Here’s a look at some of the most dangerous chemicals lurking in your home — and how you can reduce your child’s exposure to them.
Many chemicals today are known or suspected to be links to cancer, early puberty, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obesity, autism, and other serious health issues. “As we look at protecting children’s health, we need to look not just at nutrition, diet, and physical activity, but also exposure to chemicals,” says Jason Rano, director of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. The Safe Chemicals Act, which passed out of committee for the first time this year, would require chemical companies to prove that their products are safe. “In the U.S., we are a toxic dumping ground for unsafe products,” says Katy Farber, founder of Non-Toxic Kids (Non-ToxicKids.net). “Many parents are exhausted by trying to keep up with what to avoid and what to do. The Safe Chemicals Act would shift the burden to where it belongs.” Your family doesn’t have to live like ascetics to minimize your children’s exposure to chemical dangers; there are simple ways to reduce contact.
How to Avoid
Arsenic is a known carcinogen that has been linked particularly to skin, bladder, kidney, and lung cancers. Certain foods contain organic and inorganic arsenic, and the latter usually raises the risk of cancer and other health problems. Both types of arsenic are found in apple and grape juice and in rice and rice products, which are contaminated by both naturally occurring arsenic and arsenic-containing pesticides that leach into the groundwater where it is grown. Arsenic is found in pressure-treated wood made or manufactured before 2003, when the industry agreed to stop using arsenic-treated wood for residential purposes.
- The Food Drug Administration (FDA) has tested apple and grape juices and determined that they can be consumed in small amounts, but guidelines for an arsenic threshold have yet to be established. Instead of juice, parents can offer water, milk, and whole fruits.
- Consumer Reports advises parents to limit the amount of infant rice cereal to no more than one serving a day, on average, and to offer cereals that contain significantly lower arsenic levels (wheat, oatmeal, or corn grits). If you eat rice, you may be able to reduce exposure to inorganic arsenic by rinsing it thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of six cups water to one cup rice for cooking, and draining excess water. If you remove rice from your diet, the FDA advises families to consume a variety of whole grains as part of a well-balanced diet.
- Daily rice drinks for children under age 5 are not recommended. If possible, avoid rice-based foods, such as rice milk and rice flour rice syrup.
- Avoid older pressure-treated wood, which might be found in sandboxes, playgrounds, swing sets, and decks. Pressure-treated wood can usually be identified by the numerous short slits cut into the surface.
“Because harmful chemicals such as arsenic enter children’s bodies at such a higher rate relative to their body size, it is especially important to reduce their exposures,” says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group.