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.

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

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