Chemicals are a part of our environment in the modern world, of course, thanks to the conveniences afforded to us by farming, manufacturing, and industry. Every parent wants to reduce exposures for their children as they grow. No question that developing babies and children may be more vulnerable to the effects of toxins as their bodies and organs and minds form. There are 80,000 chemicals in commerce (yikes!) with 3,000 being high volume meaning they can be found ubiquitously in some of our lives. There is no way to completely avoid them, but there are ways to reduce exposure to specific chemicals you’ve likely heard about, like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates and other pesticides and toxins found around your community.
Four quick tips for reducing toxins in your home below.
My colleague (from way back in residency), Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana is an expert in understanding the effects of chemicals on developing and growing babies and children. She joined me for two podcasts to discuss chemical exposure, what the effects are and how you can reduce your family’s exposure. Dr. Sathyanarayana is a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a pediatric environmental health scientist at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Her research focuses on exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and BPA and their impact on reproductive development.
BPA is an environmental chemical commonly found in food and hard polycarbonate plastics to help them keep desired shape and consistency. Phthalates are man-made chemicals typically found in household plastics, food and personal care products – rubber duckies are a great example. It’s important to know that food is likely contaminated with these chemicals through packaging and processing materials. High levels of phthalates can be found in fatty meats and cream-based dairy (presumably because the milk products are exposed while traveling through plastic tubing in the process of production and delivery), while BPA can be found in cans with linings for acidic foods like tomatoes ad in other plastics.
(Not so) fun fact from Dr. Sathyanarayana: “BPA free” products may not be all that much safer because they use BPA-substitutes that may be just as toxic but carry different names not as recognized by consumers! Having experts like Dr. Sathyanarayana help continue to understand the science to guide policy will be so important as understanding increases over time. I was surprised to learn what I did (listen to the podcast) from her!
Impact of BPA and Phthalates On Health
- Prenatal exposure to BPA has been associated with obesity, reproductive abnormalities and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in some studies.
- Phthalate exposure during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, can cause higher estrogen concentrations and lower testosterone in fetuses. This increases the possibilities of genital abnormality in male babies at birth.
Dr. Sathyanarayana’s Top 4 Tips for Reducing Exposures in Your Home
- Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Avoid canned and processed foods – Phthalates and BPA get into these foods during processing and packaging. Frozen food is better than canned products in terms of chemicals. It is also typically cheaper to buy frozen food than canned.
- Take your shoes off at home to avoid tracking in dust that may contain these chemicals. To keep your house clean you’ll also only want to use a water and vinegar mixture instead of other cleaning supplies. Also, invest in a HEPA filter to help clear out some of the chemicals floating around.
- Decrease your use of plastics. Minimize personal care products (body wash, lotions, etc.), use glass, stainless steel, ceramic or wood products whenever you can for you and for your children.
- Do not microwave foods/beverages in plastic. Heating plastics can actually cause more of the chemical to seep into your foods and beverages — no need for plastic serving tools ever. Although toddlers throw stuff (!!!) from the dinner table, consider other serving materials (metal plates, bamboo, etc). Even if you want to serve food to your children on plastic dishes, consider heating the foods in glass containers first.
- Report co-authored by Dr. Sheela – Phthalates and Diet: A Review of the Food Monitoring and Epidemiology Data
- Seattle Children’s – Babies Likely Consuming Unsafe Levels of Dangerous Chemicals and Protecting Children from Chemicals
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Phthalates Factsheet and BPA Factsheet
- Consumer Product Safety Commission – Phthalates
- Environmental Protection Agency – Information for Parents and Providers about Plastics in Child-Care Settings
Jonathan Lopez says
Great article with very practical steps to protect our kids!
Re: toxicants vs. “toxins”, physicians certainly know the difference, but given the media and health blog hype surrounding the latter term, I don’t think our patients and their families often do; thus, my opinion is that we have a responsibility to use the correct term to avoid fanning the flame of nonspecific fear-based decision making.