My Opinion On Toxin Exposure

Between changes I’ve made for myself and our plans for the upcoming baby, I have been asked about chemicals and toxins by many people in several ways. Some people are curious. Some people want to learn so they can make changes. Some people are waiting to tell me I’m crazy or just wrong. I’m sure there are other reasons as well.

This is my overall opinion:

  1. We are exposed to hundreds of toxins on a daily basis. It is literally impossible to avoid them all and would be mentally unhealthy to attempt it.
  2. Exposures come through what we breathe, what we wear, what we eat, what we cook in/with, what we wash/moisturize/deodorize with, what we sleep on, what we type on, what we talk on, etc.
  3. Most of the exposures are very low dosages.
  4. Standing on their own, none of these exposures would likely cause significant damage.
  5. Together, these exposures are some of the main contributors to our ever-increasing health problems.
  6. Avoiding exposure where reasonably possible and/or where exposures are higher/more consistent is a good idea.

There are an estimated 50,000 chemicals in use in consumer products.


According to Scientific American:

The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act does not require chemicals to be registered or proven safe before use. Because the Environmental Protection Agency must show, after the fact, that a substance is dangerous, it has managed to require testing of only about 300 substances that have been in circulation for decades. It has restricted applications of five.

I think this is absurd. Chemicals ought to be proven safe to use before using!

Additionally, when companies provide their own data on the safety of their chemicals (conflict of interest, anyone?), they provide data for short-term exposure in relatively large doses. They don’t provide smaller-quantity, longer-term safety data. And none of them are tested in combination with other chemicals.

I can’t possibly protect myself (or my kid) from all of them, so I do what I can within the limits of what my psyche, schedule, wallet, and spouse will allow. My guilty convenience item is the microwave.

Some people are right on board with me. Some people think I’m nuts. Some people would do the same “if only ___” (cheaper, faster, etc.). Some people don’t necessarily think I’m crazy but aren’t concerned themselves.

I had a conversation recently with a veteran parent. I was talking about my search for baby and toddler toys that are not plastic and are not made in China. (“Ha! Good luck with that!”) Yes, well, it is proving difficult. I found some nice unpainted wooden blocks, but all of the painted blocks I’ve found are made and painted in China. While they claim to be lead-free, there have been too many instances of lead-free toys from China containing “too much” lead. I’m thinking that anything the kid is likely to chew on ought to be as close to organic as possible and should most definitely not contain lead.

“Well, my kids’ crib was painted with regular paint and they chewed on it, and they all turned out fine.”

Great! Good for them. My uncle smoked until he died at 85 and never got lung cancer. One anecdotal story isn’t going to change my mind about the serious health risks of smoking … or chewing on toys painted with lead-based paint.

I understand that I have limited control of this, but I can definitely ensure less exposure.

An example:

Products containing estrogenic compounds (that is, chemicals that mimic estrogen, including but not limited to BPA) are ubiquitous. I choose, for the most part, not to use them in my home. I am looking to avoid plastics for The Kid to chew on mainly for this reason — and will avoid commercially available baby food for the same reason. (Many BPA-free products contain more estrogenic compounds than those with BPA, and in studies, all baby food is contaminated from the lids.)

Will I be able to cut The Kid’s exposure to BPA to zero? Probably not. But BPA’s first life in commercial America was as artificial estrogen. (See here for a timeline of BPA.) There is nothing good about extra estrogen in kids of either sex, and I see no good reason to feed it to my kid, either now (in utero), via breast milk, or via whatever else s/he is eating and drinking. Are plastic bottles more convenient? Sure! Plastic cups and storage containers and ice cube trays and popsicle molds and teethers are easier to find and cheaper to buy. But since I don’t actually know which ones leach chemicals that mimic estrogen and which ones don’t, I’m avoiding them all.

(What? You want me to believe the label? Made by the company that was previously telling me that BPA was OK?)

So that’s where I am with regards to my body and my kid’s body and the chemicals we pump into them. That’s why we’re planning to use glass bottles (when bottles are necessary), organic bedding/mattress/pajamas (no PBDEs), stainless steel water carriers, organic cotton or wood teethers. (Did you know that cotton uses the most pesticide of any crop?)

Fortunately, being called all sorts of creative things over the past several years for my own choices (vegetarian, low-junk food intake, glass/stainless steel containers, homemade cleaners, regular exercise) has helped me grow a thick skin, so alternate views — even when they’re a bit … vitriolic — aren’t troublesome.

So what’s your take? Are you concerned about exposure to chemicals? If so, what do you do to limit your exposure?

I also am curious what my blood levels are of the various substances. If you know of a study looking for volunteers to have blood drawn and tested, let me know…

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