Chemicals, Kids and what we as parents butt-up against as we try to raise healthy children in a toxic world.
Fluoride is one of those issues that runs deep with people – like vaccination, religion and money. Those in favour argue that its addition to public water supplies and toothpastes has been a boon to dental health, providing a cost-effective and equitable way to prevent tooth decay. Opponents argue that evidence for its safety and efficacy is dubious at best and that dosing the public water supply with a chemical amounts to mass medication.
And there is evidence to support both sides of the debate.
So where do I sit?
If I listened to everything the doctors, obstetricians, and my fellow public health colleagues said I would have taken the epidural, stopped breastfeeding after 6 months and resisted our desires for co-sleeping. But I didn’t. And it’s usually when we’re co-sleeping – with one child buried under the crook of my armpit, the other with a leg thrown across my belly where my intellectual wonderings as a public health researcher and natural parenting mama converge. And this is what I have discovered about fluoride and caring for our oral health.
So what is fluoride?
Fluoride ions (Calcium Fluoride CaF2 ) are naturally occurring and come from the element fluorine, found in rocks, soil, plants, air and water. Proponents are quick to sell the ‘natural’ aspect of fluoridation, arguing that its addition to water is akin to fortifying or enriching foods such as adding zinc, iron or calcium to breakfast cereals, iodine to salt, or folic acid to flour. They say it’s not adding a ‘medicine’, just tweaking the natural level of fluoride found in water. The problem with this argument is three fold. Firstly, the majority of what we see on food packaging is simply a distortion by the food marketers and manufacturers. Lollies laced with vitamin C or oven fries fortified with Omega 3 fatty acids with the promise of boosting brain functions of consumers are simply a distortion of science and examples of misleading nutritional value marketed as healthy food choices. Secondly, fluoride, unlike calcium or magnesium, is not an essential nutrient for your body. If you were to consume zero fluoride your entire life, you wouldn’t suffer for it. There’s no such thing as fluoride deficiency.[i] And thirdly, while fluoride ions can be naturally occurring, these are not the ones added to drinking water and oral hygiene products. Queensland Health Water Fluoridation: Questions and Answers booklet states that the fluoride in our water are in fact sourced from scrubbers used in the manufacturing of fertilizers and that these scrubbers ‘convert fluoride into a liquid or powder form (hydrofluoroslicic acid) that can be collected and safely added to water supplies’.
Despite reassurances from regulators that contaminant levels are ‘extremely low’ and conform to Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, fluoride sourced from scrubbers does not undergo purification procedures and has been found to contain various contaminants, including arsenic, lead, arsenic and mercury. Along with fluoride, these contaminants bio-accumulate in our cells, bones, blood and organs, even in the pineal gland in our brains.
And overexposed to fluoride we are! Virtually all foodstuffs contain at least trace amounts of fluoride. When water is fluoridated, it is not just the water that is fluoridated, but all foods and beverages that are made with the water. As a general rule, the more processed a food is, the more fluoride it has. The highest dietary concentration of fluoride occurs in animal and processed foods, especially fish. Fluoride builds up in the tissues of animals, and whenever fluoridated water is used in food production, fluoride will be concentrated in the final product. The same goes for cooking with fluoridated water. And adults only excrete 50-60% of the fluoride we ingest. Children only about 20% and babies and the elderly, excrete even less. Fluoride even crosses the placenta in pregnancy.
But it’s good for our teeth?
Fluoride is still the cornerstone of modern dental caries management. Fluoride acts as an enzyme inhibitor and is said to work by strengthening teeth, inhibiting demineralization, remineralising damaged enamel, and destroying the enzymes in the oral bacteria that produce the acids that erode the teeth. And there are some studies to support this. Researchers comparing topical and systemic fluoride action concluded that it was the topical application of fluoride in toothpaste and mouthwash products that is most beneficial.[ii]
Even so, there are currently no labeling nor legal requirements to specify the type of fluoride being added to topical applications and there is currently no scientific evidence of a safe fluoride dosage per person given that fluoride consumption varies from person to person depending on their level of exposure.
Research also reveals that when fluoridation has been discontinued in communities from Canada, the former East Germany, Cuba and Finland, dental decay has not increased but has generally continued to decrease.[iii]
At a supermarket outing on a recent trip to the United States, we also noted that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a poison warning on every tube of fluoride toothpaste sold in the US. The warning reads:
‘If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, seek medical help or contact a poison control center immediately.’
Children swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can suffer acute poisoning at doses as low as 0.1 to 0.3mg per kg of bodyweight. This generally presents in the form of gastric pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, and flu-like symptoms. A child weighing 10kg needs only to ingest 1 to 3 grams of paste (less than 3% of a tube of fluorinated toothpaste) to experience one or more of these symptoms.
The irony though, as my partner and I passed eachother different brands of children’s toothpaste, is that the manufactures of children’s toothpastes create products just beckoning to be eaten by children. They generally tend to be sweet, glossy, glittery, luminescent and smell of bubblegum, strawberries and sherbet. While I was examining the toothpastes, a mother leaned over my shoulder and told me she had recently taken to putting all the toothpaste in a safety cupboard out of her children’s reach.
Manufacturers in Australia are not legislated to put a warning label on our fluorinated toothpastes.
The toxicity of fluoride
Fluorine compounds are listed by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) as among the top 20 of 275 substances that pose the most significant threat to human health. The Australian National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) recently considered 400 substances for inclusion on the NPI reporting list. A risk ranking was given based on health and environmental hazard identification and human and environmental exposure to the substance. Some substances were grouped together at the same rank to give a total of 208 ranks. Fluoride compounds were ranked 27th out of the 208 ranks.[iv]
The evidence of health effects are far reaching. A review of scientific literature by the Independent National Academy of Sciences found many gaps in the data about long-term health risks associated with exposure to systemically ingested fluoride. The authors found evidence of increases in dental fluorosis and called for more research on potential links with skeletal fluorosis, bone fractures, bone cancer, joint pain, thyroid damage, mental and physiological changes and dementia.[v] The National Research Council (2006), ‘it is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain’.[vi]
In 2012, Researchers at Harvard University published the results of a long-term analysis that links fluoridated water to lower IQ scores in children.[vii] The researchers examined data on water fluoridation levels from a variety of medical databases and compared them to IQ scores of children who lived in the associated neighborhoods. In total, 27 separate studies were examined which found a direct link between IQ scores and the levels of fluoride in the public water supply. Children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas. The children studied were up to 14 years of age, but the investigators speculate that any toxic effect on brain development may have happened earlier, and that the brain may not be fully capable of compensating for the toxicity.
‘Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain’ says Phillipe Grandjean adjunct professor of environmental health, Harvard School of Public Health. ‘The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.’[viii]
How to reduce your daily exposure to fluoride and build resiliency
1. Stop drinking fluoridated water
Tap water consumption is the largest daily source of fluoride exposure for people who live in areas that add fluoride to the water. Avoiding consumption of fluoridated water is especially critical for babies and children. If you live in area which fluoridates its water (like 87% of the communities in Australia)you can avoid drinking the fluoride in one of three ways:
Water Filters: Purchase a water filter. Not all water filters however remove fluoride. The three types of filters that can remove fluoride are reverse osmosis, deionizers (which use ion-exchange resins), and activated alumina. Each of these filters can remove over 95-100% of the fluoride. By contrast, ‘activated carbon’ filters (e.g. Brita) do not remove fluoride. Harvesting and filtering rainwater is also an option and our preferred choice.
Spring Water: Purchase spring water. Most brands of spring water contain very low levels of fluoride. Some brands, however, contain high levels, so ask your supplier. Many suppliers also provide large reusable containers so you are not contributing to plastic consumption.
Water Distillation: A third way to avoid fluoride from the tap is to purchase a distillation unit. Water distillation will remove most, if not all, of the fluoride. The price for a distillation units varies widely depending on the size.
2. Eat a diet of whole foods
A comparison of native and primitive societies have shown a high immunity to dental caries and freedom from degenerative processes compared with the diets of modernized groups who have forsaken their native diets for the foods of commerce – white flour products, sugar, polished rice, canned goods and vegetable fats.
Dental caries and gum disease are usually a sign of nutritional deficiencies and a toxic overload. Building resiliency means increasing nutrient dense foods in your diet. These include:
3. Breast feed your baby
Fluoridated water, which contains up to 300 times more fluoride than breast milk, is by far the single largest source of fluoride for babies and infants. So without question, the single most important way to protect a baby from fluoride exposure is to breastfeed. Breast milk almost completely excludes fluoride and thus an exclusively breast-fed baby will receive virtually no fluoride exposure and well provide your baby with all the delicious and beneficial immuno-properties of breast milk.
If you’re not breastfeeding, use clean, non-fluoridated water with organic cow or goat milk formula. (See 1)
4. Say NO to dental Fluoride Gel Treatments
Although dental researchers recommend that fluoride gel treatment should only be used for patients at highest risk of cavities, many dentists continue to apply fluoride gels irrespective of the patient’s cavity risk. The fluoride gel procedure uses a concentrated acidic fluoride gel (12,300 ppm). Because of the fluoride gel’s high acidity, the saliva glands produce a large amount of saliva during the treatment, which makes it extremely difficult (both for children and adults) to avoid swallowing the gel.
Even when dentists use precautionary suction devices, children and adults will still ingest some quantities of the paste, which can cause spikes of fluoride in the blood. The next time your dentist asks you whether you want a fluoride gel treatment, say no. Alternatively, seek out a holistic dentist who does not use nor recommend fluoride in their practice.
5. Xylitol benefits
Xylitol are sweet ‘tooth-friendly’ non-fermentable, sugar alcohols found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables and can be extracted from various berries, corn husks, and birch trees. Unlike other sweeteners, xylitol has been found to be actively beneficial for dental health, including reducing dental caries[ix] by inhibiting the Streptococcus bacteria that are significant contributors to tooth decay.[x] For dental use, you can find xylitol gums, toothpastes, lozenges, and rinses.
What fluoride-free brands to buy?
Oral health impacts the whole body. When you have gum disease or plaque, inflammation of the whole body can occur. So getting your dental regime right is important. And there are some really good gums, pastes and rinses on the market. Our ‘adult’ favorites include: Ganozhi, Mukti Tooth Powder, and Oral Wellness. Our children love Spry Fluoride Free toothpaste or gel (with Xylotol), gums and mints and Dr Tung’s Floss.
Making a stand
A boon for anti-fluorination campaigners came in November 2012 when the LNP Government passed legislation amendments to end government mandated water fluoridation in Queensland. If you would like more information, or to make a stand and get involved in the campaign contact the Queenslanders For Safe Water (www.qawf.org).
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD) is a public health and nutrition researcher, mother, and author of the bestselling book, Chemical Free Kids: Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World www.chemicalfreekids.com.au and www.nontoxsoapbox.com
[i] NRC (2006). National Research Council of the National Academies, Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards. Washington, DC: National Academies Press
[ii] Hellwig, E. & Lennon, A . Systemic versus Topical Fluoride’, Caries Research, 2004, 38: 258–262
[iii] Seppa L, et al. (2000). Caries trends 1992-98 in two low-fluoride Finnish towns formerly with and without fluoride. Caries Research.34: 462-8; Maupome G, et al. (2001). Patterns of dental caries following the cessation of water fluoridation. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology. 29: 37-47.
[iv] Government of Australia, National Pollutant Inventory,
[This article was publihed in the December edition of Nurture Magazine www.nurtureparentingmagazine.com.au]
I grew up with the Cancer Councils Slip Slop Slap campaign. I can still hear Sid the dancing Seagull singing the jingle now, listen, ‘Slip… Slop… Slap… Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat’.
But sloping on a sunscreen, even a Cancer Council one, is not necessarily always a good idea. Some do not protect us against harmful UV rays, some contain nano-particles, and some are chocker full of toxic ingredients that affect our endocrine (hormone) systems, damage our skin, and even increase the risks of cancer. How ironic!
So this article is an exploration of sunscreen… just in time for the sizzling summer months. To start with though I have a quick ode to our friend the Sun and some simple advice:
don’t use sunscreen
Now that is a little controversial! And some would say darn right Un-Australian, but here is my rationale.
Getting some sun, without sunscreen, is good for us. In fact, it’s better than good. It’s necessary. Particularly given that nearly one third of Australian adults are suffering vitamin D deficiency.[i] In particular, doctors are even seeing the resurgence of rickets (bone-weakening disease) that had been largely eradicated.[ii]
The benefits of Vitamin D exposure, which can only be reaped without sunscreen, help keep bones and teeth strong, maintains healthy kidney function, produce optimal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, enhance muscle strength and protect against many types of cancer, including breast, colon, endometrial, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
And get this: we stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, but we have a far greater chance of dying from a Vitamin D deficiency-related cancer than of a sunburn-related skin cancer. We don’t hear about that in the SunSafe campaigns do we?
This means that my girls and I sit in the sun most days – with no sunscreen on, no hat. No slipping or slopping. Getting sun every day, for about 20 minutes at a time is good for us.
Our family motto: get sun, not too much, don’t get red.
Here are a few things to take away about Vitamin D:
So as a family, this means we eat some high quality animal fats, eggs, and cook with organic butter daily. We don’t do low-fat. And when we wear sunscreen its only if we are outside longer than 20 minutes and in the middle of the day. This is what I recommend when it comes to sunscreen:
zinc oxide is the best
Sunscreens come in two forms: i) physical sunscreens, which contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which form a barrier (or film) on top of the skin that reflects the UV light, and ii) chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV rays before they can do damage.
The US Environmental Protection Agency‘s (EPA) graph below features chemical and physical sunscreen ingredients, as well as the type and amount of ray protection that they provide and their class. Note how zinc oxide fares.[iii] (sorry, no matter how
you don’t want zinc?
If you’re going to go for a chemical sunscreen, you need to know that while chemical sunscreens can protect against damage from UV rays, most also contain a range of nasty chemicals which can be absorbed through the skin and into our bloodstream where they can accumulate in our blood, fat, and breastmilk. A study in the Journal of Chromatography found that there was significant penetration into the skin of all sunscreen agents they studied.[iv] But here are some tips so consider if you go down that track:
1. Become a label detective: always check the label.
Worst offenders? Dioxybenzone and oxybenzone. These two are some of the most powerful free radical generators around as they can disrupt hormone function. A recent American study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US found that nearly all people studied were contaminated with the sun cream ingredient oxybenzone. Human research on oxybenzone is limited, however a few animal studies have raised concerns that this chemical may be a skin irritant, may disrupt endocrine function, and can lead to free-radical cell damage on the skin – contributing to cancer-risk.[v]
What about Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)? This naturally occurring chemical is common in many sunscreens, and acts as a dye that absorbs ultraviolet B (UVB) light in much the same way as oxybenzone. PABA contains a benzene ring in which electrons can shuffle between different locations within the six-sided structure. This electron dance matches that of the lightwaves of UVB rays, absorbing and blocking UV-B energy by converting the light to heat. PABA releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, and causes allergic reactions in some people.
Also … octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) which is the main chemical used in chemical sunscreens to filter out UV-B light. Researchers have raised safety concerns about octyl methoxycinnamate, demonstrating that mouse cells died when OMC was added at five parts per million, a much lower concentration than occurs in sunscreens[vi]. A further study which explored the effects of pre- and post-natal exposure to high doses of octyl methoxycinnamate in rats showed that the testes weight and testosterone levels were significantly reduced in male rats. [vii]
Finally, while Benzophenone-3 provides effective protection against UV radiation, research reveals that the substance can be found in people’s urine several days after its use. This means that it’s a substance that is absorbed and stored in the body, and young children do not have the enzyme capacity to excrete the substance. It’s also been linked to endometriosis and testosterone interference.[viii]
2. Check your sunscreen rating on the EWG.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates sunscreens (amongst other chemicals found in everyday products) based on safety and how well they protect against UV rays.[ix] But, whilst relevant to us, the information is geared towards the US market. Australia has different regulations and the majority of sunscreens the EWG recommend are not available on the Australian market.
so what brands to buy?
While my children and I eat a clean diet to build up an ‘internal sunscreen’, and then apply organic coconut oil on our skin for added protection, when we go out in the sun for extended periods of time we use:
Miessence Reflect Outdoor Balm (SPF 15) although it is actually SPF 27, the Australian company can’t claim it as such because it’s not classified via the Therapeutic Goods Act (TGA) as a primary sunscreen. Otherwise, Wotnot or Soleo can be found in most health shops across the country. And Invisible Zinc’s Junior low irritant sunscreen with micronised zinc is preservative free and fragrance free the last time I looked.
but, what about the nano technology?
The use of nanotechnology in sunscreens has become widespread in recent years, favoured by manufacturers because the resulting clear, easy-to-absorb creams give a market advantage. But there is a lot of debate about nano particles and what they do. The fear is that they are so small they seep in through our skin cells. In 2009 The Therapeutic Goods Act (TGA) stated:
The issue is though is that there have not been enough studies to conclusively say that nanotechnology in sunscreens are safe in all applications to human beings. We just don’t know. And if parents in Australia are wanting to err on the side of caution, we currently have no way of knowing if the brand of sunscreen contains the engineered nanoparticles material suspected of causing damage to human cells and DNA. Currently the TGA does not require manufacturers to disclose whether their products contain them.
This is in contrast to the European Union which give effect to the precautionary principle, and require manufacturers to disclose information about the safety of their products, putting public and environmental health before commercial interests.
You can check your sunscreen’s nano technology levels on the Friends of the Earth Australian Sunscreen Guide though. [x]
…and if all else fails here are a few home remedies for sunburn…not that I am advocating sunburn…but…
no matter how cautious we are, some one in our family always gets a little sunburnt as some stage during the long summer months. We have a few home remedies for soothing painful sunburn and they are found either in your kitchen pantry or garden. The first one is good ole’ aloe vera. The thick, gelatinous juice of the aloe vera plant can take the sting and redness out of a sunburn in a flash. Aloe vera causes blood vessels to constrict. Simply slit open one of the meaty leaves and apply the gel directly to the burn. Apply five to six times per day for severe sunburn. Another gem is an oatmeal compress or bath which offers wonderful relief to the skin. Simply add one cup oatmeal to cheesecloth or muslin to make a ball, tie off the top and add it to a temperate bath. The bath will become milky and soothing to the skin. Finally, soaking a cotton ball or soft sponge in apple cider vinegar works a treat. If you are sunburnt head-to-toe, take a bath in the stuff – simply add 2 cups of apple cider vinegar to the tub and soak for at least 15 minutes. Apple cider vinegar applied to skin effectively neutralizes the burn, relieves pain, and prevents blistering and peeling. If you smell a little like a pickle, a little coconut oil will remove most of the odor and at the same time add moisture to your skin.
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD) is a Public Health Researcher, mother, and author of the bestselling book, Chemical Free Kids: Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World www.chemicalfreekids.com.au and www.nontoxsoapbox.com
[i] Daly RM, Gagnon C, Lu ZX, Magliano DJ et al. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its determinants in Australian adults aged 25 years and older: a national, population-based study Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2012 Jul;77(1):26-35.
[iii] Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/sunscreen.pdf
[iv] Sarveiya V, Risk S, Benson HA., Liquid chromatographic assay for common sunscreen agents: application to in vivo assessment of skin penetration and systemic absorption in human volunteers. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2004 Apr 25;803(2):225-31.
[vii] Ma Axelstad, M; Boberg, J; Hougaard, KS; Christiansen, S; Jacobsen, PR; Mandrup, KR; Nellemann, C; Lund, SP et al. (2011). “Effects of pre- and postnatal exposure to the UV-filter octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) on the reproductive, auditory and neurological development of rat offspring”. Toxicology and applied pharmacology 250 (3): 278–90. y 2012 which is published in Environmental Science & Technology, measured concentrations of five kinds of chemicals called benzophenones in the urine of more than 600 women who were evaluated for endometriosis.
[viii] Tatsuya Kunisue, Zhen Chen, Germaine M. Buck Louis, Rajeshwari Sundaram, Mary L. Hediger, Liping Sun, Kurunthachalam Kannan. Urinary Concentrations of Benzophenone-type UV Filters in U.S. Women and Their Association with Endometriosis. Environmental Science & Technology, 2012; 46 (8): 4624
[ix] Environmental Working Group (EWG) http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/
[x] Friends of the Earth Australia sunscreen guide: http://nano.foe.org.au/safesunscreens
[Article in Nurture Magazine, Published in the Spring 2012 Issue]
By Dr Sarah Lantz
There is something intuitive about children such that they opt to play with wrapping paper and cardboard boxes instead of the plastic toys contained inside the present. Jedda, my two-year old daughter, enjoys shredding wrapping paper and running her little fingers over the silky ribbons. She likes texture. Adiva, now nearly 7, spends hours in cardboard boxes pretending she’s a cheeta. We have been known to feed the wild animal inside the box, only for her to growl back.
Play is at the heart of talking about ‘toys’. And play is important at all ages. It is literally a biological imperative. Children learn about themselves and their world through play – developing cognitive and problem-solving skills, personal and social skills, physical development. Play stimulates the senses and invigorates the mind. And yet, for the last century we have been endorsing large qualities of mass-produced, low quality, automated, plastic, disposable toys. And what’s the problem with this?
Along with the choking and stragulation hazards, massive toy recalls, excessively loud toys, projectile toys, toys that distract and over stimulate, there are a range of toxic chemicals in toys. And as a public health researcher and mama, it is these toxic chemicals that are the focus of my research and heart of this article.
Plastic – not so fantastic (Polyvinyl chloride)
Polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC or vinyl) is a plastic chemical used in toy production. And its nasty stuff. Every stage in PVC’s life cycle involves the production, use, and release of toxic chemicals, with some of the culprits including dioxin, mercury, lead, cadmium, organotins, and phthalates. Because these chemicals are not tightly bound to the plastic, they can enter children’s bodies when the children chew or suck on the toys or the PVC packaging that the toys come in. These chemicals are all toxic to children when ingested. And there is no safe way to manufacture, use, or dispose of PVC products.
In 2008, one of the largest toy manufactures in the world, Toys R Us, made a promise to reduce the use of PVC plastic in the toys they sell and offer more safer PVC-free products. But Toys R Us have not kept their promise. A report released two years later, entitled Toxic Toys ’R’ Us, by the Centre for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), found that Toys R Us continue to sell toys made with PVC – and lots of it. Almost 70 different toys, including well-known brands were tested. According to the report:
Toys that tested positive for PVC included well known toys such as Barbie, ‘Toys Story 3’ Woody and Buzz Lightyear figures, Disney Princess dolls, Zhu Zhu Pets, Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and Diego figures, Club Penguin figurines, Imaginext toddler action figures and many others, from dolls and balls, to baby bath time toys and products, and even some children’s Sippy Cups.
Another report released in 2011 by the International Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Elimination Network (IPEN) and based in the Philippines found many children’s toys have dangerously high levels of heavy metals. The international study measured toxic metals in 200 children’s products with a focus on antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. Approximately 30% of the products contained at least one toxic metal above acceptable levels. 37 products (19%) contained lead at or above the Australian regulatory limit, and children’s toy cosmetics contained mercury levels 4 – 5 times higher than the regulatory limit. Given that the toy market is global, children all across the world, including Australian children, can be directly affected by these toys.
But isn’t there a regulatory agency for toys made, or imported, into Australia?
The regulation of toxic chemicals in toys in Australia is still sketchy at best. The Australian Toy Standard have been established, but these standards are voluntary, so there are no requirements for toy manufacturers and distributors to abide by them. Compliance essentially relies on voluntary testing. This is also the case for toys imported into Australia. Hazardous toys can only be detected by testing and analysing toy components, and given the large volume and range of toys imported into Australia, this prohibits Customs routinely testing all imported toys. In light of this, parents need to be diligent. And these are the reasons why…
There are no safe levels of lead and mercury for children. Lead directly attacks the nervous system and destroys brain cells. Mercury causes both chronic and acute poisoning, damages the brain and significantly disrupts hormones. Dioxin, a byproduct of PVC manufacturing (usually produced when burning chlorine), and is a group of persistent toxic chemicals. While children are not exposed to dioxin when they handle toys or toy packaging, dioxin is released into the environment during both the manufacturing and disposal of PVC materials. Dioxin then gets into our water ways and food production systems. Children consume dioxin from meat, fish, diary products and eggs. Dioxin is a potent cancer causing agent, and has reproductive (decreased fertility, endometriosis, decreased sperm counts, birth defects etc.), developmental, immunological, and endocrine health impacts.
Phthalates (Pronounced THA-lates) are chemicals added to plastic toys to soften them, fix scent in fragrances, and colour personal care and cosmetics, including children’s face paints. While Phthalates are no longer manufactured in Australia, around two million tons of phthalates are produced across the world each year, with more than 20 types of phthalates imported and commonly used in Australian toys. The total amount of phthalate contained in a toy product varies from about 10 to 50%, depending on the degree of softness required.
A growing body of research reveals that exposure to phthalates and their metabolites can cause a range of health impacts. Phthalates exposure has been linked to:
A 2012 study also suggested that high levels of phthalates may be connected to the current obesity epidemic in children.
Infants are exposed to phthalates from multiple sources including through the umbilical cord, breast milk, dust in the air and also from sucking or mouthing PVC plastic toys. And the cumulative impact of different phthalates leads to an exponential increase in associated harm.
The European Union (EU) introduced temporary bans on phthalates in children’s toys as far back as 1999. The EU has phased out the use of three phthalate plasticisers in toys and child-care items, and they will be permanently phased out by the EU by February 2015:
The EU further restricts three plasticisers from toys and childcare items that children can put in their mouths:
In 2010 Australia banned Diethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP) in products used by children up to and including 36 months of age. While the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) continues to collaborate with our chemical regulatory boards to monitor international research into phthalates, and may take specific regulatory action to address risks to people associated with the use of phthalates in consumer products, Australian significantly lags behind international standards. Therefore, while phthalates all have complex chemical names, it’s important to be able to identify some of the key ones to avoid exposing your children to them.
Many kids climbing structures – with their wooden gangways, turrets, and tunnels – are still made out of pressure-treated lumber (copper chrome arsenate – CCA) which contain arsenic – a notoriously deadly poison and established human carcinogen. While in 2006 the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) restricted the use of treated timber used in ‘intimate human contact’ applications such as children’s play equipment, furniture, residential decking and handrailing, it did not recommend dismantling or removing of existing treated wood structures, so many still exist. Authorities have been remiss in not carrying out soil or wipe test in children’s playgrounds.
Toxic Free Toy Selection
It is of no surprise that an increasing number of parents are seeking more natural toys for their children. Consider what it is to makes a good toy, a toy that is suited to the age of the child, and also your own families’ philosophies and health priorities. Here are a few suggestions:
Consider also that nature is the best toy of all. Children, more than ever before, are disconnected from nature – have reduced amounts of leisure time; spend more time in front of the TV and computerized toys; are over stimulated yet live more sedentary lifestyles than ever before. Richard Louv calls this phenomenon ‘nature deficit disorder’. Consider that it is in our best interest to reconnect to nature, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it. Exposure to nature reduces diseases, improves cognitive abilities, and resistance to stresses. The health of the earth also depends upon it as well. How children connect with nature, and how we, as parents raise our children, will shape the conditions of future cities, homes, parks and the conditions of our animals, plants and ecosystems.
As mama I watch how my children, and other children, connect with nature with such ease and grace if we give them the space to do so. It’s like breathing to them. John Muir’s quote is apt here: ‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, (s)he finds it attached to the rest of the world’
The company released a statement stating they are no longer introducing new products with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and they have reduced their use of the chemical by 60% in the US market and 33% globally over the past few years.
The Johnson and Johnson statement said: ‘We know that some consumers are concerned about formaldehyde, which is why we offer many products without formaldehyde releasing preservatives, and are phasing out these types of preservatives in our baby products worldwide’.
And whilst this is undoubtably a step in the right direction, I still find it remarkable that a company like Johnson and Johnson, a household name, can be putting in carcinogenic ingrediants into their products for generations, and will not be called to account for this by any regulatory or government bodies. It raises profound intergenerational ethical issues.
If you want to avoid formaldehyde-releasing ingredients and 1,4-dioxane, you need to know what to look for as they’re NOT listed on the label; at least not in those words.
Common ingredients likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
To avoid 1,4-dioxane, watch out for these ingredients, which create 1,4-dioxane as a byproduct:
- PEG-100 stearate
- Sodium laureth sulfate
- Sodium myreth sulfate
If you want to get even more informed on this topic, CLICK HERE for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Report, entitled Babys Tub Is Still Toxic
While researching overseas earlier in the year, I worked with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics on a camapign targeting Johnson and Johnson baby products. The campaign purchased (I did the Australia and Indonesian section of this) and reviewed labels of the Johnson’s ‘No More Tears’ Baby Shampoo sold in 13 countries to see if the products contained quaternium-15, a chemical preservative that kills bacteria by releasing formaldehyde. These are the findings:
Products purchased in the following countries contained the formaldehyde-releasing preservative quaternium-15:
Products purchased in the following countries did NOT contain quaternium-15:
*Products sold in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland use the same formulation as products purchased in the Netherlands.
Yes, that’s right. Everyday, Australian babies are subject to formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo while the company is making formaldehyde-free versions of the shampoo in several other countries!
And let me tell you a bit about this chemical…Quaternium-15 is a formaldehyde releasing chemical. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (causes cancer). It also causes allergies and contact dermatitis, headaches and linked to chronic fatigue. The vapor is irritating to the eyes, nose and throat (mucous membranes) – which is a little hilarious given that it’s ‘no tears’ shampoo we are talking about…its all around this region. Formaldehyde was recently added to the U.S. government list of known human carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program, under the Department of Health and Human Services. According to a peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association, quaternium-15 is ‘the most sensitizing formaldehyde-releasing preservative and has been repeatedly shown to be a strong allergen that can cause contact dermatitis.’
What a crazy toxic world we live in. Stay tuned for more information about the campaign…
This is an interview I did with the ABC last week about changes going on the chemical regulations in Australia and generally about chemicals and the human body generally. It’s about 9 minutes long. Have a listen…CLICK HERE
The Public Health Association of Australia notes that:
1. We are living in a time of large scale and high volume industrial and manufactured chemicals. Global chemical production has escalated from around one million tonnes a year in 1930 to some 400 million tonnes being produced annually today.[i] Over 80,000 chemicals are now registered for use in Australia (40,000 industrial chemicals) and accessed via everyday consumer products ranging from foods and food packaging, clothing, building materials, water, cleaning products, personal care products.[ii] Yet 75% of these have never been tested for their toxicity on the human body or the environment.[iii]
2. The backlog of internationally untested chemicals is both an Australian specific and a global issue[iv]
3. People are affected by manufactured chemicals unequally:
4. In utero and childhood exposures to environmental chemicals constitute a source of inequity between generations highlighting the need for significant ethical policy and regulations.[x]
5. Exposure to many chemicals has been linked to a range of diseases and impairments. These include asthma,[xi] [xii][xiii]allergies,[xiv] autoimmune diseases, cancers[xv][xvi]neurological impairment[xvii], birth defects and infertility.[xviii]
6. Many of the diseases caused by manufactured chemicals can successfully be prevented, thus saving lives, enhancing the quality of life, reducing health care and education costs, and increasing national productivity.[xix][xx]
7. Evidence on individual and multiple environmental exposure effects on disease initiation and outcomes, and consequent health system and societal costs are not being adequately integrated into national policy decisions and strategies for disease prevention, health care access, and health system reform.
8. Regulatory agencies in Australia do not have a clear picture of what chemicals Australian’s are exposed to and in what concentrations. This is due to limited research, data collection about chemical exposure and the regulatory framework which is based on a ‘proceed until danger is proven’ approach, rather than a precautionary principle.
9. Australian specific evidence on inutero exposure, level of harm, and increased risk from chemical exposures is insufficient.
10. Governments and regulatory agencies across the globe, including Australia, are faced with the urgent task of prioritizing chemicals for regulation and eradication. This needs to be systematically co-ordinated.
11. Individuals and communities are not being provided all available information about chemical exposures they may experience, the cumulative effects of such exposures, and how to minimize harmful exposures.
The Public Health Association of Australia affirms the following principles:
12. Australia is a signatory to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which states;
“In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation, a statement known as the Precautionary Principle.”[xxi]
13. Guiding principles for the Australian Charter for Environmental Health include the protection of human health. This is stated as ‘Protect human health by identifying threats posed by environmental hazards as early as possible and by introducing appropriate safeguards. Ideally these should be sustainable and cost-effective’.[xxii]
14. That the health of children and young people is important to future generations and the future of the planet. Societies have a social and ethical responsibility to ensure that children can reach and maintain their full potential and be provided with a safe, clean environment.
15. To protect the Australian population from exposure to chemical exposures, the nation needs a comprehensive, cohesive policy agenda and regulatory framework based on prevention and a precautionary principle.
16. That there are many opportunities for harmful environmental exposures, ample opportunities also exist to intervene in, ameliorate, and prevent environmental health hazards. Governments, industry, the academic and medical communities, and individuals all have untapped power to protect the health of current and future generations of Australians and reduce the national burden of disease.
The Public Health Association of Australia believes that the following steps should be undertaken:
17. A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure. Though not applicable in every instance, this approach should be the cornerstone of prevention strategy that emphasizes primary prevention, redirects accordingly both research and policy agendas, and sets tangible goals for reducing or eliminating toxic environmental exposures.
18. That this precautionary approach be adopted and incorporated at all levels of government as a primary guide to all policy development program implementation and decision-making including health and environmental decision-making.
19. This precautionary approach shifts the burden of proving safety to manufacturers prior to new chemical approval, in mandatory post-market studies for new and existing agents, and in renewal applications for chemical approval.
20. The Australian Government must set a priority process and commence the long overdue assessment of Australia’s existing chemicals. That the detection of a chemical in human umbilical cord blood is the most urgent and hence the most appropriate criteria on which to base regulatory prioritisation of chemical assessments. Chemicals that children are exposed to prenatally and being detected in newborn babies must be fast-tracked for immediate assessment and removal from the market.
21. Reform of reducing chemical exposure will need to encompass these essential changes:
22. Epidemiologic and hazard assessment research must be strengthened in areas in which the evidence in Australia is unclear, especially research on workplace exposures, the impact of in utero and childhood exposures, and exposures that appear to have multigenerational effects.
23. Public health messages must be developed and disseminated to raise awareness of chemical risks and that support people to reduce or eliminate exposures whenever possible.
The Public Health Association of Australia resolves to undertake the following actions:
The Board, Branches and the Environmental Health and Child Health SIGs will:
24. Work in partnership with government and non-government organizations to develop and implement a comprehensive intersectoral national strategy to reduce the impact of chemical exposures on the health of Australians, especially children, the indigenous population, and people of low socioeconomic status.
25. Write to the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) enHealth, the Commonwealth and State/Territory ministries of health and the environment seeking support for substantial funding for research programs aimed at:
26. Advocate for the protection of children and other vulnerable groups from environmental health hazards and the inclusion of the welfare of these groups in health impact assessments and policy development on an on-going basis.
[i] Nguyen An Luong, (1997) Chemical Safety – Our Great Concern, Asian-Pacific Regional Network on Occupational Safety and Health Information (ASIA-OSH), Chemical Safety, 4 (1):3.
[ii] Landrigan, P & L Goldman (2011) Children’s Vulnerability To Toxic Chemicals: A Challenge And Opportunity To Strengthen Health And Environmental Policy, Health Affairs, 30, (5): 842 -850
[iii] Sly, P. Hanna, E. Giles-Corti, B. Immig, J & McMichael, T (2008) Environmental Threats to the Health of Children in Australia: The Need for a National Research Agenda, ARACY ARC/NHMRC Research Network.
[iv] ibid, Sly et al, 2008:18.
[v] Suzanne H. Reuben for The President’s Cancer Panel, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, 2008–2009 Annual Report, 2010, U.S. Department of Health and Human Servivces, National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute, Washington DC.
[vi] Landrigan, P & L Goldman (2011) Children’s Vulnerability to Toxic Chemicals: A Challenge And Opportunity To Strengthen Health And Environmental Policy, Health Affairs, 30 (5): 842 -850
[vii] Nassar. N, Abeywardana. P, Barker. A, & Bower. C (2009) Parental occupational exposure to potential endocrine disrupting chemicals and risk of hypospadias in infants, Occup Environ Med, 67:585-589
[ix] Woodruff. TJ, Zota. AR, Schwartz. JM (2011) Environmental Chemicals in Pregnant Women in the US: NHANES 2003-2004, Environ Health Perspective, doi:10.1289/ehp.1002727. Epub 2011 Jan 14.
[x] Gilbert, S.G (2005) Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues: Our Children’s Stolen Futures, Neurotoxicology, 26: 521-530.
[xi] Al-Yaman, F. Bryant, M. & Sargeant, H. (2002) Australia’s Children: Their Health and Wellbeing, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Canberra.
[xii] Woolcock, A. Bastiampillai, S. Marks, G. & Keena, V. (2001) The burden of asthma in Australia, Medical Journal of Australia, 175 (3):141-5.
[xiii] Mendell, M. J (2006) Indoor Residential Chemical Exposures as Risk Factors for Asthma and Allergy in Infants and Children: a Review, Environmental Energy Technologies Division Indoor Environment Department Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory See http://eetd.lbl.gov/ie/pdf/LBNL-59781.pdf (Accessed May 23, 2011)
[xiv] Kwak. E, Just. A, Whyatt. R, & Miller, R (2009) Phthalates, Pesticides, and Bisphenol-A Exposure and the Development of Nonoccupational Asthma and Allergies: How Valid Are the Links? Open Allergy J., Vol 2: 45–50.
[xv] Freedman, D. Stewart, P. Ruth, A. Kleinerman, M. Wacholder, S. Hatch, E. Tarone. R. Robison, L. & Linet, M. (2001 ) Household Solvent Exposures and Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, American Journal of Public Health, 91(4):564-567.
[xvi] Labreche F, Goldberg, M. Marie-France Valois & Louise Nadon (2010) Postmenopausal breast cancer and occupational exposures, Occup Environ Med, 67: 263-69.
[xvii] Grandjean , P. & Landrigan, P (2006) Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals, The Lancet, 368 (9553): 2167 – 2178
[xviii] Janssen, S. Solomon, G. & Schettler, T. Chemical Contaminants and Human Disease:
A Summary of Evidence See www.protectingourhealth.org/corethemes/links/2004-0203spreadsheet.htm (Accessed May 23, 2011)
[xix] op cit. Landrigan & Goldman, 2011.
[xx] Trasande. L, & Yinghua. L (2011) Reducing the Staggering Costs of Envronmental Diseaese in Children, Estimated at $76.6 billion in 2008, Health Affairs, 30, 5, 1-8.
[xxi] American Public Health Association (2001) The Precautionary Principle and Children’s Health, American Journal of Public Health, 91(3): 495-496.
[xxii] Enhealth, National Environmental Health Strategy Implementation Plan, Environmental Health Section, Department of Health and Aged Care, Canberra, 2000.
I’m back into the swing of life after rougue-travelling (and will be able to post more regular bloggs now). I am doing a workshop presented by the Southern Cross Catholic College P & F next week. It’s titled ‘What’s Toxic & What’s Not’ . Come along if you would like more information about what chemicals are in the body – and what should be there, how they get there, health impacts, chemical policy, the precautionary principle…and generally some critical tips for living more healthy in a toxic world. It will be a jam-packed night of exploring these issues. These are the details:
Thursday 15th September, SCCC Community Hall, 281 Scarborough Road, Scarborough 7pm – 9pm (tea and coffee from 6.30pm)
Contact the lovely Deborah Fay for more information – email@example.com
See you there, Sa xox
The Home Beautiful Magazine interviewed me for an article about detoxing the home. And here it is! It’s exciting that mainstream magazines are starting to take up the issue of chemicals in the home. The article has some practical solutions and gives people some consumer options for cleaning without chemicals.
Click the link for the Home Beautiful Article…
I did an interview for an article in GMag called The Chemical Child. The author of the article Aimee Wagenheim did a fabulous job given that I bombarded her with so much information about chemicals and their impact on the body. It’s well worth a read. And if you haven’t subscribed to G Mag (an excellent green magazine) I would I would recommend it. Grab a copy.
It’s exciting to be here in the US while there is movement (or at least much discussion) in the policy area of children and chemicals.
Signaling their clear intention to protect families from toxic chemicals linked to serious health problems, Senators Frank Lautenberg, Barbara Boxer, Amy Klobuchar, Charles Schumer and others today introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act” to upgrade America’s outdated system for managing chemical safety. (See above video announcement from Senator Frank Lautenberg)
The Act responds to increasingly forceful warnings from scientific and medical experts – including the President’s Cancer Panel – that current policies have failed to curtail common chemicals linked to diseases such as cancer, learning disabilities, infertility, and more. The Senate’s Safe Chemicals Act builds on momentum from 18 states that have passed laws to address health hazards from chemicals; and numerous corporate policies of major American companies restricting toxic chemicals.
The Safe Chemicals Act would overhaul the 35-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which is widely perceived to have failed to protect public health and the environment. Specifically the Act would:
Passed in 1976, TSCA’s presumption that chemicals should be considered innocent until proven guilty was a sharp departure from the approach taken with pharmaceuticals and pesticides. Since then, an overwhelming body of science has shown that presumption to be unfounded. Published studies in peer-reviewed journals have shown many common chemicals can cause chronic diseases and can be toxic even at low doses.
Once thought to pose little likelihood of exposure, we now know many chemicals migrate from the materials and products in which they’re used – including furniture, plastics and food cans – into our bodies. The federal Centers for Disease Control has found that the blood or tissues of almost every American carry hundreds of these chemicals, some present even before birth. Yet under TSCA, EPA cannot restrict even the most dangerous of these chemicals and lacks the information it needs to evaluate how this complex mixture of chemicals affects our health. EPA has been able to require testing of only a few hundred of the 62,000 chemicals that have been on the market since TSCA was passed 35 years ago, a number that has increased to over 100,000 chemicals today, and in such massive quantities.
Lets see what the US Congress does from here…..
[Information from our friends at Safer Chemicals- Healthy Families]
This latest study is a very credible study that raises significant concerns about several pesticides that are used in Australia that may be contributing to Parkinson’s disease. Both paraquat and rotenone are registered pesticides in Australia, despite being banned in the European Union since 2007.
The Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website lists rotenone as a chemical nominated for review, because of ‘human health concerns’. Paraquat has been under review since 1997. We are wondering why it takes so long for Australia to ban pesticides banned long ago accross the globe?
Our friends at the National Toxics Network (NTN) have just released a briefing paper on the chemicals used in the drilling and extraction of coal seam gas (CSG) in Australia. NTN is calling on state and federal Governments to urgently introduce a moratorium on all drilling and fracking chemicals until they have been independently assessed by the federal regulator. (NB. Frac jobs or frac’ing in the industry, with the spelling ‘fracking‘ being common in media reports, is a process that results in the creation of fractures in rocks).
Fracking chemicals are complex mixtures of chemicals. ‘Despite industry claims that fracking chemicals are ‘only used in small quantities’ and are all ‘food grade chemicals used in household chemicals’, the NTN has discovered that hazardous chemicals such as ethylene glycol, formamide, naphthalene, ethoxylated nonylphenol and sodium persulfate are commonly used in fracking mixtures
Lead author of the report, Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith said, ’Our investigation found that of 23 common fracking chemicals used in Australia, only 2 have ever been assessed by NICNAS, Australia’s industrial chemicals regulator. The two that were assessed, have never been assessed for use as fracking chemicals’.
Constituents of fracking fluids are often considered ‘trade secrets’ and not revealed to the public.
’Risk assessments for specific CSG projects in Queensland lacked basic information on the chemicals. The ones we were able to identify concerned us because of their significant potential to cause damage to the environment and human health. Some were linked with cancer and birth defects, while others damaged the hormone system of living things and affected aquatic species at very low levels.’
Images: Demonstrations again fracking are going on accross the world. Fraking has been known to contaminate drinking water, food crops and are linked to numerous illnesses.
Preparations are underway to send the first of four shipments of high risk, hazardous chemical waste (hexachlorobenzene – HCB) from Sydney to Denmark. The waste, from the Orica site at Botany in Sydney was created by decades of production of plastics and solvents. A deal between Australia and the Danish Government means the highly toxic waste will be disposed of at an incineration site in the south of the country.
HCB is a white crystalline solid which was commonly used as a pesticide and fungicide to protect seeds of wheat and for a variety of industrial purposes. It has been banned globally under the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.
Because HCB is persistent and bioaccumulative, it stays in our environment and contaminates our food chain. HCB can cause severe health problems for humans and other wildlife:
We are exposed to HCB via:
Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith, Senior Adviser, National Toxics Network Inc. and co-chair of the International POPs Elimination Network spoke to the media about the issue. She says: “We’ve had the capacity to deal with it in the past. For over a decade we’ve had some of the state of art technologies dealing with our hazardous waste here”. “There is simply no excuse for Orica to be doing this”.
I was privileged to meet Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith for an interview last week as part of my post-doctorate research project and her knowledge in the area of chemical research and prevention is nothing short of amazing. I would recommend you listen to the fully story.
[IMAGE: Greenpeace environmental activists climb on to containers and use paint to protest at the Orica site at Port Botany. Photo: AP/Greenpeace[
My best friend Yani died of Breast Cancer nearly two years ago now, so the links between breast cancer and synthetic chemicals have been a particular interest of mine (and yet to be seriously taken up by the Australian breast cancer foundation and services). Written by by Dr Janet Gray, State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment 2010 is the sixth edition of the US Breast Cancer Fund and now available, and makes those links very clearly! Among the risk factors are exposures to radiation, carcinogens and chemicals that act like hormones (known as endocrine disruptors). Add into the mix your genes, diet, lifestyle and reproductive history and you begin to see the complex web of breast cancer causation. Given that one in nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 85, this report is well worth the read.
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