Q&A: Chemical Flame Retardants?

  • December 19, 2012 9:43 am

Question:

Alexandra,

I recently sent an email to members of my family as they shop for holiday and baby gifts, including fleece footed pjs. I’m sending part of it to you below. There has been some backlash. Was this overkill? I did ask them to try not to take it personally. I just don’t want to expose the baby to harm.

Here is some info on flame retardants that I think important to share. When thinking about buying gifts, please keep in mind that if there is a label on the product that indicates that it is in accordance with California state regulation 117, or is made with any type of foam in conjunction with the product not being labeled as organic, or is labeled as “flame retardant,” please think twice before buying it.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Sarah

Answer:

Dear Sarah,

This is a real concern. The overkill part largely depends on your family.

There are flame retardants basically in all foam products (they’re made from petroleum and so are very flammable), even fleece pajamas. It is good common sense not to go out of your way to purchase and place unneeded foam around your baby, though it is unavoidable in things like car seats. It’s of course more important to have a car seat than to minimize exposure to flame retardants in foam, in terms of risk factor.

Flame retardants are in such wide use that these things are found in the blood/bodies of almost all Americans, which is why it’s a good idea to expose yourself to less of them if and when you can, especially since at the moment they’re almost impossible to avoid in couches and other upholstered furniture (though there are some indications this may get better soon). So it’s easier said than done to avoid entirely, but you can minimize. They’re in this computer I’m typing on, too, by the way.
How you speak to your own family is largely an issue of personality and pre-established relationships. I have ways of addressing these issues individually with the various members of my own family. I do know that feelings get hurt when anyone rejects a well-intentioned present. And tempers flare when gift givers are told what they bought or what they want to buy is toxic. It’s an odd thing. At this point my own family members are very careful about what they buy for us and our daughter. I know it’s a burden for them. Some let me know this more than others. Some just do what they want. I have smiled and thanked countless people, then returned or exchanged my fair share of foam-filled things and fleece everything over the years. No one noticed (that I know of), and no hard feelings. Just saying.
If you’re looking for some good reading to share, The Chicago Tribune has been working on a great investigative series on flame retardants this year. Well worth emailing around and then it’s the reporters doing the lecturing, not you. Which is a good thing.
Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Natural Home Cold Remedies

  • October 24, 2012 9:13 am

Question:

Hey Alexandra,

Winter is creeping on us now, and I already have a cold. Was wondering if you knew any home remedies? Thanks.

-Scott

Answer:

Scott,

You and me both — pass the sustainable tissues (or should I say reusable handkerchief?). I had a cold a few weeks back and reached out to my communities on Facebook and Twitter  to see if anyone had any recommendations besides the usual steam plus honey and lemon tea suggestions and I got tons of great ideas.

  • “Horseradish root. Grate the whole thing while breathing it in. Put some in a pot of boiling water, a towel over your head and breathe in. It hurts, but it works. Add the rest of the horseradish to what you are eating. Voila.”
  • “Have you discovered Fire Cider? Also, a neti pot can help, especially if you add a generous amount of salt and make it as warm as you can stand.”
  • “Green chile miso broth. Make it almost thick and as spicy as you can handle. Drink don’t spoon it, it will clear your head (not just your sinuses but also your brain).”
  • “A twist on honey/lemon tea works really well: Mix vinegar with the mother in it and raw honey in hot water. It’s great!”
  • Quantum Cold and Flu.)”
  • “Coconut chai does it for me every time. Simmer in coconut milk: a ton of fresh grated ginger, a ton of turmeric, some cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Add a caffeine free chai teabag as well if you’d like. Add some honey and drink often. This is my favorite under the weather drink and it’s saved me tons of times.”
  • “Shots of apple cider vinegar throughout the day and raw garlic.”
  • “Doses of elderberry syrup, fermented cod liver oil, coconut oil, raw garlic”
  • “I just rubbed eucalyptus, tea tree essential oils with a lavender infused carrier oil on my lil’ one’s feet, also with a cold. Sound asleep”

So take your pick and let me know what worked out for you. Feel better!

Best,

Alexandra

Moms Clean Air Force: Seafood and pregnancy

  • October 23, 2012 8:41 am

My latest post for Moms Clean Air Force is about the dangers of seafood for people–pregnant or not. Has your OB or doctor ever warned you to be careful about which fish you eat?

Q&A: Halloween Candy

  • October 17, 2012 9:27 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

With Halloween around the corner I just wanted to know your thoughts on Halloween candy. My kid is finally old enough to get into trick-or-treating, but I am not too keen on letting them have all that sugar, but I do not want to exclude them from the holiday festivities. Do you let your kid eat all their Halloween candy or throw it out? Do you only let them eat some of eat, and then give the rest away? I am really not sure and wanted your input.

Thanks,

Lindsey

Answer:

Hi Lindsey,

Thanks for your topical question. It’s true as Halloween is approaching, this is definitely something to think about. Not surprisingly I have been asked about this before–and yearly! Each year my approach changes, based on the age of my daughter. She is currently six. I haven’t decided yet what will happen this year, but I suspect it will be like last year. She goes to lots of Halloween parties, yanking various outfits from her dress up bin, and generally has a blast. If there is trick-or-treating or other candy giveaways involved, I swap candy with her. It’s all stuff she loves and it, unlike conventional versions, doesn’t contain lead, mercury, genetically modified high fructose corn syrup, or any number of dyes I’d rather she not eat. I’m very careful to make sure this swapping is not a hardship. I don’t want her to feel left out or weird. So I offer organic equivalents of jelly beans, kettle corn, chocolate, and more. When we went to one party last year I knew would be a candy fest, I stuffed our pockets with organic lollipops so she was able to eat something sweet as her friends did, too.

All of this said I have plenty of highly organic friends in my life who lift the rules for Halloween. It’s a very individual decision. I chose not to do this not only because I know too much, but also because Halloween has morphed into a week or sometimes a weeks-long extravaganza. I don’t want her eating conventional candy daily for several weeks. And I don’t let her eat her swapped organic candy for several weeks either. Everything in moderation.

One thing on my list for this year is making our own chocolate. We sometimes do this. It only involves coconut oil, cocoa powder, and honey. She loves the process, I’m in charge of the ingredients, and the results are delicious. I’m happy for her to eat as much of this as she wants. One of these years, I will throw a party so she can eat every single thing on offer. I just haven’t gotten around to it!

Happy Halloween.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Glucose Tolerance and Screening Test Alternatives?

  • October 3, 2012 8:13 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I’m entering my third trimester and know I am going to have to take my glucose test [for gestational diabetes screening] at my next OB visit. Is there any (organic?) alternative to that standard gross dyed orange drink loaded with high fructose corn syrup? I have been avoiding foods containing dyes and HFSC when pregnant and would prefer not to have to drink this stuff.

Best,

Holly

Answer:

Hi Holly,

First of all: congrats! And jinx. I’m outing myself here as I haven’t really been talking about this publicly, but I also just began my third trimester and dealt with this recently, so good timing.

If you’ve been avoiding dyes and HFCS for your whole pregnancy, one drink certainly won’t harm you and your baby, but I totally get where you’re coming from. That’s how I wound up in my doctor’s office eating 47 organic jelly beans at once. Oh the heart palpitations. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The answer is yes, there are alternatives. The wild card is if your OB or midwife is willing to let you try them. Basically you need 50-grams of glucose for the test and there are any number of ways to get that into your body, wait the required hour, then take the blood test. I’ve read anecdotal stories about pancakes with syrup and orange juice doing the trick. Same goes for cinnamon rolls or other sugary treats.

I also found this study about jelly beans as an alternative to the beverage and shared it with my OB who was happy to let me eat them instead of drinking. Keep in mind that while the study says it takes 28 jelly beans, you need to look on the “nutrition” label on the back of the jelly bean brand you choose; the glucose level is different in different products. We did the math together and I wound up having to eat a whopping 47 of  the beans I bought for the purpose. Kind of gross and I would have preferred something else but I suspect it would be harder to measure out the exact grams of glucose in a pancake breakfast. I was so jazzed I left the office during my hour wait and did 5 errands before I came back for the blood draw.

While my OB was open and willing to let me swap where I was getting the glucose from, the nurse who took my blood did look at me like I had three heads when I mentioned I had eaten jelly beans instead of had the drink. Her bias didn’t phase me. I drank the glucose drink when I was pregnant with my daughter, now 6, and vowed never to do it again. I’m glad I didn’t have to.

I know people who are allergic to various food dyes and I think this is a great alternative for them, too.

Let me know how it goes.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Recycling Baby Items?

  • September 19, 2012 9:08 am
Question:
Alexandra,
I attended a Montclare seminar in April on Greening and I was wondering if you had any suggestions where locally one can recycle breast pumps and children car seats as well as strollers.  I found this website that recycles old car seats, strollers, etc.  But you have to mail your items to Texas.  I was hoping there was something more local.  One thought perhaps Montclare can sponsor a green drive for used baby / toddler goods like high chairs, strollers etc.  Though we would need to find a place to recycle it all or do a bulk ship to Texas.
Anyway, if you have any suggestions, I appreciate it.  Many thanks.
- Karen
Answer:
Hi Karen,
Thanks for reaching out. You’ve hit on a frustrating situation. I share your frustration. There are definitely places to recycle items such as those, but it requires work on your part to do the right thing. Unfortunately, Goodwill does not accept any of these items (anymore), but anyone should technically be able to find a local organization that accepts car seats and strollers. Baby Buggy, for example, is local here in New York City, and it accepts both strollers and car seats–but only if the car seats have never been used (!).  Little Essentials also accepts both strollers and car seats.
Recycling breast pumps is a little trickier, to say the least. You can’t donate breast pumps as they really should not be shared from one mother to another; breast milk is a bodily fluid and can contain the sort of things any bodily fluid can contain that aren’t exactly the sort of thing you’d like to share (HIV, hepatitis, etc.)–especially with your infant. My understanding, which I wrote about in The Complete Organic Pregnancy,  is that milk can get backed up into the parts of individual home pumps (industrial pumps have mechanisms that block this from happening and that’s why they’re safe to share). The FDA calls them single use products. I asked my intern Kelley to call Medela, a well known single use pump manufacturer, to ask them what they suggest parents do with breast pumps that are past their useful life or are no longer needed. She got the runaround and wound up calling four times! Basically all of the customer service people told her to just throw them out. Sad but true. She asked if they could be recycled and was told that some parts might be recyclable. The only way to find this out, of course, is to check with local municipalities to find out. So you’d have to look and see what number plastic it is and then call 311 here in New York to see if there is a place that takes oddly shaped plastic parts made out of that kind of plastic. It’s not my understanding that these can go in regular NYC plastic recycling bins. It would be a special drop off situation, if anything at all.

I don’t like this response anymore than you like reading it. A while back a group of consumers petitioned Brita to make their water filters recyclable. I think it is high time someone–you?–starts a petition asking breast pump manufacturers to do the same. It should not be this hard to not add tons of breast pumps to the landfill.

Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Safe Plastic Baby?

  • September 12, 2012 9:02 am

Question:

I just read a great article you wrote back in 2008. I’m desperately trying to find a non-toxic, albeit vinyl-ish (???) baby doll for my little girl. I like what you stated about Corolle (a brand I’ve heard good things about!) and was wondering, is it just a certain doll that is “safer” or the entire line?

I’d appreciate your input. I’d write more eloquently if I wasn’t completely exhausted from this search!!!!!

Thank you and loves the article :)

~Carrie

Answer:

Hi Carrie,

Thanks for writing and giving me a chance to clarify. You made me revisit the article you referred to because I don’t recall ever writing or saying that Corolle dolls are a “safer” option. They have claimed to be made of phthalate-free PVC. If this is indeed true, which some tests seemed to show, that’s better than not, I guess, but it’s still PVC . As I explained in the article you mention, environmentalists like to refer to PVC as the poison plastic. It’s that bad.

Here’s what I wrote in 2008:

“…when a brand, say Corolle, gains a reputation in eco circles for making a phthalate-free PVC plastic doll, parents concerned about environmental health flock to it. HealthyToys gives Corolle, which is owned by Mattel but operates independently, medium hazard ratings for all dolls because they’re PVC. By several accounts, they test their dolls thoroughly and often for non-allowed substances, and HealthyToys didn’t find levels of these. And if you email Corolle through their website to ask a question (say, about why the things smell so strongly of vanilla and what chemical that scent is, exactly), Beau James, Managing Director for Corolle North America, will call you back and speak to you at length. Even if you’re not a reporter. It’s kind of like being able to speak to an actual farmer at a farmers market about what they spray and why vs. going blindly into a supermarket. Even if there are legal reasons James returns emails via phone calls (as he told me), these nuances make an green-leaning holiday shopper feel better about buying a phthalate-free PVC doll for their kid. PVC is, of course, still an environmental issue (its manufacture and disposal are so un-eco and detrimental that environmentalists refer to it as “poison plastic.”) And sometimes it – even the phthalate free kind – can contain other questionable chemicals (read this interview with Mike Schade from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice at SafBaby.com.)”

I stand by what I wrote. There really is no way for a PVC doll to be a good thing. I far prefer no PVC. And anything that smells strongly of vanilla and maintains this smell over time contains a synthetic chemical fragrance mix of who knows what (there is scary stuff in fragrance) that the company isn’t disclosing. There are plenty of plastic-free baby dolls on the market if your child would like to play with them. There are even ones made of organic cotton and wool.

Every parent makes compromises along the way. I just prefer them to be educated compromises. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t eventually wind up with a plastic baby doll in our apartment, after much arguing. I would prefer not to have it, but a family is made up of more than a mother. It was the first plastic toy we ever had. To this day we have very few. I bought it when I was abroad (my thinking was that there are stricter standards in the E.U. and I happened to be in France), but the thing is still plastic. And once I brought it home, I set some rules, including that I don’t let my daughter sleep with the doll. We also always wash our hands after playing and before eating.

Hope this helps. And happy playing.

Best,

Alexandra


Eco-Friendly Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

  • September 10, 2012 8:41 am

School starts today at loooong last! I don’t even bother shopping for anything until at least a few weeks into school to see what we actually “need” (usually nothing). Well that’s not entirely true. My mom had a tradition of always helping us choose a back-to-school outfit a few weeks before school started so we could get excited and picture what we’d be wearing as we went about the first day. It wasn’t always a new dress. Quite often it was a hand-me-down. So my daughter does have a first grader new dress–thanks to her grandmother–that has been waiting to be worn for about two weeks. I have loving memories of my own first grader first day dress. It was a brown and white gingham number with a red apple on my chest. Ah, the 70s.

On the topic, here’s my most recent post for Elizabeth Street and it’s all about eco-friendly back-to-school shopping. Maybe I’ll take my own advice come October….

Q&A: Natural Solutions For Poison Ivy

  • August 29, 2012 9:00 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

I recently bought a house in upstate New York. It is perfect except for one problem: poison ivy. Now, I have kids and want to avoid using pesticides and chemicals because that is where they will be playing–outside on the lawn. Is there any way to deal with all this poison ivy non-toxically?

-Kevin

Answer:

Dear Kevin,

Congrats on your new home. Although it may seem impossible to deal with poison ivy without pesticides, apparently there are ways. I say apparently because I have not tackled this myself and an initial search shows the natural ways of battling PI get mixed reviews. But I certainly think they’re well worth a try. Here are some suggestions I saw listed as ways of battling poison ivy naturally: mowing it, suffocating it, and using certain plant oils. Do not burn it! This can result in serious rashes in your lungs and eyes (family lore is my grandfather did this once and was hospitalized).

All of these methods aside, it seems that the most effective way to deal with poison ivy is to pull it out. My understanding is that if you yank the itch-making stuff by the root, it cannot grow. Simple enough. Of course this poses another problem: PI is not exactly the sort of thing you want to be touching in order to yank. So full HAZMAT suit and rubber gloves are required. If this is not a task you would enjoy doing–who can blame you? I wouldn’t want to do it either–and  you have the budget, hire someone to do it for you. Here is great story about a guy in upstate New York who started his own poison ivy pulling business.

If you’re not Kevin and reading this and have other suggestions, please weigh in in comments.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Best,

Alexandra

My intern Kelley’s thoughts on the documentary Toxic Baby

  • August 15, 2012 8:42 am

Kelley and I went to see a screening of Toxic Baby together and I asked her to let me know what she thought. I loved what she wrote to me so much, I asked her if I could post it here. (I’ll admit that part of why I loved it is that interning with me, which isn’t exactly the most gain-office-experience-traditional internship, is adding  a new layer of information and insight to her studies.) And she agreed. Her thoughts are below. If you haven’t had a chance to see Toxic Baby, I urge you to find a way to do so, or organize a screening near you. You can also see Penelope’s TED talk online. It’s worth a watch.

—-

“I had the great opportunity to view a screening of Penelope Jagessar Chaffer’s documentary Toxic Baby. After screening this film about the health hazards of chemical exposures, it would not be an exaggeration to say that my mind was blown.

As an environmental studies student in college, you would suspect that the majority of the film would be a reiteration of what I have previously learned in class. However this was not the case. The majority of what I have learned in class has been mainly focused on the food system and global climate change. Though these two topics are extremely important, Chaffer’s documentary does not focus on these. Instead, Toxic Baby’s main focus was the toxicity of chemicals in products and in the home – aspects that have not yet been covered in my course of study.

The film follows Chaffer and her discovery of the dangerous effects that certain chemicals can have. It was not until she became a mother that she discovered this information and made it her duty to protect her child from these toxic chemicals. The film consults with experts on the dangerous effects that chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, and flame retardants have on pregnant mothers and their children. All of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors and exposure to these chemicals are linked to an array of health issues, such as cancer, many different birth defects, and many more.

Reading about these issues, you can sometimes get very lost, and that is why seeing Chaffer’s journey as a mother exploring these issues is so great. It lays out the information easily for the everyday person and with the perspective of a mother.

What concerned me most after viewing this film is really the lack of public knowledge of the subject. As I stated before, my own academics have not touched upon these environmental health concerns – and I’m an environmental studies major! Imagine the lack of knowledge of the general population in regards to this problem.  And in the film Penelope’s knowledge on the subject only came about during motherhood. Hopefully, as this film gains notoriety and is seen by the general public, we can raise awareness of this serious issue and get these chemicals out of our homes.”
Thank you Kelley for coming to see the film with me and for letting me share your thoughts.