For over a decade, I’ve been writing about harmful chemicals in our environment and how they jeopardize our children’s health and development. We have made significant strides in identifying, controlling and eliminating many toxic exposures but there is still an overwhelming amount of harmful chemicals that go unregulated in the market place and parents continue to be concerned about their safety.
Many of these exposures start in the womb—in 2004, the Environmental Working Group identified over 287 chemicals found in umbilical cord blood, and many were listed as carcinogenic, neurotoxic, teratogenic and endocrine disrupting. These same toxic chemicals, as well as other potentially dangerous environmental exposures, can also affect and hinder development in adolescents and teens.
Puberty normally begins between the ages of 10 and 16 and can last from two to five years. During puberty, your child’s body goes through a number of metabolic and physiological changes that could intensify the effects of toxic exposures that may not be detected for years. These exposures are also capable of triggering bouts of aggression, depression and defiant behavior making life miserable for everyone.
If you have a child who has a chronic illness or a developmental disorder you probably already know that environmental toxins can further compromise their fragile immune system and exacerbate already challenging behaviors. With their body changing and hormones racing, a child could experience even more difficulty controlling his or her emotions. All the more reason for parents to do all they can to minimize toxic exposures whenever possible. Here are a few categories to be aware of so you can make healthy changes…
Personal Care Products
Kids are vulnerable to additional exposures that come along with transitioning into the adolescent and teen years. Many popular personal care products, including cosmetics, deodorants, fragrances, hair and skin care products, are formulated using potentially harmful ingredients, some of which are known carcinogens, neurotoxins and hormone disruptors (see chart at bottom).
On average, teens use about 17 personal care products per day, which exposes them to approximately 174 chemical ingredients every day. This means your child is repeatedly absorbing a toxic chemical cocktail (see chart for ingredients to avoid).
Feminine Hygiene Products
These can contain dioxins, a by-product of the bleaching process used in the production of feminine hygiene products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, dioxins from feminine pads and tampons can put girls and women at risk for “effects that could suppress the immune system, increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, reduce fertility and interfere with fetal and childhood development.” Mothers should educate their daughters about these dangers and buy organic feminine hygiene products.
Insecticidal Hair Products
Each year between six and 12 million kids get head lice, and it’s common for parents to turn to insecticidal shampoos and treatments to eradicate them. However, most pesticide-based, over-the-counter treatments are highly toxic and have been linked to neurological and other health problems.
Non-pesticide-based remedies are a safer alternative and include mayonnaise, olive oil, essential oils, and ready-to-use products such as Cetaphil lotion and LiceMD. And don’t forget the old-fashioned approach: plenty of hair conditioner and a nit comb, repeated every week or so until your child’s hair is free of lice.
Most cleaning products contain harsh toxic chemicals that are listed as carcinogenic and can impair neurodevelopment as well as cause irritation, allergies, and asthma. These products also are a constant source of indoor air pollution—on average, indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
In addition to chemicals found in food, personal care and cleaning products, there are other environmental exposures that most of us just haven’t paid enough attention to, partially because we are often guilty of overexposing ourselves. I’m talking about cell phones and computers.
Today’s teens are without question the beneficiaries of many of the wireless technological advances of the last decade. They may also be the first generation to grow up with almost unlimited access to cell phones and computers. Studies have suggested frequent cell phone use could increase the risk of brain tumors, migraines, and some behavioral problems in children. Last year, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified cell-phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
There are 285 million cell phones in use in this country, and two-thirds of children over the age of seven use them. More often than not, cell phones are used for entertainment too—today’s smartphones have become a coveted social connector that enable teens to spend hours talking to friends, listening to music, browsing the Internet, playing games and even watching movies. When they aren’t talking on the phone, they often carry them around in their pockets close to their bodies where radiation can be absorbed into their tissues.
Dr. Joel M. Moskowitz, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the School of Public Health, has become a prominent voice questioning current cell phone regulations. In 2010 Dr. Moskowitz wrote: “We should address this issue proactively even if we do not fully understand its magnitude. Our government has faced similar public health threats in the past. In 1965, although there was no scientific consensus about the harmful effects of cigarettes, Congress required a precautionary warning label on cigarette packages—more specific warnings were not required until 1984. Should we have waited 19 years until absolutely certain before we informed the public about these risks?”
Similar to cell phones, computers are another source of electromagnetic radiation. It may be decades before we fully realize what the cumulative effects of low-level radiation will mean for today’s generation of kids that began using cell phones and computers at such an early age, but we do have some early data to suggest that there may be some serious unintended health consequences. Radiation emitted from both cell phones and computers have already been linked to sperm damage.
Eliminate the Threat
So how do we as parents protect our kids who are transitioning into their adolescent and teen years from environmental insults that can threaten their health and future? It’s simple—know what is in the products you purchase. From cosmetics to cell phones, spend a little time investigating the ingredients and safety of the products your kids use. Environmental exposures can be insidious and persistent. Each stage of development—pregnancy, infancy, and puberty—creates new windows of vulnerability in which the effects of exposures can result in serious health problems. Repeated exposures from a variety of products and sources can add up.
Instead of getting stressed out and feeling powerless, parents need to understand the dangers and then minimize their family’s exposures. We must, to the extent we can, take control over the environments in which our children live, learn and play and reduce or eliminate these threats whenever possible.
8 Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Exposure
Campaign For Safe Cosmetics Teens generally use more personal care products than adults. Teens for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition of enthusiastic young women who are educating their peers and policymakers about the dangerous toxins found in most personal care products. They were a driving force in the passage of The California Safe Cosmetic Act and other legislation aimed at eliminating toxic chemicals in many consumer products.
Clean Green Replace all of your toxic household cleaners with safe “green” non-toxic products. You essentially need five or six green cleaning products: all purpose, glass cleaner, laundry liquid, dish soap and cream cleanser for tub, tile and porcelain—check out our selection of Greening the Cleaning® products. Compliment these green products with ingredients already in the cupboard: white distilled vinegar (for laundry softener, cleaning floors to alternate with all purpose cleaner), baking soda and lemon juice (to clean grout and copper pots).
Curb Computer Use Limit time on the computer, and place it in a ventilated area. Don’t allow computers in your child’s bedroom. Attach a radiation filter plate to your computer screen.
Go Organic By eating more organic foods you will help prevent unnecessary and dangerous pesticide exposure. Organic products are rich in all of the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients a teenager needs to feel good, look good and perform well. If you eat animal, dairy and cheese products, stick to organic to reduce your dioxin, hormone and pesticide exposure. Check labels and bypass foods that contain dyes and synthetic food additives—focus instead on whole, fresh foods (canned and ready-prepared microwaveable meals may contain BPA).
Drink Pure Water Use a home water filtration system, and fill stainless steel or BPA-free bottles for when you’re on the go.
Don’t Smoke There are over 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 of which are known to be harmful.
Manage Pests Safely Many of the chemicals used by exterminators are known carcinogens, neurotoxicants and teratogens. Utilize a pest control or lawn service company that does not use dangerous pesticides.
Improve The Air Installing an air filtration system will help improve your home’s indoor air quality.