In March of 2005 my daughter Gwynn – our first child – was born. I have a vivid memory of strapping her into the car seat – which entirely dwarfed her – with a sense of dread. I was certain the hospital had no idea what they were doing in letting my husband and me take this infant home, and that we were not mature, organized or responsible enough to actually be someone’s parents. We were so deeply affected by a sense of responsibility to keep this child safe, support her physical and emotional health, and somehow ensure she’d turn out to be reasonably intelligent.
Today I’m twenty-six years old, Gwynn just turned three, and we’ve relaxed a lot in the knowledge that we can provide the tools to help our daughter successfully traverse her time on earth. I’ve come to cherish watching her mental development unfold through a series of epiphanies and repeat practice that are the hallmarks of toddler learning. But I’ve never fully relaxed about her physical development – most specifically that internal health and development which we cannot see.
Being dedicated to a personal yoga practice, I already believe in the “your body is a temple” approach to living, and I trust I’ll pass the same along to my daughter. But as a parent I feel responsible to protect my daughter’s body from more than the obvious. My husband and I both feel it is our job to be conscientious about the chemicals and pathogens she is exposed to everyday; and we’re diligent in following the concerns raised by leading scientists in environmental health regarding synthetic materials in mainstream consumer products. No one loves and cares about our child’s long term health and wellness more than we do, and it will be a long time before she can self-advocate and make decisions for her own body. Therefore I personally feel called to continually educate myself, so we can do our utmost to provide a safe, nurturing environment where she can grow and develop as purely as possible. A critical component in that mission is to keep our home clean and organic. We have a lot of choices when it comes to cleaning products, but knowing the facts makes the decision pretty simple.
For instance, in 2007, a team of French scientists published research demonstrating that the two most common childhood cancers – leukemia and lymphoma – are overwhelmingly correlated to prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals used inside the home. The increase in cases of these haematopoietic malignancies (or “blood cancers”) over the past three decades calls into question the wisdom of producing or purchasing synthetic chemicals as cleaning agents in the home.
Groundbreaking research also recently provided data to demonstrate a strong correlation between common household chemicals and the dramatic rise in breast and female cancers during the past decades. Regular contact with these chemicals – which are called “hormone disruptors” because they mimic natural oestrogens – exposes women to increased risk of developing a female cancer. The effects of these particular hormone disruptors – or their masculine counterparts – on men have not been fully studied, but it’s doubtful in my mind they’re anything but bad for everyone.
Knowing these correlations, we need to consider how many synthetic chemicals we are exposed to everyday through processed foods, cleaning products, personal care products and cosmetics. How many of these synthetic chemicals might be hormone disruptors? And how many might be proven toxins, or have never been fully tested for toxicity? But most importantly – who will take responsibility for protecting my family and me from such exposure; and what alternatives are available? My child’s health is my top priority, but I’m no less interested in preserving my own wellbeing, and living a long and healthy life with my husband and daughter.
The international environmental health organization Health and Environmental Alliance (HEAL) works to encourage public policy that supports a cleaner, safer environment. Along with CHEM Trust and the Chemicals Health Monitor – which aims to see scientific research on environmental health translated into policy as quickly as possible – HEAL provides suggestions for minimizing exposure to and internal accumulation of toxins, including:
- Eating organic food as often as possible – especially fruits and vegetables.
- Avoiding unnecessary exposure to synthetic household products, detergents, personal care products, and garden and indoor pesticides.
- Wearing loose but tightly woven clothing and a hat instead of sunscreen when possible.
- Never microwaving plastic containers.
- Writing or calling your government representative to request stricter control of synthetic chemicals.
I don’t think health is a fad, and I don’t think anyone will take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of my family more than my husband and me. Consumer self-advocacy and wiser buying will help drive the mainstream market toward more conscientious products, so take the time to make informed decisions about what you bring into your home. We all deserve a healthy, clean environment for our families. Take action for yours by educating yourself, and ensuring there are no nasty chemicals in your home or in your body.
Resources for further reading:
Rudant, J, F Menegaux, G Leverger, A Baruchel, B Nelken, Y Bertrand, C Patte, H Pacquement, C Vérité, A Robert, G Michel, G Margueritte, V Gandemer, D Hémon and J Clavel. 2007. Household exposure to pesticides and risk of childhood haematopoietic malignancies: the ESCALE study (SFCE). Environmental Health Perspectives 115:1787-1793.
From the Chemicals Health Monitor Project (CHM), retrieved from: www.chemicalhealthmonitor.org.
Article by: Ru Mahoney