My Search For Eco-Healthy

Guest Post by Stephanie Gallant. Stephanie is a licensed day-care provider in Rochester, NY and a mother of a one year old boy.

We have all heard the term Eco-Healthy. After opening my own in-home day-care, I began to be more concerned about what I could do to keep the kids in my care safe and healthy. I’ve thought about the foods I serve and the objects I place in my environment.  I took a class at the Child Care Council about becoming an Eco-Healthy Child Care. I thought I was Eco-Healthy because I recycle a lot, I reuse a lot, and I use cloth diapers and cloth wipes. I thought my business was Eco-Healthy because nobody in my house smokes, and I don’t use any harsh chemicals. While those were all good, I realized that there is a lot more to consider when thinking about the environment surrounding and affecting me and the kids in my care.

Here’s why:

According to the EPA there are over 80,000 chemicals produced or imported into the United States. Only 200 of these chemicals have been directly tested by the EPA, and only 5 are restricted.
Of these chemicals, many are persistent, bioaccumulative, and highly toxic. These include carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and endocrine disruptors.  
What’s that mean?

  • Persistent: hard to get rid of.
  • Bioaccumulative: collected in organisms (soil, water, plants, animals, people) and passed on (animals eat plants, we eat animals, we eat plants, we plant in soil, we walk on soil, we drink water, we eat things from water). Can be passed from a pregnant or nursing mother to her child.
  • Highly toxic:  VERY DAMAGING.

Okay, so?

  • Carcinogens: CAUSE CANCER
  • Reproductive toxins: chemicals that can affect the reproductive system (infertility, sexual development, etc) and the fetus.
  • Endocrine disruptors: chemicals that can interfere with hormones and can cause birth defects and other developmental problems (ADHD, cognitive problems, etc). These are especially dangerous to a fetus and infants because an amount that will hurt a fetus may not affect the mother.

Okay – so they are bad, bad for the environment and bad for the people who use them. And they are everywhere! Yikes!

Here’s two of the chemicals I am most concerned about as an in-home day-care provider and as a parent:

1) Polycarbonates (main chemical is bisphenol A or BPA. BPA leaches from the plastic, especially when heated. It is labeled as #7 plastic): ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR: can cause prostate & breast cancer, reproductive problems, diabetes, & obesity. Found in water bottles, children’s tableware, and toys. In NYS it is illegal to sell baby bottles or sippy cups with BPA. BPA is also found in the lining of most canned food products, aluminum cans, plastic blender jars or food processor bowls, and plastic pitchers and cash register receipts. Researchers are warning pregnant women not to touch cash register receipts as BPA can increase the chance of miscarriages.

I found some children’s tableware that did not have a plastic recycling label. I got these as a hand-me-down and do not know the manufacturer. I will not be giving those to my children. I am still researching the toys I currently have. I have already replaced some dollar-store brand play dishes with Green Toys brand. I continue to research better alternatives to current toys we have. My inquiry to some places has been met with a “yea, most are BPA free.” I plan on continuing my research.

2) Vinyl Chloride (vinyl) or Polyvinylchloride (PVC). It is labeled as #3 plastic and can contain chemicals like lead & phthalates. ENDOCRINE DISTRUPTOR. PVC is toxic throughout its entire lifecycle: production, use, and disposal. It pollutes the water and air near its manufacturing plants, as well as the workers inside. PVC is found in the kitchen in some plastic containers and some plastic wrap and food film. Many shower curtains are made of vinyl. Many water pipes are PVC. Vinyl flooring, vinyl tiles, wallpaper, and synthetic carpet contain PVC. PVC is a soft plastic often found in toys, bibs, doll clothes, teethers, and vinyl shirt decals. ALL EVENFLO, GERBER, & IKEA TOYS ARE PVC-FREE.

I use Green-Sprouts plastic bibs, Gerber plastic bibs, and Bumkins plastic bibs which are all PVC free. Bumkins bibs are also phthalate, lead, and BPA free.  I checked the label on my travel diaper mat and it is made from polyethylene which is PVC free. I don’t think I have any more objects in my home containing PVC and I will continue to research alternatives (www.cleanhealthny.org/PVC_Alternative_Guide.pdf).

Then the other night there was a catalyst in my quest for safer and healthier products for my home- I went to a friend’s house where her friend was demonstrating Arbonne products. I don’t often wear make-up or use cosmetic lotions or products. Usually these types of parties do not interest me, but Arbonne was different. They are products that advertise as ‘Pure, Safe, and Beneficial’. On their catalogue they claim:
Arbonne personal care products are formulated without:
-Animal products or animal by-products (vegan certified)
-Parabens
-Formaldehyde-donating preservatives
-PABA
-Synthetic dyes
-Triclosan
-Hydroquinone
-Gluten
-These petroleum-based ingredients: benzene, mineral oil, petrolatum or petroleum jelly, phthalates, and toluene.

I had heard about some of these chemicals in my Eco-Healthy Child Care class. Two of them have been on my radar as high concern:

1) Phthalates:  ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR: can mimic hormones and lead to reproductive problems. Phthalates are the chemicals in PVC that make it soft and flexible. Phthalates are sometimes found in medical tubing, plastic packaging, and toys. Phthalates are the chemicals in lotions, shampoos, and soaps that help it keep its fragrance. If fragrance is listed as an ingredient, the product may contain phthalates. Phthalates will not be listed as an ingredient. Companies do not have to disclose on their label what makes their unique fragrance as it is protected as a trade secret. Consumers must look for “fragrance free” not unscented. Unscented products may have added to scents to mask other smells.

2) Parabens:  ENDOCRINE DISTRUPTOR: can act like human hormones and lead to reproductive problems. Used to control bacteria and mold and increase the shelf-life of products. Can be found in: shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving gels, pharmaceuticals, conditioner, and more. Prefixes like “butyl-“, “isopropyl- “, “isobutyl-“, and “propyl-“ are more hazardous and have a stronger endocrine disruption potency than “ethyl-“ and “methyl”.

There was another chemical that Arbonne mentions they do not use that I remembered learning something about in my Eco-Healthy Child Care class.

1) Triclosan: BIOACCUMULATIVE. Positively associated with allergies in children. Can harm fish and other animals that live in lakes, streams, and oceans. Used in antimicrobial pesticide in products like hand soap, dish detergent, and hand sanitizer. The prevalence of triclosan may lead to antibiotic resistance.

So automatically I was excited about Arbonne. I hadn’t looked around for new products yet, but I had read the labels on products in my home and the words paraben and/or fragrance and/or triclosan were on almost every label.  So now no more looking! Arbonne to the rescue! I immediately wanted everything in the catalogue. Then I looked at the prices and realized Eco-Healthy had a hefty price tag. I bought myself Renewing Body Gelee ($49), that along with the promise of being pure and safe, felt really good when I rubbed in on my aching feet after a long day. I also purchased ABC (Arbonne Baby Care) Hair & Body Wash ($16) as a gift for my cousin’s baby and Pure Mint Toothpaste ($17) for my toddler son. The toothpaste is fluoride-free (approved for toddlers) and paraben free! I had looked briefly for a toothpaste matching this criteria and hadn’t found any! Hurray Arbonne! Hurray pure and safe and eco-healthy!

I went home excited about my Arbonne purchases and my continued effort in making my family more eco-healthy. When I told my husband, Joe, I made a purchase and how much I spent he was upset with me because he knows I’m easily scammed. I explained to him all the things that Arbonne didn’t have in its products. He agreed that we need to be careful about the chemicals in products we buy, but told me we could get safe and pure products without paying $50 for lotion. I told him I didn’t agree, and he quickly looked up the Cetaphil that he and my son use daily. No parabens. No fragrance. No triclosan. And it is less than $15 at Wegmans. Likewise, the Aquaphor Gentle Wash and Shampoo that we use for my son is paraben, triclosan, and fragrance free. It also cost less than the product I bought through Arbonne.

My husband likes to research the best product for the best price before he makes a purchase. I don’t, but now I’m going to start. He doesn’t want to pay more money for something that can be bought cheaper. He’s a price tag reader. He should be. Now I’m starting to research the chemicals in products, manufacturing processes, and business practice before I make a purchase. I have started to think carefully about what companies claim. Arbonne claims to not have petroleum-based phthalates. That does not exclude Arbonne from having phthalates. I don’t want to compromise environmental or personal health for a few extra bucks. And I don’t have to.

I am still pleased with my Arbonne purchase. I believe that Arbonne is safer and more pure than a lot of the products we currently use- and for people interested in spa-quality, high-end lotions and cosmetics with promises to detox and prevent aging, they may be the most eco-friendly option. I am also pleased with the research that my husband encouraged me to do. I found a lot of other products that are paraben, fragrance, and triclosan free. These products do more of what I need- clean, moisturize, etc. Many of them are in the Nature’s Market section of Wegmans. They cost more than the popular products, but less than Arbonne.

My plan to become more eco-healthy is to start reading labels on products before I purchase them. I am learning more about products and becoming a better educated consumer (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/top-tips-for-safer-products/).  I hope that becoming a conscientious consumer (and encouraging others to do so) will get some of these harmful chemicals out of our products.   Hopefully the purchases we make can help create a safer and healthier environment, for our bodies and the world.

Here’s some other commonly found dangerous chemicals that I’ve put on my radar to avoid:

–           Perfluorocarbons (PFCs): CARCINOGEN & ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR. BIOACCUMULATIVE. These are stain-resistant chemicals found in anything labeled stain-resistant. (www.saferchemicals.org/resources/chemicals/pfc.html)

–          Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR. BIOACCUMULATIVE. Flame-retardant chemicals. These chemicals are added to the foam (especially polyurethane foam) in furniture, padded books, padded toys, and carpet padding to make them less flammable. Polyurethane will be on the label, but the chemical flame-retardants will not. (www.toxicfreefiresafe.org)

–          Lead: BIOACCULUMATIVE (often found in soil) ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR: can lower IQ, reduce learning ability, and cause behavior problems. Found in inexpensive toy jewelry, pipes, painted mugs or ceramics, artificial turf, older painted toys, electronics, and is an ingredient in PVC. (www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadpdfe.pdf)

–          Ammonia: ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR: linked to kidney & liver problems. Found in window cleaners, floor cleaners, and oven cleaners.

–          Mercury:  Mercury vapor can damage lungs, brain, & kidneys. Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury but are only a hazard if they break. They must be disposed of properly (EcoPark in Rochester takes them) to reduce mercury leaching into soil.

Obviously this list is not exhaustive. There is so much to think about with art supplies, wood playground equipment, cleaning supplies, pesticides, and the chemicals on food.  When I start researching more of the food I serve and things I use in my house for cleaning and art, I will certainly share my information with others!

Please understand I do not claim to know everything, but I have a list of places I trust who know more than I do about these things and can provide more information.

www.cleanhealthyny.org

www.epa.gov

www.cehn.org

www.cda.gov

www.ewg.org

www.saferchemicals.org

www.healthybuilding.net

www.besafenet.com

www.healthystuff.org

eco friendly

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