Chemicals, Kids and what we as parents butt-up against as we try to raise healthy children in a toxic world.
I loved this book. It’s not so much that the information is new to me, but that the writing is authentic, genuine, and committed to raising the profile of the everyday noxious chemicals we’re all marinating in. I also related to this book – written from one parent to another. It’s accessible. It’s a story…
The authors, Bruce Lourie, started one of Canada’s largest environmental consultancies, while Rick Smith is the current Executive Director of Canada’s Environmental Defence. In 2008 they shut themselves away and used their bodies as testing laboratories, to see how many toxins were in the every day products we use. Scientific experts helped them test for seven chemicals, to see how levels increased after nearly a week of living with everyday household products – from toothpaste to non-stick frying pans and tuna.
Listen to their interview with ABC ClassicFM. It’s great! And I would recommend the book!
After a particularly messy day yesterday, filled with brazen confrontation, starting at breakfast time with Adiva (my 4 year old blond beauty) who wanted to eat lollies for breakfast, I went in search of some quick-fix parenting advice.
I picked up Robin Grille’s book ‘Parenting for a Peaceful World’. A brilliant book which has been particularly influential in how we raise our girls.
‘Surely he has a peaceful way to stop this insolent behaviour’, I thought to myself.
But you see, flick to most pages in Grille’s book and the reader (I) am reminded about how, when we ‘impose’ our own purposes and expectations on our children, they resist (and rightly so) our hopes that they become…. doctors, lawyers, humanitarians, nice people…. and in my case, good organic, chemical-free advocates, healthy eaters, kind, calm, peaceful, clean, tidy. And that, our children just want to be seen for the totality of their being and not the objects of our unfulfilled ‘projects’.
I realized that our children (Adiva) just wants to be enjoyed and related to for who they are at any particular moment (as if who they are now, and who they are becoming in this instant, is all they will ever be). They want to relate to us as equals – not deficient, developing beings, having to get somewhere, become something. And almost always they will surprise us, delight us, and confound our expectations. That is our task – to wonder at them, to learn about ourselves through our relationships with them, and at the same time, it’s equally important to not see them as ‘them’, but as ‘us’.
As Grille reminds us: ‘We have felt what they feel, yearned for what they yearn for – and if we are honest with ourselves….we still do’.
Later that day, I sat down and ate a lollie with Adiva. With great exuberance and enthusiasm, she climbed onto my lap and told me about the texture of the lolly, the flavour, the taste, and how she likes to swirl it in her mouth. She asked me what felt about my lolly – what I liked and didn’t like about my lolly. I got lost in her joy, and the joy of partaking in this conversation with her.
We are having a much more peaceful day today…. until there is something else she needs to teach me.
Led by Maryse Bouchard in Montreal, researchers at the University of Montreal and Harvard University examined the potential relationship between ADHD and exposure to certain toxic pesticides known as organophosphates. The data from 1139 children aged between eight and 15 found that children with higher residue levels of organophosphates were roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
To be honest, the correlation is not so surprising. Organophosphates are KNOWN to cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain – they are designed to kill agricultural pests in this way. The chemical works by disrupting specific neurotransmitters in the brain. And many of these pesticides we use on our food production, are derivatives or variations, of the same nerve toxins we developed during WWII to KILL or immobilise ‘the opposition’.
Roughly 40 organophosphate pesticides are registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency for use in the US (we have more here in Australia) and around 73 million pounds of the pesticides were used in agricultural and residential settings in 2001. Although residential pesticide use is common, the US National Academy of Sciences found that the major source of exposure for infants and children comes through diet.
According to a 2008 report cited by the study, detectable levels of pesticides were found in a range of vegetables. A sample of produce tested found 28 per cent of frozen blueberries, 20 per cent of celery and 25 per cent of strawberries contained traces of one organophospate, know as malathion. Other types of pesticides were found in 27 per cent of green beans, 17 per cent of peaches, and eight per cent of broccoli.
The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list highlights the worst agricultural contenders.
The take home message for parents is fairly simple – Buy certified organic, make sure to wash!
The EWG also offers the ‘Clean 15′ if buying all organic produce is not within your budget.
Maryse F. Bouchard, David C. Bellinger, Robert O. Wright and Marc G. Weisskopf, ‘Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides’, Journal of Pediatrics, published online May 17, 2010; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3058
“It’s official: we can’t win the war on cancer until we get serious about chemicals,” said Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, Natural Resources Defense Council, a founding member of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. “We applaud the panel for recognizing strong scientific research linking chemical exposure to cancer. Now Congress and EPA need to catch-up with new policies to protect public health that reduce the burden of this terrible disease.”
Many of the policy recommendations issued by the President’s Cancer Panel align with principles of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. The report criticized current federal policy for allowing cancer-causing chemicals to proliferate in the marketplace and called for strengthening the chemical regulatory system in the U.S. The report found that agencies responsible for promulgating and enforcing regulations related to environmental exposures are “failing to carry out their responsibilities,” and recommended upgrading the system of environmental regulations to be “driven by science and free of political or industry influence” to protect public health.
Last month, both the U.S. House and Senate unveiled legislation to overhaul the nation’s outdated chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act. That law has been widely criticized for preventing EPA from regulating even the small group of known human carcinogens, while also failing to keep pace with more recent science. Though the bills differ, each would require chemicals to be assessed for safety as a condition of remaining on the market. Each would also enact a program for “hot spots”- communities in the country that are especially hard-hit by chemical pollution.
Both pieces of legislation fall short of public health goals in three critical areas: 1) New chemicals would be allowed on the market without having to be proven safe; 2) Action on the most dangerous chemicals, persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals, is deferred; 3) Scientific best practices recommended by the National Academy of Sciences to modernize and improve the methods EPA uses to assess chemical safety, are not incorporated.
“This report should not only galvanize Congress to chemical reform done but to get it done right,” said Igrejas. “We don’t want to look back after a new panel, 10 or 20 years from now and see that we missed our opportunity to reduce the burden of cancer on a new generation.”
A report released by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, “The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act,” focused on the links between environmental contamination and cancer. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. More than 1.5 million people were diagnosed with new cases of cancer in 2009. In 2008 the direct medical costs of cancer were $93.2 billion and the overall costs were $228.1 billion. Medical costs for pediatric cancers alone in 1997 totaled an estimated $3.9 billion.
Chemicals that the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition have prioritized for regulatory action due to their significant impact on health and the environment were singled out by the panel for action, including asbestos, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene (TCE). Formaldehyde, for example, is used in furniture, paneling, insulation, wallpaper, adhesives and lacquers. TCE is a chlorinated hydrocarbon largely used as an industrial solvent but also has been found as a contaminant in drinking water. Much of the certainty around known human carcinogens stems from studies in the workplace where the link between a chemical and cancer in particular workers is, tragically, easier to document.
More recently, however, scientists have published a flood of research linking other common chemicals – like bisphenol A (BPA) – to cancer in animals, often at very low doses, and also documenting widespread exposure of people to these chemicals through the technology of bio-monitoring. (Bio-monitoring involves measuring a chemical in human blood, tissue or urine.) This research has come at the same time that rates of several cancers have increased markedly in the United States, including leukemia and childhood cancer. The Panel also cited this research in coming to its conclusions.
More information at www.saferchemicals.org.
Contaminated Without Consent is a video produced by Sanford Lewis of Strategic Video for the Chemical Safety Workgroup, a coalition of public health and science based NGOs working on toxics protections. It provides an overview about the hidden risks of chemical contaminants found in our homes, workplaces, the consumables we purchase, and even our bodies.
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