Sunday, July 30, 2006

Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World

I just finished reading Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World: 101 Smart Solutions for Every Family by Philip Landrigan, M.D., Herbert L. Needleman, M.d., and Mary Landrigan, M.P.A. The book was published in 2001 by Rodale, but is out of print. I got my hands on a copy through an inter-library loan. It presents much of the same information as Raising Children Toxic Free, the older more widely available book that I already reviewed, along with some very important new information.

Both books are excellent. What I like most about them is that the authors are public health veterans and they keep in focus the biggest, baddest toxins – lead, radon, and aesbestos. If you learn about toxins through newspapers, magazines, and chat groups, it is easy to get caught up with the very latest studies. According to Landrigan, Needleman, and Landrigan, good old lead remains the most dangerous threat. Odds are that there's lead paint on the walls of the very house MaGreen, BabyG, and I live in. It was built in the 1950s well before lead paint was banned. As readers of this blog know, we have obsessed over cleaning products and plastic bottles, but we never thought to have our walls tested. Fortunately, none of the paint is peeling, but we were about to have our kitchen cabinets sanded down. They are goopy with old paint. Sanding them could cover everything – the floor, toys, bedding – with lead-laden dust and really mess BabyG up. Lead causes loss of IQ, behavioral problems, and other very scary problems. After reading Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World, I convinced MaGreen to put off the kitchen cabinets project until we have the paint tested.

Landrigan, Needleman, and Landrigan's favorite new term is "prudent avoidance." In the section on food additives, they write:
So which food additives should you avoid? Using the theory of prudent avoidance, we suggest that you eliminate as many as possible. This means minimizing exposure to those things that are thought to be linked to health threats, even though the research that can prove or disprove the link may be incomplete or years away. Use your common sense to determine just how much risk you're willing to accept and what level of effort you're willing to commit to avoid items and lifestyles that may prove hazardous to your health and or the health of your children.
Prudent avoidance is their advice not only for food additives, but also for insecticides, herbicides, electromagnetic fields, toxic art supplies, and toxic cleaning supplies. I think it is their way of saying, Just get this crap out of your lives entirely but if you can't, only use it occasionally. They do recommend silicone nipples over plastic nipples for baby bottles, but otherwise they take no positions on plastics. MaGreen and I are trying to do prudent avoidance for all plastic that BabyG might eat from or stick in her mouth because of the new research on pthalate exposure.

Here are three new sources of toxins I learned about from the book:
1) Dirty curtains, especially heavy ones, hold lots of dust that can cause allergies and asthma
2) Home-made or natural peanut butter from health food stores may have a naturally occurring toxin called aflatoxin, which is produced by the mold Apergillus flavus. So even though they recommend buying locally grown organic food, for peanut butter they advise buying commercially prepared brands.
3) Elephant's ears, aloe, amaryllis, angel wings, chrysanthemums, cyclamens, dumb cane, golden pothos, poinsettias, and philodendrons are all toxic houseplants.
The new book is written as a series of tips. So it is easy to pick up for a minute or two and freshly freak yourself out. In that sense, the book deserves an official Green Parenting FREAK OUT award. But I think it is good to keep the freak out juices flowing because otherwise you start to convince yourself that there probably isn't lead in the paint and the toilet bowl cleaner probably won't hurt your baby if she drinks it. I started to worry, though, about the whole prudent avoidance thing, because prudent and prudish come from the same root. As I got to the last third of the book, my anti-purity hackles were aroused. Part of me wants to sneak into the Landrigan's house and look under their sink. I bet there's a secret stash of Draino, Windex, and Snickers bars in there.

1 comment:

Izzy said...

Great post. I agree that you need to keep the freak out juices flowing. I tend to sometimes forget things or become complacent if not continually reminded about all these things. It's a job unto itself. We have lead paint in this house and when we had some chips in the door frame, my husband used some citrus-based stripper to sort of goo-up the paint and then he fixed the chip by moving the paint around and letting it dry. it worked out well because we avoided the whole sanding issue and were able to goo-up a lot of spots that looked like they were going to chip soon.