Q&A: BPA and Plastics

  • August 8, 2012 8:18 am

Question:

Alexandra,
A friend just sent me a video of you talking about safety concerns about plastics and children. My wife and I are brand new parents. Our twins were born 6 weeks ago. We are using the Dr. Browns BPA-free bottles. My concern is we’ve been washing them in the dishwasher. I’m wondering about the possibility of substances (other than BPA) in the plastic leaching into the milk due to the heat in the dishwasher. Do you have any info on this? Where do you find your information? We’ve been reading a lot but haven’t seen any studies on possible dangers of BPA free plastics that are exposed to high temperatures. Do you think I should switch to glass or just start hand washing the plastic bottles I’ve got. Thanks for your help.

Best,
David

Answer:

Hi David,

Congrats on your new additions.

Watching that video of me talking about plastic, it should come as no surprise that I’m deeply wary of plastic for both environmental and health reasons and therefore fond of both shatterproof glass and/or stainless steel–especially for the early years and developmental moments. All plastics degrade when exposed to high temperatures. While the safety research has mainly been on BPA (plastic #7) and PVC/Vinyl (plastic #3), there are studies that have been done on what comes out of even the plastics that are considered safe by the scientific community, especially #1. Since you’re contending with twins, you might not be aware that the FDA recently finally banned BPA from baby bottles, though not from any other infant products (which is frustrating). There is no word on what manufacturers are supposed to be replacing BPA with, and if these chemicals are any safer than their banned predecessors. More reasons to avoid plastic….

Though there are great resources (like The Environmental Working Group) to turn to for information on plastic, staying on top of  the latest plastic safety details can be a full time job. This is another reason I prefer glass and stainless steel. You don’t have to keep on top of their safety.

Another bonus: If you are too tired to wash everything by hand, glass and stainless are your friends; both are fine in dishwasher. Keep in mind that any/all plastic you use should only ever go on the top rack of the dishwasher if you can’t hand wash.

Bottle issue solved, now get some sleep!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Beach Pollution

  • August 1, 2012 9:36 am

My latest post for Elizabeth Street was actually inspired by a reader question and offers some of my safety thoughts for beach goers. I find it frustrating we’re in an environmental moment where I even have to answer this sort of question, but we are.

Click through to read my thoughts about the environmental hazards–with regard to water and sand quality–to watch out for as you splash and build sand castles on the beach this August.

Care.com

  • July 29, 2012 12:56 pm

Thanks Care.com for including me in this article: 7 Ideas for Easy – and Healthy – School Lunches. Such a crucial topic and yet…it can get boring. Much needed inspiration!

Green Reads for Kids

  • July 26, 2012 9:17 am

My latest post for Elizabeth Street is a list of eco-themed beach reads for kids (and parents). Headed to a sandy spot? Check them out. And let me know if I’ve missed any good ones.

Q&A: My kid wants to dye her hair…

  • July 25, 2012 8:27 am

The Question:

Dear Alexandra,

Is there a non-toxic way for my daughter to color/dye a streak of her hair pink?

Thanks.

John

The Answer:

Hi John,

Ah hair dye. It is overwhelmingly toxic, so you’re right to ask.

Yes, there are definitely non-toxic ways to dye hair that work on kids, who pound for pound are more vulnerable than adults are. Not that I’m dying my hair given what I know!

First up, if you think your daughter is old enough to dye her hair, she’s probably old enough to hear the truth about conventional hair dye. I’d suggest explaining to her what the concerns are before you turn her down or suggest she go the natural route I describe below.

Regular food dyes can be used for hair coloring. You can either go with a store bought version–there are several brands available at national natural food store chains that are made from vegetable extracts, not artificial colorants. Or you can DIY, using things like beet juice as pinkish/reddish hair color. If your child has brown hair, you’ll probably want to do a lemon juice and/or peroxide “bleach” on the strip of choice before trying the beet juice. I can guarantee you it won’t look like a store bought artificial color, so a little parental warning before the experiment is probably in order. The process will be just as fun and you never know what it will look like when you try it. I hope it works!

Report back?

Best,

Alexandra

Call Your Senator About Safe Chemical Act Vote Tomorrow!

  • July 24, 2012 1:33 pm

I blew off two hours of work this morning because I was glued to my computer watching the live streaming Environment and Public Works Committee hearing “Oversight of EPA Authorities and Actions to Control Exposures to Toxic Chemicals.” Today’s hearing came right before tomorrow’s vote on the Safe Chemicals Act, which Senator Lautenberg, among others, has been working on for years and years.

These hearings aren’t always the most riveting things to watch, but I laughed, I cried, I even cheered. Too bad it wasn’t on national television. It was good stuff. There were some incredible moments (Senator Barbara Boxer telling Marshall Moore, Director of Technology, Advocacy and Marketing Great Lakes Solutions, A Chemtura Business, to take an ethics lesson was a highlight) and some amazing testimony (I’m partial to moms and so was particularly moved by the strong words from Dr. Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemistry assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and from Hannah Pingree, former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, who is currently 6 months pregnant and knows more than a few things about body burden).

This is such a crucial moment. The fate of America’s public health is in government hands. So I’m writing this quick post to urge you to call your representatives and ask them to support the Safe Chemical Act being voted on tomorrow. The current legislation, the Toxic Substance Control Act, from 1976, is wildly outdated and ineffective (and wasn’t strong enough to begin with). If you don’t know who your senator is, you can call 202-224-3121 to be directed or look it up online.

The science and the evidence are undeniable. As people pointed out today at the hearing, the majority of Americans believe chemical companies must have unbiased proof that their products are safe before they come on the market, much like pharmaceutical companies are required to provide. This currently isn’t the case in our country.

If you think the burden of consumer product safety should be on the manufacturers and that humans—especially kids, who are more vulnerable than adults—should not be guinea pigs, please pick up the phone. This isn’t about anything other than common sense.

I was typing notes quickly as Senator Boxer posed the following closing question, so forgive me if it’s a bit paraphrased: “Do you believe that chemical manufacturers should have to show through unbiased studies that their products are safe for pregnant women…. If someone can’t answer that question with an affirmative response, they are putting special interest before the health of people, their own kids, and the first responders.”

Even if I missed a few of her words, it’s well put.

Now go make that call, please.

Q&A: Killing Bugs?

  • July 18, 2012 8:48 am

The Question:

Hi! I am reading your blog, and I also love the eco life! I also try to teach my kids respect for all living creatures. However, yesterday when a big spider stumbled across the kitchen floor I calmly took a piece of kleenex and promptly squished it! But, when I am standing there, satisfied with dead spider in hand, I suddenly see the question in my three year old boys look, and feel ashamed! How do I explain this? I am not that afraid of spiders, I just killed it because it was there! How do you deal with these sorts of things? Do you also squish spiders in front of your kids, and do you own a fly swatter and swat flies and wasps? And how do you explain this to your kids?

Jenny

The Answer:

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for writing. And good timing; I’m spending a lot of time in the buggy country this month to escape the heat of my urban hometown. When we’re in New York City and we find a bug–that isn’t a roach!–we tend to release it out the window. Not exactly sure a bug prefers being flung out of an urban window versus smushed, but my animal-loving 6-year-old daughter prefers it. That said, she also likes to capture fireflies and has killed more than a few of these beloved bugs herself, unwittingly.

Here’s the thing: We eat meat but we also have a family cat we refer to as her sister. I wrote a book with my butcher. During that research process I went to more than a few slaughters of local animals and toured a local slaughterhouse. This is complicated stuff. Is a spider more important than my cat? Is the cat more important than the pig or the steer I watched be slaughtered? You feel bad about that spider, but how about a mosquito? Or a tick embedded in your son? Or a water bug scuttling across your bathroom floor?

I was chatting about your question–and my above questions–with my lovely intern Kelley and she wrote me a very thoughtful email I want to share with you:

“This question made me think about my environmental ethics class I took last
semester.  In one unit we talked about what things in nature get
respect, so what has value in nature.

And there are these different ethical theories to it:
Biocentrism (or taylorism)–ALL things in nature have value, whether a
dolphin, ant, or flower. Killing either would be wrong.

Strong Anthropocentrism–Only humans matter, and we should not be
concerned about harming the environment or animals

Weak Anthropocentrism–Humans still matter the most but some things in
nature count too. So killing an ant wouldn’t be wrong, but killing a
whale would not.

I wrote a paper on it somewhere on which theory was the most
justifiable. But this just reminded me of what you said about your
book on butchering. How people are very concerned about slaughtering
pigs, and cows, but people never think twice about squashing a bug.”

So this is a long-winded answer from me and Kelley that isn’t really an answer. Most humans, devout vegans aside, do some sliding scale of animal killing. I certainly have done my fair share and I have mixed feelings about all of it–minus what I somehow believe can bring me and mine “harm” like those mosquitoes and ticks. My daughter is basically a vegetarian who devours bacon, and claims she wants to protect all animals, but also likes to pull worms apart and poke jelly fish with sticks. It’s complicated. If the look in your kid’s eyes gives you pause, take that pause and think about how you feel about what you’re doing, and the message it gets across. It may not change how you react, but it’s certainly a good thing to think about.

Hope this helps in some way.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Baby Seats?

  • July 11, 2012 8:44 am
The Question:
Hi,
I am considering buying a baby seat, like the Bumbo or Prince Lionheart Bebepod.  Each of these are supposedly made from “non-toxic polyurethane foam.” I also have a dish drying mat that contains “virgin polyurethane foam.”  Is there really such a thing as a “safe” polyurethane foam?
Thanks,
Kim
The Answer:
Dear Kim,
Excellent question. One I’d ask myself! I didn’t own a baby seat. Is there another way to get the benefits without a foam product? If not, and if you really decide you need a baby seat, try calling the companies you mention and asking them if they use flame retardants in the foam (which is highly flammable) and if so, which ones. I’m not a fan of foam products for babies or kids; most do contain questionable flame retardant chemicals. Thankfully a recent excellent investigative series done by The Chicago Tribune has heated up (pun intended!) the question of flame retardant necessity as well as safety. Now California is considering repealing their strict standards. If this passes, it should, in turn, dial back use in consumer products; it doesn’t make sense for manufacturers to make one product for California and another for the other states. My fingers are so crossed they’re losing circulation. This would be a huge, huge victory for environmental health.
Best,
Alexandra

Teaching for The Maternity Institute

  • July 6, 2012 12:34 pm

I’m thrilled that this fall I will start teaching at the Maternity Institute. Here’s a little bit from their press release announcement:

“Alexandra will begin teaching IMI’s Greenproofer Certification™ course in the Fall of 2012. Through the IMI Greenproofer 10 week certification program with Alexandra, participants will gain comprehensive knowledge and practical experience to prepare pre-conceiving, expecting, and new parents for toxic free living while expanding their careers as maternity eco-consultants and greenbirth educators.”

Fun! I hope maybe you’ll join me?

Latest Post for Elizabeth Street

  • July 6, 2012 12:29 pm

Here’s  my latest post for Elizabeth Street.  It’s about container gardening with kids, even in the city. Trust me, you don’t need tons of land. Though I did borrow a sunny spot in my mom’s yard and we’re taking bets now on if the bunnies will eat the tomato and dill shoots. What do you think? Do you container garden? If so, how do you do it?