Protecting Our Children in a Toxic World
by Marcia F. Marks, ACSW, LCSW, Environmental Health Consultant
Daily news reports alarm us about the hazards of living in a toxic world. Parents sometimes feel helpless, yet they can do many simple tasks to protect their families.
Since the 1940‘s, the use of synthetic chemicals has escalated until they are hard to avoid in daily life. With the energy crisis of the 1970‘s, buildings were sealed tightly to conserve energy. The 1980‘s saw deregulation of consumer safety laws. We can no longer assume government protection. People must do research to make informed decisions.
People spend about 90% of their time indoors. It is important to protect your homes, schools, and workplaces and reduce the source of toxins. Here are some things to consider:
- Tobacco products and secondhand smoke are hazardous and should be eliminated. Make sure that schools and day care centers are smoke-free, as directed by U.S. Public Law 102-227, Part C, 12-26-94. Ask your state regulators to make all workplaces smoke-free, as Maryland has, and to follow California‘s lead and ban smoking in all bars and restaurants.
- Pesticides and pests should be kept outside homes, gardens, schools and workplaces. Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, fungicides, disinfectants, fumigants and growth regulators. Learn about alternative methods to banish pests. One such method is Integrated Pest Management, which begins with a process of preventing pests from entering structures, includes good sanitation, and does not use pesticides harmful to humans or animals. Pets should also be protected. Remember that pesticides used outdoors are tracked indoors. Copy the Japanese and leave your shoes at the door.
- Pesticides have not been proven safe for humans or animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn‘t "approve" pesticides; it registers them, based on manufacturers‘ information. The companies test single pesticides for the effects on the tissue of 170-pound males, not of children, women, fetuses, or people using medication. Tests don‘t show effects of chemical mixtures, which all pesticides have.
- Extensive advertising spreads fear of pests. While some pests can be pervasive, disease carriers, or destructive to property, most are harmless. The adverse effects of pesticides, however, are well documented. Sometimes the inert ingredients are more dangerous than the pesticide.
- People usually don‘t know when they are exposed to toxic pesticides, or that residues may last for weeks to years, particularly indoors. Certain pesticides can affect all bodily systems, including: neurologic, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immune, reproductive, genitourinary, musculoskeletal, and endocrine. Symptoms of pesticide toxicity can mimic influenza, alcohol toxicity, or simple fatigue. Acute symptoms of toxicity may be non-specific or include headache, sinusitis, asthma, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, rashes, urinary frequency, irritability, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, emotional instability, nightmares, apathy and confusion, aggressive and violent behavior, and cancer.
- With over 50% of pregnancies unplanned, exposures may occur before a woman knows she‘s pregnant, when the fetus is forming essential organs. What happens prior to and during pregnancy affects a child‘s neurological system and ability to think and learn.
- Certain household products may emit fumes all day, getting into your bloodstream through inhalation or skin absorption. Keep your house clean with safer products such as Borax, Bon-Ami, vinegar, baking soda, and non- toxic soap. Make sure your personal care products and laundry soap are toxin- and perfume-free. Before bringing indoors, thoroughly air dry-cleaned clothes containing perchlorethelene. Until proven safe, minimize contact between plastics and foods and avoid heating or microwaving food in plastics.
- Building materials are major sources of neurotoxins and other dangers. Cabinets, carpeting, glue, and treated wood containing formaldehyde can "out-gas" for years. Be sure that renovation doesn‘t occur when people are in residence. Be sure that heating and air conditioning systems are thoroughly cleaned and maintained with plenty of fresh, outside air. The safe zone for health and comfort for every child in a classroom is ﬁve cubic feet per minute of fresh air.
SUMMARY: Remember that exposures are cumulative from air, food, water, dust and all other sources. Be an informed consumer. Read all labels. If you don‘t know what the contents are, ﬁnd out before using a product. Before conceiving a child, take care of your own health, drink uncontaminated water, eat organic healthy food, exercise, and clean up your personal environment. Finally, ask yourself if a perfect house and yard are worth the risk to the health of your family.[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 3, Number 3 - Winter, 1997-1998]