Yesterday, I dropped my kids off at school and headed across the park. This time, I wasn’t running but rather was in the car, in real clothes and a little make-up, headed to an apartment on the Upper East Side. Here, approximately 35 women and a few men gathered to hear Dr Philip Landrigan give a talk entitled “Toxins, Our Children and Global Health.” It’s no wonder that this group, many of whom were mothers, made sure this was an 8:30AM date they didn’t miss.

Dr Landrigan is a member of the Global Heath Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He started his presentation discussing how the disease profile has changed dramatically in a fairly short period of time. Whereas deaths used to be due to many of the childhood diseases such as small pox and polio, environmental changes in water quality and ventilation eradicated many of these diseases. The unfortunate fact is that new challenges to our health and our children’s health have presented themselves: asthma, autism, childhood cancers, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Chances are it’s not a medicine or vaccine that’s going to solve these pressing problems. Once again, the solution is largely environmental.

On one hand it’s reassuring that scores of doctors are working to pinpoint the links between these various medical issues and our surroundings. On the other hand it’s hard not to feel a little as though the boogie man is lurking in your house, perhaps in your kitchen or bathroom, and we don’t know exactly where he is yet. I always get a pit in my stomach in these talks. I feel fairly on top of my families’ food and nutrients but can easily feel as though I’m remiss in other areas. So what can we do?

Dr Landrigan gave a short list of toxins to avoid:

1. Lead- old lead laden pain still exists especially in old buildings and houses. As this paint chips it can cause brain injury in young children. It’s very easy to have an EPA inspector come in and check your apartment and the common areas in your building if you live in an apartment.

2. Pesticides- when I first heard this I thought about pest control with food and the importance of going organic. Then Dr Landrigan mentioned that the largest consumers of pesticides in New York State, by county, were Manhattan and Brooklyn. These pesticides aren’t used on farms but rather to kill cockroaches. Chemicals should be the last resort for roaches, instead something called IPM or Integrated Pest Management was suggested.

3. Plastics- there are many chemicals in plastics that can leach out into our food and water. Compounds in plastics called phthalates (pronounced thallates) can cause birth defects when women are exposed during pregnancy. NEVER MICROWAVE IN PLASTIC. I obnoxiously used caps because I feel this is an easy change that people ignore or do not know. Plastic water bottles are banned in Dr Landrigan’s department at Mount Sinai and I wish we all followed suit. We have our favorite kleen kanteen water bottles at Foodtrainers. There are also glass serving containers and BPA free doesn’t always mean healthy. Phthalates are also in our cosmetics,food packaging and our children’s toys. For cosmetics there is a great site, safecosmetics.org to learn more about the makeup of your makeup.

I would say if there was a word of the day it was phtalates. Rather than panic, be proactive. Purchase a reusable water bottle and encourage your friends at the gym or at school pick up to do so also. When microwaving, use ceramic, glass or paper and also remind anyone cooking for your children to do so also. If you are pregnant or hope to be pregnant, pay close attention to these points. And at the grocery store, make sure you choose paper and not plastic.
What measures do you take to improve your exposure to chemicals? Do you, like me, feel you’re great in certain areas (organic food or shoes off in house) and lax in others? Any other ways to lower phthalate exposure?

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