It’s time to bag the baggies! Use safer alternatives to plastic bags, wrap, and wax paper

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If you’re used to plastic baggies and wrap, chances are you reach for them automatically. Next time you do, consider giving them up—for health as well as environmental reasons.

Chemicals in plastic can migrate into food, especially fatty foods. Most sandwich bags are actually made from #4 plastic, which is currently considered ok by the scientific community. But it can be remarkably tricky to confirm which plastic your baggies or wrap are made of without calling manufacturers, and it’s never wise to place food in an unknown plastic. Some plastic wrap is #3 PVC, which can contain hormone-disrupting phthalates—not desirable.

It’s easy to understand why to avoid unsafe chemicals on and around your food. But it’s harder to grasp how using disposables can harm our kids and us. Think about it, though. Any plastic—#4 or #3 or something else entirely—used only briefly is a waste of resources. Plastic clogs our landfills and oceans, and may never decompose completely. Need a visual of where your baggie will likely end up? Do a Google image search for “great Pacific garbage patch.” Marine animals eat the plastic and then we wind up eating plastic when our families eat seafood. It’s an unhappy cycle.

The good news is that it’s easy as can be to use reusable baggies or to cover a (glass) bowl of fridge-bound leftovers with a reusable plate instead of plastic wrap. Reusing plastic baggies and/or wrap isn’t the answer; plastics designed for single use aren’t meant for reuse. When plastic breaks down over time, it’s more likely to release its chemical components into your food. Rely instead on non-plastic reusables. Look for easy-to-wash items made of glass, stainless steel, and lead-safe ceramics. These come in all shapes and sizes. For plastic baggies, swap in food-safe fabric bags. These are sometimes lined with waterproof materials, so read labels to make sure you’re not buying an unsafe plastic-lined baggie. For plastic wrap, swap in washable beeswax cloth in varying sizes. Bonus: reusables can save real cash! They also drastically reduce trash. The EPA says one year of school lunches creates an average of 67 pounds of trash.

If you must use disposables from time to time, look for unbleached wax paper and paper baggies lined with vegetable wax instead of petroleum-derived wax. There are cupcake liners made from this too, so stock up for the next bake sale.

There is truly life beyond plastic. Come on, give it a try.

Childhood Diseases on the Rise- What You Need To Know!

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Though the incidence of many kinds of cancer has been falling in recent years, the number of new cases of childhood cancer has been rising. So have the rates of many other childhood diseases, including autism, allergies, asthma, ADHD, learning disabilities, diabetes, and obesity. Increasingly, scientific research points to the toxic chemicals found in our homes, schools, and communities as a significant factor in this alarming trend.

Renowned pediatrician Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, and honorary board member of Healthy Child Healthy World, is a leading expert on the issue of environmental influences and childhood health. Here are some of his thoughts about toxic chemicals and kid’s health, and what we can do to prevent harm from chemical exposures.

On developmental disabilities:

Developmental disabilities affect 10 to 15 percent of our children. Examples include dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and mental retardation. The incidence of autism spectrum disabilities is on the rise. Now some form of autism affects 1 in 88 American children, a significant increase of 23 percent since 2006.

On phthalates:

Phthalates interfere with the body’s naturally occurring hormones, which control growth, development, and behavior. The highest levels of phthalates are found in women and young children. Vinyl plastics and personal care products are main routes of exposure to phthalates. These chemicals affect reproductive development, especially in boys, and have been linked to early puberty, as well as brain and nervous system effects.

Try these tips to avoid phthalates.

On pesticides:

Children are exposed to pesticides from playgrounds and yards that are chemically treated. Conventional fruits and vegetables are another source of pesticide exposure. Some people use pesticides in their homes, spraying chemicals to kill cockroaches and other pests. The toxic effects of pesticides on children are severe, damaging the developing brain and, in extreme cases, resulting in a loss of IQ points. Taking off shoes before entering your home will decrease the amount of pesticides tracked inside. And choosing organic fruits and vegetables lightens the load of toxic pesticides in your child’s body.

For tips and resources to make your home pesticide free, click here.

Want to learn more? Check out this video of the presentation the above remarks came from, sponsored by Kiwi Magazine’s Kiwi College program.

Verdict is in: Your OB/GYN should advise you about harmful chemicals

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Chemical makers frequently claim that their products are safe, but earlier this month two leading medical organizations declared otherwise.

In a strongly worded opinion, none other than The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists*** and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in conjunction with the University of California, San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment declared that:

“Robust scientific evidence has emerged over the past 15 years, demonstrating that preconception and prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can have a profound and lasting effect on reproductive health…. Exposure to toxic environmental agents also is implicated in increases in adverse reproductive health outcomes that emerged since World War II (and which) cannot be explained by changes in genetics alone.”

The opinion finds that there is much to be concerned about. Every pregnant women in the U.S. is exposed to at least 43 different chemicals, and many of these can cross the placenta. Such prenatal exposures are linked to negative health effects that occur not just in utero but throughout a child’s life. Prenatal contact with certain pesticides, for example, is related to an increased likelihood of childhood cancer.

Not surprisingly, children aren’t the only ones at risk. Adults are, after all, just grown up kids. The groups also cite evidence showing that chemicals harm the reproductive health of adults. They also implicate common endocrine disrupting pollutants like BPA, organophosphate pesticides, and phthalates as key culprits in this multigenerational problem.

Such dangers are not evenly distributed in the U.S.—while we’re all exposed to environmental toxins, minority families in impoverished areas typically face higher pollution levels and suffer from poor housing quality, psychosocial stresses, and nutritional issues that can exacerbate the effects of even low-dose exposures.

The opinion ends with a call for doctors to learn about these issues and actively advise their patients about avoiding toxins, particularly those who are currently pregnant and/or who are members of especially vulnerable communities or populations.

Such directives are badly needed and long overdue. They’re a highly effective first step all doctors should take with their patients, and we commend America’s reproductive physicians for taking action to make that happen. Can you hear us clapping?

***No wonder Dr. Jeanne Conry, president of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is currently one of our 2013 Mom on a Mission finalists. Read more about her story here.