their hands in their mouth. Not good!)

• Triclosan. (It’s a microbial added to some types of toothpaste. Why? No clue.)

Shopping for food has become an obstacle course. Buy only milk without bovine growth hormone. Check cheese to see what type of milk was used. Copy that for ice cream. Serve only organic fruit and veggies to avoid pesticide residue. Conscientious parents almost need to take a dictionary and a magnifying glass to the supermarket.

As for GMOs, they remain unlabeled. We must pray that they do not affect the health of future generations.

My five-year-old granddaughter’s favorite toy is a “Polly Pocket,” a flexible doll that comes with flexible clothes made out of plastic. Worried about the chemicals that rub off onto her fingers during play, I contacted the company that makes these dolls about my suspicion that they might contain phthalates. Mattel responded, “Please note that these are plasticizers used to make hard plastic soft and pliable and are used in a wide range of common products, including clothing, footwear and other accessories, home construction supplies, life-saving medical equipment, cars and toys. There are currently Federal, Canadian and European regulations that restrict the use of certain phthalates in children’s products and we comply with those regulations.”

Reassured? Me, neither.

This week the government issued warnings for 8 new carcinogens. The week before CNN carried information about a possible link between autism and chemical exposure in the womb.

The FDA should be protecting families. Instead, this government agency seems to have been infiltrated by corporate powers, folks who put profit ahead of good sense.

How much longer must this situation last? When will the army of moms and grandmoms, banging on flying pans in protest, be heard? Why aren’t all our senators sponsoring the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011,” a new bill proposed by New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg to regulate toxic chemicals in the environment?

It’s high time Americans demanded a safer world for our children, vulnerable beings, who suffer more extensively from endocrine disruption than adults and will carry some of these toxic chemicals in their bodies for the rest of their lives. It remains up to us to apply the precautionary principle, since government fails to do so. Harsh words? Perhaps. But I’m one very fed-up grandmother and grateful to the Boston Globe last week for publishing tips on how to avoid chemical burden, necessary information in today’s world. At least the newspapers are beginning to cover this important issue ...