Chemical Free Kids

Genesis of Chemical Free Kids and our Research

Our Children will ask…What were our parents thinking? Why did they produce toxic chemicals and then allow them to get in to our bodies? Were they so arrogant to think that our bodies would not be affected?

Chemical Free Kids was established in 2008 and in partnership with my colleague (and now dear friend) Dr Edward Kachab. Edward has a background and training in advanced organic chemistry and declares himself a ‘reformed and conscious chemist’, passionate about preventing toxic chemicals from entering and impacting the human body, especially children and young people. He says in the foreword of the book:

‘I find it ironic that as chemists we are entrusted with the job of inventing new materials and products, and whilst we’ve come up with substances with wonderful applications, the application of these substances is all that we’ve mostly considered. We are often clumsy and deal crudely with all other surrounding issues. For example, we don’t consider that developing a chemical that is good for crops might also get in the waterways, our food, our growing babies and children’ (Lantz, 2009:15)

The conception of Chemical Free Kids emerged out of a growing international concern from parents (particularly my own) that our children’s health is being compromised by environmental chemical threats. Research reveals that many parents are concerned about children’s pesticide exposures, food quality and additives, ingredients in personal care products, water, and air quality (Huang, 1996; Haglund, Johansson, Bergland, & Dahlstedt, 1999; Harper & Makatouni, 1995; Needham et al. 2005).

Policy Context

We’d all like to believe that the government is policing the safety of all of the ingredients we put on our bodies, food we eat, and products that we clean our houses with, but they don’t! Over half of the chemicals produced for human consumption have never been tested for toxicity of the human body (EWG, 2001).

Many reports recognise a number of gaps in Australian policy and legislation in the area of children’s environmental health. The report by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Environmental Threats to the Health of Children in Australia: The Need for a National Research Agenda(2008), argues, ‘It is clear that despite the fact that the unique susceptibility of children to environmental hazards is well recognised internationally there is currently no legislation in Australia to protect children from these hazards’ (Sly et al, 2008:6). Moreover, when the 1999 Australian National Environmental Health Strategy was released and acknowledged the vulnerability of children to environmental hazards, it did not however address the gaps in knowledge, or identify strategies to address the environmental health of Australian children. In 2000, The National Environmental Health Strategy Implementation Plan was released and failed to mention children at all. Although some Australian organisations recognise the problem, including Doctors for the Environment (DEA), the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and the National Toxics Network (NTN) who have released policy documents and position papers in this area (Lloyd-Smith, 2004; Hanna, 2007), there is currently no national education program, policy, agenda or organisation that specifically addresses children’s environmental health in Australia. ARACY and NHMRC Research Network argue that this ‘leaves a gap which heightens the vulnerability of Australian populations, and children in particular, to undetected exposure hazards’ (Sly et al, 2008:18).

What do we do?

In short, Chemical Free Kids do things that make it easier for parents to safeguard their family’s health and reduce the burden of disease stemming from contaminants:

  • undertake empirical research;
  • develop partnerships;
  • identify and addresses gaps in current legislation and policies
  • review products, news reports, and provide information that will help parens and carers of children and young people make healthier consumer choices for their kids, families, and our environment:
  • provide updates about the latest research and developments in the area of chemicals, kids and natural, conscious parenting;
  • identify toxic chemicals to look out for and their impact on the human body
  • provide tips for living more naturally in a toxic world
  • undertake workshops and events across Australia; speak at conferences

Who are Chemical Free Kids?

Chemical Free Kids consists of a group of health professionals, parents and carers of babies, children and young people. We are chemists, environmental health researchers, public health workers, psychologists, policy advisors and natural health workers.

Partners

Chemical Free Kids currently partners with The University of Queensland, National Toxic Network, Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital Foundation and its network of researchers, Family Day Care Australia, The Step-Up Foundation, C & K Early Childcare Centres, Griffith University, Youth Affairs Network of Queensland, Kindred Magazine and ONE GROUP Miessence.

Future Developments

Chemical Free Kids will be launching a product range in 2010 and a range of services, including our national awareness program, seminars and webinars. This year, we also begin a three-year research project at a prominant Queensland University. The title of the research is: Reducing the burden of disease: An International Comparison of Children’s Environmental Health Policy Frameworks.

The aims of the research are:

  1. to identify the gaps in Australian policy and regulations specifically pertaining to children’s environmental health in order to reduce the unnecessary burden of disease;
  2. to assess whether existing policies take sufficient or appropriate account of the many different types and levels of environmental risks to children’s health, how these impinge differentially within the Australian population (as a function of geography, socioeconomic position, ethnicity and other social-demographic indices) and whether such policies are being effectively implemented;
  3. to make recommendations for reforming existing policy and regulations pertaining to children’s environmental health.
  4. to improve awareness of actual environmental health risks in the community, thereby decreasing the burden of disease.

The research largely came about because a number of reports, including the report by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), which noted that there is currently no legislation in Australia to protect children from environmental hazards, despite the fact that it is internationally reccognised that children are uniquely susceptible to environmental hazards. That’s a big missing and our kids are taking the brunt of it!

So in order to carry out the research both a comparative policy analysis of existing national and international children’s environmental health policies, and qualitative research interviews with key informants and stakeholders in the field will take place.

2010 will be spent investigating kids and chemicals within Australia – interviewing policy advisors, government ministers, stakeholders and interest groups in the field of children’s environmental health policy and research. The following two years will be spent doing the same thing, but around the globe: South-East Asia, the European Union (European Commission – European Chemicals Agency who manage all REACH activities (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals); Canada (Health Canada) the United States (regulators of the USA’s Children’s Environment Protection Act 1997; the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and I hope to spend time with the US Campaign for Safe Cosmetics).

I will also be presenting workshops, seminars and papers at conferences, community groups, businesses and expos wherever we go. If you specifically want more information about the research, or workshops, you can contact me directly at: chemicalfreekids@gmail.com.

The findings will be compiled and distributed (via this blog and our website), along with peer reviewed journal articles, a seminar series and curriculum development. Did you know that in such fields as teaching, psychology, chemistry, health and medicine, students receive little or no education about children’s environmental health issues throughout their University degrees?

Blogging as a research tool

There are many researchers writing about blogging as a research tool and that’s one of the reasons why Non-Tox Soapbox emerged.  Blogging can be a kind of a depository (and repository) or database for documenting stuff about the research, in this case, chemicals, policy, parenting, interviews, organics, and new (and emerging) research in the area.

It’s a good way of keeping track of what I do in the research and how my thinking changes over time. I’m also hoping the blog helps me build up the habit of writing, and that it will open the door for other people interested and passionate in the area of kids/chemicals/parenting to contribute ideas, thoughts etc. via this blog.

Sociologist C. Wright Mills, in his classic 1959 book, The Sociological Imagination, has been particularly influential in me starting this blog. By replacing ‘journal’ and ‘file’ with ‘blog’ the significance and relevance of Mill’s work can still be seen today:

‘As a social scientist, you have to … capture what you experience and sort it out; only in this way can you hope to use it to guide and test your reflection, and in the process shape yourself as an intellectual craftsman. But how can you do this? One answer is: you must set up a blog

In such a blog … there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned. In this blog, you … will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person. Here you will not be afraid to use your experience and relate it directly to various work in progress. By serving as a check on repetitious work, your blog also enables you to conserve your energy. It also encourages you to capture ‘fringe-thoughts’: various ideas which may be byproducts of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard in the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience’.

So that’s what this blog is. It’s a space to write about the things I’m working on, thinking about, stuff I’ve read, experiences I’ve had and all the contradictions, imperfections and messiness of parenting (and partnering) as I carry out this research.