Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Less-Toxic Life List

Reading Deanna Duke’s book The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You has made me look much more carefully at the things that I do and the products I buy for my family.  It’s not realistic for me to think that we will be able to eliminate our exposure to questionable chemicals, but we can focus on reducing that exposure.  Hopefully our bodies can battle the toxins we do take in more easily on their own, if they’re not being completely bombarded with them.  As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, it’s a case of “pick your battles”.  Well, these are the battles I decided to pick…

First, a pat on the back for things that we already do:

Keep lots of houseplants-plants do an amazing job of purifying the air, naturally.  Apparently, they can help filter the air up to 100% over 24 hours in a closed environment, if you have enough of them.  But you DO have to remember to give them water so that they don’t die.  Damn.

Use stainless steel cookware-we invested a few years ago in a nice collection of All-Clad pots and pans.  We love them and now can feel especially good about the fact that they aren’t poisoning us every time we cook a meal.

Use Apple computer products-because of its lack of restricted chemicals like lead, mercury and arsenic (which many computers contain…yuck), PVC-free components, and long battery charge, Apple’s computers are far safer than their competitors.

NO antibacterial soap or cleaners-use natural, handcrafted soap.  Antibacterial soap is Evil.  It’s full of Triclosan, which is not only really bad for fish and other wildlife, but gets stored in the body long term and is linked to endocrine abnormalities, immune-system weakening and cancer.   It’s also usually loaded with synthetic fragrance, which contains phthalates and neurotoxins.

Eat organic-we don’t eat all organic food, but we try to choose the organic or natural options whenever possible.   For produce, I put special focus on avoiding the non-organic versions of items that are known to carry the most pesticides, and buying the ones that usually have less.  Having said that, if my kids are having a snack at a friend’s house and have to choose between a non-organic apple and a candy bar, I hope they choose the apple. 

Starting down the road to a less toxic life:

No more nonstick cookware-we don’t have much of it, but what we do have is going away.  This stuff is loaded with nasty chemicals and has a tendency to flake off after repeated use, so you basically end up eating Teflon chunks.  It’s gross and definitely not good for you.  For example, my husband will be getting this stainless steel bowl rice cooker for the holidays, to replace the non-stick one we currently have.  Shhh, don’t tell him.

Wash my hands more-as if the normal reasons for washing your hands weren’t enough, now I’m aware of the fact that most paper printed with thermal printer ink (like cash machine and register receipts) is full of BPA, which rubs off onto your hands, seeps into your skin and follows you wherever you go.  Cashiers often have extremely high levels of BPA in their blood.  If my kids ever get a job at 7-11, they’re wearing gloves to work.

Shop online more-one of things that’s most difficult for me in trying to be a chemical watchdog for my family is that there are so many to keep track of.  I use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to look up information on specific products, but if I don’t plan ahead and bring a list with me when I shop in stores, I can never remember all the chemicals that should be avoided.  If you shop online, it’s much easier to look up that information because you’re sitting at your computer already.

Bring a cheat sheet-some things I just won’t buy online, so I’m going to carry a list in my wallet of the most heinous and pervasive chemicals…and the many different names they go by.  Hopefully this will help me to make better choices when I shop.

No plastic in the microwave-I know this is not new information, but the book really reinforced for me the importance of heating food in containers made from glass or metal, since the chemicals in plastic leach so easily into the food, especially at higher temperatures.  I’ve let it slip in the past, but won’t any more.

Be  less American-by this, I mean buy the European versions of products, if possible.  The EU has much stricter laws regarding questionable chemicals, where the burden is on corporations to prove that an ingredient is safe before it goes into the product.  Many American companies offer European versions of the same popular brands they sell here, only without the garbage in them.  Why don’t they just sell them in the US since they’ve already spent money on reformulating the recipes, you ask?  Probably because they’re afraid of appearing culpable and being sued if/when people get sick or have reactions to the American versions.  If they change the formulas, it implies that they contained something bad in the first place.   Sheesh.

Be strong, mom-I vow to buckle less under the whining pressure of my children when they ask to buy crappy chemical-laced, un-naturally colored, heavily fragranced or highly processed consumables.  Or better yet, I’ll just try not to take them to the store with me in the first place.

The harder changes to swallow:

Electronics-there’s a high likelihood that living in a world filled with electronics and high-voltage transients (dirty electricity) could affect our bodies on a cellular level.  If you think about it, these high frequency technologies (like in microwave ovens, cell phones & wi-fi ) are pretty new.  They’ve all become common within my own lifetime.  Time has not yet tested how our bodies can process and adapt to this widespread electromagnetic exposure.  It’s really scary.  But I also value electronics and feel like the positive impact they have on my life in other ways is very significant.  Even if I were to give up electronics and “go Amish”, my neighbors would still have wi-fi.  There’s really no escaping it.

Plastics, in general-we’ve been trying to transition away from plastics over the past few years, but it’s not easy.  I’m thankful for stainless steel and glass containers for storing and reheating food, but plastic is literally everywhere.  I will not take my daughter’s Polly Pocket dolls away from her, but I will make sure that she does not put them in her mouth…or in the microwave.

REI am in trouble-I am from the Northwest, and I do love the outdoors and all the gear that goes with it.  Apparently, water repellant sprays and fabrics that are wrinkle-resistant or weather resistant like Gore-Tex are full of nasties.  And fleece…I love fleece (sigh).  These fabrics contain Teflon, off-gas PVCs, or are full of PTFEs to keep things from sticking to them (like rain).  Seriously?  You mean I might actually have to carry an umbrella in Seattle?  This one is going to be difficult.  Camping in wool is just not an option for us.

The biggest overall change will come from being better informed and more aware of the hazards in many products.  Choices will have to be made, but at least I have a better understanding now of the issues involved.  What things might you try to change, to lead a less toxic life?



Sara said...

There's so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I'm not surprised that you are concerned. I'm a representative of DuPont though, and hope you'll let me share some information with you and your readers so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

Regulatory agencies, consumer groups and health associations all have taken a close look at the Teflon® brand. This article highlights what they found -- the bottom line is that you can use Teflon® non-stick without worry.

I'd truly be glad to share additional information about it if you are interested, and appreciate your consideration of this comment. Cheers, Sara.

ASBloom said...

Thanks for your feedback. I will still try to avoid using nonstick pans because, as I said in my post, the goal is to lower my family's overall exposure. The statements from your article saying that tests were "largely reassuring", they found "very little PFOA", and the FDA finds risk "very unlikely" leave too much doubt about the overall safety...especially with the continued cautions regarding using the pans at high temperatures. The risk is not worth the convenience of non-stick for my family, especially when there are other options that come with no such cautions.

Laura said...

Can you explain the 'camping in wool is not an option?'


ASBloom said...

Laura, it's just that wool is too impractical for camping/cleaning with three young kids...

Anonymous said...

I understand why you would want to buy European. But also think about the carbon footprint that goes with shipping stuff across the world. Better find the last few honest american manufacturers or force your local supplier to provide healthier products :)